Monday, October 3, 2016

Will post-election federal appropriations be better for housing?

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

Congress granted itself a brief reprieve on federal appropriations by passing a continuing resolution but come December 9, FY 2017 appropriations will demand Congress’ attention again. Will a lame duck Congress return and finish the work of year-long appropriations? If the lame duck Congress uses another short-term continuing resolution to punt the question to the new Congress, will funding for housing look any better?

No and no. [considers mic-drop and exit stage left; thinks better of it]

Post-election, the party that gains seats will have every incentive to push decisions off into the new Congress. The Republicans have limited control over both Houses right now but delays in the Senate and the threat of a presidential veto mean either party can prevent action. The resulting continuing resolution would likely mean net reduction in the number of households helped.

Absent a windfall of federal funds that no one sees on the horizon, federal housing funding will only change with a renewed political will to make housing affordable to all.

And no mistake about it, making housing affordable for the roughly 75 percent of eligible households who receive no housing help would mean major new resources. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Housing Commission estimated the cost at roughly $32 billion annually. A big federal commitment like that would likely generate lots of off-budget benefits in terms of better health, shorter commutes, less traffic, less pollution and more housing-related jobs, but the price tag is still there.

Housing is largely a nonpartisan issue, for good or ill. Democrats may focus a bit more on urban housing issues and Republicans a little more on rural areas, but neither party looks at committing major new resources to housing as a way to distinguish itself from the other party. When a member of either party takes on housing issues, it tends to be in ways that address particular concerns in that member’s state or district. Recent examples include Senator Wyden’s new proposal for middle-income rental housing (a major issue in Portland) or Rep. Ross’ and Rep. Murphy’s private flood insurance bill (a major issue in Florida).

So the elections results, in terms of which party controls each house of Congress, are not likely to change housing funding in a major way. What could change it? More widespread understanding that helping people live closer to where they work, study and build their lives benefits everyone. A consensus among housers (who inform legislators) on a collection of needed policy actions. And a shared understanding that housing can create opportunity if we work together to give people more choices.

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