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Looking Ahead to 2019

By NHT Federal Policy Director, Ellen Lurie Hoffman

 

We are still analyzing the 2018 midterm election results, but one thing is clear:  Change is coming to Washington and the face of Congress will look different than ever before. With a record number of women - at least 100 - elected to Congress, including the first two Muslim women and the first two Native American women elected to Congress, among many other firsts, we believe this is a change for the better. These changes reflect greater civic engagement among a more diverse electorate than in the past.  As Members set their priorities and tackle the many challenges facing this country, we are excited and ready to work with the new Congress

The precise impact that having a divided government, with the Democrats controlling the House of Representatives and Republicans maintaining control of the Senate, will have on NHT’s agenda to secure resources and advance opportunities for affordable housing remains to be seen. Here is what we know so far:

Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) is expected to Chair the House Financial Services Committee in the next Congress. 

Mrs. Waters has long been a champion for the interests of low-income Americans and for affordable housing opportunities.  We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with her as she takes on this important leadership role.  With current Committee Chair Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and seven other current Members retiring and at least three more losing their reelection bids, we also plan to work with a new Ranking Member and to help educate many new members of the House Financial Services Committee about the importance of affordable housing preservation.

Representative Richard Neal (D-MA) is expected to take over as Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. 

Given his past leadership sponsoring the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act (AHCIA or HR 1661), we look forward to collaborating with him on housing and community development legislation in the coming Congress.  At least five Ways and Means Committee Republicans lost their reelection bids, including Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), who is the current lead Republican sponsor of the AHCIA.  Educating new Members of Congress and particularly new Ways & Means Committee members about the importance of the Housing Credit for preserving and building affordable housing will be one of NHT’s highest priorities in the coming months. 

The Senate Finance Committee will have new leadership in the Congress with the retirement of Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) at the end of this term.

 Since Hatch is the lead Senate Republican sponsor of the AHCIA, advocates will be focused on identifying a new Republican lead sponsor.  Leadership of the Committee may transition to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), however, this depends on whether he chooses to remain Chair of the Judiciary Committee.  We look forward to continuing working with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a champion for preservation, who is expected to continue as Ranking Member on the Finance Committee, as well as with Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) is likely to continue as Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, unless Senator Grassley opts to stay on as Chair of the Judiciary Committee and Senator Crapo transitions to Chair of the Finance Committee. 

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a longstanding champion for affordable housing, almost certainly will continue as Ranking Member on the Banking Committee.  NHT will work to build relationships and educate many incoming Banking Committee members, as several members from both parties lost their seats or retired.

“Lame Duck”

With the midterm elections over, our attention now turns to the “Lame Duck” session of Congress.  NHT’s top priority is for Congress to pass the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 HUD appropriations bill.   In September, President Donald Trump signed an $855.1 billion spending package for FY 2019, averting a partial government shutdown that would have begun October 1, the start of the new fiscal year. The spending package (HR 6157) included a continuing resolution (CR) that extends current FY 2018 funding levels through December 7 for seven federal agencies, including HUD, that did not have their full-year appropriations completed on time. 

We are concerned that during the Lame Duck period, President Trump will refuse to sign final spending bills that do not include funding for a border wall, jeopardizing the final passage of the HUD appropriations bills, among others, for the remainder of FY 2019.  Having won a majority of seats, House Democrats may refuse to cooperate on a spending package that includes funding for a wall.  We fear that the President’s unflagging commitment to a border wall could either trigger a partial government shutdown or result in another CR that delays final spending decisions until January or later, when Democrats have more influence.  Rumor has it that the HUD spending bill may be attached to the appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security, putting it in particular jeopardy if President Trump demands funding for a border wall. 

In the case of a government shutdown or long-term CR, NHT’s top concern is always for 12 months of full funding for Section 8 project-based rental assistance (PBRA), to adequately cover the rising cost of private market rents and avert cuts in the number of households receiving assistance.  We will continue our work with Congress to ensure that PBRA contracts receive the complete funding they require regardless of the political situation or legislative scenario.

Looking ahead to next year, the bipartisan budget agreement which raised spending caps for both defense and non-defense programs expires in 2020.  NHT will urge the new Congress to adopt a new, longer term budget deal, without which we will see deep cuts in domestic discretionary spending and a return to severe budget caps.  We have been pleased over the past two years to see Congress push back in a bipartisan way against the Trump Administration’s proposed draconian cuts to non-defense discretionary spending, including housing assistance.  We hope that a new divided Congress will have more incentive than ever to recommit to a new budget deal lifting the spending caps, to secure our social safety net and protect the neediest Americans.  But it remains to be seen whether the President will cooperate with the new Congress and sign into law even bills passed with strong bipartisan support.

On the tax side, the Lame Duck Congress is expected to take up a tax extenders bill and possibly a corrections bill to address outstanding issues from last year’s tax cuts bill.  We are hopeful that one of these tax measures will provide a vehicle to pass provisions from the AHCIA, including locking in the 4 percent Housing Credit rate for tax-exempt bond financed transactions.  We will continue working with our partners to urge passage of these critically important measures.

The new Congress may revisit the possibility of a bill to repair our nation’s aging and outdated infrastructure.  If so, NHT will strongly advocate for investments in multifamily affordable housing and energy efficiency improvements to be considered an integral part of our nation’s infrastructure.  We will remind Congress of the jobs created with every project that builds, preserves, or retrofits affordable housing.

To Sum It Up:

The 2018 midterm election helped draw attention to the importance of affordable housing.  After barely being mentioned in the 2016 election, the need for more affordable housing was touted by many House and gubernatorial candidates, and local and statewide affordable housing measures appeared on ballots across the country.  The need for more housing and its effects on residents and businesses has finally reached a tipping point, and voters care. Based on the midterm election results, the need for affordable housing will likely feature prominently in the platforms of presidential candidates.

Along with our friends and partners, NHT worked hard to boost voter registration and engagement in the midterm elections.  The result is a new Congress and new opportunities.  But many challenges and a great deal of work lies ahead to secure resources and policies in support of affordable housing. There’s no time to rest - we will begin preparing to work with the new Congress, as well as new state and local elected officials, today.  We hope you will join us.

 

elh

 

11.13.2018