(CNN) - The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee said Monday that federal funding for affordable rental properties must be increased.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, also warned that a Bush-era policy to help low-income families become homeowners instead of renters contributed to the sub-prime mortgage crisis and, ultimately, the larger economic crisis now confronting the country.
Frank made his remarks during a speech at the National Low Income Housing Coalition's policy conference in Washington.
"It is in 2003 and after that the percentage of mortgage loans that went to lower-income people spiked and the number who weren't able to pay spiked, and it's connected," said Frank, who chairs the committee that oversees all components of the nation's housing and financial services sectors.
Frank said federal funding for affordable housing had been cut when the GOP controlled both Congress and the White House because of a traditional Republican bias in favor of home ownership. He added, however, that housing policies will change now that Democrats are in the majority of Congress.
"We will do everything legally possible to preserve every unit of affordable (rental) housing," Frank said.
According to the housing coalition, almost 750,000 Americans are homeless today. The organization predicts that if unemployment reaches 9 percent, another 1.5 million will be homeless within in two years. Frank said this possibility should make an expansion of affordable rental properties a priority.
He also discussed the issue of renters being evicted because their landlords did not pay the mortgage for the apartment building or rental property. Frank said he is sponsoring a bill to address that issue.
"If you're a tenant and your landlord can't pay his or her mortgage, but you've paid your rent and (have) not been an abuser of that property, you can't be evicted just because your landlord can't pay the rent," Frank said.
Even though the country faces deep housing and economic problems, Frank said he remains optimistic.
"We're going to be able to finally undo a long time of neglect and abuse and get to the point where an ability to live decently with your family will once again be something most Americans can count on," he said.