In a speech at the National Press Club today, Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry talked about block granting housing programs as part of a solution to poverty. Along with House Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Perry is now one of two prominent GOP leaders talking about major policy change involving housing as a response to poverty. These proposals have a long way to go before any kind of enactment, but the housing community should engage with them now or risk being left out of the conversation.
Perry’s speech was surprising more for its tone, which sounded more like a general election speech than a primary speech, than its level of detail, which was still quite limited. He focused heavily on the economic situation in African-American communities and pointed to stubbornly high poverty rates as evidence of the failure of current approaches. He referenced values that cut across party lines: safe neighborhoods, housing and college costs that are affordable, the American Dream. He pointed to local policies that limit creation of new housing.
His proposed response is a “welfare reform bill” that replaces current “non-health care-related, anti-poverty programs” with an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit and block grants to the states. The speech had little further detail, but even that brief description signals sweeping change. It is our obligation as housers to provide information to policymakers thinking through these ideas, to help them understand how such change could affect long-standing investments in housing as well as where the real opportunities for constructive change exist.
Housing need cuts across party lines and geographic boundaries. So should housing advocacy.