Recent Blog Posts
Ben Miksch, State and Federal Policy Associate
I just got back from the National Low Income Housing Coalition's Housing Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.
I am simultaneously exhausted and energized after the trip. Being in D.C. is always a bit of a whirlwind, but this time it felt more like a tornado! I attended a Coalition member meeting and the conference itself, presented a workshop, and then organized advocacy visits to the office of nearly every Washington State delegation member. I can't tell you how happy I am to be back home. At the same time, I can't help but be excited to get back to work on the incredible opportunities we discussed at the conference. New ways are opening up to get the necessary resources to really end homelessness.
This was my first year at the conference, and I understand this year was very different than other years. In the past, the conference has covered a vast array of different housing topics, much like our own homelessness conference. (Speaking of the conference, registration is now open!)
This year, however, the Housing Policy Conference was centered on a single, bold vision: United For Homes, an idea to end the affordable housing crisis and possibly homelessness altogether.
The United For Homes campaign has a sensible proposal. Over 16 million American homeowners making less than $100,000 don't benefit from the mortgage interest deduction. So, let's take the more than 80 billion dollars a year America currently spends on the mortgage interest deduction. Then, through housing tax reform, finally help those homeowners for the first time. By limiting how much of the benefit goes to the wealthiest Americans, there would then be enough money leftover to fully fund the National Housing Trust Fund, all without adding a dime to the national deficit. United For Homes brings together these two long-standing policy goals of the housing community (housing tax reform and the National Housing Trust Fund) into a single comprehensive proposal.
To call the idea bold is an understatement. This is a fundamental rethinking of where we spend housing money in this country.
Bold ideas require bold actions, and the Coalition kicked off the conference with an announcement that they were putting one million dollars into the United For Homes campaign. With the possibility of comprehensive tax reform now on the table, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. As housing advocates, we can really make a tremendous shift in our resources to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, affordable home.
L-R: Melora Hiller (National Community Land Trust Network Executive Director), Rachael Myers (Housing Alliance ED), Rep. Adam Smith (D-9th) and me.
At the same time we were attending this conference and learning about these bold proposals, Congress was negotiating over what to do about the expiring budget. In our meetings with legislators and their staff, we fiercely advocated against the worse of the two current budget proposals, talked about the pain sequestration is bringing to our communities, and advocated to protect effective programs like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. I was really happy when Congress recently passed the better of the two proposals.
It was a bit of an odd contrast, transitioning from the dire and immediate needs of budgets to the awesome, game-changing ideas for how we can have an entirely different future. But, the reality is that Congress isn't going to agree on housing tax reform tomorrow. If we want this proposal to have a chance of becoming law, it's going to take a lot of work for us all. Meanwhile, sequestration and budget negotiations will continue to be at the forefront of our fight to protect McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, Public Housing Vouchers, and other programs we depend on.
You can get involved in a number of ways. You can read more about the United For Homes proposal here, and you can also sign onto the campaign as an endorser here. (We already have!) Advocating for Washington State's Housing Trust Fund is also a good option, because it's one of the best examples we have for showing Congress how much good a well-run Housing Trust Fund can accomplish.
Speaking of the power of advocacy, a huge shout-out and thank you to our friends at the Low Income Housing Institute, Tenants Union, Second Step Housing, the National Community Land Trust Network, and other advocates who joined us for meetings with legislators and lent their voices and stories to the advocacy effort. It makes a tremendous difference to fight for these priorities by telling legislators about projects in their districts and presenting a picture of what's really happening on the ground.
Ideas - even good ideas - don't amount to much on their own. They only become real when people use the power of advocacy to turn them into laws. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and advocate!!!