A group of senators is calling for a new comprehensive look into the affordable housing crisis.

Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.) have introduced the Task Force on the Impact of the Affordable Housing Crisis Act.

Sen. Angus King
U.S. Senate Photographic Studio - Joy Holder Sen. Angus King

“Sen. Young and I were talking in the spring about housing and about how a lack of affordable housing aggravates a whole lot of other problems whether it’s health or economic growth,” King said in an interview with Affordable Housing Finance. “We thought this was a good place to start, to try to collect some hard data to hopefully lead us toward some policy solutions.”

Specifically, S. 3231 would establish a task force to:

1. Evaluate and quantify the impact that a lack of affordable housing has on other areas of life and life outcomes for individuals living in the United States, including education, employment, income level, health, nutrition, access to transportation, and poverty level in the neighborhood in which individuals live;

2. Evaluate and quantify the costs incurred by other federal, state, and local programs due to a lack of affordable housing; and

3. Make recommendations to Congress on how to use affordable housing to improve the effectiveness of other federal programs and improve life outcomes for individuals living in the United States.

While other studies and work have been done on the issue, this effort is important because it would be current, according to King. “We’re trying to assess where we are right now,” he said.

It’s clear that the senators are seeing and hearing about the lack of affordable housing.

King said he was at a recent roundtable discussion on the opioid crisis. He heard about how people were doing well in recovery, but if they couldn't afford a place to live, they often ended up back in the environment that led to their drug problem.

He’s also received letters from young people with good jobs who are struggling to find an affordable place to live in Portland, Maine. “That’s becoming an economic barrier,” King said.

He cites the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s recent Out of Reach report that reveals a resident must earn at least $25.92 an hour to afford a decent two-bedroom apartment in Portland without paying more than 30% of their income on housing. That’s way over the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and the starting pay of many jobs.

“What we’re trying to do with (the task force) is to get a comprehensive data set that will help guide us in making housing policy,” said King, who credits Young with the idea. “I’m an evidence kind of guy. I like to have data and information, and then we can try to develop policy options.”

Initial supporters of S. 3231 also include Chris Coons (D-Del.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“When you look at the co-sponsors that we’ve picked up, that’s a pretty good cross-section,” King said. “I’m optimistic. I frankly think it’s hard for anyone to say we don’t want the facts. That’s what we’re searching for.”

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.