Last Thursday, NACCED members met with White House staff in a first of its kind housing policy working group, spearheaded by NACCED. The purpose of the meeting was to allow NACCED members the opportunity to communicate directly with decision makers at the federal level about current challenges in housing policy, as well as solutions, in a member-driven conversation.
Representing NACCED was Chuck Robbins (Clackamas County, OR and NACCED President), Patricia Ward (Tarrant County, TX and NACCED Executive Committee), George Serio (Essex County, NJ and NACCED Board member) and Jennifer Daniels (Arlington County, VA and NACCED Board member). NACCED was joined by several National Association of Local Housing Finance Agency (NALHFA) members who together developed the agenda for the meeting.
Ja’Ron Smith, Director of Urban Affairs and Revitalization for the White House, kicked off the meeting by sharing where the Administration was on a number of housing related issues. He said they are still working on a tax reform policy and getting into the weeds on the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. He acknowledged that Congress is in a good spot with LIHTC, but they are still crafting their position on the program and how it relates to tax reform. The Administration is also very focused on what housing looks like in rural communities and finding housing solutions that address issues in a holistic way while at the same time empowering people. They are also looking at economic development programs and trying to create connectivity and coordination with housing programs.
Ralph Gaines, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development (CPD) at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also provided a brief overview of CPD’s strategy on housing to the group. He said CPD is taking a step back and trying to be innovative within their current structure. They are working on interconnecting programs, getting private participation in HUD projects, building opportunities, and developing public interest in their activities. Overall, they are working to enhance the things that are working, address the things that are not working, and identify opportunities for growth within the Department. Johnson Joy, HUD’s Chief Information Officer was also present in the meeting and he gave a brief overview of his work to identify these areas within HUD’s information systems.
Next, Chuck Robbins gave an introduction for NACCED and NALHFA, talking about successful areas in affordable housing, and areas that need improvement. He identified LIHTC as the number one tool for developing and preserving affordable housing, but pointed out with the current affordable housing crisis, more needs to be done to grow and enhance the program. The credits are not worth as much as they were 2 years ago, especially with the looming threat of a lowered corporate tax rate. Furthermore, programs like HOME have had funding steadily decrease over the last 10 years, making it harder and harder to find projects that can be funded by the program. He also outlined the rising costs of housing, including increased labor and material costs and a lack of contractors, subcontractors, and skilled laborers.
Eric Enderlin, NALHFA member and President of the New York City Housing Development Corporation (NYCHDC), said the best way to enhance and increase LIHTC resources is to pass the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act (S. 548) as it increases the housing credits by 50% and provides much needed stability to the program. Rich Froehlich, NALHFA Board Member and Chief Operating Officer, Executive Vice President & General Council for NYCHDC, pointed out that the legislation also provides much needed support for the development of affordable housing in rural areas. Additionally, the income averaging provision of the legislation will help all jurisdictions by giving the program greater flexibility and allowing communities to serve a broader set of incomes, improving economic feasibility. Froehlich went on to point out that these outcomes all serve much of what the Administration has set as its goals for affordable housing: increased flexibility, greater program efficiency, improved access in underserved areas, and enhanced public-private partnerships.
The meeting took a turn to infrastructure and economic development when Smith told the group the Administration is still very committed to pushing an improved infrastructure policy focused on economic development and local control. Froehlich asked if housing would be part of the infrastructure plan, and Smith indicated that the door is not closed on housing being considered in infrastructure reform, but the President’s plan is focused on big ticket items like bridges, broadband, transportation, and roads. Patricia Ward noted that quality housing is a huge part of infrastructure development and it is an economic development tool that allows renters to have buying power they otherwise would not have. Robbins also pointed out that the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program is largely used for infrastructure development at the local level. He went on to describe the importance of local infrastructure development such as safe drinking water infrastructure, wastewater facilities, ADA accessible sidewalks, and community roads. These projects rely on federal investment, and if the CDBG program continues to lose funds, it will have a detrimental effect on communities across the country.
A theme that continued to reverberate throughout the conversation, especially by Richard Youngblood, Special Assistant for HUD’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, is the need for more public-private partnerships in affordable housing programs. Youngblood described the conversations he has had with business owners across the country and how there is increased interest in these types of relationships due to the President’s emphasis on economic growth. Previously, he said many business owners were intimidated by getting involved with the federal government because there are so many regulations and laws to comply with. They see these barriers as potential liabilities for their bottom line. Youngblood encouraged the group to outline the reasons why local businesses and nonprofits stay away from public-private partnerships as this will help HUD and the Administration craft policy that will be more encouraging of these partnerships.
The White House and HUD staff echoed the need for NACCED and NALHFA members to outline what is working and what is not working for affordable housing programs. Specifically, they would like to know of regulations and other barriers that make it more difficult to efficiently and effectively utilize these programs. Furthermore, they want to keep the dialogue open between NACCED and NALHFA and continue this conversation through future policy working group meetings. Finally, they would like to hear your success stories, especially programs where you have utilized public-private partnerships or have developed other unique relationships that have enhanced these programs. This is an exclusive opportunity for NACCED members to have direct contact with federal decision makers as they develop the policies that will affect future affordable housing, community, and economic development programs. If you have comments or stories you would like to share, please contact NACCED Policy Director, Heather Voorman, at email@example.com.