Apartment Industry Advocates,
On March 8th and 9th NAA will host its annual Capitol Conference and bring before Congress some of our most important issues. I say some because there are of course many, many concerns about which we would love to bend a Representative or Senator’s ear. To really be effective, however, we have to hone in on a couple of topics. This year those issues are reform of the Section 8 program, enabling a right-to-cure period for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and reform and reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Here is how we arrived at this particular list and why you should care.
Selecting issues for Lobby Day is complicated. First, you must identify topics that are of actual concern to the industry. Second, it’s preferable for the issues to come with a specific “ask” or request to take action. “You should support apartment housing” is great but “You should support apartment housing by sponsoring this legislation” is better. It gives Members of Congress a specific action and allows us to track whether or not they agreed to our request. Finally, speaking to issues that are moving in Congress makes us timely and more likely to be on the radar.
All three of the 2016 Capitol Conference issues hit close to home for a significant portion of NAA members. For example, many members interact with the Section 8 program in some way, either by choice or by local mandate. The program, while critical to affordable housing, can be extremely burdensome for owners and reform is something on which the apartment industry has been working for over a decade. There is bipartisan legislation on the table that mitigates some of these burdens. The House of Representatives has already passed the bill with NAA’s support. We need to thank them and prod the Senate to take action. This benefits owners who participate in Section 8 now and in the future.
Compliance with the ADA is a central part of everyone apartment owner’s regulatory life. As our members strive to create and maintain accessible communities they encounter complex even conflicting guidance. As well, there are differing opinions on compliant design and construction standards as well as the role of proven alternative methods of achieving accessibility goals. This results in lots of litigation. A growing trend is litigation initiated purely for financial gain and not to increase accessibility. Our view is that the focus ought to be on curing design or construction defects not generating settlement fees. To that end, we support bipartisan legislation to allow for up to 120 days to cure an alleged ADA violation before litigation can be initiated.
According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, flooding causes more damage and takes more lives than any other kind of severe weather-related event. Losses average $5 billion per year. Multifamily structures face significant, unique challenges when it comes to mitigating for flood damage. And, while most multifamily mortgages require flood insurance coverage, there is a lack of affordable, private coverage in the marketplace. As a result, the NFIP is critical to managing risk and protecting multifamily investments. The program expires in September of 2017 and is in need of reform to ensure its long-term financial viability, increase its effectiveness for multifamily owners and reduce exposure for the taxpayer.
Though expiration of the NFIP is 18 months off, the Congressional calendar between now and then is not our friend. Being an election year, we essentially lose the latter half of 2016 for any real legislating. Likewise, next year a new Congress and Administration will be getting settled which also will cost at least the first few months of the year. There is bipartisan, bicameral legislation on the table right now that we need to support to keep the ball rolling on NFIP reform and reauthorization.
All of the issues for the 2016 Capitol Conference have real impacts on apartment communities and there is legislation moving now to address them. Even if you cannot come to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Capitol Conference, you can still help our advocacy efforts by meeting with members of the House in their district (they will be on recess during the Capitol Conference so we in D.C. will have staff all to ourselves!). Contact your local affiliate or anyone on the NAA Government Affairs staff for more information.
Thanks for reading. Talk with you next month.