As we close in on the end of the first year of the Democratic-controlled 110th Congress, there’s good news and bad news for affordable housing.
On the plus side, our national legislators have moved a number of important housing bills. Much of this legislation was instigated by Barney Frank and the House Financial Services Committee he chairs.
Now even the slow-handed Senate is finally starting to follow Frank’s activist lead. After he was “missing in action” on housing issues most of the year, Sen. Chris Dodd (DConn.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who heads the panel’s housing subcommittee, are finally moving some housing bills forward.
Even officials in the Department of Housing and Urban Development seem determined to make things happen in the waning months of the Bush administration.
My Washington sources tell me these officials want to push the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) back into taking an active role in financing apartments after several years of declining volume. They know there is tremendous demand for FHA financing for affordable rental housing at a time when other loan programs are offering lower proceeds and raising interest rates, and they hope to speed up application processing to make FHA viable again.
The bad news is that NIMBYism is not going away. In Marin County, Calif., where I live, affordable housing advocates had to work overtime just to convince the county board of supervisors not to completely cave in to virulent anti-development lobbying as they revise the plan for where to allow development.
A partially “affordable” project near my house is going forward, but the approval process was tortuous. My local city council approved it in August—after 28 official government hearings and 100 meetings involving several city committees and boards. All that work was not for a giant development. It was for 81 homes and townhouses, down from 88 in the original application. Only 18 units are designated as affordable, and only nine are meant for low-income households.
Meanwhile, our town has 1.7 jobs for every unit of housing, and we are widening the freeway that splits the city to accommodate all that commuting—and we’ll still have traffic jams.
I hear stories like this from all over the country, and I’m convinced NIMBYism is getting worse, not better.
That’s why I am supporting a media awards program named for the late Cushing N. Dolbeare, long-time housing advocate and founder of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).
We need to get more reporters and editors to focus on affordable housing, especially as we enter the start of the presidential election cycle. The Dolbeare Awards provide tangible incentives to reporters to cover housing needs in more depth and with more frequency. Dolbeare, who died in 2005, began NLIHC in 1974.
The awards will recognize authors of newspaper and magazine stories that were published in 2007 and shed light on the affordable housing crisis. First-place winners will each receive $2,500 and be honored at a reception in February 2008 in Washington, D.C.
If you know reporters who write about housing, this is a great excuse to call them. Remind them that homebuyers facing rate adjustments are not the only housing story they should be covering. Encourage them to deliver insightful reporting on the affordable housing crisis and enter their work in the Dolbeare Awards program.
If they want more information, direct them to Nicole Letourneau at (202) 662-1530, ext. 227, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.nlihc.org.