The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee held a hearing on Thursday, November 7, 2019, to “give the affordable housing crisis in this country the attention it deserves,” stated Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). The hearing was to examine three bipartisan bills on affordable housing access and safety, including S.2803, Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act (FSHO). H.R. 4300 is the House companion version that passed out of Committee in the House and was sponsored by Congresswomen Madeleine Dean (D-PA) and Karen Bass (D-CA) and Congressmen Mike Turner (R-OH) and Steve Stivers (R-OH).

“This legislation will help ensure former foster youth transitioning out of the system have affordable housing options they need to start adulthood and prevent homelessness successfully,” stated Senator Brown.” Statistics indicate that 20,000 youth age out of foster care every year, and up to one-third of them will become homeless by the age of 26. This bill would streamline access to the Family Unification Program (FUP) vouchers to foster youth who are at risk of homelessness. The legislation would also extend the FUP voucher for foster youth up to an additional 24 months and require cross-collaboration between Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) and Public Child Welfare Agencies.

The Committee heard testimony from three witnesses, including Peggy Bailey from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Bailey recommended three priorities when improving access to housing for youth leaving foster care: (1) adoption of HR 4300; (2) appropriation of the $20 million FUP increases in FY 2020 budget; and (3) protect LGBTQ from housing discrimination.

Housing instability is incredibly detrimental to foster youth who are working low-wage jobs or who attend college and have nowhere to stay during summer and school breaks. Because housing is such a necessity, youth without it may end up homeless or in jail or prison. Not only do homeless youth have a higher risk for physical health effects like infection they are more likely to over-use emergency room services and they may also deal with an overwhelming number of mental health problems. Subpopulations, including youth of color and LGBTQ foster youth, face additional barriers. Foster youth deserve a safe, stable place to live so that they can build their futures.

Senator Tester (D-MT) asked Ms. Bailey what Congress can do at a federal level to address housing disparities. Ms. Bailey responded that strengthening the National Housing Trust Fund, which allows dollars to be coupled with low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), will help the highest number of low-income families. Overall, it is clear that housing for low-income Americans and their families is incredibly essential. For foster youth, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), sponsor of S. 2803, said , “this is one step one step Congress can take to address the negative outcomes experienced by foster youth in our country,” stated Senator Grassley. Even after these bills are passed, we will still need substantial support and funding for federal housing programs.