Having passed a gigantic omnibus spending bill only a few weeks ago, it is a little hard to jump-start a conversation about what to expect in CY 2016, but such are the ways of Washington these days. This in no way is meant to trivialize the accomplishment of passing the omnibus. After all, there were a number of very positive provisions in the omnibus, not the least of those being the expansion of Moving to Work (MtW), but the fact remains that the FY 2016 spending blueprint expected on October 1 was only released, approved and signed by the President before Congress left for the holidays.
The President earlier this week in his State of the Union address talked about top tier issues he would like to address in this his last year in office. ISIS, gun violence and the state of the nation’s economy were prominently mentioned while maintenance of our ever more limited supply of public housing or more broadly the cost of rental housing writ large were not. This is not a surprise but it does nevertheless speak to the importance of telling our story in 2016.
The State of the Union is the traditional start of the legislative year, and is followed by the release of the President’s budget request, which will happen this year on February 9. Here, again, don’t expect much attention to be paid to the President’s budgetary swan song. Begging the obvious, it will be sent next month to a House and Senate controlled by the Republicans, who would likely tried to limit or kill these 2016 budget recommendations anyway. Democratic contenders for the Presidential nomination will also barely pay attention to the request, hoping that the next budget submission will be their own. This much can be said, however, the SOTU and the President’s final budget submission will help frame the debate over the next several weeks, so it remains important in that respect.
Our attention and actions on the Hill will focus on the possible adoption of the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act (HR 3700) in both the House and Senate, FY 2017 appropriations, and the ability to have more of our issues covered by the overall spending allocation for the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill (known as a 302b allocation), making 4 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) permanent (now that we have the 9 percent LIHTC taken care of) and small agency reform legislation through the Small Public Housing Agency Opportunity Act (S 2292, better known as SHARP).
On this last point, the good news going into 2016 is that a number of reforms found in the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act (HOTMA) can assist small agencies who are struggling with less funding and more government oversight. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) have introduced SHARP legislation in the Senate to go further down the road to mitigate the concerns that have also been raised by agencies with a combined portfolio of 550 units or less. Our goal is the adoption of both HOTMA and SHARP. At a minimum, our hope is to win swift approval of the bill least likely to raise eyebrows. That bill right now would be HOTMA, but that could change. Worst case scenario; none of the four items above gets a look or a nod or something else comes along to suck all the air out of the room.
Since this is an election year, don’t be surprised if more housing bills are introduced. Remember, any member can introduce a bill large or small and don’t be surprised if one or more of these bills pertains to government waste and the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of HUD. Some of these bills deserve time and attention, others will be introduced simply to win hearts and minds in November. In this regard, we need to concentrate and keep our eye on what matters. In doing so, we need to be mindful that we should always be on the front lines of efficiency, productivity, and the wise use of limited federal dollars.
As we close the books on this administration and await the swearing in of a new President, he or she will need to be aware of a fact I came across prior to writing this article from Congressional Quarterly who published the following Congressional Budget Office factoid:
“The debt held by the public — the accumulation of all the annual deficits — is now equivalent to about 74 percent of the economy’s annual gross domestic product. That’s the highest percentage in U.S. history except for a seven-year period around World War II.”
Our collective failure to address our larger economic and budgetary woes in the now not-so-new millennium, coupled with our inability to prioritize issues of substance to those most in need, has done more to unravel housing programs and undermine the affordable housing delivery system than anything else in my opinion. That said, our own industry is a very important part of that delivery system and there is right now there is simply no substitute for responsible federal intervention in housing our most vulnerable. Accordingly, our voice and experience locally are needed in 2016 now more than ever.