Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A crucial time for America to discuss housing

by Dave Brown, Executive Director, National NeighborWorks Association

NHC invites guest blog posters to write on important housing topics. The views expressed by guest posters do not necessarily reflect those of NHC or its members.

This is an extraordinary time for the future of housing – and especially affordable housing – in America and a crucial time to expand the public discussion of housing as a national priority. A series of potent interlocking dynamics have been set in motion, and they can and should be used to engage the American people in a positive discussion of the power of home in our nation.

Dave Brown speaks at an NNA event.
Those dynamics include the following: the housing market is now returning; valuable lessons have been learned from the recent housing collapse; the Congress left for its August recess without acting on the appropriations bills covering the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and President Obama has just released an extensive set of proposals to create a better bargain for housing for the middle class.

The return of the housing market is, of course, good news for the overall economy and for homeowners, even though it makes finding affordable housing an even greater challenge. As it restarts the economy, it’s important to learn from the recession – both to ensure that we don’t repeat our errors and to increase the positive impact that housing can have in our communities.

President Obama is fortunately advancing the public discussion of housing with his latest proposals. They further reinforce housing as a national priority and encourage a robust discussion of housing needs and challenges and what the nation should do to address them. While Congress’s inaction on the housing appropriations bills is disappointing, it does allow time for Americans to let their Members of Congress hear, while they are home on vacation, just how important housing is to them.

Housing is key to sustaining America’s economic recovery, not simply because rising home values create equity, optimism and jobs, but because stable affordable housing is vital to the thriving lives and communities on which our nation depends. Stable affordable homes enable children and adults to be more productive, learn more effectively, and lead healthier and safer lives.

Increasingly, housing is also expected to assist in other societal innovations. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “To bring down its soaring Medicaid budget, New York state wants to move thousands of low-income patients from hospitals, homeless shelters, group homes and nursing facilities into apartments... [T]he patients would live in what is known as supportive-housing apartments, which provide services such as counseling, budgeting help and coordination of medical care.”

The vital role that housing can and could play – and the potential breadth of its positive impact – is what we need the American people to appreciate – that such housing benefits the community broadly and fundamentally. In the absence of that understanding, federal funding of crucial housing programs has been cut significantly since fiscal year 2010. Examples include cuts to the HOME program by 48%, to HUD housing counseling by 51%, and to Community Development Block Grants by 31%.

Building greater public awareness of the importance of home is the mission of a new movement called Home Matters™ (www.HomeMattersAmerica.com). It’s a unique national initiative that aims to unite America around the essential role that Home plays as the bedrock for thriving lives, communities, and a stronger nation. The movement was launched in March in Washington, DC – spearheaded by the National NeighborWorks® Association, with crucial support from Citi Community Development and Wells Fargo.

Joining in the launch of Home Matters were U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan and a bipartisan group of Members of Congress, who represented a broad political spectrum. Their collective presence underscored that Home Matters no matter what your political beliefs.

The power of stable affordable homes – whether rented or owned – is something on which all Americans should be able to agree. We have all either benefited from it or understood how devastating its absence can be.

That power is something about which we should all be talking – with our friends, our colleagues, and our elected officials. With enough recognition, housing might just have the power to unite the nation as well.

Dave Brown is Executive Director of the National NeighborWorks® Association. The National NeighborWorks Association, an NHC member, is an advocate for better neighborhoods and housing for low to middle income families across the United States and is the voice of NeighborWorks organizations nationwide.

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