Thursday, October 29, 2015

How you give housing a voice through NHC

What we're building 
by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference 


Last month, NHC sent two different letters to leaders on Capitol Hill.  That’s hardly uncommon for us, but the two very different letters reminded me why NHC’s role is unique. Because you, our members, constitute us with a voice for affordable housing independent of any particular economic agenda, we can speak to lawmakers with a voice that stands apart.

One letter was very simple. We reminded leaders of both parties in both Houses of Congress that a failure to protect our nation’s credit rating by raising the debt limit would have direct negative consequences for housing and all the people that depend on it. Our statement, as always, was specifically nonpartisan and urged lawmakers to reach across the aisle to compromise. Chris and I are under no illusion, of course, that an NHC letter will transform what is likely to be a bruising political battle. We do hope, however, that a rational voice grounded in economic reality but not any particular economic interest can help avoid a truly negative outcome.

The second letter was more complex because it dealt with a long history and an unclear future for housing policy. The House Financial Services Committee publicly requested ideas on how to transform housing assistance as part of their recognition of HUD’s 50th anniversary. Although the request was laden with partisan rhetoric and some unfair historical comparisons, we took it seriously and offered a perspective informed by the work of our many members. The letter highlighted how a lack of housing opportunity, tied as it is to long-standing patterns of residential segregation, limits people’s ability to become self-sufficient and take on the responsibility of a home. We highlighted just a few of many successes of both national- and local-level policy, and we offered policy recommendations drawn from the work of many NHC members on our task forces and working groups. We hope that the committee will take up ours and others’ recommendations in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation to address pressing housing need.

NHC has unique credibility on these issues because of the support of our members who see the big picture of housing policy. NHC can speak to housing policy with the credibility that comes from practitioner experience but without the disadvantage of a narrow or self-interested economic agenda. That’s only possible because our members empower us to speak. We did so on the debt limit and on the future of housing, and with your support this work will continue.


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