Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A legacy of leadership

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference 

We are excited to be heading to New Orleans this week for our Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods 2015 Convening.  I want to thank our two local partners who organized mobile workshop tours, Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Orleans and the Gulf Coast office of Enterprise Community Partners. I also want to thank all our speakers, particularly our plenary speakers: Sandra Henriquez of Building Together, HUD Deputy Secretary Nani Coloretti, Lindene Patton of CoreLogic and Carol Naughton of Purpose Built Communities. If you are not able to attend the convening you can view the plenary sessions via webcast on this page (free registration required). We hope you will tune in to hear the great discussions these speakers will participate in.

As we sift through the recently achieved agreement that lifted the debt ceiling and set the framework for the budget appropriations process for the next two years, three important points jump out. First, lifting the budget caps is a major victory for those who care about the federal government’s role in responding to the nation’s challenges. The caps were designed to be so egregious that members of Congress would find a budget solution rather than allow them to be implemented. It is a victory for good government that Congress can now make some better decisions about what to cut and what to increase. However, it is doubtful that Congress will get to a real examination of programs or major reforms in the tax code until at least 2017.

Second, strong advocacy and education are necessary to ensure funding for housing is better than a cut, or even a continuing resolution. As much as those of us in Washington are often preoccupied by the process, the most important point for the affordable housing community and ultimately for everyone in the U.S. without adequate housing is that there is a wide range of funding possibilities for housing programs. We must take the lead on advocating for them.

Finally, our advocacy cannot be limited to just the budget appropriations process.  Currently there is a bipartisan effort coming together to finally pass a long-overdue federal highway bill.  While there is strong political motivation to pass such a bill approaching an election year, there is less political will to raise the gas tax to pay for it.  Congress is currently looking to the fees charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as an alternative funding source.  This obviously makes housing financing more expensive, with little to no benefit to housing itself.  National organizations are working to bring their members together to oppose this, and I urge you to contact your members of Congress on this issue as well.

NHC has had so many in its leadership whose work has been vital to advancing the affordable housing movement. In leading an organization that has been around for almost 85 years, I want to make sure we recognize as many of those “housing heroes” as we can. Eugene F. “Gene” Ford, Sr., who passed away a few weeks ago, was one of those heroes. Gene was an affordable housing champion for the country and Washington, D.C. He began his active career in housing and real estate with The Carey Winston Company in the early 1950s. In 1966, he founded Mid-City Developers, Inc. which evolved into the current Mid-City Financial Corporation. The firm has developed, financed or facilitated the creation of over 40,000 units of affordable multifamily rental housing in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metropolitan areas. Gene received NHC’s Housing Person of the Year award in 1989 and was founder and chairman of the Community Preservation and Development Corporation, an NHC member, as well as chair and board member of the Institute for Responsible Housing Preservation. 

I find the life and career of someone like Gene incredibly inspiring, calling on us to reflect on how much can be done with the right combination of leadership, political will and expertise in the field.

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