A recurrent theme at the 2016 NMHC Board of Directors and Advisory Committee Meeting was the lack of discussion around housing policy both as part of the election dialogue and in Congress. Lawmakers pointed to strong partisan politics as being the major hurdle in moving any kind of discussion much less legislation forward on any number of key topics such as housing finance reform, comprehensive tax reform and housing affordability.
In this time of great political polarization, bipartisanship is all the more critical, said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) during a conversation with former NMHC Chairman Tom Bozzuto.
“We’ve got to come to grips with solving long-term problems and acting in a responsible way,” Hoyer said. “America is great today. But I don’t think there’s one of you that doesn’t say I have a great business, but it could be better. And that’s what we need to be doing [in Congress].”
During a panel discussion, Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Dean Heller (R-N.V.), both members of the Senate Banking Committee, said they were anticipating that housing is going to surface as a major point of discussion as urgency arises around the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) set to expire in September 2017, and the GSEs, which are likely to run out of money by 2018.
“We’ve lulled ourselves into thinking that we can leave the GSEs in receivership forever and that they will always be cash cows-and that that’s okay,” said Heitkamp. “It’s going to be a rude awakening. ... Smart people see what’s on the horizon. There’s no way we can go another four years without reform.”
However, Senator Heller noted that the difficulty in pushing through GSE reform depends to some degree on who remains the chairman of the committee.
“If Republicans remain in control, Senator Crapo will be the chairman. And that would be a good thing. He can get the gang back together on housing,” Heller said, referring to the earlier bipartisan efforts mounted by Senators Corker, Warner, Johnson and Crapo to advance housing finance reform.
As testament to the power of bipartisanship in the House, Representatives Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) and Emmanuel Cleaver, II (D-Mo.) shared some details of the efforts that led to the passing of NMHC-supported H.R. 3700 during a panel discussion with former NMHC Chairman Daryl Carter.
H.R. 3700, made critical reforms to HUD’s Section 8 voucher program for the first time in 50 years. Its passage marked the first time in more than 27 years that a measure has unanimously passed both houses of Congress under regular order.
“The good news for the country is that there was a Republican and a Democrat that worked together to get something done,” said Cleaver. “And so it shows that there is a way to reduce the tribalism and get things done.”
On the subject of affordable housing, both Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Ranking Member Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told NMHC members that they are hoping that they can make housing more of a priority going forward. Should the election fall in favor of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, both Wyden and Brown would likely become chairmen of two important committees, the Senate Committee of Finance and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, respectively.
“If I were to sum up where we are in America, it’s that federal housing policy needs a remodel,” said Wyden, pointing to housing affordability as a governor on economic growth.
“Tragically in this presidential election, neither [candidate] is talking about housing,” Brown added.
Wyden, a big proponent of the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program, also talked about legislative vehicles that could help increase housing supply and slow housing costs. He said he was looking at proposing something called the MIHTC, the middle-income housing tax credit. Modeled after the LIHTC program, MIHTC would aim to help middle-income households that earn too much to qualify for subsidy but are getting squeezed by limited new housing supply and escalating costs.
“There is an enormous appetite and cash wanting to invest in middle-income housing,” Wyden said. “It is not something that is going to take from LIHTC; it will work alongside it, complement it.”
NMHC’s Workforce Housing Committee has been working with Wyden on further developing this proposal.