President Obama’s move to commute prison sentences highlights affordable housing needs of people with criminal records

November 9, 2016
By Jacob Schmidt, NLIHC Policy Intern
Jacob Schmidt, Policy Intern

President Obama and his administration have led the charge in pushing for criminal justice reform and has commuted a total of 872 inmates since 2014. He granted clemency to another 98 inmates at the end of last month and has now commuted more individuals than the past 11 presidents combined. Through these commutations, President Obama has sought to correct some of the harms created by harsh federal laws that require mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses.

While President Obama should be commended for these efforts, the next question we as a nation need to be thinking about is: what housing and supportive services will be available to people exiting prisons and jails to ensure their smooth transition back to society?

Without addressing the housing needs of the reentry population, more and more of these recently released individuals will fall into homelessness.

Katina Smith had her sentence commuted in 2015 and was lucky enough to have a family who had the means to welcome her back home. Katina, who happens to be the mother of Demaryius Thomas, a Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Denver Broncos, said, “If it wasn’t for God and for my son being in the position he’s in and my sister being able to help me, I could have easily been homeless.”

If our country is serious about reducing its prison populations, we must provide formerly incarcerated individuals with housing to act as a stabilizing platform where they can get back on their feet; otherwise, they’ll likely end up back in prison. Affordable housing has been shown to reduce recidivism rates among the reentry population.

Justice-involved individuals face too many barriers in accessing affordable housing. Many public housing authorities (PHAs) bar individuals with criminal records from living in federally-assisted housing. Housing providers may also use unreasonably long lookback periods into applicants’ criminal history, and often neglect to provide opportunities for applicants to show that they’ve rehabilitated and can be good tenants. The use of discretionary policy making disproportionately impact people of color and people with disabilities.

Fortunately, HUD has taken steps to advise landlords, including PHAs, that tenant screening policies imposing blanket bans on people with criminal records likely violate the Fair Housing Act. Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) has also introduced legislation, the Fair Chance at Housing Act (H.R. 5085), that seeks to reform the way federally-assisted housing providers can screen or evict a household based on criminal history.

As we approach a new Congress and Administration, NLIHC and our partners in the Reentry and Housing Coalition, will continue to raise awareness about the housing needs of people with criminal records. Until we ensure people have a stable and affordable place to call home after leaving incarceration, efforts in reforming our criminal justice system will not be fully realized.

The Changing Post-Election Landscape for Affordable Housing

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President and CEO, Diane Yentel, presented an overview of the work needed to move affordable housing policy in this new political landscape.

Read more about what to expect under the new Administration here: http://bit.ly/2g3chEt

View the webinar here: http://nlihc.org/events

The Changing Post-Election Landscape for Affordable Housing

Dear NLIHC friends, allies, members and partners,

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 gives 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’s 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 administration 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 and Senate Majority Leader McConnell 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, threatening the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. 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 – to not only protect, preserve and defend critical housing programs, but to demand more.

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: What Will President Trump Mean for Affordable Housing?

Also, please join us for a special webinar on The Changing Post-Election Landscape for Affordable Housing  on Friday, December 2, 1 pm ET.*

And if you’re not yet a member of NLIHC, there’s no better time to join. Our members are our strength!

Thank you for all you do,

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*This presentation can be viewed here: http://nlihc.org/events/webinars

What Will President Trump Mean for Affordable Housing?

With last week’s historic election, Donald J. Trump will become our nation’s 45th President. As he begins his term in office, he will have the support of a Republican-led House and Senate, giving him and his party a significant opportunity to enact their legislative priorities in the 115th Congress.

The threats to federal affordable housing programs are real and significant. It is now more important than ever for NLIHC and our partners to continue to advocate for the extremely low income families in our communities and to ensure that their voices are heard.

To learn more about what to expect and how you make a difference, RSVP for NLIHC’s upcoming election webinar on Friday, December 2, 1 pm ET. In the meantime, below is our take on what the election means for affordable housing.

The FY17 Budget
Before the end of President Obama’s term in office, Congress will need to decide whether to enact its Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 appropriations bills—including spending on affordable housing and community development—or pass another short-term stopgap spending measure known as a Continuing Resolution (CR).

If the Republican-led Congress decides to pass a CR through next spring or longer, investments in vital programs at HUD and USDA will be at risk. The next Congress could revise FY17 spending bills to add deep funding cuts. As a result, thousands of families and children could lose access to stable housing, putting them at increased risk of homelessness. For more information on the risk of a long-term CR, go here.

Next Year’s Spending Bills
In President Trump’s first 100 days, he and Congress will face two legislative hurdles that directly impact federal spending on affordable housing: sequestration and the debt ceiling.

When the Budget Control Act of 2011 was signed into law, it set in motion very low spending caps, limiting federal funding for defense and non-defense discretionary programs. Since then, Congress has reached short-term agreements to increase spending above the caps to avoid sequestration—or across-the-board spending cuts that are triggered when Congress spends more than the caps allow.

Last year, Congress reached an agreement to increase the spending caps for Fiscal FY17 and to suspend the debt ceiling through March 2017. This means that low spending caps and the debt ceiling are slated to return for the FY18 budget.

Under President Obama, Democrats fought hard to ensure parity so that the impact of these spending caps fell equally on defense and non-defense programs. President-elect Trump, however, is committed to eliminating parity by protecting defense programs from any spending caps and putting the full weight of these budget limitations on non-defense programs. Moreover, he proposed cutting non-defense spending by an additional 1% each year for the next 10 years—a proposal that could decimate HUD and USDA programs and likely increase housing poverty and homelessness.

NLIHC and our partners will need to protect affordable housing resources from deep, crippling funding cuts.

Fair Housing Under Attack
We expect that dismantling fair housing regulations will be at the top of Congress’ and the new Administration’s priorities. This includes preventing HUD from implementing its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which is designed to provide state and local governments with the guidance and tools they need to better address fair housing barriers and to help ensure federal funds are more fairly and effectively invested in communities across America.

In the last few years, conservative lawmakers in both the House and Senate have moved to prevent HUD from implementing its rule, lambasting it as an example of federal overreach into local decision making. The Republican party platform criticized the rule as “social engineering” and claimed it had “nothing to do with proven or alleged discrimination and everything to do with hostility to the self-government of citizens.”

While on the campaign trail, President-elect Trump indicated that, if elected, he would rescind the AFFH rule. It is possible that the Trump Administration will also try to roll back recent HUD fair housing guidance on the use of criminal records by landlords, and the enforcement of local nuisance and crime-free ordinances.

Recent progress made by the Obama administration in achieving the goals of the Fair Housing Act is at risk.

Threats to the Housing Trust Fund
The national Housing Trust Fund is the first new affordable housing tool in a generation. It is exclusively focused on making housing affordable for families with the greatest, clearest needs—those with extremely low incomes. With a Republican-led Congress and White House, however, the future of the HTF may be at risk. It faces threats from all sides.

President-elect Trump will soon appoint the next director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). FHFA oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government-sponsored entities (GSEs) under conservatorship that fund the HTF through a modest fee on their activity. The next director has broad authority to stop payments to the HTF, essentially eliminating funding for the program.

More than eight years after the financial crisis, policy makers are still grappling with how to reform the GSEs. While there has been little focus on comprehensive housing finance reform in 2016, Congress will have to address this issue in some before the GSEs officially run out of capital by January 1, 2018.

While most agree that the government should play some role in a new housing finance system, others would like to privatize it and phase out Fannie and Freddie. Conservative legislators may be emboldened by the election results to renew legislative efforts to phase out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As part of this wind-down, the authorization for the HTF, as well as the Capital Magnet Fund, could be repealed. Other lawmakers may try to push legislation to directly defund the HTF so long as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac remain under their current conservatorship.

Even if Congress does not enact comprehensive housing finance reform legislation, the HTF could be at risk of the GSEs need a draw of cash from the Department of the Treasury. Because the terms of their conservatorship sweep profits to Treasury, instead of allowing them to be retained as operating capital, the likelihood of a draw is all but inevitable.

Finally, the HTF faces threats through the budget process. As mentioned above, Congress is likely to propose deep cuts to non-defense discretionary spending, including funding for housing and community development. Under intense budget pressure, Congress may look to use funding for the HTF to plug holes in HUD’s budget.

Threats to Public Housing
We may see a return of a harmful Senate proposal to convert all public housing into housing vouchers, as discussed at a recent Appropriations Committee hearing.

NLIHC strongly opposes this proposal. Public housing is home to more than 1.1 million households and plays a critical role in providing safe, decent housing to families with the greatest needs. Research shows that the vast majority of the more than 2 million people who live in public housing want to see it improved and expanded, not eliminated. Moreover, NLIHC’s recent report, Spotlight on Housing: A Long Wait for Home, found high demand for public housing. In fact, the average waitlist for public housing is about 9 months. Among the largest public housing authorities, the waitlist is longer than 2 years. In many cities, the waiting list is so long that has been closed for years.

Converting public housing into vouchers would result in a significant loss to low income families, local communities, and the federal government. In the new Congress, NLIHC will continue to monitor and oppose similar proposals, as well as other legislation harmful to public housing residents.

Anti-Poverty Legislation
With a Republican-led Congress and White House, there is an opportunity for the party to enact anti-poverty legislation based on Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) A Better Way agenda. NLIHC welcomes a national conversation on solutions to end poverty, and we are hopeful that there are some issues that NLIHC could work collaboratively with Congress and the administration on.

This includes efforts to increase mobility among families with Housing Choice Vouchers. Increasing the supply of affordable housing and rental assistance—especially in areas connected to good schools, well-paying jobs, healthcare, and transportation—helps families climb the economic ladder and leads to greater economic and community development. This may be an area where NLIHC and the administration can work together.

The A Better Way agenda includes several harmful proposals that could negatively impact families in need of affordable housing. The agenda proposes that ‘work-capable’ residents of HUD’s major housing programs be required to seek and retain employment, and that local jurisdictions administering housing programs be given the authority to implement educational training and time limits for assistance.

Defending the Housing Credit Under Tax Reform
The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (Housing Credit) faces greater risks and opportunities in the next term. President-elect Trump and his Republican Congress are committed to comprehensive tax reform in his first 100 days in office. Trump has proposed to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15% and provide the largest tax cuts since the 1980s. In order to offset lost revenue, however, Congress would need to eliminate most tax expenditures. While Trump has not specifically mentioned the Housing Credit, the program could be at risk of significant cuts and even elimination. Moreover, reducing the corporate rate could negatively impact investor interest in the Housing Credit, since they would have less tax liability to offset.

On the other hand, there may be an opportunity to expand the Housing Credit in an infrastructure investment package. There is also a greater opportunity to enact reforms to the Housing Credit, including those in S.3237, introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA). NLIHC strongly supports S.3237 because it includes reforms to help ensure that the Housing Credit can better serve families with the greatest, clearest needs—homeless individuals and families, extremely low income seniors, families with children, people with disabilities, and Native American and rural communities.

Glimmers of Hope
A large-scale investment in infrastructure provides NLIHC and other housing advocates an opportunity to work with the Trump administration to expand affordable housing resources. President-elect Trump has proposed investing more than $550 billion in our nation’s infrastructure in order to spur economic growth, create new jobs, and increase wages for American workers. It is important that the administration understand why an investment in housing infrastructure should be a priority.

Investing in affordable housing infrastructure—through new construction and preservation—bolsters productivity and economic growth, provides a long-term asset that connects low income families to communities of opportunity and economic mobility, and supports local job creation and increased incomes.

NLIHC will work to ensure that any infrastructure spending package includes resources to expand the Housing Trust Fund, rehabilitate public housing, increase availability of Housing Choice Vouchers, among other critical investments.

Conclusion
Over the next four years, NLIHC and other affordable housing advocates will continue to do what we’ve always done: advocate for extremely low income families.

We need your help. We need your passion, your focus, your support, and your engagement to help us fight to protect and defend the critical resources that families and communities need to thrive.

Please consider becoming a member of NLIHC or making a donation to help us continue our work to amplify the voices of the poorest families in need.

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Housing and the Election Webinar: 5 Ways You Can Take Action

By Sarah Mickelson, NLIHC Director of Public Policy

Over the next few months, affordable housing and community development organizations have an opportunity to influence a number of critical issues before Congress and to help break through the noise of the presidential campaigns to make affordable housing an election issue.

Join us for a discussion with NLIHC staff on our Summer/Fall Issues Guide and Sample Candidate Questionnaire. On the webinar, we’ll review five ways you can take action between now and the November elections to advocate for the issues that are most important to your mission, the people you serve, and your community.

Speakers include:

  • Sarah Mickelson, Public Policy Director
  • Elayne Weiss, Senior Policy Analyst
  • Joseph Lindstrom, Senior Organizer for Housing Advocacy

For more information and best practices on how nonprofit organizations and individuals can lobby their elected officials, see Lobbying: Individual and 501(c)(3) Organizations in NLIHC’s 2016 Advocates’ Guide.

The Housing & the Election webinar was presented on September 7 and can be viewed here: http://nlihc.org/sites/default/files/Webinar_5WaysToTakeAction_090716.pdf