House Passes Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, Build Back Better Act Delayed

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF) and the Build Back Better (BBB) Act are officially decoupled. Democrats spent last Friday engaged in intense negotiations to try to move both the BIF and the BBB bills forward. Things looked promising at the beginning of the day, but quickly unraveled. Democratic moderates had previously warned Congressional leadership that they would not vote on BBB without a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score to see exactly how much the bill would cost, and they did not back down.

Progressives still insisted that they were unwilling to vote on the BIF until the BBB was approved. It appeared that the dynamics that have been holding up votes for over a month still had not changed. At the end of the day, moderates drafted a letter to progressives pledging to vote on the BBB no later than November 15 and assured progressives that they would support the bill if the CBO score shows that there is no impact to the deficit. This de-escalated the situation. Here is where each bill currently stands:

Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF): The BIF (officially the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act”) contains the “hard” infrastructure proposals in President Biden’s agenda. It does not include any funding for housing programs. While the Senate passed the BIF back in early August, the House finally passed it late last Friday, November 5. The House approved the BIF, sending it to President Biden for his signature. It passed the House with the support of most, but not all, progressives and 13 Republicans.

Build Back Better Act (BBB): The Build Back Better Act is a separate, $1.75 trillion bill that includes $150 billion for housing and community development programs. On Friday, the House approved a rule to bring the BBB to the floor for a vote. The rule passed along party lines with all Democrats voting in support. Congress is currently in recess and the BBB vote may happen the week of November 15. However, the CBO says it may be closer to Thanksgiving until they’re able to score the bill.

If the CBO score is consistent with the Democrats’ claim that the bill has no impact on the deficit, then the BBB Act should be able to pass the House along party lines. If it shows that it increases the deficit, there may be an issue. The text sent to CBO for scoring includes $154 billion in housing funding and a last-minute addition of housing tax credit provisions. The bill will not be changed while the CBO is analyzing it.

Although these two pieces of President Biden’s agenda have been intertwined over the past few months, they are now moving separately through Congress. The President is expected to sign the BIF into law this week. The pathway for the BBB Act is less clear as Congress waits on the CBO score.

To urge your legislators to pass the BBB Act with the $150 billion proposed for housing funds, visit NAHRO’s Action Alert Center.

Chairwoman Waters Holds Press Conference on Housing Funds in Build Back Better Act

On Tuesday, October 12, Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) of the House Financial Services Committee held a press conference on housing funds in the Build Back Better Act. Several members of Congress and housing advocates joined her outside at the House Triangle. During her remarks, Rep. Waters stated:

“There were 13 kids in my family and I can’t even tell you what we went through to try to have decent housing… Housing is needed all over this country – in urban areas and in rural areas – and we intend to fight for it.”  

The representatives who spoke at the press event included Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Rep. Nikema Williams (D-GA), Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). Each member expressed their support for the proposed housing funds. Rep. Johnson listed a few of the programs that the Build Back Better Act could fund, including:

  • $90 billion for rental assistance (HCV and PBRA)
  • $80 billion for public housing repairs
  • $40+ billion for CDBG and HOME

Congressional leadership is negotiating cuts to the original $3.5 trillion bill. One reporter who attended the conference asked Chairwoman Waters whether she would support cutting the duration of the proposed funds in order to keep them in the package. Waters responded, “I like the idea.” She closed the press conference by chanting “Housing is infrastructure!” with those in attendance. A recording of the event is available HERE on YouTube.

To voice your support for housing funds in the Build Back Better Act, send an advocacy letter from NAHRO’s Action Alert Center. Urge your legislators to keep the proposed housing and community development funds in the final bill.

Treasury Secretary Yellen Testifies on ERAP in House Committee

On September 30, the House Committee on Financial Services held a hearing on “Oversight of the Treasury Department’s and Federal Reserve’s Pandemic Response.” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified before the full committee. Sec. Yellen’s testimony focused on America’s economic recovery from the pandemic, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), and the debt ceiling. On ERAP, Sec. Yellen stated:

“Prior to the pandemic, there was essentially no national infrastructure to get money from government coffers to renters and landlords. Building that infrastructure has been a massive undertaking for states, localities, and tribes. The program is scaling up quickly, with 1.4 million payments made to help struggling renters keep a roof over their heads.”  

Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) questioned Sec. Yellen about the ongoing improvements Treasury is making to ERAP. Rep. Waters promoted her Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act of 2021 bill to ensure ERAP funding gets to renters at risk of eviction. Ranking Member Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) felt that the oversight hearing should have happened months ago but commended both witnesses for their work during the challenges of the pandemic.

Though the hearing covered several topics, a few committee members questioned Sec. Yellen about ERAP. Rep. Ann Wager (R-MO) cited August 2021 data showing that more than 83% of ERAP funds remain unspent while “millions of renters and property owners remain in limbo.” Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) also pressed Sec. Yellen to explain how Treasury will accelerate ERAP spending.

In response to both members, Sec. Yellen reiterated the challenges of implementing ERAP as a new program. She explained that Treasury and HUD are providing technical assistance to grantees and have updated ERAP guidance to reduce program barriers. Sec. Yellen also talked through a few options for reallocating ERAP funds from grantees who are unable to spend them down.  

The full hearing and witness statements are available on the House Financial Services Committee website. The Senate Committee on Housing, Banking, and Urban Affairs held a similar hearing with Sec. Yellen and Chairman Powell earlier in the same week, which is also available online.

Congressional Site Visits are a Tool for Advocacy

During the August recess, NAHRO members in three states hosted Congressional staff members at in-person and virtual site visits. The staff learned about the agencies’ properties, their programs, and the potential for Congress to provide additional support. Site visits give Congressional offices a chance to see how housing and community programs work “on the ground” and understand how their decisions impact households in their state.

The August Advocacy site visits included:

  • Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD): A legislative aide from Sen. Rounds’ office visited the Housing and Redevelopment Commission of Pierre at the Midtown Apartments property.
  • Senator John Hickenlooper (D-CO): Staff visited two properties in the Denver area:
    • Maiker Housing Partners
    • Metro West Housing Solutions
  • Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ): A regional director for the office attended a virtual site visit with the South Tucson Housing Authority and the City of Tucson Housing and Community Development Department.
  • Senator Krysten Sinema (D-AZ): Two staff members from the office met with the Tucson agencies listed above and the Phoenix Housing Department for a virtual site visit.

Any agency can host a site visit to build a relationship with legislators and inform them about local affordable housing programs. To host a visit, reach out to the NAHRO Congressional Relations team at thembree@nahro.org or jhampton@nahro.org for support. The team will contact your legislator’s office on your behalf and work with you to schedule a visit.

Congress Holds Hearing on the Emergency Rental Assistance Program

On Friday, September 10, the House Committee on Financial Services held a hearing on “Protecting Renters During the Pandemic: Reviewing Reforms to Expedite Emergency Rental Assistance.” During the hearing, members considered two bills that aim to improve the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) – one sponsored by Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) and the other sponsored by Ranking Member Patrick McHenry (R-NC). In her opening statement, Chairwoman Waters remarked:

“I am very concerned about data showing that state and local governments have only used 11 percent of the $46.6 billion in emergency rental assistance funds that are available… That is why I have introduced new legislation, the ‘Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act of 2021,’ which is designed to make sure that individuals and families are not put out of their homes while this virus continues to harm communities across the county.”

Witnesses from Community Legal Services, the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department, the National Multifamily Housing Council, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and Winn Companies provided expert testimony. Although they spoke from different perspectives, the witnesses agreed that Congress must improve ERAP so that the funding reaches landlords and tenants who are most in need.  

For example, David Schwartz, Chair of the National Multifamily Housing Council, asked the committee to streamline document requirements, remove the 18-month limit on arrearages, allow ERAP to reimburse rental property owners even if the renter has moved, and to make other potential improvements. The two proposed bills received a mix of criticism and praise from the witnesses.

The hearing lasted several more hours after the testimonies, as 32 committee members questioned the witnesses. Several Republican members, including Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) and Rep. French Hill (R-AR), expressed their frustration that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen did not attend the hearing, despite the Dept. of Treasury’s responsibility to administer ERAP. Rep. Ann Wager (R-MO) and many other members spoke about their concern for vulnerable renters and small, “mom and pop” landlords.

Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) discussed the impact of evictions. Rep. Beatty shared her concern about racial equity in housing, as the data shows that households led by Black women represent the majority of those who have applied for ERAP or are at risk of eviction. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) attempted to summarize where the two parties agree and where they diverge on ERAP, stating:

I think we all agree that there was a failure to get money out the door that not only put renters at risk of eviction, but it also hurt mom and pop landlords who are more likely to own and operate affordable rental units…”

The committee plans to markup the Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act of 2021 on Monday, September 13th. The recorded hearing and written witness testimonies are available here on the House Committee on Financial Services website.

Senate Committee Holds Nomination Hearing for HUD Officials

On Aug. 5, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee held a nomination hearing for three Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Assistant Secretary Designates. The first nominee, Julia R. Gordon, is the Assistant Secretary Designate for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Gordon spoke about her extensive experience in housing-related positions, including at the Center for Responsible Lending, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and the National Community Stabilization Trust.

Dave Uejio is nominated for Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). He currently serves as the Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In his testimony, Uejio said he has a deep commitment to addressing and preventing housing discrimination. Finally, Solomon Greene is nominated for Assistant Secretary for Policy, Development and Research. Greene, a Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute, testified:

“A home is more than a roof over your head – it is also a platform for health and wellbeing and a downpayment on your children’s future. Throughout my career, I have strived to give every family the opportunities I was given by studying policies and programs that expand options for safe, stable and affordable housing.”

Chairman Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) opened the hearing by expressing support for the nominees. He listed their relevant experience and noted the committee had collectively received hundreds of support letters for the nominees. Ranking Member Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) then brought up his concern that some of nominees appeared to support defunding the police in their past Twitter posts.

Two other senators, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) questioned the nominees about the alleged Twitter posts and articles they had written related to defunding the police. In response, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) asked each nominee whether they support defunding the police. Each nominee responded, “No, I do not.”

Committee members questioned the witnesses on several other topics, including pandemic-related housing issues, affordable homeownership, and racial equity in housing. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) asked the nominees about the Housing Choice Voucher program, citing his Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act. Greene responded that there are not enough housing vouchers to meet the need, and there is a lack of affordable housing stock on the supply side of the issue.

The recorded hearing and written nominee testimonies are available on the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs website.

Congress Holds Hearings on Evictions and Native Housing

On Tuesday, July 27, Congress held two housing-related hearings in the House of Representatives. The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis held a hearing on “Oversight of Pandemic Evictions.” Then, the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development and Insurance held a hearing on “NAHASDA Reauthorization.”

Oversight of Pandemic Evictions

Chairman James Clyburn (D-SC) opened the evictions hearing by reviewing the plight of America’s renters during the COVID-19 pandemic. He explained, “One of the most pressing challenges has been ensuring that the loss of a job did not also mean the loss of a roof over their family’s head.” Ranking Member Steve Scalise (R-LA) then noted the slow distribution of Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funds and cautioned against appropriating additional funding.

Witnesses included representatives from the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, National Low Income Housing Coalition, and BakerRipley. One witness testified about her experience as a renter during the pandemic. After losing her customer service job due to COVID-19, she fell behind on rent by one month and received eviction threats from her landlord even during the CDC eviction moratorium.

Committee members questioned the witnesses about several topics, including ERAP distribution, the eviction moratoriums, predatory corporate landlords, and pathways to provide housing assistance as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic. The recorded hearing and witness statements are available online.

NAHASDA Reauthorization

The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act (NAHASDA) hearing focused in part on the housing needs of freedmen in Native American communities. Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) stated:

“The legacy of land and cultural dispossession has contributed to Native people experiencing, of course, high levels of chronic homelessness, over-crowding, and poor housing conditions. We also know that a key determinant of housing access on reservations is tribal citizenship, which is one of the barriers faced by descendants of Black Native American Freedmen today.”

Witnesses from the Cherokee Nation, Cook Inlet Housing Authority, Descendants of Freedman of the Five Tribes Association, National American Indian Housing Council, and the Native CDFI Network provided expert testimony. In general, the witnesses urged Congress to improve and reauthorize NAHASDA as a step toward addressing housing issues in Native communities. The recorded hearing and witness statements are available online.

Congress Holds Hearing on Expanding Housing Access to All Americans

On July 14, the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on “Expanding Housing Access to All Americans.” The hearing covered a variety of housing and community development topics, including the recent increase in home prices, low rate of home construction, tax credits, and rental assistance. Subcommittee members from both parties agreed on the dire need for more affordable rental homes and homeownership across the nation.

Five witnesses joined the hearing to provide expert testimony. They included:

  • Jeff Tucker: Senior Economist, Zillow
  • Gerald Howard Jr.: CEO, National Association of Home Builders
  • Staci Berger: President and CEO, Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey
  • Lilian Faulhaber: Professor of Law, Georgetown University
  • John Persinger: CEO, Erie Downtown Development Corporation

The first two witnesses testified about the extreme mismatch of supply and demand in the current homeownership market. Faulhaber and Persinger spoke about tax credits and other community development tools, including the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) and Opportunity Zones. Persinger also pointed out that his community needs more resources to fill financial gaps in redeveloping aging housing stock. Finally, Berger mentioned the recent National Low-Income Housing Coalition Out of Reach report, which finds that minimum wage workers cannot afford a moderate, two-bedroom rental unit anywhere in the country.

Following the testimonies, subcommittee members questioned the witnesses. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) discussed the Housing Trust Fund and LIHTC with Berger, asking how nonprofit developers can use the two programs together to develop affordable housing in high-cost areas. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) noted that the lack of affordable housing in her community is blocking job growth. Many workers cannot afford to live near employment opportunities because the cost of housing in those neighborhoods is too high.

Several members asked further questions about access to homeownership, including Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA). The Congressman had a conversation with the witnesses about the need to address the racial disparity in homeownership rates. Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-NY) expressed his concern that many young people are unable to purchase homes in the current market without financial assistance. Subcommittee members and witnesses both offered potential policy solutions that could address these affordable housing and homeownership challenges.

The recorded hearing and witness testimonies are available on the Ways and Means Committee website.

Congress Holds Judiciary Hearing on Unlawful Evictions

On June 14, the House Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a hearing on “Potential Remedies for Unlawful Evictions in Federal Emergency Areas.” Chairman Steve Cohen (D-TN) opened the hearing by noting his Emergency Eviction Enforcement Act of 2021 (H.R. 1451), a bill that would provide federal protections to renters who are at risk of eviction during a national emergency. In response, Ranking Member Mike Johnson (R-LA) presented his view that federal renter protections would be a government overreach.

Witnesses from Memphis Area Legal Services, the Heritage Foundation, the University of Memphis, and NAACP provided expert testimony to the subcommittee. Three of the four witnesses testified in support of the legislation, citing the need for stronger enforcement of the COVID-19 eviction moratoriums and data showing that people of color are at greater risk for eviction during a crisis. The witness from the Heritage Foundation focused more on the needs of landlords who resorted to evictions where possible due to their lost rental income during the pandemic.  

Following the witness testimonies, subcommittee members expressed their views on evictions and questioned the witnesses. The discussion centered around “self-help evictions,” which occur when landlords force tenants to leave their units without going through the formal court proceedings. One witness explained that there were reports of informal evictions in her community. Landlords changed the locks on tenants who were behind on rent, for instance, even while the federal eviction moratorium was in place.

The hearing also included a broader conversation around evictions. Both the witnesses and members of the subcommittee acknowledged the number of evictions in the United States as a growing concern. The recorded hearing and all witness testimonies are available online.

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge Testifies at Appropriations Hearings

This week, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge testified at two appropriations hearings in Congress. On April 20, she joined three other Biden administration officials for a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the American Jobs Plan. On April 21, she was the sole witness for a Fiscal Year 2022 hearing in the House Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) Appropriations Subcommittee.

Senate Appropriations Committee

The Senate hearing focused on the funding included in President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, including the $213 billion designated for housing infrastructure. In her testimony, Sec. Fudge stated, “Nearly 2 million people across the country live in public housing – including families, seniors, and people with disabilities… The American Jobs Plan calls for an investment of $40 billion to improve our public housing infrastructure and address critical safety concerns for residents.”

Several Senators questioned Sec. Fudge about the housing-related sections of the bill. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) asked whether any of the $213 billion in funding would go toward homeless families. Sec. Fudge responded that the American Rescue Plan had already included $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers and $5 billion for homeless assistance programs. She explained that HUD will continue responding the homelessness across the nation.

When Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) expressed concern about a grant program that would incentivize jurisdictions to make changes to their local zoning laws, Sec. Fudge emphasized that the program is voluntary and would support local efforts to develop equitable, affordable housing.

House Appropriations, T-HUD Subcomittee

In the House, the T-HUD Subcommittee hearing served as an initial discussion on the Fiscal Year 2022 budget request for HUD. Sec. Fudge outlined the HUD funding included in President Biden’s discretionary request, including $30.4 billion for the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program. The increase in HCV funding would expand voucher assistance to an estimated 200,000 households.

Representatives on both sides of the aisle questioned Sec. Fudge about specific HUD programs and priorities. Subcommittee Chairman David Price (D-NC) asked about Section 202 and Section 811 funding for seniors and people with disabilities. Sec. Fudge provided details on the NOFAs for both programs, recognizing the importance of providing housing for vulnerable populations.

Congresswoman Ashley Hinson (R-IA) and Congressman Tony Gonzales (R-TX) both questioned Sec. Fudge about funding for rural housing. She noted that President Biden has a plan to provide $2 billion for rural housing and that HUD will partner with USDA to improve rural housing programs.

The written witness statements and a recording of the full hearing are available online:

Senate Hearing

House Hearing