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.

NLIHC Policy Team: What We Do

The Coalition’s Policy team keeps on top of our policy agenda, making sure that Congress understands what our priorities are and how only actions they take can make our agenda a reality.

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The Policy team tracks every bill that is introduced in Congress and pays attention to each bill that intersects with our mission to achieve socially just public policy that assures people with the lowest incomes in the United States have affordable and decent homes.

We hold meetings with congressional staff, hold briefings for staff, attend hearings, and weigh in with offices when it is time for them to take action by developing amendments or bills, or determining how they will vote.

In addition to our policy agenda playing out on Capitol Hill, we are also interested in how the executive branch, namely HUD, USDA, Treasury, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, are using their powers and funding to address the nation’s lowest income households.  We comment on rules, suggest notices and guidance that agencies might offer, and urge strict oversight of programs so Congress only has reason to fund them, not decrease funding for them.

We also collaborate with our Field team a lot. This way, our organizers can reach out to ask our network to weigh in when we think it will be most effective, which is always!

In short, the Policy team believes that federal housing policy and resources are the key way to solving our most pressing housing needs.

Action Digest Helps You See the Big Picture

At the National Low Income Housing Coalition, it’s our job to understand the intricacies of the federal policy environment. We meet with Members of Congress and their staff on a regular basis, and work collaboratively with other national housing and social policy organizations to create and execute strategies that will affect positive policy change.

We also work hard to make sure our members and supporters are as educated about, and engaged in, the policy and budget processes as we are. Our founder, Cushing Dolbeare, believed strongly that there are plenty of Americans who want to support housing policy that meets the needs of the lowest income people; they just need to know when to take action. This believe still guides our work, and today, we make available a variety of resources, from newsletters like Memo to Members and Tenant Talk to data and tools like Out of Reach and the Congressional District Profiles, that give you the information you need to be an effective advocate.

If you are signed up to receive the Coalition’s email alerts, you know that on June 12, we launched a new email called Action Digest. This biweekly email pulls together information from a variety of sources, including Calls to Action and Memo articles, to help our supporters keep track of policy progress and weigh in when advocacy is needed.

Action Digest helps supporters see the whole picture of housing advocacy, from upcoming mark ups to pending bills to opportunities to thank lawmakers for advancing good low income housing policy. The first edition of the Digest received lots of praise from our members. We hope you’ll sign up to receive the Action Digest and our other emails, and let us know what you think of this new resource.

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.

It’s No Time to Cut Housing

An editorial in today’s New York Times chides lawmakers for considering cuts to HUD programs and asks Congress to “shor[e] up the precious few federal programs that provide affordable housing for the poor, the elderly and the disabled” in this time of record homelessness and continuing economic instability.

The Times outlines the challenges facing public housing and other HUD programs: a $25 billion backlog in repair that has been building since the 1990s; the House funding proposal for HUD which would make deep cuts to vouchers and other programs; and the funding bill debated by the Senate last week which would make even deeper cuts to programs serving extremely low income households.

Cuts to Tenant Based Rental Assistance (vouchers) and Project Based Rental Assistance are of particular concern. As we reported in Memo to Members, the Senate bill “would not provide sufficient funding to renew all vouchers in use in the Tenant Based Rental Assistance program,” and “would also cut TBRA Administrative Fee to $1.4 billion, which is $250 million lower than the President’s request. The National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials reports cuts in Administrative Fees will force PHAs to reduce staff, which could result in slower voucher processing, decreasing the number of vouchers in use and, ultimately, a loss of vouchers.”

Project Based Rental Assistance would fare no better, with insufficient funding provided by the Senate bill. A too-low level of funding means “HUD would either have to fund some contracts and not others, or would have to provide short-term contracts instead of full-year contracts. Providing short-term contracts diminishes participating property owners’ confidence in the program and encourages contract opt-outs.”

Cuts to HUD programs of the magnitude proposed would have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable individuals and families in our community. In the long term, continued cuts of this nature would cripple the decades of investment our nation has made in ensuring our lowest income neighbors have access to safe, decent, affordable housing. We must let our Members of Congress know that this is no time to abandon those in the greatest need.