Developers: Organize Your Residents for 2018

On May 4, we applauded Congress’ dismissal of the Trump administration’s request for $18 billion in cuts to non-defense discretionary programs. Those cuts would have eliminated critical funds that support affordable housing, including the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the Community Development Block Grant program, the Weatherization Assistance Program, the Energy Star program, and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Congress firmly rejected the administration’s proposals and (finally) approved a bipartisan spending bill for 2017, funding the government through Sept. 30. The lights will stay on in the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, and our worst fears that low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled might be literally left out in the cold are allayed … for now.

But like all things Trump, the legislative firmament remains highly unstable.

Congress must quickly turn to belatedly drafting and marking up spending bills for next year, and the administration will undoubtedly demand drastic cuts as part of its formal budget request for 2018, which commences Oct. 1. We must demand that Congress completely reject proposals that expand benefits to our nation’s most wealthy at the expense of the disadvantaged, and ensure that it truly understands the importance of fully funding both project-based and tenant-based rental assistance, as well as the critical housing and community development programs that are on Trump’s proposed chopping block.

Likewise, we must urge members of Congress to protect and expand the highly successful Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, which remains the only source of federal support for affordable housing development and preservation. Corporate tax reform could eliminate the housing credit or dramatically reduce investor demand by lowering corporate tax rates—either scenario would choke off private investment capital to low-income neighborhoods.

According to recently released data from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the median annual income of housing credit tenant households is $17,152.

So how can housing developers most effectively block Congress from reducing critical resources for low-income communities? For starters, help lift the voices of residents who benefit from housing and community development investments. Amplify the words of resident leaders regarding their own housing concerns, and help them connect to health, education, energy efficiency, and equity campaigns in their local communities. The result will be a more robust base of support for not only housing, but also for other fundamentals necessary for low-income households to thrive. As a colleague noted, housing affordability is the “on ramp to the opportunity superhighway,” and to the extent that one lacks housing, one lacks the means to secure a job, education, and good health. This is the message that deserves attention from elected officials and the media.

Residents and other housing stakeholders should tell Congress that slashing housing programs, as well as health care, education, and energy assistance, is unacceptable, contrary to American values, and counterproductive. We know that cuts will push low-income households onto the street and into emergency rooms, and so our messaging must illustrate how the lives of families, the elderly, and the disabled have been stabilized because of housing assistance.

With their own stories and examples, residents should be empowered to explain to members of Congress how affordable, stable housing provides a foundation from which households can develop financial independence, economic mobility, and strength. Stories and engagement at the local level will give a voice and a face to how our national investment in affordable housing continues to benefit low-income families and communities.

What’s the first step? Housing developers should immediately plan site visits and events in local districts to educate key members of Congress. By building resilient grassroots support among residents for federal policy engagement this year, we will have a strong network ready for mobilization leading up to the midterm elections.

But we cannot delay—this work must happen now. We don’t have a minute to spare to convey this important message and help resident voices to be heard loud and clear by their elected officials.

(Image from Black Hour, via flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Ellen Lurie Hoffman is federal policy director of the National Housing Trust.
Michael Bodaken is the president of the National Housing Trust.


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