Mayor Mitch Landrieu urged the affordable housing industry to be “ever present” in fighting for what it believes in Washington, D.C.
The New Orleans mayor delivered the keynote address at April’s AHF Live: Housing Developers Forum in his hometown at a time when the Trump administration is proposing to slash $6.2 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget, including the elimination of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME, and Choice Neighborhoods initiatives.
“When HUD takes the position that CDBG is not important, as a practical and substantive matter we don’t need it, I can tell you what mayors of America are doing right now, and you’re going to see it in a couple of months,” said Landrieu, who is in line to become president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors this year. “We’re going to show you pictures of the human beings of America that benefitted from having CDBG monies, some of which was used in our housing department for soft seconds to make sure that first-time homebuyers had some kind of guarantees so they could have their first house.”
The administration has shown that it has strong opinions about issues they don’t know a lot about, according to Landrieu.
The gridlock in Congress during the current and prior administration is forcing cities to start to figure out how to live without Washington, D.C., he said.
“Cities are kind of saying, ‘You know what, we’re going do it on our own,’” Landrieu said. “That doesn’t mean we want to do it on our own. That doesn’t mean we’re the best when we do it on our own. I have a strong opinion that we’re best when we’re all together; when the federal government, state government, and local governments in partnership with the private sector and the not-for-profits are together.”
Infrastructure has been a big issue for New Orleans as it rebuilds after Hurricane Katrina, and an expected infrastructure bill could be important for the industry if affordable housing is included in the plans.
“Infrastructure is a little bit complicated, but it’s not that hard,” Landrieu said. “It’s really not that hard. Everybody knows that the infrastructure in this country is crumbling from levees to roads to bridges to housing to ports. Everybody knows we have to fix it. Everybody knows that it creates jobs, good-paying jobs for people in America, yet we can’t even seem to get on the same page and have an infrastructure bill, and all of that when you get a budget that basically says we’re going to cut the funding for all of the things that were the glue that made all of those things get better.”
He added that affordable housing developers and advocates need to make the case for how their work benefits the country.
“It doesn’t have to be a left case. It doesn’t have to be right case. It doesn’t have to be a middle case,” Landrieu said. “It has to be a practical case about why federal tax credits and incentives will get the private sector involved in making sure that Americans in need of affordable housing have access to it because that is what makes America strong again. That is a very powerful argument to make. If you don’t make the argument, they’re going to take your stuff because they’re going figure you weren’t able to defend it.”
“Never panic, but I would be ever present. I would be vigilant. I would be strong. I would be forceful. I would make your case if you believe in what it is that you do.”