New Developments: The Middle Ground In Homelessness Strategy

4 min read

In a surprise move, news reports indicate President Trump is about to announce a new effort    to address homelessness in California. At press time, the administration’s plans have not been released; however, the gist of what has been reported in The Washington Post and other publications is “razing tent camps and relocating large groups of homeless people” to a decommissioned military base.

Putting aside the charged political and partisan rhetoric that is (unfortunately) accompanying the effort, President Trump is right when he said earlier this summer that homelessness “hurts our country.” In my estimation, the more than 130,000 homeless men, women and children in California (and 552,830 people nationally according to HUD’s 2018 Annual Point-in-Time Count) constitutes an emergency. It’s beneath our dignity as the richest and most powerful country in the world that 17 out of every 10,000 people in the U.S. experience homelessness, and that so many of them are unsheltered.

The situation calls for decisive action, and while the President’s reported plan is certainly bold, it is at best a temporary solution and at worst unconstitutional. There are things we can do now to make a significant difference. California, and many of the other jurisdictions, have a housing supply problem that is a major root cause of homelessness. We should emulate the Golden State, which is putting its money where its mouth is to address the housing supply problem.

In the past year, the governor, legislature and many local jurisdictions have taken unprecedented steps to dramatically increase funding to expand affordable housing and supportive housing initiatives. These initiatives depend on leveraging federal resources, such as Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Private Activity Bond (PAB) Cap, Section 8 Vouchers and other HUD funds, which is where I propose we take stronger action.

To start, Congress needs to pass a Transportation-HUD appropriations bill that does not just maintain funding for affordable housing and supportive services but expands it. As the federal government’s fiscal year winds to a close on September 30 (at press time there seems little hope that Congress will pass bills to fund the government on anything other than a short-term basis), there is still time to make improvements to the draft spending bills. If President Trump is serious about addressing this issue, he would do well to draft a FY-2021 budget that expands affordable housing resources rather than cut them. An increase in housing choice vouchers and a dramatic expansion of public housing resources would provide much needed assistance to individuals and families most impacted by homelessness.

Congress should also pass the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2019 (AHCIA) that has been reintroduced in both the Senate (S. 1703) and the House (H.R. 3077), which would make critical changes that expand the use of the LIHTC. In California and New York, the state’s most heavily impacted by homelessness in terms of overall numbers there is also a scarcity of PAB Cap. In a recent meeting NH&RA hosted with our California Developers Council, there was legitimate concern that the state’s allocation of multifamily PAB cap may be exhausted as early as the first quarter of 2020. While cap recycling provisions in AHCIA may help, Congress should also consider bolder steps to expand or perhaps even suspend multifamily cap limits while this crisis persists.

I am glad the administration is sending the HUD Secretary into the field to observe homeless tent cities and encouraged that officials from agencies as diverse as the Department of Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, The White House Domestic Policy Council and Veterans Affairs were recently deployed to Los Angeles to visit affordable housing sites. But site visits, rhetoric and even Executive Orders are not enough. The affordable housing shortage is a crisis that deserves the nation’s attention and homelessness is an emergency that should be treated like a natural (and family) disaster.

Thom joined National Housing & Rehabilitation Association (NH&RA) in 2004 and currently serves as its as Executive Vice-President and Executive Director. NH&RA is a national trade association and peer-network for affordable housing and tax credit developers and related professionals including: investors, lenders, public agencies and professional advisers. Thom directs the association’s day-to-day operations including legislative and regulatory advocacy, committee activities, conferences and events, publications, financial management and strategic planning. Thom also serves as the Executive Director of the Tennessee Developers Council, a state-wide trade association for affordable housing developers and professionals active in Tennessee. In 2013 he spearheaded the launch of NH&RA's Preservation through Energy Efficiency Project, a major educational initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Thom also serves on the Board of Directors for International Center for Appropriate & Sustainable Technology (iCAST) as well as the Advisory Board for its ResourceSmart program, a turn-key, cost-effective, green rehab provider for multifamily affordable and market-rate housing communities and nonprofit facilities. Thom is a frequent speaker at affordable housing, sustainable development and tax credit industry events and has been published in a variety of industry journals including Tax Credit Advisor, Independent Banker, and the Novogradac Journal of Tax Credit Housing. Thom also serves as the Associate Publisher of Tax Credit Advisor, a monthly magazine for tax credit and affordable housing professionals and is an Executive Vice-President at Dworbell Inc., a boutique association management and communications firm in Washington, DC. Thom was previously employed at a national lobbying firm focusing on financial services and technology issues. Prior to moving to Washington, Thom worked in media relations in the New York State Assembly and as a research assistant for New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Thom graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University with a double major in Political Science and History.