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Weekly update from the National Housing Conference
News from Washington
Deadline extended for mayors to sign on to letter in support of AHCIA

NHC is working with the ACTION Campaign to encourage mayors across the country to sign on to a letter to Congress in support of the recently reintroduced bipartisan, bicameral AHCIA of 2021S. 1136 and H.R. 2573. The deadline for mayors to sign onto the letter has been extended to May 10. The letter will be sent to Congress to build support for the AHCIA. Mayors who have already signed the letter include, Mayors Jenny Durkan, Seattle, Washington; John Cooper, Nashville, Tennessee; Kate Gallego, Phoenix, Arizona; Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles, California; Barbara Halliday, Hayward, California; Michael B. Hancock, Denver, Colorado; Jim Kenney, Philadelphia Pennsylvania; and Lori E. Lightfoot, Chicago, Illinois, among others.

Please ask your mayor to sign on to the letter if they have not yet done so. Check out last year's letter and be sure to mention to your Mayor if they supported in the past. Mayors can contact Luke Villalobos, NHC’s Policy Director, to add their name or ask questions about the AHCIA.
FHFA announces new GSE refinance option

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced the creation of a new refinance option for low-income homeowners with GSE-backed mortgages on Wednesday. According to FHFA Director Mark Calabria, the option is designed to help extend the benefits of historically low interest rates to low-income borrowers. “Last year saw a spike in refinances, but more than 2 million low-income families did not take advantage of the record low mortgage rates by refinancing,” Calabria said. “This new refinance option is designed to help eligible borrowers who have not already refinanced save between $1,200 and $3,000 a year on their mortgage payment.”

In order to be eligible for the refinance option, low-income GSE-backed borrowers must have a history of on-time mortgage payment and meet several criteria related to credit score and loan quality. FHFA requires that borrowers taking advantage of the option receive a material benefit from it in the form of a $50 or more decrease in their monthly payment and requires that lenders provide a $500 credit to cover appraisal costs related to the refinance.

Both GSEs released statements lauding their version of the option, which Freddie Mac has dubbed “Refi Possible” and Fannie Mae is terming “RefiNow.” Both enterprises aim to implement the option as soon as possible, with Freddie Mac estimating that their product would be available by the summer.
Democrats introduce housing legislation

Democratic lawmakers introduced two new bills related to housing in recent weeks, both of which aim to decrease elevated housing prices and correct for historic discrimination in the housing market.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and several other Democratic lawmakers reintroduced the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, which would fund the production of 3 million new housing units, offer down payment assistance to residents of redlined neighborhoods, and expand the scope of the Community Reinvestment Act. Moody’s Analytics estimates that the housing production generated by the bill would reduce housing costs for working and middle-class families by 10%, and the bill has attracted the support of several dozen housing and civil rights organizations.

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) introduced the First-Time Homebuyer Act, the bill to incorporate President Biden’s proposal to provide $15,000 in down payment assistance to homebuyers who have not owned a home in the previous three years. The bill is distinct from draft legislation released by Rep. Maxine Waters, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, which aims to provide similar assistance to first-time homebuyers but which Biden administration officials have said is not part of the American Jobs Plan infrastructure package.
ERA funds slow to reach renters

Billions of dollars in federal emergency rent assistance (ERA) funds have been allocated for struggling renters since late last year, but state and local grantees are grappling with the massive task of distribution. With $46.5 billion in emergency funds still available, there is a steady push within the housing industry to move the money into the hands of the neediest tenants as quickly as possible.

The New York Times reported this week that 1 in 7 renters are behind on payments. Estimates of unpaid vary widely, from $8 billion to as high as $53 billion. The need for ERA was certain, but the rollout of the funds has been slow at best. States and large localities received distinct funding allocations, creating a patchwork of state and local programs that can be confusing for tenants to navigate. Several states have yet to begin accepting applications for the assistance, and others are overflowing with applications to be considered. California received 150,000 applications for ERA totaling $355 million, but only $1 million has made it to the applicants. In Texas, which received $1.3 billion from the federal government for ERA, only 250 applicants have actually received assistance.

The neediest tenants also face the toughest barriers. ERA applications are largely online, so applicants need both a computer and internet access in order to apply for assistance. Requirements for documentation proving an active lease and loss of income also create barriers and cause renters to abandon applications after starting them. The issue is not exclusive to renters: landlords who are unable to collect rent are also struggling to pay mortgages and tax bills as the relief is tied up in bureaucratic processes that differ by jurisdiction. Industry leaders are working to address issues with the rollout and have emphasized the importance of distributing ERA funds before the expiration of the CDC eviction moratorium on July 1.
NHC joins coalition urging increased FSS funding

NHC joined 51 other organizations this week in a letter urging lawmakers to provide additional funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. “Significantly expanding access to the FSS program would not only help to provide families with low incomes the support they will need to recover from the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to build the financial security necessary to weather uncertain times that may come in the future,” the letter states.

The letter, which was sent to members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, also encourages lawmakers to strike a proposed ban on HUD’s consideration of FSS program efficacy in allocating additional funds. Advocates argued this provision would prevent HUD from rewarding effective programs with additional funding.

FSS is designed to encourage employment gains for recipients of federal rental assistance by matching income increases in an escrow account that is made available upon recipient completion of a multi-year housing counseling course. Compass Working Capital, which led the letter’s coalition, has done significant work in creating a model FSS program to best leverage this incentive.
CFPB delays QM rule mandatory compliance date

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced that it will delay the mandatory compliance date for General Qualified Mortgage (QM) rule, a decision CFPB says will help preserve access to affordable mortgages while the economy recovers from the effects of the pandemic. The delay has the effect of extending the GSE patch, which provided QM status to GSE-backed loans that otherwise did not qualify under the outgoing QM rule. Some have worried that the new rule’s elimination of the GSE patch would have the effect of restricting mortgage access for underserved populations.

Earlier this month, NHC joined a coalition of 13 organizations to push CFPB to not delay mandatory compliance date, emphasizing that the new QM rule represented a “consensus approach” with the backing of stakeholders across the housing industry.

The new mandatory compliance date is Oct. 1, 2022.
Chart of the week
Chart of the week: "Urban exodus" largely an elite phenomenon

An analysis from Bloomberg CityLab finds that while urban centers lost population during the pandemic, moves away from cities over the past year were a largely upper-class phenomenon. For example, data indicates that the ZIP codes in New York City had the most decrease in population, and the analysis cites a study that found that “propensity to move increased the most over the last year among young, highly educated urban dwellers.”
What we're reading
The Terner Center released a white paper making the case that housing is “critical infrastructure,” noting that “no part of the built environment more directly affects our daily lives than our homes.” The authors point out the historical precedents of treating housing as infrastructure, saying that policymakers understood housing as “a leading part of the solution” to the Great Depression.

A new working paper evaluates what has gone well and what has not gone well in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s first three-year Duty to Serve strategic planning cycle. Jim Gray and George McCarthy from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy also offer historical context on the Enterprises’ affordable housing mission responsibility. A four-page policy brief is also available.

HousingWire offers a look back at how President Biden's first 100 days in office have changed the housing landscape, discussing both higher profile efforts like federal eviction moratoria extensions and lesser known proposals like the American Families Plan's proposed elimination of 1031 exchanges on high-priced home purchases.

An op-ed in City & State New York argues that as “office space [goes] the way of the landline phone and fax machine,” New York City should convert unused commercial space into housing. “By flooding the rental and co-op markets with newly converted retail, office and hotel spaces, New York can serve as a beacon to other large cities in ensuring housing as a right – not a privilege – for all.”
The week ahead
Monday, May 3
NH&RA: Spring Developers Forum, 1 – 3:30 p.m. ET 
Tuesday, May 4
Wednesday, May 5
Thursday, May 6
Friday, May 7
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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