When voters go to the polls Nov. 7, affordable housing issues will be on the ballot in a few jurisdictions, but the biggest question at issue will be political control of the House of Representatives.
Affordable housing has enjoyed a reasonable level of support even in the current, Republican-controlled House and Senate. At least the two legislative bodies have been wise enough to largely ignore the poorly conceived and poorly defended budget cuts proposed by the Bush administration.
But think for a moment about what life would be like if the Democratic party could take back the House. Two staunch housing advocates would be in line to take over the chairmanship of key committees: Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is the ranking minority member of the House Financial Services Committee and could become its chairman; Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) is the ranking minority member of the House Ways and Means Committee and could become its chairman.
In California, voters will consider Proposition 1C, which would authorize the state to issue bonds to create more funds for statewide affordable housing projects. Proceeds from the $2.85 billion in bond sales would finance various existing housing programs, capital outlays related to infill development, brownfield cleanup that promotes infill development, and housing-related parks. The bill would also establish and fund a Transit-Oriented Development Implementation Program.
Voters in Los Angeles will consider a bond issue just for the city’s housing needs, but few other states and cities have bond measures on their ballots. However, many of them are considering measures that could affect the way land is assembled for affordable housing and mixed-use projects.
Thirteen states (Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Carolina, and Washington) will vote on measures that would restrict the government’s ability to use its power of eminent domain. The frequency with which these measures are being proposed is most likely linked to the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London. The case concerned the condemnation by the city of New London, Conn., of privately owned real estate for use as part of a comprehensive redevelopment plan. The Court decided 5-4 in New London’s favor, saying that the city’s redevelopment plans qualified as permissible “public use” under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
The big unknown for the election is voter turnout. Affordable housing would be much higher on the government’s list of priorities if the residents of tax credit projects and other assisted housing voted in large numbers. To encourage more of them to do so, the National Low Income Housing Coalition has been conducting what it calls its “voterization project.”
The coalition provides member organizations with a way to assist low-income people in becoming effective self-advocates while working to move affordable housing issues higher on the federal agenda. As part of the voterization project, NLIHC provides member organizations with materials and information to help them register, educate, and mobilize their residents, clients, and other low-income members of their communities.
A key goal will be to remind their clients to vote in the months, days, and weeks leading up to Election Day. Voterization also encourages plans for helping clients access absentee ballots, early voting opportunities, or rides to the polls as needed. For more information, contact NLIHC at (202) 662-1530, or www.nlihc.org.
Everyone in the affordable housing and community development industry has a very important stake in the outcome of this election. I urge every owner or manager of affordable housing to encourage their tenants to get out and vote Nov. 7.