The Needle in the Haystack

4 min read

In a little less than 11 months there will be a new President of the United States. With the full attention of the political blognescenti on the increasingly raucous Democratic and Republican primaries, it can be easy to ignore that the current Congress and President must still govern. With that in mind, on February 10th President Obama released his Fiscal-Year 2017 budget proposal.

The President’s budget is a statement of the administration’s funding priorities for the fiscal year. It is the first step in a drawn out and increasingly dysfunctional appropriations process. The spirit of compromise brokered by Speaker Paul Ryan that helped push through the FY-16 omnibus appropriations bill and tax extenders legislation appears to be in the rearview mirror. The President’s Budget has already been decried by Republicans in Congress as a partisan and ideological wish list that is “dead on arrival.” In a breach of protocol and decorum, the House and Senate Budget Committee Chairs have actually declined to invite Office of Management and Budget Director (and former HUD Secretary) Shaun Donovan to testify before their respective committees. And now, with a highly charged supreme Court nomination battle looming in the Senate, I personally do not see the high-stakes, take no prisoners, “Game Of Thrones” that seems to be unfolding settling down.

As discouraging as this may all seem, it does not mean that Congress will “literally” come to a halt. Appropriations in divided government is always a fight and the budget is merely the first line in the sand, the starting point for a long conversation. Both Republicans and Democrats have incentives to pass appropriations bills this year in a timely fashion. If Republicans wish to hold the Senate (a tough task given the number of seats they are defending), they will surely want to project that the Legislative body is functional and able to conduct business. Likewise, President Obama has his legacy to think of and, one would assume, wants to find some areas of middle-ground to stake out before time lapses on his administration.

One of the few bridges over the ideological divide may be affordable housing! Last month, the House of Representatives passed unanimously “The Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2015” (HR 3700). This long-awaited housing voucher reform legislation makes it easier for PHAs to issue project-based vouchers and creates numerous administrative efficiencies for PHAs, owners and landlords. Without the sequester to contend with this year, I think there is a likelihood that critical housing programs will be funded at comparable levels to last year’s legislation. This will continue to be a tough fight that requires strong advocacy to defend the HOME Program, and proposed cuts to CDBG will open a new battlefront.

Meanwhile, Tax Reform looms ever present. The GAO’s highly anticipated reports on the LIHTC will draw new scrutiny to the program and the machinations of a “grand plan” may be in their early stages. House Republicans have announced a new task force to develop a “bold, pro-growth agenda that will be presented to the country in the months ahead” that includes working groups focused on tax reform and poverty, opportunity, and upward mobility. If ever there will be a moment when Tax Reform is possible, it will likely be right after the election if stars align and either the Democrats or Republicans sweep the elections and control the House, Senate and Presidency.

If that is to succeed, the groundwork will likely be laid over the next 11 months.

Rather than just sit on the sidelines and watch the political grudge match unfold, now more than ever we must engage with the political classes and keep hard at work for both short-term legislative opportunities and the long- term prospects of our programs.

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.