When Congress was on the brink of pushing through legislation that Internet advocates opposed, over four million online signatures were gathered quickly. Congress relented.
Today, millions of American households are poised to benefit directly from the opportunity to reduce mortgage payments, avoid foreclosure, build up some savings, or have a few thousand dollars to spend a little more freely. Yet while even conservative economists believe that easier refinancings will boost the economy and help millions more families — a major part of Congress is ready to say a big, “No, let’s not even try.”
Not a day elapsed after President Obama outlined a more ambitious set of proposals to let average families take advantage of the same low interest rates that have benefited upper income households and large corporations before Speaker Boehner among others declared the idea dead on arrival.
“All [the refinancing plan] does is delay the clearing of the market,” Speaker Boehner told reporters. “As soon as the market clears and we understand where the prices really are — [that] will be the most important thing we can do in order to improve home values around the country.”
Saying millions of families should wait until the “market clears” is the modern equivalent of “let them eat cake.” Clearing the market is an economist’s term for letting the tidal wave of foreclosures continue. But unchecked foreclosures drag down everyone’s home values, let vacant homes pile up in neighborhoods, and force families to choose between struggling to make needlessly high mortgage payments or become another default statistic with ruined credit.
It is time to ask lenders and investors to shoulder some of the burden, and Congress should be taking the lead on this, not finding objections. As my colleagues at the Center for American Progress and I explain in detail, the principles of accountability to avoid more foreclosures — especially for families who haven’t missed payments — is at the core of the administration’s expanded proposal for making refinancing easier.
Families with mortgages, however, are not an easily organized constituency. Unlike the protesters most engaged in social media who were the bulwark of those moved to criticize SOPA and PIPA, borrowers are not necessarily the internet generation nor an easily reached interest group.
But given the politics of “embrace the opposite of what Obama proposes,” homeowners struggling to keep making payments could use a Wiki dark day of their own. And so could the tens of millions of others who live next door, as no neighborhood really wants another foreclosure.
- From Bad To Worse: Nevada Foreclosures Only Half Way Done (scoppcanton.wordpress.com)
- Should the Government Help Homeowners With Underwater Mortgages? (usnews.com)
WASHINGTON, DC. – Local government officials today are baffled by the short-sighted decision of Congress to cut the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program as part of the Minibus Appropriations bill.
CDBG is the largest federal program dedicated to supporting the economic development and job creation activities of cities, counties and states in thousands of communities across the nation.
CDBG creates jobs, leverages private investment for economic development, supports home-ownership, builds critical infrastructure, including energy efficient improvements. It also provides critical social services to communities based on their distinct local needs while also assisting cities and counties in planning for community and economic revitalization.
The nation is facing dire fiscal pressure related to ongoing issues of home foreclosures, rising unemployment, and a loss of confidence in our federal lawmakers who cannot agree on a plan of action that will turn this economy around. Now is surely not the time to for Congress to send the message that funding in support of neighborhoods and family economic stability is not a top priority.
With over 85 percent of people in this country living in cities and metropolitan areas, we know that as go cities and counties, so goes the nation.
In the last year, local government officials have repeatedly traveled to Washington to explain to Members of Congress the impact of the CDBG program in communities all across this country.
We will not rest until the CDBG funding is restored.
Lisa Nelson, Mary Helen Petrus, and Francisca G.-C. Richter
Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
The housing crisis in the United States has wrought changes to communities in every corner of the nation. Back in 2008, Congress’s response was to create the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, or NSP, as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA), authorizing $3.92 billion for the program now known as NSP1 for local governments to mitigate negative impacts of foreclosures and vacancies through acquiring, rehabilitating, demolishing or redeveloping vacant and foreclosed homes. Undoubtedly, NSP1 was a small program compared to the enormous task of neighborhood recovery, and the funds allowed for far less demolition and property rehabilitation than needed. But the actual program implementation also led to partnerships and in some cases supported the institutions, training, and tools that communities needed to provide a longer term response to the crisis. Now, several years after its launch and while phase 3 of the program is still underway, we examine how NSP1 was implemented by some communities to understand in what ways this policy intervention and the communities’ response contributed to recovery, and how the NSP experience may shape future policy programs for community development at the state and federal level.
- Stimulus funds bring a house back to life (philly.com)
- Neighborhood Stabilization Program of Lee County (NSP) (bestfloridamortgage.wordpress.com)
Enterprise Community Partners
Tax Credit Advisory
Never have the future livelihoods of so many Americans and industries depended on the actions of so few in Washington. If you’re guessing this refers to the new “Super Committee,” you’re right.
When Congress reconvenes each September, there’s normally reason for hope among advocates that lawmakers will pass some bills favorable to affordable housing and community and economic development before year-end.
However, this year is different. Advocates are preparing for hunker-down mode to defend against likely Congressional attempts to cut federal spending for housing and community development programs and to scrutinize individual federal tax expenditure programs for their cost, benefit, and efficiency. The focus on deficit reduction was elevated in July when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) unveiled his 624-page, $9 trillion deficit-cutting plan, Back in Black, which proposes the termination of the federal low-income housing, historic rehabilitation, and new markets tax credit programs, plus the HOME program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The pressure intensified with the August 2 signing of the Budget Control Act of 2011. While raising the federal debt ceiling, it also directed $917 billion in federal spending savings over 10 years and the creation of a new bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (“Super Committee”). The Committee is to develop, approve, and submit for Congressional approval a package of specific legislative changes to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over federal Fiscal Years 2012-2021. Appointed in August, panel members must convene by September 16, shortly after Congress returns from the Labor Day recess. (See sidebars for panel members, details of the deficit reduction plan, and key deadlines.)
The Super Committee has broad discretion to propose cuts in federal spending, tax revenue increases, or a combination of both.
Because of the deficit reduction schedule and the belt-tightening mood in Washington, advocates expect Congress to be preoccupied with deficit reduction for the rest of 2011. Existing federal spending programs and tax incentives that support affordable housing and community and economic development are certain to be reviewed closely and potentially targeted for cuts. In fact, the Administration has already ordered federal
departments and agencies to develop proposed FY 2013 budgets that trim spending at least 10% from the enacted FY 2011 levels.
Rebuttal of Coburn Proposal
Affordable housing advocates quickly responded to Sen. Coburn’s proposal to eliminate the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program. The Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition drafted a rebuttal statement that was endorsed by 558 organizations and sent to Sen. Coburn and to other members of Congress. The National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA) also sent a separate letter to Sen. Coburn defending the LIHTC and HOME programs.
The Coalition statement refuted as inaccurate or misleading many of the reasons and statistics cited by the Coburn plan to support its proposal to terminate the housing tax credit. The statement, for instance, pointed out that the allegation of the program’s inefficiency was based on findings from a study of the Missouri state housing tax credit, not the federal housing credit.
“…The Senator’s call for repeal of the low-income housing tax credit would eliminate the most important and successful program for critically needed affordable rental housing,” the Coalition’s rebuttal letter said, “thus depriving millions of low-income families and seniors of a decent place to live, and killing thousands of well paying jobs at a time of severe unemployment.”
NCSHA’s Garth Rieman said, “Our reaction was that many of the arguments that Senator Coburn made in his letter weren’t accurate, or aren’t compelling. And when you consider the need for the program and its performance and success, we think there’s no question that Congress and the Administration need to continue this program.”
Still, the overall plan and its proposal have made a mark.
“If you ignore his plan you do so at your own peril,” says Peter Lawrence, of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., an ardent advocate of the housing and newmarkets tax credits and of federal housing programs. Senator Coburn was a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Six” that tried to put together a deficit reduction proposal.
“In this volatile political and fiscal environment,” Lawrence said, “where Congress is under such incredible pressure to take steps for deficit reduction, and potentially tax reform, having such a very detailed menu of choices, so to speak, to fill the pressure for deficit reduction means that you have to take [the Coburn plan] very, very seriously.”
In Crosshairs, Time to Rally the Troops
Washington, D.C. attorney Richard Goldstein, Counsel to the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition and a partner in the law firm Nixon Peabody LLP, noted that the deficit reduction focus in Congress puts federal spending programs for housing – those of HUD and of USDA’s Rural Development – “very much on the chopping block.” Tax expenditures will be “on the table” as well, he added. Republicans successfully opposed any tax increases in the final deficit reduction law. Yet lawmakers might still be able to hew to this bright line but agree to revenue raisers described as tax loophole closers, or even to cutbacks in certain existing tax expenditures.
Goldstein characterized the present time as an “all hands on deck” moment for LIHTC stakeholders. He said all LIHTC industry members and program supporters – not just lobbyists and Washington-based trade associations – need to get busy educating their members of Congress and staffs about the benefits and track record of the LIHTC program; taking them on tours of properties in their districts; and inviting them to project groundbreaking and ribbon-cuttings. “This is crunch time,” says Goldstein. “No one should have any complacency.”
National Housing & Rehabilitation Association Executive Director Thom Amdur concurred, observing, “Now is not the time to be shy. This could be the 100- year storm for affordable housing and tax credit deveopment if we aren’t prepared. Even previously sacrosanct programs like the LIHTC, historic credit, and Section 8 are at risk, to say nothing of programs like HOME and the new markets credit which are already targeted.”
Supporters of new markets and historic tax credits, of tax-exempt bonds, and of federal housing spending programs are mobilizing as well.
Reaction to Appointments
Regarding the make-up of the Super Committee, Lawrence noted that Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and John Kerry (Mass.) have been great supporters of affordable housing, and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has supported the LIHTC program. In addition, Goldstein noted that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s appointments – Democratic Reps. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Xavier Becerra (Calif.), and James Clyburn (S.C.) – are “very good for the housing credit,” and that Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), House Ways and Means Committee chairman, has supported the housing credit in the past.
On the other hand, Lawrence said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the Super Committee co-chair, “has been a conservative when it comes to housing and community development.” Super Committee members are generally regarded as pragmatic lawmakers who will try hard to craft and approve a deficit reduction package. Failure will trigger $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts hitting both defense and domestic programs.
Prospects for Tax Reform, Other Bills
The advocates generally didn’t expect Congress to pass comprehensive tax reform legislation this year or next, but rather to continue hearings and perhaps make some piecemeal tax law changes. They expected the same on GSE and housing finance reform.
Advocates were uncertain whether Congress will pass a separate “extenders” bill before year-end; a number of federal tax credits and tax incentives are scheduled to lapse December 31, including the new markets tax credit program. Lawrence indicated that it could be awkward for Congress to approve a package of extenders costing additional tax expenditures after passing deficit reduction legislation. Still, extenders might possibly be tucked into some type of opportune legislative vehicle.
LIHTC program supporters will also be looking for opportunities this fall to convince Congress to adopt a few, non-controversial, low-cost, favorable LIHTC amendments. Bills proposing such LIHTC amendments are expected to be introduced soon by lead sponsors from both parties on the House and Senate tax-writing committees. While the package of provisions hasn’t been finalized, under strong consideration are a proposal to extend the current minimum floor of 9% for the 70% present value housing credit, and a proposal to establish a minimum rate of 4% for the 30% present value credit for acquisition costs only (but not also fortax-exempt bond-financed costs).
The Rental Housing A.C.T.I.O.N. Campaign, an umbrella advocacy group for the LIHTC program with many participating organizations, has reactivated and is working to reach consensus on specific LIHTC amendments that it would like to see passed, and a letter it will then circulate to seek the support of lawmakers as cosponsors of a bill, said Lawrence.
NCSHA, which supports the Campaign and the proposals to extend the floor for the 9% credit and create a floor for the 4% acquisition credit, has its own list of priority legislative changes that it favors for the LIHTC program and for tax-exempt housing bonds, Rieman noted. In addition, NCSHA is continuing to work with the U.S. Treasury Department to try to get an extension beyond year-end of the deadline by which state housing finance agencies have to close housing bond issues under the New Issue Bond Program, and to seek a few other changes to make the program work better for HFAs.
Advocates were doubtful that Congress will pass any significant housing bills before year end, other than FY 2012 appropriations legislation to fund federal housing programs. In the past, the annual HUD appropriations bill has sometimes carried substantive housing authorization provisions – and this can’t be ruled out.But even here, it’s virtually certain that Congress won’t pass regular FY 2012 appropriations bills before the October 1st start of FY 2012, and will therefore have to pass one or more short-term continuing resolutions to fund the entire government. Stopgap funding bills are usually clean of non-spending riders. Congress may even have to resort to a single consolidated spending bill for the entire government for the rest of FY 2012.