Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sometimes it takes a threat to push housing issues to the forefront


by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

NHC has spent much of the past five years thinking, writing and working on ways to increase support for affordable housing and community development. Part of this work is to make clear that while affordability, housing security and community access to opportunity have worsened, we have not seen a commensurate increase in political will and funding at the federal level. For these reasons we have been emphasizing that in order to improve the situation we need change the way we have been doing our advocacy and education efforts.

This has been magnified by the Trump administration, where funding for federal housing and community development programs have come under attack. Instead of increasing support for housing programs that could create needed savings or address the growing severity of the problem, the Trump administration’s budget proposes elimination of funding for several important programs, and dramatic cuts to others.

As I have noted in previous editions of Under One Roof, we have seen a significant increase in attention to these issues over the past few years in high-cost regions where housing affordability, displacement and ending homelessness have received enough public and political attention to increase funding at the state and local levels. The question that remains is how to ensure that these issues receive bipartisan political support beyond the major high-cost metros, especially in the suburban and rural communities where affordability issues may play out differently.

It may be a small start, but it finally feels like we are beginning to seem some transfer of support to more members of Congress and an increasing level of bipartisan common support for some housing programs.

The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017, introduced by Sens. Cantwell and Hatch and supported by a bipartisan Senate coalition, would expand and improve upon the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program as recommended by the ACTION Campaign.
In his nomination hearing, Joseph Otting, the nominee for Comptroller of the Currency, voiced his support for NeighborWorks® America, despite the administration’s proposed defunding of the independent agency.
The Senate THUD subcommittee provided strong funding support for all housing and community development programs on a bipartisan basis, forging a very different path from the House committee recommendations and the Trump administration.

While this does not mean we have achieved sufficient support to meet the nation’s housing needs or even enough support to prevent program funding from being reduced in the FY 2018 budget process, there is a new sense that leaders in both parties are willing to speak up in favor of housing programs even in a difficult budget environment. Now is the time for everyone in the affordable housing and community development field to join the national efforts to increase support for this work:

The Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding, of which NHC is an active member, is working to coordinate budget advocacy among national housing and community development organizations. 
NHC launched Strong Voices for Affordable Housing this year to bring leaders from national groups together to share messaging and policy strategy on issues like tax reform, infrastructure, housing finance reform and more.
Our Homes, Our Voices is a national effort organized by the National Low Income Housing Coalition to mobilize local advocates to call for greater congressional investment in affordable homes and communities. More than 60 local events were held around the country in support of these programs during the National Housing Week of Action. 

Organizing locally, and mobilizing nationally, are the best ways for every organization, business or advocate to engage members of Congress on behalf of affordable housing and community development programs. The range of priorities across the housing and community development sector can make it difficult for us to speak consistently and coherently to national policymakers as a movement. While many organizations have specific programs or issues that matter most to our work, coordinated advocacy is vital maximizing the many different voices in our field and to preventing the programs we care about from being pitted against each other.

With all of us joining coordinated efforts to raise our issues at the federal level, we will build the movement to ensure safe, affordable homes for all. 

Thanks again for being a member of NHC and for supporting this work.

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