More than 700 members of the National Apartment Association converged on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on March 5-6 to participate in NAA's largest Advocate conference to-date.
NAA members and staff visited the offices of all 535 members of Congress carrying our industry’s message on working closely with policymakers to create an environment where safe, affordable housing is available to all.
NAA’s membership gathered at the beginning of Advocate to network, to renew connections and to prepare for their day on the Hill. With so many of America’s leaders on state, local, and federal apartment housing policy gathered to inform the nation’s policy leaders, the only thing to do was to get started.
Prior Proper Preparation
Newcomers in D.C. benefited from the Congressional Management Foundation’s yearly insight on best practices for making the most of their time in Congressional offices. This year, the presentation was augmented by live polling that helped synthesize those practices by revealing responses and statistics from the audience in real time.
At the Issues Briefing, NAA Legislative Committee Chairman Brian Chase, owner of Richmond, Va.-based Landmark Property Services, brought to the stage NAA’s foremost experts on federal legislative issues, SVP, Government Affairs Greg Brown, and NAA’s two new Directors of Federal Legislative Affairs, J. Maurice Jackson and Jason Lynn, who join NAA with over 20 years of combined experience on Capitol Hill.
They walked through three policy priorities for Advocate 2019, including the role federal infrastructure legislation could play in reducing barriers to apartment construction, shoring up and protecting the National Flood Insurance Program and making smart, common-sense reforms to the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program to help incentivize more private sector participation in the program.
“The difference now [from in the past] is that members of Congress are talking about those issues. These are no longer municipal and state issues,” said Brown, opening the briefing.
“While partisanship will be a major issue, members [of Congress] will be looking for opportunities to legislate and work across the aisle. Infrastructure and housing issues could provide those opportunities,” said Lynn.
Having familiarized themselves with the issues at hand, and the best practices to make an impact on Capitol Hill, NAA members were given an unprecedented look inside the workings of Congress by two gentlemen who would know best: US Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ-5) and Steve Watkins (R-KS-2).
These two representatives are members of the Problem Solvers’ Caucus. This is a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers, brought together by the non-partisan citizens’ group No Labels, who are dedicated to addressing the kitchen-table issues facing Americans by working together across party lines to advance bipartisan bills.
“More than 40 of us get together and start by talking about things we agree on,” detailed Rep. Gottheimer, “When we get to 75-percent [agreement], we agree to vote as a block and come together.”
Rep. Watkins, a new addition to the 116th Congress, went on to say, “[working with the Problem Solvers Caucus is] a great way to build rapport…We work for you [in Congress] and it is the best job I’ve ever had.”
Rep. Gottheimer detailed the bipartisan support that exists on the issue of the National Flood Insurance Program and contrasted that with the challenges to working across party lines in today’s hyperpartisan political climate.
“People don’t go to The Lincoln and hold signs saying ‘Work together. Get it done.”
Bringing Forces Together
NAA’s expansion in to the world of federal lobbying has opened a slew of new possibilities in its mission to represent, protect and grow the apartment industry.
Now more than ever, as NAA advocates directly to our federal policymakers, our members and affiliates are our most important resource when it comes to making a good first impression on Capitol Hill. NAA’s members and affiliates helped connect us directly with over 340 offices by scheduling meetings and strengthening the relationships they had developed during the course of the year with their representatives. That inside perspective, combined with the expertise and experience represented on our team of lobbyists, is a powerful tool to effect change at the federal level.
“It was a pleasure to get the chance to connect with so many of our members in one place,” said J. Maurice Jackson of Lobby Day, “We are experienced professionals, but there is just no replacement for the advocacy of constituents and stakeholders from a policymaker’s own district. Having that direct impact and buy-in from a Representative speaking to and with their constituents just cannot be overstressed.”
So, What Happened?
Together, we laid a new cornerstone in our mission to advocate on behalf of the industry.
“I was very pleased to be able to meet with Elizabeth Connolly, Economic Policy Advisor to Senator Gary Peters, to discuss our concerns with the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, our pressing infrastructure needs, and the continued failure of Congress to enact a long-term reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program,” said Advocate attendee Phillip Neuman, a member of the Detroit Metropolitan Apartment Association.
“These issues are very important to the multifamily housing industry, and it was good to be able to provide information to [Connolly] about each of these matters,” he said. “She asked some good questions and I think we helped set the table for further discussion once specific pieces of legislation are introduced. I am always impressed with the knowledge of both our elected representatives and their staff and this year was no exception.”
“Advocate 2019 allowed us to tell our story," said Patrick McCloud, of the Virginia Apartment Management Association, "Our meeting with Senator Tim Kaine gave us the opportunity to discuss not only the industry’s federal priorities, but issues closer to home that are affecting us as his constituents, like source-of-income legislation at the state level. That opportunity to speak directly to those making the decisions that affect our daily lives is truly valuable. Our stories matter, and telling them prevents policymakers from making uninformed decisions.”
This is a Beginning
The advocacy process did not start at Advocate 2019, however, and it certainly didn’t end there. We are counting on our members and affiliate network to continue that work to bring our perspective and expertise to lawmakers, be it on Capitol Hill, or back home in their districts.
Do you still have feedback that we need from your Capitol Hill meetings? Have you participated in our key contacts survey? Those are two of the most potent tools that we use to help us better communicate with lawmakers, and we really cannot do it without you. Please make sure that you’ve helped us by participating in taking these two brief surveys. You can find those tools online at NAA’s Advocacy365 Action Center.