Which of the recommendations in the BPC Housing Commission’s report should receive highest priority?
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Americans pride themselves on being able to fulfill what they have called the American Dream since the founding of the nation – whether in owning land or a home, the best health, equal justice for all, economic mobility, the best education, the best conditions of freedom and safety to pass on to their family, etc. This has been limited for many of them however, because of various discriminations, along with the politics of power with its economic, legal, and social distribution of preferences. Policy makers frequently find themselves in the middle of choices and trade-offs, and the BPC Housing Commission is no different in trying to set a course between strategic goals and low-hanging fruit of near-term pragmatic objectives with the present demands and needs as expressed by the interest groups represented on the Commission.
In reviewing all the commissions and task forces that have been established by Presidents, Congress, and others since 1892, I have noted the critical factors for their success as well as the goals and objectives. Sometimes, it is only possible to collect and raise consciousness. Other times, it is to intervene in a forceful way where extraneous conditions allow, e.g., the Depression of 1929-37, leading to the development of prototypes and models that we use today; or the urban riots and three major assassinations in the 1960s, with formation of HUD and the Kaiser Commission’s ability to accomplish significant legislation.
Today, the BPC Commission can be commended for its viable structure (within a bipartisan umbrella) and a strong report that already has seen the light of day, at least in the Senate. True, many of my priorities cited in blogs last year were not included: stronger linkages to transit-oriented development (TOD) and urban programs in the other federal departments so that the delivery system synchs with target neighborhood needs; quantitative production goals for affordable housing, such as was enunciated in the HUD Act of 1968; a strengthened role of the mayor and regional/metropolitan planning and implementation; a fresh look at HUD’s organizational structure (programmatic, R&D, and regulatory) and the entire housing subsystem including the Federal Reserve, Treasury, FDIC, GSEs, etc. But, the fluid nature of the present Commission’s Plan does not preclude it from being amended from time to time with these necessary ingredients for comprehensive reform and vision. Even as I write this, certain sectors of the housing economy are starting to boom again, allowing us to focus beyond the crisis modality a bit.
But, sticking to the question, I would prioritize the following from my perspective: 1) balancing the demographics and policy of choice in bringing back the role of rental housing through re-distributing the hopefully ever-growing ‘pie’ supply, especially the so-called affordable housing sub-system. This in itself remains a continuing policy discussion to be resolved; 2) Using the GSE debate to look at the entire system of housing finance and their structures; and 3) More efficient mechanisms for delivery of housing, only hinted at in the report.
Kent Watkins is chairman of the National Academy of Housing and Sustainable Development.
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