Washington, D.C. — The National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA) threw a birthday party for the low-income housing tax credit here March 7. Members of Congress including Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) came out to toast the 20-year-old program and the state officials who administer it.

“You represent the best of competent public management,” Sarbanes said as he accepted an award from NCSHA in recognition of his long support for the tax credit program. The Maryland native plans to retire this year after three decades in the Senate.

Both Democrats and Republicans addressed the conference. “It’s the housing market that has helped make our economy strong,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). Crapo is the deputy majority whip in the Senate. Though he predicts a “very austere” federal budget this year, NCSHA members still welcomed the opportunity to hear a prominent Republican speak in support of the tax credit.

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) went further, pledging to fight for rental housing programs. “I will never lower my voice,” she said.

Officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also attended the celebration. Orlando Cabrera, assistant secretary for HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing, and Federal Housing Commissioner Brian Montgomery stayed till the party ended, long after other dignitaries had left, chatting with affordable housing professionals and answering questions about topics ranging from Gulf Coast reconstruction to public housing accounting.

The next day, armed with NCSHA’s packet of information on why affordable housing programs are important and what Congress can do to help, the council’s members swarmed Capitol Hill in a mass offensive to promote affordable housing development.

The glossy packet asks Congress to strengthen the tax credit program with a series of legislative fixes – including changing the name to the “affordable housing tax credit.” NCSHA also asks Congress to restore funding for the HOME program and secure funding for the Sec. 8 voucher program, among a shopping list of other items.