Monthly Archives: January 2014

NAHRO Response to the State of the Union Address

Last night, the President properly focused attention on the matter of income inequality and in  doing so urged Congress to take immediate steps in this “year of action” to address the widening gap between rich and poor in America.  With 2014being the 50th anniversary of the “War on Poverty” we agree that more immediate and more directed action to assist the most vulnerable and those struggling to make ends meet in our nation is not only wholly appropriate but absolutely necessary.  With this in mind, however, we were disappointed that the President failed to mention the important role that affordable housing plays or should play in this larger endeavor.  In 2011, for example, less than 5 percent of affordable housing units produced in this country were affordable to minimum wage workers.  Also, nearly 50 percent of renters pay more than 30 percent of their income towards housing according to a study conducted by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

Having a safe and decent place to call home is essential to the health and wellbeing of families, seniors, returning vets and the disabled, whether they be rich or poor.  The public policy goal of a decent home and suitable living environment for all has long been the fulcrum that has enabled this nation to assist those in need of a place to call home.  Public Housing, Section 8 rental assistance, Low Income Housing Tax Credits, the HOME program and CDBG all were created to help provide a foundation to enable the federal government to assist low and very low income families in need of shelter who otherwise might go without.  The tragedy of homeless in America today is in fact a cruel reminder and a link in the extreme to some of the same income driven issues the President raised tonight and the Administration seeks to address in the months to follow.

We commend the Administrations heightened focus on poverty in America, income inequality and the needs of America’s working poor.  Housing and redevelopment authorities who are essential players on affordable housing’s front line stand ready to work with the Administration and we seek to play an important part in helping in the larger effort to assist the working poor. To do so in an otherwise difficult budget environment, however, will require a recommitment on the part of the federal government to provide the tools and resources necessary to enable local agencies to be effective and to attack this problem in a responsible manner.

We hope our nation’s leaders break the cycle of partisanship in Washington and we hope that Congress, on a bipartisan basis, working with the Administration, can reach early agreement on a plan of action to close the income gap that exists today.  That plan, we believe, must recognize that the provision of safe, decent and affordable housing is an essential part of the solution.  From this necessary recommitment to address the needs of those who have less, we hope will come an overwhelming reaffirmation of the need to close the nation’s affordable housing gap through the production of new affordable housing and the preservation of the nation’s irreplaceable stock of affordable housing.

#SOTU14: What NAHRO Wants to Hear

About this time each year, Washington is buzzing about the annual State of the Union Address otherwise referred to as the SOTU.  NAHRO for years has been a part of the process and has prepared a written response re our thoughts on the address good and bad.  Our thoughts are sent to the media, members of congress and others to ensure that affordable housing issues are on the table.  More recently we have live tweeted the speech to our ever growing list of followers.  This year we will be tweeting from @NAHROnational and we will prepare a more formal response following the Presidents remarks.

The Administration forwarded talking points to us today in advance of the speech.  The list of talking points is not altogether surprising:

  • The President will deliver the State of the Union address Tuesday night, driven by three key principles: opportunity, action, and optimism.
  • The core idea is as American as they come: If you work hard and play by the rules, you should have the opportunity to succeed. In America, your ability to get ahead should be determined by your hard work, ambition, and goals – not by the circumstances of your birth.
  • The President will lay out a set of real, concrete, practical proposals to grow the economy, strengthen the middle class, and empower all who hope to join it.
  • In this year of action, the President will seek out as many opportunities as possible to work with Congress in a bipartisan way on behalf of the American people. But when American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress.
  • The President has a pen and he has a phone, and he will use them to take executive actions and enlist every American – from business owners, workers, mayors and state legislators to young people, veterans, and folks in communities across the country – in the project to restore opportunity for all.
  • It will be an optimistic speech. America has a hard-earned right to that optimism thanks to the grit and determination of citizens across the country. Five years after the President inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, our businesses have created more than eight million new jobs in the past 46 months, and they’re primed to create more.
  • The President will remind the country that, with some action on all of our parts, we can help more jobseekers find work, and more working Americans find the economic security they deserve.
  • In the week following the State of the Union, the President will travel to communities across the country – including Prince George’s County Maryland, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Nashville – before returning to the White House to outline new efforts to help the long-term unemployed.

This is the first time that I can recall that talking points such as these were broadly distributed in advance of the speech providing a window into what we can expect to hear from the President. Yes, it would have been better to see the word housing or better yet, affordable housing in the talking points, but we hold out hope that the work that NAHRO members do every day to ensure that vulnerable populations are being served will be recognized in some way. Specifically, we hope the President will speak to the following NAHRO “talking points” in the SOTU:

  • The most vulnerable in our nation should know that providing decent, safe and affordable housing is still a priority;
  • The investment we make in providing affordable housing will serve those in need, create good paying jobs and will help stimulate the economy through the sale of goods and services;
  • The Administration recognizes that any attempt to address “income inequality” must include a vigorous well thought out plan to address the housing needs of the most vulnerable;
  • Improving our nation’s infrastructure includes preserving our nation’s irreplaceable housing inventory of affordable housing. The two are not mutually exclusive;
  • Efforts to get our fiscal house in order going forward should not come at the expense of domestic discretionary accounts generally and HCD accounts specifically;
  • He intends to focus on a plan to restore our nation’s aging inventory of federally assisted-housing (including public housing and section 8 assisted housing) in the remaining months of his term as President;
  • He hopes the Congress will send him tax reform legislation or at a minimum tax extender legislation that preserves both the 9% and 4% LIHTC credits.
  • He has directed HUD and other government agencies to expedite regulatory reforms that save the federal government money and relieve the administrative burdens that such regulations impose upon local providers;
  • He wants to work with mayors and all those who utilize both the HOME and CDBG programs to maximize the effectiveness of both programs in the larger effort to meet the housing and service needs that exist in our communities;
  • He wants to ensure that the needs of seniors, the disabled and children living in federally supported-housing are part of this Administrations overall commitment to ensure quality housing and a quality living environment for those in need.

Too much to ask for in one speech? Maybe.  A reasonable set of objectives to shoot for this year and for the remainder of the President’s term in office?  We certainly hope so.

The Miracle Fiscal Year: 2014

Congress is getting closer to finally having a comprehensive spending plan in place for FY 2014- yesterday, the House approved the omnibus by 359-67. While the House was debating the larger omnibus package, the Senate approved a three-day continuing resolution that will keep the government running after midnight on Wednesday, when the original continuing resolution was set to expire. The omnibus package will now move to the Senate, which is expected to began debate on the bill today and should hold a final vote on Friday. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the Senate is expected to easily pass the bill.

NAHRO issued a statement to the House before their final vote, urging them to approve the measure. The message also included a reminder to legislators that this spending bill did not do enough to address the growing need for housing and community development in this country and that an increase in funding is necessary in FY 2015. We issued a similar message to the Senate this morning.

And, unfortunately, the ink will barely dry on the bill before the fight for FY 2015 begins. Those of us who have experienced the chaos of looking forward to an upcoming fiscal year while still focusing on the battle of the current year (ahem- FY 2011 and FY 2012) are grateful that FY 2014 is wrapping up before the FY 2015 “’season” begins. But, we really have no time to relax this year as we need to begin gearing up for FY 2015 now.

Before we look forward, let’s take a minute to reflect on the successes of FY 2014. Just three months ago, the federal government was entering into the 16th day of a shutdown. Now, we have a budget resolution that offsets part of sequestration and every single appropriations bill was just approved by the House. That bears repeating-  we’ve come all the way from the third longest government shutdown ever when Congress was unwilling to consider even a short-term CR to reopen the government to the passage in the House of a 12 bill omnibus spending package in just three months. I’m frequently asked to predict what I think Congress will do and it never occurred to me that they would be able to pull any of this off. It’s simply amazing.

NAHRO members deserve some credit for this. Though the bulk of the work to reopen the government, negotiate a budget deal, and craft all 12 appropriations bills happened in high-level negotiations between Congressional leadership, it was the constant feedback from constituents like you that finally pushed these deals through. Legislators were hearing over and over that the government shutdown was hurting their communities, that maintaining the funding status quo would be harmful, and that more funding is needed for housing and community development programs.  It was NAHRO members’ communications with their legislators helped to get us a budget that brings funding increases for many of the housing and community development programs that NAHRO members administer. Though a wide-range of NAHRO’s membership is very active with their advocacy efforts, NAHRO’s Legislative Network did much of the heavy-lifting on this, particularly throughout the past three months, and NAHRO is extremely grateful for them and all of their hard work.

I also want to mention NAHRO’s partners in Washington, particularly the Campaign for Housing and Community Development. NAHRO works closely with CHCDF as a member of their steering committee, but we are just one of several organizations with dedicated and passionate staff who also fight for the future of housing and community development programs. Their help coordinating messages, planning Hill meetings, and sharing intelligence makes our jobs much, much easier.

So, on we move to FY 2015. The President will kick off the season with his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, January 28th, outlining his priorities and goals for the year. Shortly after in February or March, President Obama’s FY 2015 budget proposal will be unveiled, providing specific funding recommendations for the plans outlined in his STOU and for all federal programs.

Omnibus at a Glance

The nearly 1,600-page draft bill includes all 12 appropriations bills, a huge achievement in this difficult budget climate.  As a result of the recent short-term budget agreement, the $1.012 billion omnibus measure represents a 2.6 percent increase in overall discretionary funding compared to FY 2013’s post-sequestration enacted level of $986 million.

Given the urgent need for housing and community development investments in communities across America, the overall funding levels for HUD are slightly disappointing given the additional funding available across all discretionary programs. However, this reflects the stark budget situation facing nearly every account across the federal budget.  These funding levels give us a baseline to fight for a higher investment in housing and community development programs in FY 2015, a fight that begins soon.

Despite a lower-than-hoped-for investment in HUD overall, specific programs administered by NAHRO members did see increases over current funding levels. Section 8 Tenant-Based Rental Assistance is set to receive a $1 billion boost for the renewal of existing vouchers, and administrative fee funding will increase by approximately $195 million.  Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance is funded at $9.9 billion, an increase over the current $8.9 billion funding level. Incremental VASH vouchers are funded at $75 million, equal to FY 2013 levels and the President’s request.

The bill provides $4.4 billion for the Public Housing Operating Fund for 2014, a meaningful increase over the 2013 level, and $1.875 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund, which represents level funding. Early estimates indicate that the Operating Fund proration in FY 2014 will be in the range of 87 to 88 percent.  Choice Neighborhoods funding is reduced from the current post-sequestration level of $114 million to $90 million under the omnibus bill, with at least $55 million guaranteed for PHAs.

The Community Development Block Grant program is funded at $3.03 billion, down from the FY 2013 level of $3.078 billion after sequestration. The HOME Investment Partnerships program receives $1 billion, an increase over the current post-sequestration level of $948 million.  Homeless assistance grant funding receives a modest increase under the agreement.

The administrative provisions of the omnibus bill also include language that “streamlines and reduces the costs of housing voucher programs,” including modifications to the definition of extremely low-income, streamlining inspections of units, changes to utility allowances, and a change to the definition of consortia.  Other provisions, including compensation restrictions and an exemption from asset management for small agencies, carry forward from previous years largely unchanged.