“Housing is experiencing a calm before the storm”, is how National Housing Conference CEO Chris Estes described how housing programs fared in the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget request during a presentation at the Ballard Spahr Best of the West Housing Conference this past Friday in San Francisco. While many of the rental assistance programs received increases over last year’s appropriations levels after 2 years of what seemed like a free fall, almost every account remains short funded. Of particular concern is the effort to “re-baseline” the project-based rental assistance account by seeking only 8 months of funding this year, which means this account will require a significant increase in 2016 to ensure a full year of funding for all existing contracts. Chris invited anyone interested in learning more about this topic to participate in the April 16th webinar NHC is sponsoring with HUD.

The audience was particularly attentive to Chris’s perspectives on the recently released bi-partisan proposal to reform the GSEs. The Johnson-Crapo bill would wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over a number of years, but continue the successful work both organizations do in the multi-family space, ensure focused attention on rural communities, and limit government risk. While this proposal followed many months of hearings and input from a broad spectrum of parties, Chris reiterated that there will be continued discussion and modifications before GSE reform will be enacted.

Chris also talked about how the recent discussion paper regarding tax reform proposals issued by House Ways and Means Chairman, David Camp, could impact the low income housing tax credit (LIHTC). The proposal would continue a modified version of the 9 percent tax credit, however, it would eliminate the 4 percent credit used with private activity bonds. Given that tax reform is no longer as pressing an issue on the national agenda, it is not likely that the LIHTC will be revisited in the very near future. This discussion could be renewed, however, in the next couple of years.

Other topics batted around included the National Housing Trust Fund (good chance for funding this year), the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program (good chance of further expansion this year) and funding for CDBG and HOME (continue to be susceptible to more cuts).

Lots of heads in the room nodded as Chris discussed the importance of continued advocacy by all corners of the housing world to preserve and expand programs that support affordable housing. “We have to characterize ourselves not as an industry which is interested only economic gains for itself, but as a movement,” Chris said. Continuing to emphasize how affordable housing investments yield cost savings in other government programs, including Medicare/Medicaid, criminal justice, education, foster care, and many others is an important part of telling our story effectively to lawmakers.

Many thanks to Chris for taking the long plane ride to be with us at the Best of the West. I, for one, am looking forward to coming back to the Bay Area to attend NHC’s Solutions Conference November in Oakland. Ballard was a proud sponsor of this event last year in Atlanta that provided an impressive interactive format that fostered great discussions among participants. We are looking forward to this innovative event again this year. Hope to see you there!