12/06/2011 04:09 pm ET | Updated Feb 05, 2012

Occupy Our Homes

Home ownership has been one of the greatest pillars of the American Dream. Every day, people all over America take comfort in knowing that they have a place to call home. For many others however, that piece of security is out of reach. Now, as thousands of Americans take to the streets to protest our country's vast income inequality, the situation is continuing to worsen -- millions of Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure or evictions and face the prospect of homelessness.

At a time when affordable housing is needed more than ever, burdensome requirements are preventing access for people most in need. If we want economic equality, we need to increase the accessibility of affordable housing. That is why I introduced The Public Housing Tenants Respect Act which will repeal the contents of the United States Housing Act of 1937 requiring people living in public housing to perform community service and to complete economic self-sufficiency programs in order to keep their housing.

The requirements stipulated in the United States Housing Act of 1937 are just wrong; no one should be subjected to such burdensome obstacles merely to stay in their homes. The law creates hurdles that make it difficult for many low-income individuals to find work or spend time with their families.

We must reform our antiquated public housing guidelines. A renter making the federal minimum wage already has to work at least 94 hours (before deductions) in order to afford the average monthly national rent, nearly twice what the average wage earner would have to work. Given the many other challenges low income renters face, it is beyond unreasonable to mandate they take even more time they do not have to fulfill requirements which have nothing to do with home ownership, especially when public housing is a proven job creator.

According to the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, over 31,400 jobs were preserved as a result of investments in public housing authorities as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) enacted in 2009. In New York City alone, 9,318 people were working as a result of stimulus funding. Our $4 billion investment through ARRA has generated a wealth of opportunity for job seekers and low income renters alike, but by making public housing difficult to obtain we limit its potential.

Today, December 6, 2011, is a national day of action for the Occupy Our Homes movement. This movement is seeking to ensure everyone has a right to decent, affordable housing by standing in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement and with community organizations who help the 99% fight for their homes. I support their efforts because we cannot close the widening gap between the 1% and the 99% when millions of low-income Americans are at risk of losing their homes through eviction or foreclosure.

I have been an advocate for affordable housing for over 40 years. One of my proudest accomplishments was passing the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), the most successful program ever to help make housing accessible. Since its enactment in 1987, the LIHTC has helped pay for 90 percent of the affordable housing built in the U.S. over the last 10 years and provided homes for thousands of New Yorkers. I have personally seen these benefits of public housing in our community, and we should do more to extend its impact.

New York City has historically been a leader in addressing housing issues. In 1937, New York City created the country's first public housing development, this early investment that provided much needed relief for just a few families soon paved the way for the nation to increase its economic activity. Now nearly 5% of all New Yorkers, or 633,177 people, live in public housing. Since those first developments, construction jobs increased, families thrived in their new environments and contributed to the surrounding neighborhood, and local businesses sparked economic progress where slums once reigned.

The 2008 housing crisis led to one of the biggest wealth drains for the middle class in American history. We now have a chance to help those who were hurt the most in the economic collapse. I call upon my Colleagues in Congress to support H.R. 3564 -The Public Housing Tenants Respect Act and ensure that everyone in America will be able to have a place to call home.