Weekly update from the National Housing Conference
September 22, 2019
President's Message I By David Dworkin
Dear Friend,

As a reader of our weekly Member Note, you are well aware that we are facing an historic and growing crisis of housing affordability in America. In building roughly 500,000 fewer housing units per year than needed to meet demand, we have seen housing values climb to unreachable levels in communities from Charlotte, North Carolina to Hayward, California and hundreds of other places from coast to coast. People of color have been impacted the most, but middle-income families of every racial and ethnic group, including millennials and their parents, are also paying more than they can afford to own and rent their residence. Platitudes about solving this crisis are easy, as is blame shifting. Solutions are much more difficult, especially for those who derive enormous financial benefits from the current system. 

Unfortunately, this was crystal clear to me at a discussion I attended at the Urban Land Institute (ULI)’s Fall Meeting last week. The panel, “Chipping Away at the Housing Attainability Crisis,” was a perfect metaphor for the problem and challenges we face in trying to address it. The discussion danced around the issue of local opposition to meaningful changes in zoning that keeps low- and moderate-income Americans out of affluent, largely single-family residential communities that also happen to be overwhelmingly white. A panel specifically on the issue of gentrification the following day highlighted a mixed-income development in Washington, D.C. that has been delayed by local opposition for eight years.

The good news is that everyone in the room came to learn more about housing “attainability,” the bad news is the conversation was so limited we avoid saying “housing affordability,” yet alone “affordable housing crisis.” As I am prone to do, I stated the obvious reality that no one wants to say out loud. We are not going to solve a problem driven by a shortage of millions of units of housing by building tiny homes in backyards and having mom or dad live in the attic (yes, these ideas were discussed). I also noted that there is a powerful economic incentive for homeowners to vigorously defend the status quo because the greater the housing supply shortage, the more property values of existing homeowners soar. How different is leaving these decisions to local elected officials from leaving lunch counter segregation decisions to lunch counter owners in Greenville, South Carolina in the 1950s? The arguments then and today are shockingly similar. “Our community isn’t ready for these radical changes.” “If I let them in, even more people will leave.” Or the more progressive, “I want to do the right thing, but I can’t afford to lead change.” As Tara Westover said in her memoir “Educated,” “retaining power always feels like the way forward.”

Half measures will avail us nothing, because spending political capital for policies that fail to result in positive change shortchange future efforts that could make a difference. One example of this is the growing movement to restrict Community Development Block Grant funding in communities that refuse to address their restrictive zoning policies. These restrictions are based on the attitude of “not in my backyard” or NIMBYism. One participant at the ULI meeting from Boston noted that NIMBYism is actually an improvement over what he has experienced in some communities: BANANAism (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything). A much more meaningful and impactful approach would be to require zoning reform and affordable housing results to obtain much-desired federal transportation dollars. I am skeptical that we can convince communities that resist building affordable housing to reverse their position by threatening to reduce federal subsidies for affordable housing.

NHC is committed to finding effective, centrist, win-win solutions to these vexing problems. It isn’t easy, otherwise we would have done it years ago. In a little over two months, we will gather housing leaders from across the country for our annual Solutions for Affordable Housing convening at the National Press Club on Dec. 3, followed by our Advocacy Day at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 4. I hope you will join us in supporting this important convening through your sponsorship and/or attendance. A few sponsorship opportunities are still available and Early Bird tickets for attendance will be available early next month. Sign up here to be notified. I hope to see you there!

David Dworkin
NHC President and CEO
News from Washington I By Tristan Bréaux and
Quinn Mulholland
Lawmakers debate appropriations bills

The Senate Appropriations Committee advanced FY 2020 funding bills for HUD and USDA at a hearing on Thursday. The HUD bill would boost HUD’s funding by 5 percent, funding the department at $2.3 billion more than current levels and $11 billion higher than the level the White House requested. The USDA bill would keep the housing programs within Rural Development funded at roughly the same as current levels. Also on Thursday, the House of Representatives voted to approve a stopgap funding bill that would keep the government operating through Nov. 21. “It is critical that we avoid another government shutdown, which would harm our economy and hardworking Americans,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey in a statement.
Chart of the Week
The dramatic decline of low-cost rentals

According to a new working paper from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, the number of units renting for less than $600 per month, adjusting for inflation, fell by almost 4 million between 1990 and 2017. As the chart below shows, this decline has been most precipitous since 2012.
NHC on the path to GSE reform in the Hill

NHC President and CEO David Dworkin published an op-ed in the Hill last week on the recently published Trump administration plans for taking Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac out of conservatorship. In the op-ed, Dworkin argued that there is an opening for truly bipartisan action on the issue of housing finance reform in the wake of the plans. In an interview with Bloomberg TV, FHFA Director Mark Calabria said the GSEs won’t be taken out of conservatorship until the end of 2020 at the earliest. Also last week, a group of Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee called for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to extend the qualified mortgage patch. Several other groups, including the Urban Institute and the Credit Union National Association, called for the elimination of the debt-to-income ratio as part of the expiration of the QM patch.
Carson visits California amidst uproar over Trump’s homelessness plan

HUD Secretary Ben Carson visited a public housing complex in San Francisco last week amidst a Trump administration effort to address California’s homelessness crisis. The visit came in the wake of a recently published White House Council of Economic Advisers report on homelessness that called for the use of police to address the homelessness crisis. President Trump was also in California last week for a fundraising event and attacked local California officials over their handling of the crisis. California Governor Gavin Newsom and other local leaders wrote a letter to the administration before Trump and Carson’s visit requesting an increase in funding for housing vouchers to alleviate the homelessness crisis, which the administration quickly rejected. Trump later threatened to issue a notice of environmental violation against San Francisco because of the homelessness crisis, capping off another bizarre week of the administration’s battle with California over homelessness.
Lawmakers introduce housing-related legislation

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill recently introduced several pieces of housing-related legislation. On Tuesday, Representatives Denny Heck (D-Wash.) and Trey Hollingsworth (R-Ind.) introduced the Yes In My Backyard Act, which would require local governments applying for Community Development Block Grant funds to report whether they have enacted policies to alleviate local regulations that stifle the production of housing. A Senate version of this bill was introduced by Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) in June. Previously, Representative Scott Peters (D-Calif.) introduced the Build More Housing Near Transit Act, which would require housing feasibility assessments to determine where housing units could be built near new transit stops funded by the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program. And Representatives Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Michael Turner (R-Ohio), and Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) reintroduced the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act, which would help former foster care youth obtain housing.
Federal Reserve cuts rates by a quarter point

The Federal Reserve announced it is cutting its benchmark rate again on Wednesday, this time by a quarter of a percentage point. The move came in response to worries that growth is slowing amidst intensifying trade wars and global economic uncertainty. The move drew an immediate rebuke from President Trump, who had called for the Federal Reserve to cut rates more. Mortgage rates, which had been declining to near-record lows since the Fed’s rate cut in July, jumped last week, according to Freddie Mac.
Bernie Sanders unveils affordable housing plan

At a campaign event in Las Vegas, Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled his $2.5 trillion plan to address the nation’s affordable housing crisis. The plan calls for, among other things, implementing a national cap on rent increases, fully funding the Section 8 voucher program, investing in building new affordable housing units, and incentivizing local governments to get rid of restrictive zoning laws. Sanders said he would pay for the plan through a tax on the wealthiest tenth of a percent of American households. “If you are working 40 hours a week and if you are working hard, you deserve a safe place in which to live,” Sanders said at the campaign event. As Emily Badger pointed out in the New York Times, the plan “would bring America closer to the idea that housing should be treated as shelter and not a commodity.” Several tenant advocacy organizations also recently announced similar platforms, with the Center for Popular Democracy calling for a host of reforms including nationwide rent control and People’s Action calling for a national homes guarantee.
What we're reading
WCNC took a deep dive into the affordable housing crisis in Charlotte in an article published last Saturday. According to the article, local rents have increased by 45 percent since 2010, and the city needs 34,000 affordable housing units to keep up with demand. Read the article here.

According to a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, homes occupied by low-income people have repair needs totaling over $50 billion. The report found that the average home occupied by a low-income person requires roughly $1,500 in maintenance. Read the full report here.

In an investigation published Tuesday, the Miami New Times found that a Miami-Dade County program that is supposed to make it easier for black families to buy homes serves more non-black people than black people. According to the investigation, the Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust provided financing for 246 residents since October 2018, only 50 of whom are black. Read the article here.

The Colorado Sun examined the disappearance of mobile home parks in Colorado and how it impacts the state’s affordable housing crisis in a recent in-depth article. According to the article, the disappearance is largely due to the transference of the mobile home parks from mom-and-pop landlords to large corporations. Read the article here.
The week ahead
The National Housing Conference has been defending the American Home since 1931. We believe everyone in America should have equal opportunity to live in a quality, affordable home in a thriving community. NHC convenes and collaborates with our diverse membership and the broader housing and community development sectors to advance our policy, research and communications initiatives to effect positive change at the federal, state and local levels. Politically diverse and nonpartisan, NHC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
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