Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Appropriations outlook for housing, FY 2017 and 2018

by Kaitlyn Snyder

As NHC's Ethan Handelman predicted in an earlier appropriations discussion, appropriations for both Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 and 2018 are indeed messy, again. Funding for the federal government for FY 2017 is set to expire on April 28. Senators return from a two-week recess on Monday, April 24 and representatives return on Tuesday, April 25, leaving just a few days to pass a bill. Of the 12 spending bills, 1 (military construction and veterans affairs) has already passed both chambers of Congress and become law, another (defense) was passed by the House and now awaits passage by the Senate. We expect to see the remaining 10 bills attached to the defense bill, pass the Senate, and then go back over to the House for a final vote. To achieve this, we expect Congress to pass a short-term Continuing Resolution that will fund the federal government for a week or so, and then pass a larger bill that will fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, till September 30th, 2017.

However, complicating matters is President Trump’s request to cut $18 billion from discretionary spending programs for the remainder of FY 2017. Cutting $18 billion over the remaining 5 months of the fiscal year would amount to zeroing out entire programs. HUD alone would face about $1.7 billion in cuts coming from the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (-$125 million), the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) (-$1,494 million), and the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) ($56 million). Congressional leaders from both parties have largely dismissed the cuts and are hoping to stick to the agreed upon funding in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 which raised the sequester caps. Should Congress pass a spending bill that largely ignores the president's proposed cuts, President Trump could decide to veto the bill. It is unlikely that the bill will have a veto-proof majority, leaving an alternative path uncertain. With the uncertainty around FY 2017 funding, public housing agencies have been administering fewer vouchers in case the program does get cut when Congress addresses FY 2017 spending. No cuts to housing programs have gone into effect yet. However, a full-term continuing resolution for FY 2017 would essentially be a cut to housing programs, discussed below.

Once the federal government is funded for the remainder of FY 2017, appropriators will immediately focus on funding for FY 2018. President Trump released his skinny budget in March and we expect to see a full budget in mid-May.  The skinny budget would keep the overall FY 2018 spending cap of $1.065 trillion set in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011, but increase the defense side of the budget by $54 billion and decrease the non-defense side by $54 billion. Under President Trump’s skinny budget, HUD faces a $6.2 billion or 13% cut for FY 2018. While the skinny budget did not provide much detail, it did propose eliminating CDBG, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, SHOP, Choice Neighborhoods and Section 4. Altogether, eliminating those 5 programs would cut about $4.45 billion, meaning an additional $1.75 billion needs to be cut from the HUD budget to reach $6.2 billion. And that’s just within HUD; many housing programs that aren’t based within HUD would face similar cuts.

Appropriations for FY 2018 were already going to be messy because sequestration would take full effect in FY 2018. Notably, the full impact of the sequestration law has never taken place because Congress has found alternatives. The caps only applied to 6 of 12 months in FY 2013. FY 2014 and FY 2015 caps were raised by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, otherwise known as the Murray-Ryan deal. FY 2016 and FY 2017 caps were raised by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. Absent another bipartisan deal to raise the caps, non-defense discretionary funding would be cut by $3 billion from sequestration alone, only to be cut by an additional $54 billion from President Trump’s budget.

While congressional appropriators may not fully support President Trump’s request for $54 billion in cuts, the request alone has changed the discussion and made smaller, but still harmful, cuts seem reasonable. The HUD budget requires a 3-4% increase every year just to keep up with inflation and rising housing costs. So even keeping funding levels at current levels effectively amounts to a cut for HUD. The housing community must come together to stave off these proposed cuts. This is why the National Housing Conference has teamed up with groups like NDD United and the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding to support efforts for robust federal funding of affordable housing and other domestic programs that help lift families out of poverty and enable them to reach better outcomes.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Changing the trajectory by changing the message

by Chris Estes

Uncertainty and change. These have been the watchwords in Washington, D.C. since the November election and somewhat naturally go together. Change typically brings some degree of uncertainty. A new presidential administration and a new one-party majority in the White House and Congress are always going to bring change. This administration’s nontraditional background brought more than the usual uncertainty to who would be appointed and how affordable housing and community development policy would be perceived.

Some things are certain, however. We know that the Trump administration has proposed deep cuts to housing programs that would reduce the number of people receiving housing assistance, increase homelessness and worsen the shortage of affordable rental housing that is still mostly silent in terms of political prioritization. While these proposed cuts have served to rally the field across the spectrum of homelessness, multifamily housing, homeownership and community development broadly, we expect that President Trump’s budget will not be implemented as proposed.

What I am less certain about is whether we all recognize how our advocacy and education efforts must change if we are to position housing as a politically popular bipartisan issue at the federal level. While I have been really pleased with the efforts by many groups and campaigns to talk about the whole housing continuum rather than just a specific priority, I don’t think we have really moved beyond a “program and problem focus” for our advocacy. Our advocacy often still centers on the magnitude of the problems our communities face, versus conveying more of the value, success and impact of housing solutions for people and places.

One area of hope and guidance is the success of many communities across the country in adopting new funding for affordable housing development locally. As someone who worked at the local and state levels for 20 years before coming to D.C., I know that state and local organizations have long been investing in new messaging and framing around values and impact. It has been interesting to watch some of this trickle up to national-level discussions, where the concepts feel new, and to see folks struggle with how to incorporate new messaging practices into advocacy and education efforts without falling back on old strategies.

At NHC we’ve worked for more than five years on identifying, distilling and creating resources on how the housing community can improve our efforts to more effectively build support at all levels of government. This is why our Annual Budget Forum focused on how folks are making the case for housing programs in this new political and budgetary environment, rather than focusing on the proposed budget cuts themselves.

This is also why we convene Solutions for Housing Communications each year. This annual event is targeted directly at how to overcome local opposition to affordable housing development in your community. We know that neighborhoods are where housing is built and where it visibly impacts lives. While Solutions provides practical tools for overcoming local opposition, it also provides guidance for how we can adapt these strategies to our state legislative and congressional educations efforts.

If you missed our Annual Budget Forum, I hope you’ll take time to view the recording. I also hope you’ll register for our Solutions for Housing Communications convening in Minneapolis April 27-28. You can get a 10 percent discount on registration using code “save10” now through April 7.

NHC will continue to work to be a resource for the field on messaging and on improved coordination and collaboration among national organizations, networks and campaigns. There is still much we must do together to change the trajectory of political support for our work over the long run as we stave off harmful reductions to vital resources today.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What is the “wrong pocket” problem and why is it important?

by Janet Viveiros

Often during discussions about the connection between housing and health, education and employment, housers will reference the “wrong pocket” problem, the concept that investments in affordable housing development and preservation have benefits that yield savings in sectors outside of housing. This makes it difficult to create a measure for the return on investment in affordable housing, which can help make a strong business case for public investment in affordable housing. Yet return on investment is something that influences policymakers’ decisions on how to spend public funds in efficient ways.

In the current political climate, affordable housing developers and providers will have to do more to serve low-income households with fewer resources. This makes it even more important that they understand what kinds of affordable housing investments may yield the greatest benefits for the people they serve. It also means that they will have to create effective arguments for allocating public resources to affordable housing because of its many benefits.

The good news is that in the area of health, in particular, there is evidence of a return on investment for affordable housing. There has been significant research into how permanent supportive housing, which serves some of the most vulnerable Americans, can lead to better health outcomes and healthcare savings. The research, summarized in NHC’s report “How Investing in Housing Can Save on Health Care,” makes a strong case that increasing the number of permanent supportive homes can lead to improvements in the health and well-being of individuals who were formerly homeless and reduce health care spending for this population. In addition, recent research from the Center for Outcomes Research and Education has demonstrated that providing affordable housing of various kinds to low-income Medicaid enrollees leads to better health outcomes and lower health care costs. 

There is not an equivalent body of evidence to measure the return on investment in other sectors such as education or economic opportunity. However, there is research to demonstrate many of the benefits.

It is important for housers to educate policymakers and the public about the full return on investment for affordable housing. Affordable housing for low-income Americans not only puts a roof over their head, but also helps them be healthier, perform better in school and be more productive because living in a stable and affordable home provides an opportunity to focus on pursuing financial and employment goals. This all can contribute to significant economic gains.

As affordable housing advocates, we must continue to add to our understanding of how affordable housing creates benefits and savings in health, education and economic opportunity. We must also share this information with the public to help improve understanding of affordable housing as a key platform for American’s success. 

The good housing stuff ain’t all in HUD, but it is at risk

by Ethan Handelman

Housing stakeholders nationwide were alarmed by President Trump’s proposed budget cut of $6.2 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Such deep cuts would prevent meaningful investment in the future while endangering much existing affordable housing supported by Housing Choice Vouchers, public housing, Section 8, HOME and CDBG block grants and other well-known housing programs. But the proposed budget would also cut many other, lesser-known programs with proven success in creating economic opportunity, drawing in private investment and reaching people and communities often left behind in times of prosperity.

When affordable housing is mentioned, most people’s minds jump right to HUD. But affordable housing support has a place in several agencies, many of which the president’s budget targets for elimination. Here are a few successful housing programs you may not have heard about, each targeted for cuts or elimination:

·         U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Housing Service creates and preserves affordable housing in rural America, but the budget proposes cutting the state office staff who implements this work.
·         Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) focuses on regional economic development, with natural connections to housing, in a region that has struggled with declining employment and population for years. Congress established the ARC in 1965.

·         Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund) capitalizes mission-driven lenders who leverage private capital for community development and affordable housing. The CDFI Fund is part of the Department of the Treasury. 
·         Neighborworks® America, aka Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, empowers a network of locally based nonprofits who strengthen communities through affordable housing and community development work. It is a nonprofit chartered by Congress in 1978.
·         Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing Program (Section 4) is in HUD; Congress authorized it in 1993 to help nonprofits build their capacity for affordable housing and community development work. It currently goes to Enterprise Community Partners, Habitat for Humanity International and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation.
·         Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) is another little-known HUD program. Nonprofits use SHOP funds, authorized by Congress in 1996, to create affordable homeownership using sweat equity from the new homeowners themselves. The Housing Assistance Council has one example among many SHOP programs.

·         Weatherization Assistance Program is in the Department of Energy, and it does just what it sounds like. Federal funds go through states and localities to help make homes more energy efficient, which saves money, keeps families healthier and sustains homeownership for low-income households. 
·         Hazard Mitigation Grant Program in the Department of Homeland Security (via FEMA) helps communities mitigate the risks of natural disasters by making homes and other buildings more resilient. It turns out that preventing damage from hazards like floods is also a great way to save money
·         United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) coordinates the efforts of 19 federal agencies to end and prevent homelessness. USICH is an “independent establishment” within the executive branch that was originally authorized by Congress in the 1987 Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. Lawmakers recently introduced bipartisan legislation to make USICH permanent
·         The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program is a competitive program that supports innovative transportation projects, including multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional projects, which are difficult to fund through traditional programs. The Capital Investment Grants program is the only federal program dedicated to supporting new public transportation lines. Both of these Department of Transportation programs affect the creation and preservation of affordable housing near the transportation investments.
What these examples of effective housing programs targeted for cuts have in common is that they are long-term investments in America’s people and communities. They are in many different agencies because housing connects to many different parts of our lives: our health, our economic future, our connections to our neighbors and more.

As we discussed last week at NHC’s Annual Budget Forum, our advocacy for housing funding should build on the intersections between housing and the values each of us hold dear. If you missed the live broadcast, I encourage you to view the recording for ideas and strategies that can strengthen the message of support for affordable housing.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Housers can continue progress on green affordable housing, even with Clean Power Plan facing review

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

This post originally appeared on Sept. 30, 2016 and has been updated to reflect new developments.
On March 28, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency to review and then revise or rescind the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The order also rescinds other prior federal actions on climate change. Regardless of the final outcome for CPP, housing stakeholders should continue their efforts to create affordable housing that is healthier, more energy efficient and better for the environment. While the CPP certainly provides a strong incentive for states to invest in green affordable housing to meet carbon reduction goals, several states have already made those investments before the CPP was around. Other states have pledged to take further steps on their own. The rationale for greener affordable housing is compelling on its own merits and a strong voice from housing stakeholders can encourage public investments in energy efficiency to include affordable housing. Affordable housing stakeholders can also explore partnerships with state energy offices and utilities to explore how to work together and support healthy and energy efficient housing.

Earlier post:
On Sept. 27, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments supporting and opposing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. The Supreme Court issued a stay on the Clean Power Plan (CPP) in February while legal action was ongoing, which leaves the status of the CPP unknown. A decision could come in early 2017. Housing stakeholders should continue their efforts to create affordable housing that is healthier, more energy efficient and better for the environment. The rationale for greener affordable housing is compelling on its own merits and we should encourage it through the CPP process and elsewhere.

The Clean Power Plan continues to present an opportunity to make affordable housing greener as a cost-effective way to meet environmental goals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Once legal issues are resolved, states that are still moving forward will likely move to implement the plan swiftly, so affordable housing stakeholders should engage with new partners like air regulators, utilities and state energy offices. Preparatory outreach and education by housing stakeholders in states that have not begun working on CPP is also valuable, so that housing solutions are part of the menu of options states will consider using.

Regardless of the outcome of the legal challenges, housing stakeholders should seek out state partners in the energy and clean air sectors and engage in discussions about the importance of energy efficient, healthier and greener affordable housing. Affordable multifamily housing is a sector that has been overlooked in many places, but the benefit to low-income residents and the sustainability of the affordable housing properties would be significant. The CPP certainly provides a strong incentive for states to invest in green affordable housing to meet carbon reduction goals, but several states have already made those investments before the CPP was around. Other states may take further steps on their own if CPP stops. In any of those eventualities, a strong voice from housing stakeholders can encourage public investments in energy efficiency to include affordable housing.

The National Housing Conference will continue to work with housing stakeholders and allies to pursue more ways to invest in energy efficiency improvements in affordable housing. As part of this work, NHC has submitted a comment letter with partners on the Clean Power Plan’s Clean Energy Incentive Program, which gives states a head start on meeting standards under the Clean Power Plan. This proposed rule is open for comment until Nov. 2, 2016. NHC will continue to follow the legal actions on the Clean Power Plan to keep our membership informed. Creating greener affordable housing provides better outcomes for resident health, building quality and the environment, and NHC looks forward to its ongoing work to support green affordable housing.
If you want to learn more about how to get involved, here are some places to start: