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Yesterday, the Housing Alliance welcomed Nan Roman, President and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and Sheila Crowley, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, who joined us from DC for an engaging conversation around affordable housing and homelessness issues and the broader legislative and political environment at the national level.
Probably to no one's surprise, budget issues and the upcoming elections dominated much of the conversation. The presidential elections, as well as what may happen with the House and the Senate, will dictate much of what happens for the next 2-4 years. In addition to the elections, at the end of the year we will see the expiration of a very costly tax breaks for the very wealthy and the expiration of other controversial tax related matters; another debate on renewing the debt ceiling; and also the possibility of $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts as part of the Budget Control Act. All of these critical and very controversial issues will be left in the hands of the post-election, lame-duck Congress. With so much left on the table for the last minute, the bottom line is that, right now, we really don't know what is going to happen at the end of the year.
Nan and Shelia shared that the atmosphere in DC is even more polarized than normal and that this polarization is making it nearly impossible to get anything done. But the good news about having the do-nothing Congress that we have right now is that the really, really bad stuff that has been proposed will also have a very hard time getting through. Because of this, Congress and the Administration most likely won't try anything that requires legislation until after the elections are decided. However, the appropriations bills have to move forward. Nan Roman said that in terms of advocacy, the appropriations bills are where we should be targeting our efforts.
The budget proposals we've seen could have been much worse, Sheila Crowley pointed out, and in some ways, are much better than expected. Both Sheila and Nan took pains to point out that this is largely thanks to Senator Patty Murray, who has used her position Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development — as well as her position on the budget super-committee — to fight for funding for affordable housing and homelessness.
Nan said that the housing community has been hearing that upcoming budget proposals will “protect the vulnerable,” but we haven’t seen details about what that will actually entail. The job for us as affordable housing and homelessness advocates, Nan Roman said, is to make the case that it is “penny-wise and pound-foolish” to not take care of the needy while working to ensure that enough funding is provided for critical safety net services. She suggested that we can do this by marrying the stories we hear from people in our communities with a strong, data-driven case for our programs, and by linking housing outcomes to other outcomes we care about such as health care, mental health, veterans’ homelessness, and education.
Nan shared that she sees a lot of energy and political will on both sides of the aisle to address homelessness, especially for veterans. Domestic violence and its links to housing policy, as well as youth homelessness, are both areas that are starting to receive additional attention and are places where our stories and advocacy can achieve real results.
In the meantime, both Nan and Shelia agreed that our top priorities should be advocating around the appropriations bills to ensure that we meet the President's mark on HUD Homeless Assistance, VASH, USDA Rural Housing Programs, and also to ensure that any tax bill that ends up moving forward includes $1 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund.
This is an interesting time for advocates, and we definitely have our work cut out for us. We at the Housing Alliance can't thank Nan and Sheila enough for joining us, and for the candid conversation about the challenges and opportunities that are in store for homelessness and affordable housing advocates.
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