Two plenary speakers at IMAGINE: NLIHC’s 2014 Housing Policy Conference called on participants to support housing finance reform legislation that would provide funding for the NHTF. At the Tuesday morning plenary, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan highlighted the Obama Administration’s work on the Johnson-Crapo housing finance reform bill and the opportunity it offers to make historic progress on affordable rental housing. The bill contains strong support for NHTF. Secretary Donovan challenged the audience to “redouble your efforts and bring this bill across the finish line.”
Secretary Donovan began his remarks with reflections on NLIHC founder Cushing Dolbeare, and her steadfast insistence that the focus of advocates must always be on the work left undone. He mentioned progress made at HUD toward some important goals, citing specifically the 16% decrease in chronic homelessness over the past three years, but was honest about the difficult challenges that lie ahead. “Right now in America, families are facing the worst housing crisis in our nation’s history,” he said, adding that “we need to produce more affordable housing, period.”
The Secretary noted the bi-partisan support for the bill as a rare reason to be optimistic that a final bill might be passed prior to midterm elections this fall. Secretary Donovan stressed the importance of the NHTF as a solution, stating that “we have to be creative, and we have got to look outside of HUD’s resources.”
He also highlighted HUD’s work on a proposed rule to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFH), another NLIHC priority. The audience applauded when he declared that a child’s address should not predict their life expectancy, and cheered his call to “surround all housing with jobs, schools, and transit.” AFFH would require communities to demonstrate work being done to end housing discrimination as a condition for receiving federal housing and community development funds.
In addition to his call to action on the Johnson-Crapo bill and AFFH, Secretary Donovan indicated that work still needs to be done to restore HUD funding. He highlighted the $26 billion capital backlog for Public Housing, and that Housing Choice Vouchers must be expanded in order to end homelessness.
In response to a question from the audience about when the NHTF final regulations would be released, Secretary Donovan said the regulations had cleared HUD and were now at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). After taking questions from the audience, Secretary Donovan left for Capital Hill to lobby for the passage of the Johnson-Crapo bill, saying, “We cannot waste this moment that we have worked for.”
Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) kicked off NLIHC’s Lobby Day on Wednesday morning by telling conference attendees that she is “counting on your advocacy” to increase support for housing for the most vulnerable households. Ms. Waters described the severe housing challenges that she has seen in her own Congressional district, which includes Skid Row in Los Angeles. “I have seen the impact that the lack of housing can have on my constituents,” said Ms. Waters.
Ms. Waters, who is the Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, discussed her draft bill to reform the nation’s housing finance system and fund the NHTF. The “Housing Opportunities Move the Economy (HOME) Forward Act of 2014,” would dedicate a portion of revenue from a new lending entity to the NHTF (see Memo, 3/28). Like the Johnson-Crapo bill, Ms. Waters’ bill would provide $3.75 billion a year for the NHTF. She said her bill addresses the need to preserve access to sustainable credit, but also addresses the need for funding to help “7.1 million households struggling to afford the most modest housing.” She announced that she will be introducing her bill shortly.
Ms. Waters also raised the importance of public housing, saying that the funding provided for that program has “real consequences for hundreds of thousands of families with children.” She also emphasized the importance of extending the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA).
Ms. Waters closed by urging conference attendees to “get the word out and let the people know what we need to do at the polls this mid-term” election in order to have more people who care about the issue of affordable housing for the lowest income households elected to Congress.