Which of the recommendations in the BPC Housing Commission’s report should receive highest priority?
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The Commission’s recommendations include ambitious efforts that would entail significant new or redirected resources, and those are critical to meeting the long-term housing needs of the very poor and those with special needs. But we should not downplay the importance of the recommendations that call upon our housing institutions inside and outside of government to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our ongoing assisted housing programs. In short, the Commission should push not just the visionary steps but also those that need not wait for an overarching consensus in Congress on major new initiatives.
The Commission’s recommendations for program reform warrant close and continuing attention. The government and its partners have an obligation to be better stewards of the resources we have as we build the case for more, and the administration has shown a willingness to engage on this front, as evidenced by the Choice Neighborhoods and Rental Assistance Demonstration programs, but also, significantly, by regulatory modernization.
While rental housing and real estate more generally have developed more efficient ownership, management and financing vehicles, assisted housing has remained in a time warp, with regulatory approaches and policies dating from decades ago. It is simply not the case that the only or most effective way to meet public goals is with hyper-intensive regulation. Among other things, assets in the hands of non-performing owners should be moved over time to strong performers, portfolio financing should be an option, and project-based assistance should not forever be locked in to marginal properties.
The way forward is for HUD and Rural Development to work aggressively with their nonprofit and for-profit partners to bring innovation and simplification to these programs, starting with what can be done without legislation. Multiple demonstrations can show the way to program-wide change. We can and must make more of a difference with every dollar we spend or tax credit we use, and in turn that difference will be a powerful argument for more resources.
I urge the Commission to continue the important work it began when it launched this discussion.
Bill Kelly is president and co-founder of Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF).
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