Social Innovation
day one project

Increase Dedicated Resources for the National Housing Trust Fund

02.22.24 | 3 min read | Text by Courtney Cooperman

The United States faces a shortage of 7.3 million rental homes affordable and available to extremely low income (ELI) renters—those making at or below 30% of area median income (AMI). The private market does not build and operate housing affordable to renters in this income bracket on its own. Subsidies are necessary for landlords to charge rents that these households can afford. 

The National Housing Trust Fund (HTF) is targeted to increase the supply of ELI rental homes. Ninety percent of HTF dollars must be used for the production, preservation, rehabilitation, or operation of affordable rental housing, and at least 75% of these dollars must support housing that is affordable to ELI renters. By contrast, the nation’s largest housing production program—the Low Income Housing Tax Credit—primarily serves renters at 50-60% AMI. 

The HTF is currently funded with a small annual fee (0.042%) on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae activity. States received their first HTF allocations in 2016, and approximately $3 billion has been allocated to date. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers the HTF as a block grant to housing finance agencies in all 50 states and U.S. territories, which create state-level Allocation Plans to determine how HTF dollars are awarded. HUD’s formula for distributing HTF dollars is based on (1) the number of renters making at or below 50% of AMI who are severely cost-burdened, meaning that they pay more than half their income on housing costs, and (2) the shortage of rental homes affordable and available to households making at or below 50% of AMI, with extra weight given to ELI households. 

To increase the supply of affordable homes, Congress should make greater investments in the HTF. Expanding the supply of homes affordable to ELI renters will also address the overall housing shortage. If millions of cost-burdened ELI renters could move into subsidized homes, more market-rate housing would become available to higher-income renters. 


To avoid competition with other programs in HUD’s annual budget, the HTF is intended to be funded outside of the annual appropriations process. The Build Back Better package that passed the House of Representatives in 2021 included $15 billion for the HTF, but this provision was stripped out of the slimmed-down Inflation Reduction Act that Congress ultimately enacted. 

As a new source of revenue, Congress should reform the mortgage interest deduction (MID) to make second homes ineligible and invest the equivalent savings in tax expenditures into the HTF. While Congress reformed the MID in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, this legislation ignored years of bipartisan tax reform proposals that proposed to eliminate the MID for second homes. The proposal would face pushback from second homeowners, but research shows that it is politically popular and bipartisan: a 2012 Quinnipiac poll found that 55% of Democrats, 55% of Republicans, and 58% of independents supported this reform. Elimination of the MID for second homes could win cross-cutting support from deficit hawks seeking to cut back federal spending and progressives who favor federal support for people with the greatest needs. 


On its own, the savings from eliminating the MID for second homes will not enable the HTF to entirely close the gap between housing supply and housing needs of the lowest-income renters. However, a substantial boost in resources would enable the HTF to make a greater dent in the housing shortage. 

More widespread impact would also make the HTF a more visible federal program, increase its constituency of supporters, and create the political will for even more dedicated funds in the future. 

This idea of merit originated from our Housing Ideas Challenge, in partnership with Learning Collider, National Zoning Atlas, and Cornell’s Legal Constructs Lab. Find additional ideas to address the housing shortage here.