Thursday, November 17, 2016

What's next for the housing community post-election


by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

It has been a week since the election, and we have had some time to reflect on the outcome and how we at NHC see the landscape ahead for affordable housing and community development policy. The presidential results surprised most political and
media observers, and congressional races resulted in larger Republican majorities in Congress than many predicted. What is also unusual is how much we do not know at this point.

Regardless of election outcomes, I believe that affordable housing and community development must be a bipartisan issue to be successful.  Broad-based public support will be part of creating the political will required for adequate funding and other legislative solutions. 

Over my past four-plus years at NHC, I have focused on building a governing board balanced by members of both political parties and on being a respected source of information across partisan lines. We have also been committed to improving the communications strategies of our sector as well as making the case for the interconnectedness of the spectrum of housing and community development and the need for us to work together more effectively in our education efforts.

President-elect Trump arrives with no prior governing or military experience, but rather business experience and a mandate for change. His positions during his campaign gave us little direct evidence as to his views on housing and community development, but his campaign messaging around the need for a major investment in infrastructure suggests a way to connect housing as part of the vital infrastructure for community economic success and sustainability.

President-elect Trump also focused a lot of energy (and had success in voter support) in areas of the country that have experienced long-term economic decline or are still struggling to recover from the recession. These rural and urban areas in swing states that went majority Republican, like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio, create important coalition opportunities with other rural states, including majority Democratic states like Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine and majority Republican states in the middle and south west regions.  We believe that developing a bipartisan coalition around revitalization through housing can be a major opportunity to position affordable housing and community development work.

Housing is a bipartisan issue and the challenges in both rental affordability and access to homeownership are vital to economic sustainability and growth for the country. Affordable housing programs create vital infrastructure for vulnerable populations like persons with disabilities and seniors, as well as improve workforce sustainability and economic development. We hope the whole spectrum of affordable housing and community development organizations will come together to make this case in a united voice to the new administration and Congress.

We have followed the names put forward for HUD Secretary and are pleased that several are people with strong histories of work on and support for affordable housing. There are also other candidates we know much less about and at least one who has been very hostile to HUD efforts to deconcentrate poverty through Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. This appointment will be the first signal from the new administration of its support for housing issues. A second important appointment for housing will be Treasury Secretary. This person will play an important role in both rental and homeownership affordability, potential changes to the Dodd-Frank law and potential reform of the housing finance system.

Housing finance reform is a long-unaddressed issue NHC has focused on since the financial crisis. We plan to work in coalition in the coming year to help move housing finance reform forward along the consensus principles our task force developed two years ago. There are several other issues we think are particularly ripe for attention with the new administration and Congressional makeup. 

Reauthorization and reform of the National Flood Insurance Program is much needed to help people sustain homeownership affordably without being in harm's way. When disasters strike, the federal costs for emergency assistance quickly outstrip actual housing and community development funding. We remain hopeful that movement on this issue can be achieved that can allow for predictability and move the country towards more sustainable development in flood-prone areas while not exacerbating housing affordability challenges.

President-elect Trump has laid out some initial priorities already that may have funding implications for housing programs indirectly because of overall budget pressures. The proposal to raise the sequester cap on defense spending will put immediate pressure on non-discretionary spending (where housing programs reside) to be reduced to balance out those increases. Additional ideas like repealing or reforming parts of the Affordable Care Act could also place additional pressures on the non-defense discretionary budgets.

These pressures will be balanced against the new administration's desire to invest in areas experiencing decline and the need for large-scale infrastructure investment noted above. When we see specific proposals in Congress, we will be quick to share information on how they will impact housing funding, as well as the best strategy and framing to position housing and community development.


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