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Weekly update from the National Housing Conference
News from Washington | By Luke Villalobos
HUD announces House America initiative

On Monday, the White House and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a joint initiative to combat homelessness called House America: An All-Hands-On-Deck Effort to Address the Nation’s Homelessness Crisis. Similar to the successful initiative to address veterans homelessness by the Obama Administration, the new initiative asks mayors, Tribal nation leaders, and local governments to set ambitious goals for lowering the rates of homelessness in their communities, with the ultimate national goal of rehousing 100,000 people and establishing 20,000 new affordable housing units. The federal government will provide support to participating entities through technical guidance and focus on collaboration, positioning itself as an engaged federal partner for cities and counties that might otherwise lack the capacity to take on meaningful goals. 

“The pandemic has shown us that we, as a nation, are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us. Addressing homelessness is not only about helping the individuals and families who face the greatest housing challenges, but also about the well-being and economic security of our communities and our whole nation. It’s going to take government working at all levels to address homelessness and to guarantee housing as a right for every American,” stated HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge at the initiative’s virtual launch event. 

The initiative leverages funding from the American Rescue Plan. The initiative’s website offers guidance on how to utilize those funds to help people experiencing homelessness. A list of leaders who have signed on to the initiative can be found here.
Warner introduces LIFT Act

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced the Low-Income First-Time Homebuyers (LIFT) Act on Wednesday, which would create a new federal program to help borrowers afford federally backed mortgages. The bill directs HUD to work with Treasury to develop the program, which the bill says should allow low-income first-generation homebuyers to make the same payments on 20-year Federal Housing Administration mortgages as they would on a traditional 30-year mortgage. 
The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jon Ossof (D-Ga.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.). The bill is also supported by the National Bankers Association, which described it as “an opportunity to reverse decades of targeted economic redlining”. The bill is opposed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Fair Housing Alliance, and National CAPACD, who argue it would siphon resources away from a proposed down payment assistance program for first-generation homebuyers that provides increased assistance to members of socially disadvantaged groups. NHC President and CEO David Dworkin has made clear that NHC supports the LIFT Act’s inclusion in the reconciliation package currently under negotiation as long as that package also substantially increases funding for down payment assistance as well.
Biden taps Omarova to head OCC

On Thursday, President Biden nominated Saule Omarova to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). Omarova, a law professor at Cornell and prominent Wall Street critic, would be the first woman to lead the OCC, which plays a central role in regulating banks, including evaluation of performance under the Community Reinvestment Act. 
Omarova's nomination sets the stage for what is likely to be a contentious confirmation process. Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) called on his colleagues to support the nomination, saying Omarova would “work with stakeholders across our financial system to ensure the economy works for everyone, and [...] protect our economic recovery from the risky activities of Wall Street and other bad actors.”

However, Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), raised worries about Omarova's past statements in support of nationalizing retail banking and allowing the Federal Reserve to provide bank accounts for consumers. “In light of these, and other extreme leftist ideas, I have serious reservations about her nomination,” he said.
HUD announces grants for research and senior and Native veteran housing

On Tuesday, HUD announced that it would award a total of $5.5 million to two historically Black universities, Howard in Washington, D.C., and Texas Southern in Houston, Texas. The grants of $4.5 million and $1 million, respectively, will go toward the universities’ proposed establishment of Centers of Excellence for housing and economic research.

On Wednesday, HUD announced that it would award a total of $143 million in grants to 30 communities across the country to support the construction of a total of 2,185 homes for very-low income seniors. The grants were made through HUD’s Section 202 program, which supports very-low-income senior housing by providing capital grants to communities for the construction of new homes and by making up the difference between seniors’ rent and the costs of improvement projects.

Also on Wednesday, HUD announced that it would award $4.4 million to 28 tribes to provide permanent housing to Native American veterans at risk of homelessness. These grants were made through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, a collaborative program through which HUD makes targeted investments in housing and the Department of Veterans Affairs provides supportive services to veterans.
New ERA data shows accelerating distribution

New data on the distribution of federal Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) shows that the amount of funds distributed to households through the program has more than doubled since July, the last time Treasury released data. According to Treasury, $7.7 billion has been distributed through the program, $2.3 billion of that in August alone. Treasury noted that the increase has been driven by jurisdictions that adopted its recent guidance to speed distribution, which included simplifying applications and allowing landlords to apply on behalf of their tenants.
After the release of the data on Friday, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo sent a letter to grantees notifying them of the approaching ERA fund allocation process, in which jurisdictions whose distribution has been sluggish may see their funds reallocated to grantees with greater distribution capacity. "We anticipate implementing the reallocation process over a period of time, with escalating consequences if a state or locality fails to demonstrate progress in using its [...] funds or implementing the flexibilities Treasury has made available," he said.
White House seeks to protect communities from extreme heat

On Monday, the White House launched an interagency effort to address issues of extreme heat for workers and communities. The announcement notes record breaking summer weather that created dangerous levels of heat exposure, and the disparate impact of heat exposure on minority communities and other socially disadvantaged groups.

The Administration looks to increase access to in-home air conditioning and public cooling centers through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides grants to states, territories, and Tribal organizations. The grants help low-income households afford energy costs, purchase air conditioning units, and conduct outreach to at risk households in extreme heat. 
FHFA extends COVID-19 multifamily forbearance

FHFA announced Friday that it would again extend COVID-19 forbearance for multifamily properties with Fannie Mae- or Freddie Mac-backed mortgages. This is FHFA's fourth extension of multifamily forbearance, which the Enterprises are permitted to offer to multifamily owners if they agree to agree to certain tenant protections, such as declining to evict solely for nonpayment of rent.

FHFA Acting Director Sandra Thompson cited continued uncertainty about the pandemic's direction in FHFA's statement announcing the move. "Given the uncertain nature of this pandemic, FHFA is taking further action to protect renters, property owners, and the mortgage market," she said.
FHFA announces DER and DBR staffing changes

FHFA announced Wednesday that Andre D. Galeano would serve as deputy director of the agency’s Division of Enterprise Regulation. FHFA also announced that Louis Scalza would fill Galeano’s former position as deputy director of the Division of Federal Home Loan Bank Regulation (DBR) in an acting capacity. Scalza previously served as DBR’s associate director for examinations.

FHFA Acting Director Sandra Thompson expressed that Galeano’s “seasoned leadership will help the Division of Enterprise Regulation continue to ensure the safety and soundness of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.” She also noted Scalza’s “impressive track record” at FHFA and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, saying that he would “serve our agency well” in his interim role.
HBI opens construction training center

The Home Builders Institute (HBI) opened a new center in Orlando, the Build Strong Academy, to train people for jobs in construction on Thursday. Build Strong Academy instructors will use HBI’s curriculum to prepare students with little to no construction background to take apprenticeships and jobs in the industry, and is expected to have 500 graduates by the end of 2022.

HBI trains about 10,000 students a year through several programs aimed at students with different focuses and skill levels. The Build Strong Academy is the first-time students taking part in different programs will learn in the same facility. HBI says that their new approach is aimed at finding more efficient ways to educate students to fill the monthly shortage of 300,000 to 400,000 construction workers.
Chart of the week
Chart of the week: Plumbers face housing affordability challenges in communities with the most lead pipes

NHC’s forthcoming Paycheck to Paycheck report demonstrates that a federal down payment assistance program could help plumbers and related workers afford homeownership across much of the Midwest and Great Plains, regions with elevated risk from lead pipes. The report argues that lead abatement goals set out in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could be furthered by additional federal legislation ensuring that lead abatement workers are able to live and build wealth where they work.
What we're reading
A new study previewed by Politico New York finds that providing federal Housing Choice Vouchers to everyone who qualifies for them would lift 300,000 New York City residents out of poverty. According to the report, households that receive vouchers would see their spending capacity increase by $7,680 per year on average, generating a tax windfall of $313 million for the city.

Former Freddie Mac CEO Don Layton makes the case for enacting FHFA’s proposed Capital Rule changes in the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies’ Housing Perspectives blog. Layton says that the changes would “eliminate harmful distortions in the current rule that create incentives for the two companies to seek out and hold high-risk assets, which is counter to good public policy.”

CityLab covers a ballot measure campaign in Berlin that seeks to use eminent domain to acquire 226,000 privately held rental units in the city in an attempt to preserve their affordability. Proponents of the measure say that it is necessary to halt the German capital’s skyrocketing rents and that many of the buildings that would be appropriated were originally built as public housing. But detractors say that municipal money would be better spent on building new housing to accommodate the city’s growing population. The measure will be voted on in conjunction with today’s German federal elections.
The week ahead
Monday, September 27
Tuesday, September 28
Wednesday, September 29
Thursday, September 30
Friday, October 1
The National Housing Conference is a diverse continuum of affordable housing stakeholders that convene and collaborate through dialogue, advocacy, research, and education, to develop equitable solutions that serve our common interest.
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