By Diane Yentel, NLIHC President and CEO
The stunning election results are still sinking in, and there remain more questions than answers to what it all means. In all the uncertainty, this much is clear: Donald Trump is our next president, he'll be working with a Republican-led Senate and House of Representatives, and they will advance policy and spending proposals that will have major impacts on affordable housing programs, the millions of low income people who depend on them, and the millions more who are in need.
President-elect Trump said little about housing or affordable housing on the campaign trail. But some of what he did comment on give us important insights into how his administration may impact affordable housing. He has committed to increase defense spending at the expense of non-defense spending, which could mean billions of dollars in cuts to housing and other anti-poverty programs. In addition, Mr. Trump has said he wants to cut non-defense spending by 1% every year, which would be devastating to affordable housing programs including Section 8 vouchers, public housing, and project-based rental assistance. Earlier in his professional career Mr. Trump was accused of violations of the Fair Housing Act, and as a candidate for president he committed to rolling back fair housing rules and requirements.
Much of what is next for how a Trump administration approaches affordable housing depends on who is appointed to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There are a few former HUD alumni from the Bush administrations working on the transition team, and several names have moved to the top of the short list for HUD secretary. Among them are Pam Patenaude, president of the Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families, and former Senator Scott Brown, who also serves on the Terwilliger Center’s executive committee. Both Ms. Patenaude and Senator Brown have deep knowledge of, experience with, and proven commitments to affordable housing. Both would be excellent choices.
Also on the shortlist for HUD secretary, however, are Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who has spent over a decade fighting his obligations under the Fair Housing Act, and Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council. Who President-elect Trump decides to nominate will give us important insights into his priorities for housing programs.
In Congress, House Speaker Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) will have full reign to advance the Republican policy and spending agenda. They will use the parliamentary procedure of “budget reconciliation” to advance much of it, freeing themselves from any threats of filibusters and needing only a simple majority to enact legislation.
So, what’s in store for housing policy in the next Congress? We will see efforts to lower domestic non-defense spending and to implement much of Speaker Ryan’s anti-poverty agenda, which could include welfare reform-type changes such as work requirements and time limits to all anti-poverty programs. Congress will move quickly to enact comprehensive tax reform – legislative drafts are already being written - that dramatically lowers corporate and individual tax rates by reducing or eliminating tax expenditures and credits, possibly including the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. Reform of the mortgage interest deduction (MID) is on the table as another “pay-for” to lower tax rates. We’ll need to pull out all the stops to ensure that savings from MID reform are reinvested into affordable rental housing programs. The Republican Congress may also work towards dismantling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
That brings us to the national Housing Trust Fund, which may be threatened from multiple angles. I expect efforts by House Republicans to eliminate the HTF to resurface quickly, and we could again see appropriators attempt to fill HUD budget holes with HTF dollars. FHFA Director Mel Watt could be replaced by someone who shares former FHFA Director DeMarco’s view that contributions to the HTF should be suspended while Fannie and Freddie remain in receivership.
Here’s the bottom line: We have our work cut out for us in the coming years. The threats to critical affordable housing programs that serve the poorest households are real and significant. With the housing crisis having reached new heights and with the lowest income families being hit hardest and suffering the most, we have to redouble our efforts - not only to protect, preserve and defend critical housing programs, but to expand them.
This work has never been easy – increasing resources for the poorest seniors, families, kids, people with disabilities, and veterans has always required a long and determined struggle. Did the work just get harder? Yes. But our commitment to ending homelessness and housing poverty is unwavering. And knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of us uniting behind this cause makes me confident we will prevail in the end.
You can read much more about the election’s impact on affordable housing issues in the lame duck and next Congress at: http://bit.ly/2g3chEt
Also, and please join us for a special webinar on The Changing Post-Election Landscape for Affordable Housing on Friday, December 2, 2016 at 1:00 PM. Register at: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7422999090781430018
And if you’re not yet a member of NLIHC, there’s no better time to join. Our members are our strength!