Making an IMPACT on Capitol Hill
The NAHRO Washington Conference, Innovate 2018: IMPACT, began at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 22, with a two-part Opening Plenary Session. NAHRO CEO Adrianne Todman, NAHRO President Carl Richie, Jr. and Arlington (Va.) County Board Vice-Chair Christian Dorsey welcomed the gathered attendees. Appropriately enough for National Fair Housing Month, the first featured speaker was HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Anna Maria Farias, who discussed the joint HUD-Department of Justice Task Force to Combat Sexual Harassment in Housing, shared the story of her childhood in federally assisted housing and her mother’s struggles with sexual harassment, and reaffirmed her commitment to enhancing protections for residents.
Next came the Beltway Experts on Budget and Politics panel. Romina Boccia of the right-leaning Heritage Foundation focused on increased general federal spending, while Doug Rice of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities drilled down into the shortage of affordable rental housing and cuts to housing aid. A lively discussion followed, moderated by The Washington Post’s Robert McCartney.
After a break for refreshments, NAHRO staff presented The Washington Report. Director of Policy Georgi Banna and Policy Analysts Tushar Gurjal and Eric Oberdorfer discussed funding for major programs such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), the HOME program, the Public Housing Operating and Capital Funds, and the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program. They also went through updates to the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), the Housing Opportunities Through Modernization Act (HOTMA), the latest Demolition and Disposition notice, the Moving to Work expansion and the Smoke-Free Public Housing Final Rule.
Congressional Relations staff member Tess Hembree then provided a legislative update, summarizing the fiscal year 2018 budget agreement and the administration’s fiscal year 2019 proposal, and discussing the regulatory reform proposed in S. 2155, which has since passed into law. She also pointed out the recent Congressional focus on housing-related matters, enumerated NAHRO’s recent legislative successes, and invited delegates to attend NAHRO’s Hill events.
A Welcome Reception followed, giving attendees a chance to refresh themselves, say hello to colleagues and make some new connections.
The next day began with a Morning Plenary Session. NAHRO President Richie encouraged NAHRO members to speak up during their visits to their elected representatives on Capitol Hill. “Now is the time for us to tell our stories,” he said, “To let them know how we are transforming lives and building communities.” He then introduced HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who thanked the public housing authority leaders in attendance, said that he “believe[d] strongly that the talents of our residents are an enormous untapped resource in our country,” and pointed out the opportunities that exist for affordable housing and community development professionals with RAD, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, and other programs.
Michael Gerber of the Housing Authority of the City of Austin then presented NAHRO’s 2018 Mary K. Nenno Award to Michael Sweet of the Housing Authority of the City of Chickasaw (Ala.). In his acceptance remarks, Sweet thanked the “great support network of his state and region,” and said that they would keep on working. Next, Richie Herrington of the Housing Authority of the City of Hot Springs (Ark.) showed a video of the Housing America 2017 “What Home Means to Me” calendar contest winners and brought Zerin, the grand prize winner, to the stage. “This is huge,” she said. “Thank you for this big platform. Kids like me aren’t good at speaking, and we express ourselves through art, sports, singing, and dance.”
Next, Harvey Dickerson of Yardi introduced BBC World News America’s Katty Kay, the featured speaker. She broadly discussed world politics, drawing parallels between England and America as “two global leaders facing inwards” and noting that a “new Cold War is being fought on our phones and our computer screens.” A question-and-answer session followed her remarks.
Next came three HUD staff panels on Public Housing, Community Development, and RAD. Delegates who preferred to work through lunch had their choices of a Club 21 meeting and an International Research and Global Exchange (IRGE) Committee brown bag session on “Social Housing Policies in Australia and New Zealand.”
The Afternoon Plenary Session began with welcomes from D.C. Housing Authority Director Tyrone Garrett and NAHRO Senior Vice President Sunny Shaw, who asked “Why housing?” and shared the story of her family’s struggles when she was a child. “I understood poverty at a deep level,” she said, later adding that what brought her to affordable housing was the knowledge that “I could directly touch the lives of those [impoverished] children and families.” The next speaker was HUD Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development Neal Rackleff, who discussed disaster recovery using FEMA and CDBG-DR funds, as well as programs within the Office of Special Needs. “I really, really appreciate the good work you do,” he told attendees. “It is important, vital, and I will support you in any way I can.”
Next came a discussion of Health in Housing with panelists Stuart Butler (Brookings Institution) and John Auerbach (Trust for America’s Health); NAHRO CEO Todman moderated. Butler began the discussion with a brief presentation about his recent report, “Housing as a Hub for Health, Community Services, and Upward Mobility.” During the ensuing discussion, both pointed out the opportunities for making long-term health-care savings by investing in housing up front, but noted the difficulty of convincing insurance companies and for-profit investors without short-term savings results and/or data on unmeasured quality-of-life changes such as asthma abatement. Auerbach noted, “In some cases you can make the economic argument, in other cases the moral one – it’s the right thing to do. The savings are not immediate, but they are there.” The panel also discussed initiatives such as providing universities and hospitals with space to work in public housing. When asked for advice on how the two industries could talk, Auerbach suggested that housers call their local public health commissions and brainstorm together; Butler added that these collaborations are only the beginning, and encouraged attendees to “never stop thinking about it.”
After a refreshment break, attendees had three more concurrent panels to choose from: Section 8, Moving to Work and Tax Credits. The day ended at 5:00 p.m., giving everyone plenty of time to get dinner, prepare for their Hill meetings, and maybe even see the sights.
Hill Day was grey and rainy, but that didn’t stop hundreds of NAHRO members from heading to the Capitol to speak with their elected representatives. A morning event in the Rayburn House Office Building featured a bipartisan panel of Congressional staffers Clinton Jones, Laura Lee Burkett and Angela Ohm, who discussed upcoming affordable housing- and community development-related hearings and legislation on topics such as FY 2019 funding, a voucher mobility demonstration program, rent reform, administrative fees, and youths aging out of foster care. They also gave the packed room some advice on advocacy. Angela emphasized the importance of letting members of Congress know how strongly they support HUD programs, especially given the cuts in the Administration’s budget, and noted that “if you can’t touch on everything, leave paper,” Jones said, “It is important for them to understand who you are and what you do. In private meetings, I can always tell who has talked to a PHA because they have a specific story [to tell]….Once members understand, they become supporters.” Burkett also advised telling Congresspersons about the number of tenants served and services offered.
At the afternoon event in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, T-HUD appropriations staffer Jason Woolwine talked about the FY 2019 process. Rep. Steven Palazzo addressed a standing-room only crowd, thanking them for their hard work and urging them to contact their other members of Congress. Afterwards, Sen. Mike Crapo received the Legislator of the Year award, and noted in his remarks that “there is good faith between Democrats and Republicans to work together on these issues.” The conference ended that evening with the traditional Washington Reception, allowing attendees to refresh themselves and swap Hill success stories.