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The Case for Federal Advocacy

4 min read

I am often asked some version of the question, “Why bother?” when it comes to advocacy on the federal level. It is a fair question to consider when only 27 bills became law last year, and stories of divided government and inaction dominate headlines. I say, “Yes, bother,” for two reasons: take the long view and continue building momentum.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day
Over the last six years, the National Housing & Rehabilitation Association, our partners, and many friends on the Hill have secured meaningful legislative victories that make it easier to build affordable housing. In 2018, Congress created a third set-aside in average income, which enabled the creation of affordable housing for households serving up to 80 percent of area median income. The cross-subsidization within properties to an average of 60 percent means that we can also serve households at the lowest end of the income spectrum. The same bill also gave the nine percent Low-Income Housing Tax Credit a temporary 12.5 percent increase. That increase expired at the end of 2022 and has been our proverbial foot in the door to tax extender discussions.

Advocacy during the COVID pandemic also secured funding for an entirely new federal program in Emergency Rental Assistance, helping residents stay in place and landlords pay the mortgage during a time of immense uncertainty and financial dislocation.

In 2022, Congress established a four percent floor for Private Activity Bond/four percent LIHTC deals. While most of the benefits from that legislative victory were absorbed almost immediately by rising interest rates and labor and material costs, the opposite is also true. If not for the four percent floor, many of those deals would not have been feasible due to the complex macroeconomic factors.

The Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure and Jobs Investment Act both included funding for housing, albeit not nearly as much as in the original Build Back Better proposal. And again, an entirely new federal program—Green and Resilient Retrofit Program—was created (and has already been awarded funding). A myriad of indirect funding will positively impact affordable housing deals, from basis boosts for solar projects at affordable housing properties and rebates for appliances that you are already buying, to the Weatherization Assistance Program designed specifically for multifamily housing.

And that’s just the start. The Environmental Protection Agency will soon announce the grantees for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), which contains over $27 billion to address the climate crisis. Several of NH&RA’s partners submitted applications directly targeting GGRF funding for low-income, multifamily housing.

But They Were Laying Bricks Every Hour
A complete history would include the times we came up short: the full Build Back Better proposal was not ultimately enacted; the 12.5 percent increase was allowed to expire; while we were in the running for inclusion in the tax bill at the end of 2022, the increase did not quite make it.

While disappointing, these losses are not without a silver lining: housing was a key part of the discussion. Housing affordability has become a kitchen table issue and commands front-page headlines from the nation’s most respected news outlets. Legislators increasingly cite housing affordability (or the lack thereof) as one of the top issues raised by constituents. We need to remind them that a) we already know how to solve the problem and b) we need more resources to truly make a difference.

Invite them to your groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings, and use the photo-op to explain the difficulties you have making the economics of the deal work despite the massive need you’re trying to address. Currently, we are just short of our goal to get half of the House as co-sponsors of the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act. I’m reminded of Newton’s law: an object in motion stays in motion. It’s incumbent upon us to ensure that housing remains an object in motion. Doing so will inevitably attract more supporters and continue building momentum and progress.

Advocacy can sometimes feel like shouting into the void or a Sisyphean task until it doesn’t. Know that you are not alone, and it’s only through collective continued advocacy that we are at this point. As our industry stands on the brink of perhaps our biggest legislative victory yet, I encourage you to keep going. I am as hopeful as I’ve ever been that Congress will lower the 50 percent test and restore the expired 12.5 percent increase for nine percent LIHTCs. But nothing is certain, and regardless of the outcome, we must continue laying bricks.

Kaitlyn Snyder is managing director of National Housing & Rehabilitation Association.