As we prepare for what will very likely be a pivotal mid-term election on Nov. 4th, it is appropriate to reflect on what we have accomplished in the 113th Congress while looking ahead to the 114th.
For the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC), the challenge was clear—a determined effort on behalf of the House Ways and Means Committee to enact comprehensive tax reform. Unlike the last serious threat to the LIHTC in the mid-1990s, the affordable housing industry was prepared for this challenge thanks to the formation of the Affordable Rental Housing ACTION Campaign, a coalition of over 600 national, regional, and state-based housing organizations spearheaded by Enterprise Community Partners and the National Council of State Housing Agencies. Under the auspices of ACTION, the industry mounted a comprehensive effort to educate Congress on the benefits of the LIHTC not only in Washington, D.C., but more importantly in each member’s congressional district. This endeavor led to broad bipartisan support for the LIHTC within the Ways and Means Committee, which in turn led to the program’s retention in Chairman Dave Camp’s tax reform discussion draft. The significance of this cannot be overstated as Chairman Camp’s draft likely will form the foundation for tax reform in the next Congress.
But before we get to 2015, we have a few issues to address in the current year. Significantly, as of the drafting of this article, a meeting is scheduled between industry stakeholders and Ways and Means Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee chairman Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) to discuss potential changes to the LIHTC program. This meeting derives from both Chairman Camp’s and Congressman Tiberi’s desire to improve the LIHTC program and increase production. This endorsement of the LIHTC by senior Republican tax writers is another example of the amazing job the industry has done in educating policy makers on the economic and social impact of affordable housing. It is our hope that this meeting will be the first of many that will lead not only to a secure position within the tax code for the LIHTC but also to programmatic changes that will produce more affordable housing for a broader demographic throughout the country.
Following the mid-term elections, Congress will reconvene for a lame-duck session to address issues needing action before the end of the calendar year. Of significance to our industry are tax extenders, specifically the fixed 9 percent LIHTC, the New Markets Tax Credit, and the military housing allowance. Yet to be determined is whether the 4 percent LIHTC will be included in the final extenders package. At a minimum, if Congress passes the larger extenders package, we expect to secure the 9 percent fixed LIHTC for allocations made in 2014 and 2015.
While I will defer discussion of the 2014 mid-term election until after Nov. 4th, it does bear mentioning that there are some changes we know will need addressing as we plan for 2015 and the 114th Congress. Arguably, the most significant is that Congressman Dave Camp will no longer be chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and is retiring from Congress. This is a blow to our industry as Chairman Camp has been as strong a supporter of the LIHTC as any chairman aside from former chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). Chairman Camp’s replacement will be determined once the Congress returns after the mid-term elections, but it is likely the new chairman will be Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). While it is not known how supportive Chairman Ryan would be toward the LIHTC as chairman, it bears mentioning that he did speak up in support of the LIHTC in the course of committee’s deliberations on Chairman Camp’s tax reform discussion draft.
In the Senate, the question front and center is which party will be in the majority after the November elections. Pending that result, what we do know is that there will be a new Democratic leader of the Banking Committee with the retirement of Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.). While that position could be held by either Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) or Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the industry should be heartened that all three are strong supporters of affordable housing programs.
Looking at the next Congress, the agenda—no matter which party controls the Senate—will be as contentious as ever. Early in the new Congress, members must address by March 31st the debt ceiling and Medicare reimbursement rates for physicians (the “doc fix”). And by May 31st, they are faced with the expiration of funding for the highway trust fund. As in the 113th Congress, these issues again will be difficult to resolve, and added to that, Congress must also address the fiscal 2016 budget and the scheduled return of sequestration cuts.
For affordable housing, the agenda will be largely unchanged as we expect tax reform to remain a priority for the tax writing committees. We will also renew our effort to fix both the 9 percent and 4 percent LIHTC rates and continue our educational efforts in Washington and across the country. On the appropriations side, of greatest concern will be potential cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget with the aforementioned return of sequestration. While tax issues remain a priority, the threat to appropriated housing programs, both at HUD and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pose the greatest near-term risk to affordable housing production and preservation.
The affordable housing industry is as unified as ever behind a common agenda of protecting and expanding affordable housing programs. Our successes aside, past is prologue and the future holds significant challenges. It is incumbent upon us to maintain our focus and defense of affordable housing and those that depend upon these programs for safe and decent housing.
David Gasson is vice president of Boston Capital and executive director of the Housing Advisory Group.