Multi-Family Housing: A More Balanced Policy

May 1, 2007
At the top of legislative priorities is a more clearly identified housing policy

By Linda K. Monroe

Although affordable housing, immigration reform, estate tax reform, and energy-conservation incentives are key issues for two U.S.-based allied apartment organizations, a more balanced housing policy tops the list of legislative priorities in 2007. Working together through their Joint Legislative Program, the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) and National Apartment Association (NAA) - both based in the Washington, D.C., area - recently released their 2007 public policy agenda as part of NAA's annual Capitol Conference, which was held in March.

NAA President Douglas Culkin opened the conference by explaining why the United States needs a housing policy that more clearly identifies the importance of rental housing. He explains: "The [United States] is experiencing social, cultural, and demographic changes that are reshaping the way we live, work, and play. These trends are creating unprecedented demand for rental housing. Yet, even as demand for rental housing rises, our nation's housing policy continues to emphasize home ownership to the detriment of other quality housing alternatives. In 2007, we will continue our effort to educate legislators about how multi-family rental housing can help meet the need for quality, affordable housing."

Statistics revealed at the conference pointed to some staggering facts: Since 1997, the number of working families paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing has increased by 67 percent. "There are many things Congress can do to help alleviate the affordability problem," notes Jim Arbury, NMHC/NAA senior vice president of government affairs. "It can reform the Section 8 voucher program to make its regulator requirements less onerous. We offered numerous suggested reforms in Congressional testimony [in early March] that would attract more private-apartment owners to the voucher program. Congress can also reverse the erosion in funding the program has experienced in recent years that has caused the loss of more than 100,000 vouchers."

Arbury also points to the "exit tax" problem (current tax law discourages owners of older properties from selling to new owners who can modernize and preserve them as affordable housing). "Many of these properties cannot generate a high-enough sales price to cover the capital gains and depreciation recapture taxes that the owners would incur by selling. By providing exit tax relief, Congress can help preserve these properties as affordable housing."

Buildings readers: What are your opinions? Please let me know ([email protected]).

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