WASHINGTON — Facing pressure from President Joe Biden to hash out the final details of his reconciliation package, House Democrats sparred with their Republican colleagues over the necessity of government investments in affordable housing at a Financial Services Committee hearing on Thursday.
The committee passed its portion of the $3.5 trillion package on Sept. 14, allotting $327 billion to affordable housing programs. Of that amount, $24 billion will provide rental assistance for domestic violence survivors, victims of human trafficking and families experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
As Democrats consider shaving down the cost of the legislation to appease moderates, Chair Maxine Waters encouraged her committee members to stand firm in their support for the “robust” provisions they passed last month.
“Housing is infrastructure,” said Waters, D-Calif. “There is no way to build back better without investing in our nation’s crumbling housing infrastructure.”
The committee heard testimonies from several housing advocates, including some individuals who had experienced homelessness themselves. John Harrison, a street outreach navigator for Prince George’s County Department of Social Services, said his multiple episodes of homelessness took a toll on both his health and sense of self.
The Maryland resident said he slept in an abandoned warehouse, a friend’s tool shed and buildings at his community college because he could not keep up with rising rent prices in his city, even while employed.
“The cost of housing is rising so quickly that home ownership is again sliding out of reach for me,” Harrison said.
Harrison and the other witnesses urged the committee to fully fund the housing provisions in the Build Back Better bill.
Republican committee members repeatedly criticized Waters for holding a hearing that they said only served her political agenda.
Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., and his Republican colleagues questioned the purpose of the hearing, calling it a “waste of time,” a “lobbying exercise” and a “charade” to wrangle supporters for the president’s spending ambitions.
“Everybody knows the point of this hearing is to publicly convince your fellow Democrats what should be included in the final reconciliation package,” Huizenga said to Waters. “It’s not build back better, it’s buy back voters.”