Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Housing policy will actually happen in 2016, if quietly

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

“Where did you go to, if I may ask?' said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along.
To look ahead,' said he.
And what brought you back in the nick of time?'
Looking behind,' said he.”  

                 -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Despite the confounding influence of the upcoming election, a few areas of housing policy might see concrete action next year. As Gandalf, perhaps too cleverly, reminds us in the quote above, we need to look both backward and forward for a full understanding. Furthermore, we shouldn’t be distracted by looking forward from the essential work of today. Several issue areas look ripe for policymaking and implementation in 2016.

Mortgage finance. Although I can confidently predict that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will still be in conservatorship on Jan. 1, policy changes are still likely as the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) continues its work. We already saw one major course correction in how FHFA will evaluate multifamily housing production, and there will likely be other changes when the agency releases its long-awaited duty to serve rule. Fannie Mae updated its single-family affordable housing lending with HomeReady this year, and I expect both Fannie and Freddie to continue innovating affordable housing offerings in the coming year. And even if Congress is pretty far from legislating a much-needed renovation of the housing finance system, NHC’s principles for housing finance reform serve as a broad-based, nonpartisan anchor for policy development.

Restoring neighborhoods. Next year will see continuation of efforts to create opportunity in places that have struggled through the foreclosure crisis and sometimes for decades before. FHFA recently broadened its Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative to many more cities, one of many topics covered at our recent Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods convening. Our ongoing Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force helps our members engage with housing as part of comprehensive community development that connects education, public safety, economic development, health and much more. Next year may see policy work on housing counseling, affordable homeownership, distressed loan sales, single-family rentals and vacant properties, among others.

Housing and health. NHC’s research team has been hard at work showing how housing and health intersect. Changes in health care policy have refocused efforts to bring health care anchor institutions more directly into housing and to help government policy better recognize health care savings from housing investments. Next year may be a key time for these technical but nonetheless essential efforts with federal agencies like HUD, HHS and OMB as well as pioneering state and local efforts.

Broadband connectivity. NHC members participating in our Connectivity Working Group since its kickoff in 2014 have been part of shaping important first steps toward getting everyone in affordable housing connected to the Internet. We will pursue our policy recommendations in 2016 as HUD implements its ConnectHome initiative, the FCC decides the future of the Lifeline program and new opportunities for public-private partnerships emerge.

Fair housing. Next year will see the first communities engaging in Assessments of Fair Housing under HUD’s new fair housing rule. NHC has supported HUD’s efforts to encourage communities to create housing opportunities for everyone while changing long-standing patterns of residential segregation that are still with us from past policy failures. We have also offered constructive suggestions to guide HUD and the field in reaching shared goals. Our Inclusive Communities Working Group will be hard at work in 2016 developing practical solutions, and fair housing will be a focus of policy work to come.

Energy efficiency in affordable housing. Affordable housing stakeholders should move swiftly in 2016 to make sure that the federal Clean Power Plan creates new funding opportunities for affordable housing. With many members of our Green Affordable Housing Coalition, NHC has been focusing efforts at the state level to ensure that energy efficiency investments in affordable housing are a part of state plans. 2016 will be a critical year for this work.

We probably won’t see action on major tax reform or appropriations beyond stopgaps, as Congress will leave those until after the election. But as the campaigns crash into each other with thunderous noise, some real housing policy work will get done, albeit quietly. Make sure you’re plugged in to NHC in 2016.

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