By Cindy Chetti (MultiFamilyExecutive.com Article) — On Jan. 3, 2019, The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) and the nation will welcome the 116th Congress to Washington. As congressional committee make-p shifts and Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, one thing is clear—housing issues will receive greater focus and attention than at any point in the recent past.
Several Democratic policymakers have already expressed interest in advancing legislation related to housing. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the incoming chair of the House Financial Services Committee, has identified housing affordability as a key priority, and Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) each introduced bills in 2018 that focus on affordability.
Although a split Congress could potentially mean gridlock and partisanship, housing affordability issues have garnered attention on both sides of the aisle. Just months before the midterm election, a bipartisan group of policymakers introduced legislation to create an affordable housing task force, which would explore the impact of the affordable housing crisis. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), a strong multifamily ally, spoke at the 2018 NMHC Fall Meeting, saying, “By working in a bipartisan fashion and listening, I’m confident the government and private sector can come together to solve the affordability challenge.”
A growing number of working families are struggling to find housing they can afford. In fact, over half of American households paid more than 30% of their income on housing costs in 2015, and the problem grows worse every year as new supply fails to keep up with demand. The NMHC understands the significance of the housing affordability crisis and will continue to expand our efforts around it to promote policies that foster the development of more types of housing at all price points.
In addition to housing affordability, we’ve also identified several other key housing issues that will be of interest to Congress over the coming months.
Preservation of mortgage liquidity currently provided by the GSEs is of critical importance to the industry. As Congress looks to reform the housing finance system, the NMHC will continue to push for an explicit federal guarantee; a system that recognizes the unique characteristics of the multifamily business; and retention of the successful components of the existing multifamily programs.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted last year included critical victories for the multifamily industry, but there are some implementation issues the NMHC is working to clarify. For example, lawmakers need to fix a drafting error that forces existing buildings to be depreciated over 40 years versus 30 years. We’re also working to ensure that the new Opportunity Zones tax incentives spur the development and renovation of multifamily housing.
Working with Congress to promote pro-multifamily federal legislation is just one piece of the puzzle, however. The NMHC is also laser-focused on many key regulatory issues.
HUD worked on several points of interest to the multifamily industry in 2018, such as fair housing and the Sec. 8 Housing Choice Vouchers Program (HCV). The NMHC met with leaders at HUD, including Secretary Ben Carson, to identify our top priorities.
We believe the public–private HCV could be one of the nation’s most effective affordable housing and community development tools. But it’s plagued with inefficiencies, onerous regulatory requirements, and a flawed funding system. The NMHC stands ready to work with HUD and Congress to address these issues to attract more private housing providers’ participation in this voluntary program.
During our 2018 Fall Meeting, Secretary Carson announced that HUD was kicking off a listening tour to get a better understanding of why more apartment owners and managers choose not to participate in the housing voucher program.
It’s clear that policymakers are taking note of what we’ve always known to be true—meeting the housing demand will require new, inventive policy ideas and incentives. Policymakers at every level of government and the private sector have a role to play in addressing the nation’s housing shortage. The NMHC looks forward to working with the new Congress and the Trump administration on behalf of our $1.3 trillion industry, which houses nearly 39 million Americans.