This month’s election has created a unique opening for bipartisan housing legislation before the end of the year. It is a very narrow window of opportunity, however, and it is likely to slam shut with the end of the 117th Congress. Yet even in this highly partisan environment, we can enact meaningful housing legislation if we focus on bipartisan solutions. This opportunity was made clear at a meeting of housing leaders held with the Biden Administration at the White House on Wednesday, Nov. 16. It could not have gone better.
National Economic Council Director Brian Deese chaired the meeting, which included Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Sandra Thompson, and Domestic Policy Council Director Ambassador Susan Rice. In addition to NHC, the leaders of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, National Multifamily Housing Council, National Association of Home Builders, National Council of State Housing Agencies, National Association of REALTORS®, National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders, Mortgage Bankers Association, National Fair Housing Alliance, Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition, and the Bipartisan Policy Center’s J. Ronald Terwilliger Center for Housing Policy attended.
There was broad consensus on the importance of building more affordable housing, serving those most in need, and ensuring everyone is served equitably. While there was some disagreement on the mechanics of one or two of these issues, the discussion was constructive and productive. On our housing supply legislative priorities, there was broad agreement. We need to make a significant investment in the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), with improvements to ensure Extremely Low-Income renters are better served by the program.
If we are successful, we could create or preserve 2 million units of affordable housing over the next 10 years. We also agreed on the importance of passing the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act, which would create or rehabilitate nearly a half million homes that are the most affordable opportunities for first-time homebuyers.
We also talked about important regulatory and administrative initiatives like improving the regulations for the Section 8 rental assistance program and the HOME program. We’ve talked about modernizing these programs for many years. It’s time to start working on a new regulation. We need more funding, but regardless of our success in the appropriations process, we need to be sure every dollar goes further and helps more people.
The most challenging issue for us is how to protect renters from price gouging, where it occurs, without triggering the unintended consequence of disincentivizing investment and development of desperately needed affordable housing. I thought it was a very productive discussion that will continue. I suspect no one will be totally happy with the end result, but the administration leadership was committed to doing their best to “thread the needle.”
Our urgency, however, is focused on housing production. We have a unique opportunity given the elections of last week. Had Republicans or Democrats swept the House and Senate, there would be little impetus to pass legislation with the prospect of total control in just six weeks. That did not happen. Instead, the Senate will stay in Democratic hands while the House will be led by a narrow majority of Republicans. As a result, next year is likely to be even more partisan than this year.
Today, however, Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy and Ranking Member Richard Shelby are already hard at work developing an Omnibus Appropriations bill for FY 2023. Both are retiring and are highly motivated to leave a lasting legacy. It is also likely this bill could be the vehicle for bipartisan tax legislation, which should include LIHTC and Neighborhood Homes. The time to make our case is right now.
Every member of the National Housing Conference should focus on this for the next six weeks. We have a narrow window to achieve historic levels of funding for desperately needed affordable housing. We need to get through before it slams shut.