Economic infrastructure in the United States is largely comprised of the structures and systems needed to connect people, companies and markets. When it functions well, businesses are more productive and competitive, more people participate in the workforce and the economy is stronger.
What’s more, the lack of affordable homes to rent or own is forcing families farther from good jobs, limiting their economic opportunity and our economic growth.
All told, we estimate that the housing supply shortage is costing the nation’s economy almost $200 billion, or about 1% of annual gross domestic product, each year. And this only reflects the loss to economic productivity, not the considerable environmental costs of the longer commutes.
While a patchwork effort, the mix of tools is necessary given the wide range of challenges that make it difficult to build in communities across the country. If the plan has a weakness, it’s the relatively modest effort to ease exclusionary zoning and prohibitive development fees. Nonetheless, Biden’s plan is the most significant housing policy effort in a generation, and entirely appropriate given the scale and importance of the problem.
Unfortunately, Congress has yet to focus on this part of the administration’s infrastructure package. Some members of Congress have chosen to focus instead on broadband and research and development. Others choose to define the very idea of infrastructure so narrowly — strictly roads, bridges and the like — that the housing supply problem disappears altogether.
Congress’ response, in other words, has been as frustrating as the administration’s has been hopeful. The nation’s infrastructure needs are no doubt wide-ranging, but it is difficult to argue that the nation’s affordable housing shortage isn’t one of its most pressing. And it is disingenuous to argue that it’s not an infrastructure need at all.
The nation desperately needs to upgrade the public infrastructure that keeps our commerce flowing and the economy growing. By allowing it to crumble, we are cutting off communities all across the country — communities that can’t tap into the enormous opportunity flowing by because their roads and bridges are crumbling, their broadband can’t handle the load, or they have nowhere for their workers to live.