New Developments: The Final Countdown

4 min read

September is always a busy month in DC, but this year is shaping up to be exceptionally so. Congress has a rich history of setting deadlines for itself, only to blow past them, and I suspect this year will be no different. A few upcoming items that will need to be addressed (with Congress’s version of deadlines) are:

  • Fiscal Year 2022 Appropriations – September 30;
  • Raising the Debt Limit – ASAP; and
  • Budget Reconciliation (aka the partisan infrastructure bill) – September 15.

Other items on the fall federal action docket are:

  • Expiring eviction moratorium – October 3;
  • Deadline for states and local governments to spend 65 percent of their Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funds or be subject to federal claw back – September 30;
  • Bipartisan infrastructure bill; and
  • Voting rights legislation.

At this point, there are more questions than answers. Will Democrats be able to pass a partisan infrastructure bill through reconciliation? We know the upper bound of $3.5 trillion passed by the Senate is not going to happen, but don’t yet know an acceptable compromise number. How will housing fit into the bill?

Or, will negotiations between the moderate and progressive wings of the party fail and bring down the whole package? Will the bipartisan infrastructure package be a casualty of those failed negotiations? How will other must-pass legislation (FY 2022 appropriations, raising the debt limit) and other congressional priorities affect the timing and likelihood of the two infrastructure bills? I certainly don’t know the answers to these questions, nor does anyone in Congress.

The upshot is that housing advocates have been building recognition of the scarcity of affordable housing and offering solutions for years, and we’re incredibly well-positioned to be included in the partisan infrastructure package. The housing crisis has entered the societal lexicon (so much so that it’s inspired many a meme), and it’s our collective job as housers to take advantage of this groundswell in the opportunities ahead of us.

Must-pass legislation offers a path for housing bills, like the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, to catch a ride to enactment. As does the partisan infrastructure bill; President Joe Biden (D) previously committed that housing would be a part of that legislation and we intend on holding him to that. The benefits of reconciliation (simple majority passage in the Senate, as opposed to the typical 60-vote threshold) come with a few drawbacks – mainly that all items within the bill must be budgetary in nature. That’s a surmountable obstacle and know that you’re well represented in Washington by folks who are leaving it all on the field to make sure housing is included.

And we know that many of our readers are doing whatever it takes to get ERAP funds into the hands of tenants and landlords. Please keep up that work as we approach the end of the federal eviction moratorium and the potential claw back of unused funds. Our collective success in distributing ERAP funds and preventing evictions will directly affect our ability to secure more resources for housing.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know that this fall is going to be a wild ride full of twists and turns. And while there will be many a late night for us policy wonks, know that this is all par for the course.

Brinksmanship politics is a deliberate strategy, used by both parties, to exact as many concessions from the other side as possible. It’s not dissimilar to tactics used in car sales, where they’re hoping your sunk time costs, hunger and general annoyance will leave you less willing to negotiate (Pro-tip: Bring your own form of entertainment and food so you can skip the options in the vending machine). The key difference though is that Congress often sets its own arbitrary deadlines, and the majority party can choose another arbitrary deadline if they’re not yet comfortable with the terms of the deal.

I suspect many of these items will drag out well into December. There’s nothing quite like the lure of the holiday season to motivate lawmakers to get legislation across the finish line. As Europe says, “It’s the final countdown,” and National Housing & Rehabilitation Association and our partners will be advocating for housing every step of the way.

Kaitlyn Snyder is policy director of NH&RA.

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