Congress at Home, Advocates Should Urge Action in Fall

 

Will you be meeting with you representatives this month while they are in district?  Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are on recess during the month of August, resuming legislative business on Monday, September 8. While they are in their home districts and with most House Members and 27 Senators seeking reelection in November, housing and homeless advocates should take the opportunity to remind them of the work they have left to do before the end of the 113th Congress.

A top “must pass” item is the Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure Act (PTFA). The current PTF law expires at the end of 2014. Unless it is made permanent or extended by December 31, many tenants whose landlords or property owners lose their properties to foreclosure will no longer have federal protections against imminent eviction. The laws governing tenant rights will revert to the array of state laws on the status of tenants at foreclosure, most of which still offer less protection than the federal law. S. 1761 and H.R. 3543 are the two Permanently Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure bills that need a vehicle for enactment this year.

Congress also must complete its FY15 HUD and USDA Rural Housing Appropriations bills. The Senate and the House will delay finalizing these bills until after the November election, but all Members need to hear that you expect funding at the levels in the bills that have cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee.

While no further action is likely on either housing finance reform or tax reform, advocates should stress that when Congress does act on these issues in the 114th Congress that robust funding for the National Housing Trust Fund must be included.

For more information on these issues and more, go to http://nlihc.org/issues.

What does sequestration mean for housing?

As housing advocates know, the impacts of sequestration will be felt most deeply by America’s poorest individuals and families. But how big will the cuts be? How will HUD and other agencies handle them? What can advocates like us do to ask Congress to replace sequestration with a more balanced approach to the budget?

NLIHC just created two pages on its website with all the information you need to help you understand sequestration from a housing perspective.

First, we’ve compiled a page on sequestration with links to all the necessary HUD, Obama administration, and Office of Management and Budget information. We also include links to resources from other organizations, like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. We’ll update this page regularly as agencies post new guidance and other information on sequestration becomes available.

Second, the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding, a coalition of over 70 national organizations staffed by NLIHC, has its own sequestration resources specially created for housing and community development advocates. On our CHCDF sequestration page, you’ll find talking points, a Twitter campaign, and in-depth information about the housing impacts of sequestration.

Sequestration was never supposed to happen; it was a “stick” Members of Congress adopted as a way to force themselves to negotiate a budget deal. The stick didn’t work, and now we’re living with the consequences. It will be crucial for all of us to advocate this month– beginning today– for the damaging impacts of sequestration to be minimal and short-lived. Take a look at our sequestration resources, join our National Call-In Day today, and encourage your colleagues and friends to join you in this fight for a more balanced approach to the federal budget.

Talk of the Town: Over the Cliff

Ground feel unsteady under your feet? It might be that you’re standing at the edge of a fiscal cliff.

According to Politico, “If Congress doesn’t take action by the end of the year, a package of tax cuts adopted during George W. Bush’s administration expire while deep spending cuts kick in. If that happens, the economy would go over a ‘fiscal cliff.'” While a steep reduction in federal spending could help shrink the budget deficit, less spending also means even less stimulus to our weak and struggling economy.

Recent reports have shown Members of Congress in heated debate over the issue, but expectations are low for any resolution occurring before the November 6 elections.

As we noted in Memo to Members recently, there is another theory: it’s not a fiscal cliff, it’s a fiscal slope. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, chances are, even if a deal is not reached by the beginning of 2013, Congress is likely to work something out eventually– meaning that consumers and businesses will have enough confidence to keep spending. Democrats have shown a willingness to test that fiscal slope theory, if it means the richest 2% of Americans would pay their fair share of taxes.

Do you believe we’re at the edge of a cliff, or a slope? What action do you think Congress needs to take? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Save crucial government programs with just one click.

With all the talk about the work Congress is doing to decide on next year’s appropriations for HUD and rural housing, it’s easy to forget that there is another big budget issue looming: sequestration.

As we wrote in Memo to Members in January,

The Budget Control Act of 2011 required Congress to form a bipartisan committee to develop a plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over a ten-year period. The act specifies that if a bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the Super Committee) fails to produce a plan, the $1.2 trillion will be sequestered from discretionary spending. Sequestration would make across-the-board cuts to discretionary programs to reach the $1.2 trillion goal. The committee did not reach agreement by the statutory deadline of November 2011, triggering sequestration for FY13.

The defense community and their supporters are voicing their concerns about the impact of sequester on national security. Members of both parties and in both houses of Congress seem concerned about the effects of sequestration, and steps have been taken to ask the White House to provide details of how it would carry out the across-the-board cuts.

For our part, affordable housing advocates have been sounding the alarm from the beginning. An 8.4% cut to core government functions like education and job training, public safety and law enforcement, public health, and housing and social services would be devastating to every community in the United States.

Fortunately, there is a way to take action. Every local, state, and national organization in the country that cares about funding for any of these core government functions is urged to sign onto this letter urging Congress to avoid the planned sequester and take a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not include additional cuts to these programs. The letter argues that nondefense discretionary programs have already contributed their share to deficit reduction and the sequester must be nullified.

Want to sign your organization’s name to this letter? It’s easy. Just visit this website and add your name. But act quickly: Signatures must be received by close of business Friday, June 29.

A Conversation on Federal Advocacy

This is a cross-post from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance blog. Many thanks to our state partner in Washington for inviting Sheila Crowley to speak, and for allowing us to publish this post!

On May 31, the Housing Alliance welcomed Nan Roman, President and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and Sheila Crowley, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, who joined us from D.C. for an engaging conversation around affordable housing and homelessness issues and the broader legislative and political environment at the national level.

Probably to no one’s surprise, budget issues and the upcoming elections dominated much of the conversation. The presidential elections, as well as what may happen with the House and the Senate, will dictate much of what happens for the next 2-4 years. In addition to the elections, at the end of the year we will see the expiration of a very costly tax breaks for the very wealthy and the expiration of other controversial tax related matters; another debate on renewing the debt ceiling; and also the possibility of $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts as part of the Budget Control Act. All of these critical and very controversial issues will be left in the hands of the post-election, lame-duck Congress. With so much left on the table for the last minute, the bottom line is that, right now, we really don’t know what is going to happen at the end of the year.

Nan and Shelia shared that the atmosphere in D.C. is even more polarized than normal and that this polarization is making it nearly impossible to get anything done.  But the good news about having the do-nothing Congress that we have right now is that the really, really bad stuff that has been proposed will also have a very hard time getting through. Because of this, Congress and the Administration most likely won’t try anything that requires legislation until after the elections are decided. However, the appropriations bills have to move forward. Nan Roman said that in terms of advocacy, the appropriations bills are where we should be targeting our efforts.

The budget proposals we’ve seen could have been much worse, Sheila Crowley pointed out, and in some ways, are much better than expected. Both Sheila and Nan took pains to point out that this is largely thanks to Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), who has used her position Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development — as well as her position on the budget supercommittee — to fight for funding for affordable housing and homelessness.

Nan Roman said that the housing community has been hearing that upcoming budget proposals will “protect the vulnerable,” but we haven’t seen details about what that will actually entail. The job for us as affordable housing and homelessness advocates, Nan said, is to make the case that it is “penny-wise and pound-foolish” to not take care of the needy while working to ensure that enough funding is provided for critical safety net services. She suggested that we can do this by marrying the stories we hear from people in our communities with a strong, data-driven case for our programs, and by linking housing outcomes to other outcomes we care about such as health care, mental health, veterans’ homelessness, and education.

Nan shared that she sees a lot of energy and political will on both sides of the aisle to address homelessness, especially for veterans. Domestic violence and its links to housing policy, as well as youth homelessness, are both areas that are starting to receive additional attention and are places where our stories and advocacy can achieve real results.

In the meantime, both Nan and Shelia agreed that our top priorities should be advocating around the appropriations bills to ensure that we meet the President’s mark on HUD Homeless Assistance, VASH, USDA Rural Housing Programs, and also to ensure that any tax bill that ends up moving forward includes $1 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund.

This is an interesting time for advocates, and we definitely have our work cut out for us. We at the Housing Alliance can’t thank Nan and Sheila enough for joining us, and for the candid conversation about the challenges and opportunities that are in store for homelessness and affordable housing advocates.