A bipartisan Congressional vision for federal
policymaking to support decent housing was articulated in the Preamble
to the Housing Act of 1949:
The Congress declares that the general
welfare and security of the Nation and the health and living standards
of its people require housing production and related community development
sufficient to remedy the serious housing shortage, the elimination of
substandard and other inadequate housing through the clearance of slums
and blighted areas, and the realization as soon as feasible of the goal
of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American
family, thus contributing to the development and redevelopment of communities
and to the advancement of the growth, wealth, and security of the Nation.
These remarkable words prompted numerous housing
and community development programs that have had varying results for the
health and well-being of millions of families over the last half-century.
Some initiatives had unintended consequences: urban renewal intended to
clear blight backfired as “urban removal” disrupted intact
communities; mortgage programs favoring new construction accelerated segregation
by fueling white flight from cities; quality of life was hard to maintain
consistently in high-density high-rise public housing. But the federal
government’s housing and community development successes have been
many: hundreds of thousands of homes have been rehabilitated and rendered
lead-safe; millions of families have been protected from substandard conditions
by subsidies that closed the gap between the cost of housing and what
they can afford to pay; communities have been developed, preserved, strengthened,
and revitalized; and the means to shape and manage local economies have
been transferred from outsiders to residents.
Today, the federal government continues to impact
the housing sector in significant ways.
Federal policy plays a strong role in home ownership:
- The IRS exemption of home mortgage interest from
federal taxes enables $150 billion in subsidies to all homeowners paying
an interest-bearing mortgage for their home, regardless of income.
- For first-time homebuyers, federal agencies and
intermediaries guarantee mortgages, facilitate buyers’ low downpayments
and closing costs, and provide a range of other services and incentives.
- Procedures for home purchase settlements and truth
in lending are the subject of significant federal oversight.
Some renters benefit from federal housing policies.
Thirty-four percent of renter households whose income is in the lowest
fifth of all renters receive some form of housing assistance:
- Rent subsidy payments to landlord through a Housing
- Residency in public housing
- Residency in other housing receiving project-based
rental assistance from programs such as Section 202 for elderly households
and Section 8 and HOME Investment partnerships.
Numerous federal policies explicitly support access
to a healthy home environment.
X of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1992 called
for the federal government to “take a leadership role in building
the infrastructure ... necessary to ensure that the national goal of eliminating
lead-based paint hazards in housing can be achieved as expeditiously as
possible.” Title X professionalized lead inspection, risk assessment,
and abatement work; by training and testing abatement workers and mandating
strict government oversight, this law ensures that actions taken with
the intention of addressing lead are safe and successful, This landmark
law required federal agencies — such as the U.S. Department of Housing
and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) — to develop and implement measures that are reducing exposure
to lead hazards:
The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) (see below)
is another major federal policy concerning lead, and specifically lead-based
Two major federal policies concerned with regulation
- The Federal
Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act
(FIFRA) "provides for federal regulation of pesticide distribution,
sale, and use," according to EPA's website. Under this act, all
pesticides distributed or sold in the U.S. must be registered by the
- The Food
Quality Protection Act (FQPA) amends FIFRA and the Federal
Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). In it, the government established
a health-based safety standard for pesticide residues in food, among
In October 2003, a number of groups and states Attorneys General called
on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to comply
with an existing federal law governing the pest management activities
of federal agencies. The groups and Attorneys General urged HUD to revise
the Department’s regulations to require integrated
pest management (IPM) practices at HUD-funded public housing
developments. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act
mandates that “[f]ederal agencies shall use Integrated Pest Management
techniques in carrying out pest management activities and shall promote
Integrated Pest Management through procurement and regulatory policies
and other activities.” However, at the time, HUD regulations did
not address the issue for the 3,300 public housing authorities nationwide
that manage HUD-funded developments.
Despite December 2003 and November 2004 responses asserting the adequacy
of its past IPM efforts, in February 2006, HUD issued voluntary
IPM guidelines for all public housing agencies. The guidelines
recommend making IPM information available to public housing managers
and "encourage" public housing agencies to use IPM in their
properties. The guidelines contain no requirements or mandates about the
use of IPM.
Two major federal policies concerned with regulating
- Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) (see
below) includes a title regarding
- The Indoor
Radon Abatement Act of 1988 (IRAA) established a goal that
indoor air should be as free of radon as outdoor air.
- The Radon
Awareness and Disclosure Act of 1992 reauthorized the
IRAA and provided for radon testing and awareness activities, as
well as the extension of state radon programs.
- A 2008 EPA report
found that the EPA must do more to protect the public from radon.
Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) is another crucial
federal policy that applies to healthy housing. This act, according to
EPA's website, "provides EPA with authority to require reporting,
record-keeping and testing requirements, and restrictions relating to
chemical substances and/or mixtures" and "addresses the production,
importation, use, and disposal of specific chemicals including polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, radon and lead-based paint." Subchapter
II pertains to asbestos, Subchapter III to radon and Subchapter IV to
Comprehensive approaches to housing condition are
covered by several national policies and other documents:
Housing Quality Standards (HQS) apply to units that receive
Housing Choice Vouchers and rent subsidies through programs such as
HOME. The HQS have also been used as the standard for completion of
rehab and construction work. The HQS specify requirements such as lead
safety; sanitary condition (“free of vermin and rodent
infestation”); properly vented heating systems; water supply that
is free from contamination; and interior air
quality (“free from dangerous levels of air pollution from carbon
monoxide, sewer gas, fuel gas, dust, and other harmful pollutants”).
- HUD’s Minimum
Property Standards (MPS) apply to units constructed using funds from
mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA); these
standards incorporate model codes promulgated by national organizations.
International Code Council (ICC) promulgates, on behalf
of the Building Officials and Code Administrators International, the
International Conference of Building Officials, and the Southern Building
Code Congress International, a model regulatory system for the built
environment. In addition to establishing consensus national standards
for residential and commercial building codes, ICC has developed performance-based
regulations for Property Maintenance.
- The U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Housing Inspection manual
(currently being revised) is designed to inform local and state health
departments and code agencies of health-based standards for housing.
Established and emerging policies address specific
issues of housing condition and comfort:
- EPA’s Office of Indoor Air is working on
developing a voluntary label for homebuilders to follow to ensure indoor
air quality. These science-based standards are designed to integrate
a feasible approach to IAQ into the design and value propositions for
new home construction and marketing.
- EPA and the CDC's National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health (NIOSH) have developed guidance
for building owners and facility managers that has some applications
for multi-family apartment buildings.
- EPA has developed guidance
on indoor air for homeowners.
- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Weatherization
Assistance Program and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
(HHS)’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program address energy
efficiency and the affordability of adequate heat.
- DOE and EPA’s Energy Star Program promotes
the development and use of energy-efficient products and construction