photo by REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
By David M. Dworkin
Last week, we saw new claims for unemployment surge by over 6 million – each claim filed by a person who, up until two weeks ago, was paying their rent, supporting themselves or their families and going to work every day. Without actually getting sick, their lives have been turned upside down. This week, millions more will join them, and thousands will likely get sick as well. There is nothing that any of us can do to change this; the feeling of powerlessness can be overwhelming. But we are not powerless to help, as you know. As leaders in America’s housing system, we have numerous opportunities to mitigate this devastating reality and help avert a much worse economic crisis in the weeks and months ahead. In that sense, we are incredibly fortunate. We don’t have to sit at home and feel helpless. Instead, we get to close our home office door (or in some cases, clear off the kitchen table) and get to work.
I am so inspired by the many things our members are doing every day to make a difference for millions of fellow Americans. There is a lot to do, and together we can get it done. Each week, we meet with the largest leadership groups in the housing industry, from mortgage bankers to apartment owners and developers, to advocates for the homeless and low-income renters – and everybody in between. All of the participants represent associations of organizations, or entire sectors of the housing economy, and most are CEOs, who have taken one hour of their week to share their priorities and listen to colleagues with the collective aim of leveraging our networks, coordinating our actions, and working together wherever possible.
Together, we are working on developing a “No Drama Priorities List” that we can share with policymakers in Congress and the Trump administration – the most impactful agenda items that have broad support across the entire political spectrum. Here are just a few of the priorities raised during last week’s call:
- Broad based rental assistance that can be made available to those most in need and those newly in need, designed to help avert a crisis that could wipe out thousands of small and mid-size apartment building owners, and lead to an avoidable eviction crisis that need not follow the health crisis we are experiencing today.
- Mortgage forbearance that helps those who need it, while addressing the liquidity needs of those who provide it, so mortgage servicers, both single family and multifamily, can remain fully engaged with the mortgagees whom they serve.
- Counseling resources, to augment and enhance communication channels to housing consumers at every level.
- Adjustments and enhancements in the financing for construction of desperately needed new housing units, already in short supply before the crisis and more essential now than ever. Housing construction will also be an essential component of our economic recovery, potentially putting millions of Americans back to work.
- Increased funding for homeless populations throughout the country; $4 billion was allocated in the CARES Act. It’s a good start, but four times as much may be necessary.
- Liquidity support, for secondary mortgage markets, primary market players, and nonprofit housing providers who could see short – or long-term – funding shortfalls that threaten their ability to serve those most in need.
- Expansion of the CARES payroll protection loans to 501(c)(6) organizations, including adequate funding to ensure it is available to all small businesses and nonprofits that need it.
- Support for the continued operation of the mortgage markets from loan approval to the closing table, so current sales can continue, and new ones can quickly ramp up once the health crisis begins to wane.
- Expedited spending of the CARES Act appropriations already approved, ensuring money gets to those who need it now.
- Regulatory relief to reduce bureaucratic impediments to keeping federal funds flowing as efficiently and effectively as possible.
These are just a few of the priorities discussed. Together, we are working to see them implemented. To help facilitate that, NHC has developed a new website called the COVID-19 Housing Resource Center. Currently in the final stages of development, we anticipate it launching for NHC members in a final beta version later next week, and for the general public shortly after. It consolidates information and best practices from dozens of industry websites into one, easily navigable resource, with FAQs, sources for informative webinars, and best practices. It is a massive endeavor that would normally take 3-6 months to stand up, that we anticipate being completed in 3-6 weeks. If you would like to serve as a beta tester, please let us know in an email to email@example.com and write BETA tester in the subject line. To keep feedback manageable, we ask that you limit your organization to one beta tester for now. To support these initiatives, we have added senior consultants to augment our team, including Bob Simpson, former vice president for affordable multifamily at Fannie Mae, and Gina Metrakas, a veteran of HUD, the Obama administration’s Detroit recovery team and Quicken Loans, and several research assistants from Harvard, NYU and the University of Illinois in Chicago. You can reach Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org and Gina at email@example.com.
In the meantime, please know that we are here to help you in any way that we can. Be safe, stay healthy, and know that you have more allies than you can imagine when you ask.
David M. Dworkin is president and CEO of the National Housing Conference.