Denise Muha, executive director of the National Leased Housing Association.
Denise Muha, executive director of the National Leased Housing Association.

Meet Denise Muha, executive director of the National Leased Housing Association (NLHA).

The Washington, D.C.-based organization advocates for housing providers specializing in federally assisted rental housing. It is active in housing policy and plays a key role when program decisions are being made in Congress and at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Treasury Department.

How did you get started in affordable housing?

I guess it was fate. A newcomer to Washington, D.C., in 1985, I applied and was selected for an administrative position with the NLHA. I had no idea what an association was let alone what HUD did or why. It did not take long for me to become a housing junkie—not surprising with Chuck Edson and Janet Charlton as tutors—three years later I was promoted to executive director.

Share an interesting housing fact.

It is a common misconception that recipients of rental assistance do not have employment income. Only 4 percent of all Sec. 8 residents count welfare as their primary income.

Why affordable housing matters ...

It affects communities, economic development, family stability, employment, education you name it. Unfortunately, the importance of affordable housing to the public at large and the link between a stable home, communities, and jobs is difficult to measure and convey—making it hard to combat NIMBYISM. I am very much looking forward to research being funded by the MacArthur Foundation to study how affordable housing may affect education, employment, health, etc.

How are you feeling about the Rental Assistance Demonstration program?

I think HUD’s initial proposals to consolidate rental assistance programs were overreaching and ill advised. When the Department listened to its partners, it was able to propose something more rational and promising. RAD will permit the needed recapitalization of public housing in certain jurisdictions and offer models for other types of public housing conversions down the road. For the old rental assistance programs (Rent Supplement and Rental Assistance Payment), RAD offers a needed path for preservation by providing conversion options to project-based vouchers. I hope that Congress extends the pilot.

What housing program or change has you most excited?

The report recently issued by the Bipartisan Housing Commission gives me hope that Congress may once again focus on the importance of a federal role in providing affordable housing.

What housing program or change has you most concerned?

There is no question that the slashing of discretionary spending and threat of major tax reform could do real harm to our industry.

What is coming up for the NLHA?

We are excited about our upcoming membership conference June 19-21 in Washington, D.C. There are a lot of developments to address, including the Bipartisan Commission’s report.

How is the organization changing?

Like most organizations, we are trying to figure out how (or if) social media can move us forward.

What do you do in your down time?

I am passionate about golf and belong to several women’s groups that play competitively. It is a great way to connect with people.

Other causes?

Several years ago, NLHA formed a nonprofit scholarship foundation, and I am very committed to its growth. Last year, we awarded over 80 education scholarships to residents. It is amazing to see how well these students have performed despite some challenging circumstances.

What is the last book that you read?

I recently reread “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein. It is a sweet novel in which the family dog provides the narration. I am a sucker for any book about dogs. I also strongly recommend “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis that describes the role of credit default swaps in the crash of the housing market.

What inspires you?

It may sound corny, but my marriage inspires me. I wed my high school sweetheart over 30 years ago, and we have been able to adapt to life’s curveballs and remain best friends.

What’s coming up for Denise Muha?

Hard to say. I have learned that plans get in the way of life.