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     By Kate Queram


Watch enough HGTV and you’ll eventually find yourself nitpicking things about your home. (Small closets! Not enough bathrooms! Ugly tile! Why don’t I have a farmhouse sink?) And sure, every house could be improved — but there’s something to be said for being secure enough in your residence to complain about its imperfections. After all, millions of Americans are longing for the same privilege.

 The Big Takeaway

The current affordable housing crisis in the United States dates back to the Great Recession, when construction of new dwellings stalled after the collapse of the housing market. Demand for housing surged amid the dwindling supply of new units, eventually pricing millions of people out of the market altogether. Rentals then went similarly bonkers, leaving low-income families vying for an ever decreasing number of affordable housing options. 

And it’s never really recovered. Prices have remained high, whether you’re looking to rent or buy. More than 40% of renters spend more than a third of their income on housing (a cost burden, according to the federal government), while home prices have increased 3.1 times faster than income since 2008. To catch up with demand, the market would need to add more than 13 million units (7 million affordable rentals and 6.5 million single-family homes), according to estimates.

But at least the graph makes a house shape. (Illustration by Getty Images)

But at least the graph makes a house shape.
(Illustration by Getty Images)

The federal government has been slow to address the crisis. Last spring, the Biden administration released a long list of wonky policy goals it touted as the “most comprehensive all-of-government effort to close the housing supply shortfall in history.” But few of those ideas have come to fruition. Congressional Democrats said as much this week in a letter, urging the administration to immediately “address the challenges facing the housing sector, where lagging production coupled with aging housing stock are making housing more expensive and unable to meet the needs of all Americans.”

Absent top-level action, state lawmakers have proposed their own solutions. The Florida Senate on Wednesday gave unanimous approval to a $700 million package that aims to shore up affordable housing by increasing funding for state housing programs and giving tax breaks to homebuilders. Sponsors of the bill said it was designed to address both the housing shortage and the state’s rapidly increasing population, the Florida Phoenix reported.

“One of the main focuses is to increase the amount of safe affordable housing for Floridians that are here today to deal with the enormous housing crisis we have in front of us, but also to plan with the enormous growth that we’re experiencing every day,” said state Sen. Alexis Calatayud, a Republican from Miami-Dade County. “The investments that we’re making – the tax incentives, the tax exemptions, our tax credit programs. All of our strategies are focused on increasing the supply of safe, affordable units.” 

The legislation will direct at least $711 million to various programs within the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, a public-private entity that administers the state’s two largest affordable housing initiatives. The money will fund a host of measures, from low-interest loans for affordable-housing developers ($259 million) and incentives for local governments that work to produce and preserve affordable housing ($252 million) to down payments for first-time income-qualified buyers ($100 million).

A house, possibly in Florida. (Photo by Cheryl Casey/Adobe Stock)

A house, possibly in Florida.
(Photo by Cheryl Casey/Adobe Stock)

But housing advocates said the bill missed the mark in some areas, including a provision that prohibits local governments from enacting measures to stabilize rent prices. Most registered voters think the state should limit rent increases, according to a survey conducted last fall. (Lawmakers were unmoved. Rent control is “socialism,” one Democrat said.) Local officials had concerns with a measure that appears to waive local height, density and zoning restrictions for any development that devotes at least 40% of its units to affordable housing. (Lawmakers have denied this.)

The measure has yet to pass the House, where Democrats expressed frustration Wednesday after a legislative committee voted down nine proposed amendments to the bill. In its current state, the legislation focuses far too heavily on developers, they said.

“As the Ranking Member of the State Affairs Committee I was incredibly disappointed to see a housing bill come before us that did not include immediate relief or protections for Florida’s renters,” state Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby said in a statement. “We need to ensure a community-driven approach that evens the playing field and doesn’t leave anyone behind.”

Renters live in houses too! (Photo by Getty Images)

Renters live in houses too!
(Photo by Getty Images)

Renters were a bigger focus in Nevada, where a legislative committee on Wednesday considered a proposal that would require landlords to disclose fees to prospective renters as well as prevent them from collecting endless application fees for a single unit. The bill originally contained additional provisions, including a cap for cleaning deposits and a 30-day extension for no-cause evictions, but was amended before the hearing to appease landlords and lobbyists, per the Nevada Current.

The legislation does not directly address the state’s shortage of affordable housing, according to Jonathan Norman, statewide advocacy, outreach and policy director for Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers. But it could still make life easier for renters, he said.

“This bill is not creating more affordable housing,” Norman said. “It’s not lowering the cost of affordable housing. What it is doing is providing some transparency around fees and providing what I think are meaningful tenant protections.” 

But those protections are pretty weak. If approved, the bill would prevent landlords from accepting multiple application fees for a single unit until any outstanding applications have been denied. But it doesn’t cap the fee itself, or explain how the rule would be enforced. (A similar bill failed to pass in 2021.) A separate measure would require landlords to disclose all of the fees associated with a specific unit, either on the front page of the lease or in an addendum signed by both the landlord and tenant. That’s a watered-down version of the original bill, which had mandated the front-page placement but was later amended to appease a real estate development company.

“I think the front page is obviously better,” Norman said. “But sometimes you have to give away things that you like in order to reach a consensus.”

Alas, the consensus remained elusive. Even after the amendment, a lobbyist for the developer remained neutral on the bill.

Great consensus: Phoenix City Council bans ‘source of income’ discrimination for renters, home buyersGeorgia lawmakers offer both punitive and safety net approaches to tackling homelessnessWu wins two victories at Boston City Council(Nebraska) Housing measures have Legislature hopping(New Jersey) Measure advances to boost Medicaid rates for low-income assisted living(Tennessee) Counties struggle to push impact fee legislation to cover growthAfter a two-year pause, feds give Texas the go-ahead to resume a major Houston highway expansionCommentary | (Virginia) Can carriage houses and granny flats ease the housing crisis?Republican legislators take aim at local zoning rules to address Wisconsin’s housing shortage(Wyoming) Property tax problem gets short- and long-term fixes

   LGBTQ Rights

The anti-transgender movement finally made its way to the U.S. Capitol, where House Republicans on Wednesday approved a bill that would prohibit transgender girls from playing on school sports teams consistent with their gender identity, according to reporting from our national bureau in D.C.

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican and the head of the Education and Workforce Committee, said the legislation was proof of the GOP’s “commitment to America.”

“Men are not women, women are not men. They certainly shouldn’t compete against each other in any publicly funded arena,” said Foxx, who won her last publicly funded election  against Kyle Parrish, a Democrat and also a man.

The publicly funded arena where male and female lawmakers sparred over the fate of transgender athletes. (Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

The publicly funded arena where male and female lawmakers sparred over the fate of transgender athletes.
(Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

The bill is pointless, both in substance (there are more lawmakers on the House committee than there are transgender college athletes) and in terms of feasibility (it probably won’t pass the Democrat-majority Senate, and it definitely won’t make it past President Joe Biden’s desk). But the fact that it exists at all is a testament to the staying power of the GOP’s culture war against LGBTQ+ kids and college students who are simply trying to live as their authentic selves. (Or just live. Period.)

Democrats made this point repeatedly on Wednesday as they tried to modify the legislation to be … even slightly less terrible. One proposed amendment would have prohibited colleges and universities from requiring athletes to provide reproductive and sexual health information to “prove” their gender, which was voted down after Foxx described it as a “radical attempt to erase women.”

Menstrual data is crucial to the overall bill, she added.

“H.R. 734 is about protecting women from discrimination and unfair playing fields,” Foxx said. “This amendment prevents the achievement of both goals.”

If your proposal requires women to furnish their menstrual data in the name of “protection,” maybe (JUST MAYBE) your proposal does not actually protect women. (Pads and tampons provide adequate protection and would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.) (Photo by Getty Images)

If your proposal requires women to furnish their menstrual data in the name of “protection,” maybe (JUST MAYBE) your proposal does not actually protect women. (Pads and tampons provide adequate protection and would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.)
(Photo by Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) went the more in-your-face route, introducing an amendment to change the title of the bill from the “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2023” to “The Stigmatizing Vulnerable Children Act.”

“We need to be exactly clear about what this bill does and what the consequences of this bill would be,” she said before the amendment was defeated via voice vote.

She needn’t have worried — the consequences are already clear. LGBTQ+ kids (and especially trans and nonbinary kids) already have a high risk of depression and suicide, which can be negatively impacted by anti-LGBTQ+ proposals — even if they don’t pass. (A weird side effect for a bunch of bills designed to “protect the children.”) The climate is so toxic that parents of trans kids are uprooting their families to escape states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws, taking refuge in less-bigoted places like Minnesota. State Rep. Leigh Finke, the state’s first openly trans lawmaker, told the Minnesota Reformer that she gets near-daily calls from more families who are planning to come.

“Families who have fled are already here, and many more are planning to come,” she said. “We’re going to be ready to take care of them, and to provide them with the health care they need.”

More consequences this way: Proposal that would restrict transgender students’ rights lacks support in Alaska Senate(Arkansas) Bill allowing malpractice suits for transgender minors’ health care goes to Sanders’ desk(Iowa) Ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors heads to Reynolds’ deskKansas Senate’s debate on transgender sports ban inspires gritty rhetorical competitionMissouri Senate leaves town early as GOP disagrees on transgender-care billGOP bill mandating federal Parents Bill of Rights passed by U.S. House committeeNew Jersey attorney general cites 28 towns for excluding some LGBTQ people from marriage license formsLegislation barring trans athletes from women’s sports introduced in Ohio House

  State of Our Democracy

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally is a fan of both anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and the Instagram account of one Franklyn Superstar, a young gay man. McNally, a Republican, has expressed his admiration for the profile multiple times in the past three years, leaving hearts and fire emojis in the comments of various racy photos, per the Tennessee Lookout.

“Finn,” he wrote on one post, “you can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine!”

Rainbows AND hearts! (Photo by Getty Images)

Rainbows AND hearts!
(Photo by Getty Images)

A spokesman for the lieutenant governor confirmed the authenticity of the posts Wednesday. But it’s nothing new for McNally, who has always been an enthusiastic social media user, Adam Kleinheider said — which you’d know if you knew one single thing about Tennessee politics! McNally is going to keep on Instagramming in spite of the non-political haters!

“Trying to imply something sinister or inappropriate about a great-grandfather’s use of social media says more about the mind of the left-wing operative making the implication than it does about Randy McNally,” Kleinheider said in a statement. “As anyone in Tennessee politics knows, Lt. Gov. McNally is a prolific social media commenter. He takes great pains to view every post he can and frequently posts encouraging things to many of his followers.”

He could have just stopped there, but for some reason, Kleinheider just … kept going. (Honestly, this was probably a big day for him. Most of the time, nobody really cares about lieutenant governors.)

“Does he always use the proper emoji at the proper time? Maybe not,” he continued. “But he enjoys interacting with constituents and Tennesseans of all religions, backgrounds and orientations on social media. He has no intention of stopping.”

I did not need to hear any more about McNally’s Instagram habits, but then McNally himself waded into the fray, telling reporters on Thursday that he tries to encourage and support “many people.” He himself has many friends — and one family member! — who are gay. 

He did not explain how those friends (and the relative) feel about his support for anti-LGBTQ+ proposals, including a gay-marriage ban he once sponsored. But he did say that bill doesn’t conflict with his “support” of a gay man’s Instagram profile, because gay marriage is legal now, so who cares if he hates it?

“That [bill] was before the Supreme Court decision,” he said. “I thought marriage should be between a man and a woman, and I still feel that way.”

Confusingly, McNally then said his position on gay marriage has “evolved.” That “evolution” should have been clear in 2020, he said, when he argued against a bill allowing religious adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples (but then abstained from the vote). Despite this show of bravery, the bill passed. It does not appear to have evolved since then.

Elsewhere in the primordial ooze: Maine Republicans’ election bills criticized by opponents as voter suppression effortsProtector of historic State Capitol on paid leave pending probe into pre-banquet altercation(New Mexico) Lawmakers pass legislation through the Senate specifying standards of political conductFormer Ohio speaker, GOP chair found guilty of racketeering(Vermont) Lobbying PAC hosts ‘meet and greet’ for Balint campaign


   From The Newsrooms

One Last Thing

NASA is monitoring an asteroid the size of a football field that could hit Earth on Valentine’s Day in 2046.  The “chance of collision is extremely unlikely,” according to the agency’s risk list.

Sigh. (via Giphy)

(via Giphy)


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