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Weekly update from the National Housing Conference
News from Washington
Affordable housing bills introduced in Congress

Two new affordable housing bills were introduced in Congress this week, the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act and the Public Housing Fire Safety Act. In addition, the House Financial Services Committee released a discussion draft of the Housing is Infrastructure Act of 2021. Each proposal aims to capitalize on the ongoing discussion of a potential infrastructure package and aims to preserve and expand the existing stock of affordable housing.

The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) would invest $172 billion in green retrofits for public housing units and aims to make the 950,000 housing units net zero carbon emitters. The proposal’s supporters say it would reduce overall carbon emissions, reduce water bills, and reduce energy bills for public housing units, all while creating an estimated 240,000 jobs. The Act is the first of several anticipated proposals from Democratic lawmakers looking to broaden Biden’s infrastructure plan.

The Public Housing Fire Safety Act, sponsored by Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) would create a new grant program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to fund the installation of sprinkler systems in older, dilapidated apartment buildings.

The Housing is Infrastructure Act, while not officially introduced, is under discussion and includes substantial investments in preserving public housing. The funds will go towards repairing public housing, investing in the Housing Trust Fund to build and preserve more affordable housing, and promoting equitable development and fair housing practices.

The focus on housing recently by lawmakers casts a much-needed light on the importance of safety and affordability as the country continues navigating the consequences of the pandemic and the affordable housing crisis. Continued discussion of housing solutions and housing as infrastructure marks a shift in the eyes of lawmakers as they search for policy solutions to growing housing needs.
Report finds massive construction labor shortage

A report released by NHC member the Home Builders Institute (HBI) on Tuesday finds that the construction industry faces a shortfall of over 200,000 workers, threatening to push already elevated housing prices even higher. The report describes a “two-tiered” recovery in the construction industry, with significant higher demand for workers in residential construction than in the non-residential sector, meaning that cost increases due to the labor shortage will likely impact residential properties more than commercial ones.

The report notes that the shortage is especially high considering the current housing boom: more than 60% of builders currently report issues finding workers, while that number never exceeded 45% during the comparable housing boom of 2005. While labor costs typically represent about a third of the cost of a new home, “that share of the costs is rising, due to the shortage of available labor,” said HBI President and CEO Ed Brady in a statement announcing the report. “This persistent challenge endangers the affordability and availability of housing and hinders a robust economic recovery.”
FHA updates single family servicing guidelines

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) updated its single family mortgage servicing guidelines on Monday. According to Acting HUD Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Single Family Housing Julie Shaffer, the changes reflect “feedback we’ve received about the complexity and cost of servicing FHA-insured mortgages,” and include streamlined documentation requirements and revisions to certain fee structures to bring them more in line with existing industry practices.

The new guidelines incorporate additional protections for borrowers as well, including by codifying measures FHA has already taken to protect consumers during the pandemic. For example, the guidelines provide struggling homeowners easier entry into the FHA Home Affordable Modification Program without a long period of forbearance, a policy FHA says is “proven to be highly effective at helping borrowers avoid redefault and foreclosure.”
HUD withdraws rule that would have allowed anti-transgender discrimination

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced Thursday its intention to withdraw a proposed rule to weaken the Equal Access Rule, which protects LGBTQ and gender non-conforming people from discrimination in accessing services funded through HUD's Office of Community Planning and Development (CPD). The proposed rule would have allowed CPD grantees, which include many homeless shelters, to discriminate against transgender and gender non-conforming people and deny them accomodations in accordance with their expressed gender identity.

HUD noted that the reversal was especially important given transgender and gender non-conforming people's relatively high rate of homelessness and the risks of mistreatment they face in shelters. "In one key study, transgender housing testers called shelters in four states to ask about where they would be housed. Only 30 percent of the shelters contacted by the testers were prepared to house transgender women with other women, as would have been appropriate," the agency said in a statement. HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge called the decision a "critical step in affirming HUD’s commitment that no person be denied access to housing or other critical services because of their gender identity."
CFPB expands eviction protections for tenants

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued an interim final rule Monday ramping up sanctions for violations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) eviction moratorium. The rule clarifies that tenants can sue debt collectors who evict them in violation of the moratorium and provides for such debt collectors’ federal prosecution. The rule also requires debt collectors to notify residents of their rights under the CDC moratorium when serving an eviction notice.

CFPB’s order comes after repeated warnings from housing advocates that evictions were going forward despite the CDC moratorium due to a lack of consequences for non-complying landlords and those who helped them. Though CFPB lacks authority to sanction landlords directly, the rule takes advantage of the agency’s ability to punish debt collectors who violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which requires debt collectors to provide debtors notice of their right to dispute an unlawful rent collection. Attorneys and other agents who serve eviction notices are considered debt collectors under the law.

CFPB emphasized that the rule was issued to further CDC’s goal of protecting public health during the pandemic. “With COVID-19 killing hundreds of Americans every day, kicking families out into the street during this pandemic may literally be a death sentence,” said Acting CFPB Director Dave Uejio. “No one should be evicted from their home without understanding their rights, and we will hold accountable those debt collectors who move forward with illegal evictions.”
HUD releases initial findings on youth homelessness

HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research released a new report on early findings from the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP). The report finds that the initial Continuums of Care (CoCs) participating had varying levels of youth-specific program development overall, and the allocation of funds to specific areas within the CoC was determined by that level of development. The report also noted weaknesses with handling juvenile justice and healthcare within youth programs. The study also found that while all CoCs used funds for emergency shelter, fewer than 4% of study participants received permanent housing or permanent supportive housing.

The report is the first to come out of HUD’s ongoing study on the development and implementation of systems-level approaches to addressing youth homelessness. YHDP was designed to build upon the larger U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness by providing $151 million to CoCs to focus on high-risk youth populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ youth, and pregnant and/or parenting youth.

According to HUD, “the report provides important insights about how the implementation of coordinated community plans affect the size and composition of the population of youth who are experiencing or are at risk of experiencing homelessness.”
Chart of the week
Chart of the week: Housing assistance scarce at times of greatest need

A white paper from the Hamilton Project argues for the incorporation of automatic stabilizers in federal housing assistance programs. The authors argue that demand for housing assistance spikes during recessions but is not met by a corresponding increase in housing voucher outlays. This means that housing assistance is scarcest when it is most needed, in contrast to programs “such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which grows or contracts in response to local economic conditions; or unemployment insurance, which automatically expands when joblessness rises.”
What we're reading
An article from Brookings compares U.S. housing policy to that of six other countries, to provide a broader perspective on what housing policy can be than American housing industry members often receive. The authors compare tax policy, ownership models and landlord-tenant relationships, among other issues, across France, Germany, Japan, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Emily Cadik, executive director of NHC member the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition, makes the case to have optimism with respect to housing legislation in Affordable Housing Finance, arguing that the prospects for pro-housing legislation passing Congress are better than they have been in years. In particular, Cadik notes that the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Improvement Act enjoys significant bipartisan support in the Senate. “Our challenge today is to build even broader support even faster, recognizing that infrastructure legislation is already under development,” she says.

The Poverty and Race Research Action Council provides a blueprint for using the Housing Trust Fund (HTF) to meet the Fair Housing Act’s goal of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing in a new policy brief. The brief provides guidance for state grantees and advocates to select project sites, minimize local opposition, minimize segregation, and accomplish several other fair housing goals when making use of HTF funds.
The week ahead
Monday, April 26
Tuesday, April 27
Wednesday, April 28
Thursday, April 29

Friday, April 30
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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