Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, one of the Republicans negotiating with President Joe Biden on infrastructure, took aim Thursday at the inclusion of housing in the president’s roughly $2 trillion infrastructure proposal.
Toomey, the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, said the proposed $213 billion to repair public housing, eliminate exclusionary zoning and create more affordable units does not fit in an infrastructure package.
“Let’s be clear: Housing is housing. People certainly need housing, but housing is not infrastructure,” he said at a Banking hearing with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge.
To get bipartisan support, an infrastructure bill needs to fund “real physical infrastructure,” Toomey said. “That’s the platforms and systems we share and use to move people, goods and services. That means things like roads, bridges, ports, airports and transit.”
Toomey was one of six Republicans who met with Biden on May 13 to talk about a possible bipartisan infrastructure package. The group, led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, also included Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Michael D. Crapo of Idaho and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
Fudge rejected Toomey’s characterization of infrastructure.
“Our homes are bedrock, brick and mortar institutions that lay the foundation for a stronger and more connected society,” she said. “Just like our streets, our highways and our airports, to put it simply, our homes serve as a bridge to greater opportunities for a better life.”
Biden’s proposal would build or rehabilitate 2 million affordable housing units. It would include $40 billion to address a backlog of public housing repairs, $20 billion in new tax credits to encourage the construction of affordable homes for purchase and $27 billion in grants to make homes more energy efficient.
Democrats at the hearing asked Fudge about a program included in Biden’s proposal that would use financial incentives and technical help to encourage cities and counties to eliminate exclusionary zoning laws.
“We do know that there is a lot of restrictive zoning that has created a problem, and it has made the cost of home buying and home building even more,” Fudge said.
Zoning restrictions are set through local ordinances, so the federal government can’t change them, Fudge said.
“We can talk about discrimination overall. We can talk about civil rights overall, but we cannot just go into a community and change all of the zoning or planning ordinances. And that is why we want to engage communities with conversation with technical assistance,” she said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren touted a bill she introduced that would establish a $10 billion grant program to fund projects in cities and towns that eliminate exclusionary zoning restrictions.
“Local governments can use it to build things like parks or schools, if they are actively removing unnecessary barriers to building affordable units in their communities,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “Eligible reforms would include things like changing bans on multi-family construction, revising minimum lot size requirements or passing inclusionary zoning ordinances.”