The National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA) and the broader low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) community showed its strength again recently with a small but important victory in the Senate Finance Committee. The outcome bodes well for our future efforts to protect and strengthen the housing credit and other federal housing programs in the face of tax reform, deficit reduction, and other huge challenges, provided that we don't let up for even a moment.

In August, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) called with little notice a markup within his committee of tax extender legislation. Sen. Baucus vowed to limit that legislation to the extension of tax programs that had expired in 2011 or would expire in 2012 and to report it from his committee on a bipartisan basis to improve its chances for Senate passage.

NCSHA and our coalition partners—syndicator and investor groups, Enterprise Community Partners, Local Initiatives Support Corp., the National Association of Home Builders, and others—recognized this as the only tax bill likely to move before Congress adjourns. We worked feverishly to include in the legislation an extension of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act's fixed 9 percent housing credit provision, which is set to expire in December 2013, or at least secure an amendment to the legislation, applying the provision to allocations made by, rather than developments placed in service by, that date.

Though we did not succeed in convincing Chairman Baucus to include the housing credit provision in either his original or revised committee markup, we ultimately prevailed, successfully adding the provision to the legislation by an amendment offered by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The committee adopted the amendment by voice vote, with only one committee member voting no.

Our efforts were greatly aided by the fact that Sens. Cantwell and Snowe, longtime housing credit champions, had previously introduced legislation, S. 1989, at NCSHA's and our credit coalition partners' urging, calling for the extension. At the time of the Finance Committee extender legislation markup, S. 1989 had attracted 22 cosponsors, including eight other members of the committee. Not only were several committee members familiar with the credit provision, but they were on record in support of it, making them good bets for supporting the Cantwell- Snowe amendment.

Now, some have said this is a hollow victory, as the extender legislation, ultimately approved by the Finance Committee by a bipartisan vote of 19 to 5, is unlikely to advance in this Congress, even in a likely lame-duck session.

But we know that our continuing efforts to secure this provision, whether in this legislation or another tax bill, are signifi- cantly advantaged by our ability to point to the near-unanimous bipartisan support of the Finance Committee.

This victory is also meaningful for another reason: It allowed the housing credit community to once again test our support for the LIHTC within the Finance Committee, to see if our collective efforts over the past many months to build active support for the credit among committee leaders and members were having an impact. The fact that the amendment passed with virtually no opposition and no suggestion from any committee member of concerns with the program is a very good sign.

We all know that we'll be put to a much tougher test in tax reform, when congressional tax writers will be looking to raise billions in tax revenue to pay for rate reductions and will be ready to make tough choices to do it.

Then we'll be fighting to protect and strengthen not only the housing credit, but also tax-exempt bonds, which enable 4 percent LIHTC production, as well as other affordable housing financing.

We'll be working on other congressional fronts simultaneously to protect from further funding cuts HOME, Sec. 8, and other federal programs that extend the reach of the housing credit to even lower-income and special-needs populations.

To stand up to these tests, the housing credit community must make sure that every member of Congress understands what the LIHTC does, why it's important, and the role that other federal housing programs play with it. We must seize the opportunity of the months leading up to the new Congress to be sure we're ready to take on the upcoming challenges.

We all must redouble our efforts by the end of the year to:

  • Educate as many members of Congress as we can, with priority focus on members of the tax, banking, and housing funding committees, about the housing credit; and what it means to people in need of housing, communities, and the economy;
  • Enlist members' active support for these programs and ask them to communicate their support to their leadership and committee leaders with jurisdiction over these programs;
  • Ensure that members, particularly those who sit on the committees of jurisdiction, understand not only why it is important to preserve these programs but also the ways in which Congress could strengthen them at little or no cost;
  • Make members, particularly those who sit on the committees of jurisdiction, continually aware of what we are accomplishing with the housing credit and the other federal programs that work with it, by getting members out to see the affordable housing these programs have made possible in their states or districts and by putting a human face on their accomplishments by telling members the stories of residents and other beneficiaries of the affordable housing they have produced; and
  • Reach members through the media about the positive impact of the housing credit all across the country.

The housing credit community has a big job to do. But we've proven again and again—in our prior successful efforts to preserve and strengthen the LIHTC and other federal housing programs— that we're up to it. And we've got a big leg up. We're so fortunate that because of the community's outstanding work over the last quarter century, we have an amazing product to sell and story to tell. The housing credit has done all and more than Congress asked of it, responding not only to our country's need for quality, sustainable, affordable rental homes, but also transforming lives and communities while generating jobs and economic growth.

So, let's get to it. We haven't a moment to waste.

Barbara J. Thompson is the executive director of the National Council of State Housing Agencies, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization created by the nation's state housing finance agencies more than 30 years ago to coordinate and leverage their federal advocacy efforts for affordable housing.