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What Does This Mean: Looking Ahead to the 116th Congress

116th Congress

At long last, the 2018 midterm elections have come and gone….well, almost. Several races in the House and Senate are still too close to call as this special edition of the Advocate went to press. Those outstanding races will not, however, change the big picture takeaway from yesterday’s voting – the Democrats retake control of the House of Representatives and the Republicans maintain and, indeed, expand their majority in the Senate. The exact number of seats in those respective majorities is still to be determined, but the die is cast as to who controls the chambers when the 116th Congress is gaveled in next year. We will leave the "why" of the election results to the pundit class and instead focus on what it means for the apartment industry and our priorities next year.

House of Representatives

Elections have consequences. While our legislative and regulatory priorities are driven by the concerns of our members and not who controls Congress, the messaging, strategy and tactics of our advocacy adjusts to the new political reality. In this case, we now incorporate the element of a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. That means that our key committees (and their subcommittees) in the House will be led by new chairs with their own legislative priorities. Some of these priorities will dovetail well with ours and some will not. And, as is always the case, some of our priorities will resonate more and some less with these new leaders versus their Republican predecessors. Ultimately, the apartment industry is a bipartisan community. Our greatest successes are through the combined efforts of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle who share our vision - ensuring apartment owners and operators can build and maintain quality housing that is affordable to those across the economic spectrum.

Beyond overall control of the House and leadership of committees, our advocacy will be impacted by changes to the membership of the committees themselves. For example, eleven members of the House Financial Services Committee were already leaving because of retirement, running for other political office or due to defeat in their primary election. There are several other members of this Committee who lost their reelection campaigns yesterday and will not return for the 116th Congress. This is the case across every Committee in the House and so the apartment industry will be spending a great deal of time educating the new Members of Congress and these committees about our business and our policy priorities.

Senate

Though control of the Senate did not change, there will be changes in key committees of interest to the apartment industry. Nothing is certain yet, however there are some plausible scenarios. For example, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is retiring this year as chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. The option to lead this committee first goes to Chuck Grassley (R-IA) who currently leads the Senate Judiciary Committee. If he decides to stay with the Judiciary Committee then Mike Crapo (R-ID), current chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, could become chairman of Finance. That could then open the chairman’s seat for Banking to Pat Toomey (R-PA). You can see how every change in leadership of one committee has spillover effects to others. And, as with the House Committees, each chair has their own policy priorities which advocates everywhere will have to navigate.

One must acknowledge that a divided Congress will make the path of policymaking difficult over the next two years. The influence of the imminent Presidential campaign will also complicate the political process. Regardless, the apartment industry will press our case, execute our advocacy plan on our top policy priorities and take our victories where we can get them.

Priorities for the 116th Congress

Apartment owners and operators know how many different issues impact the apartment industry, but some always rise to the top. The top priorities for the 116th Congress (2019-2020) reflect unfinished legislative business and local concerns that caught the attention of federal policy makers. More broadly, they illustrate the broad focus of apartment advocacy, including day-to-day operations of apartment communities and “big picture” objectives. It’s important to note that these represent the top, but not all, of the policy priorities for the apartment industry. We will continue to weigh in wherever we must on the entire range of policy concerns for apartment owners and operators.

Unfinished Business

The clock is running out on two of our current legislative priorities, meaning that the objective we set for ourselves in the 115th Congress is likely not to be met in full. This includes comprehensive reform of the National Flood Insurance Program and mitigating so-called “drive-by” lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Both issues have broad-ranging impacts and generated intense debate over the past two years. We will bring these back in 2019.

Federal Engagement on Local Problems

Lack of housing affordability is probably the most significant local housing problem for state and municipal governments around the nation. This crisis has spawned all sorts of local activity and drawn the attention of federal policy makers. The apartment industry is a central part of efforts to address an acute housing shortage and the resulting squeeze on affordable housing. One important strategy to combat this problem is to get the most out of federal housing programs. In the 116th Congress, we seek improvements in efficiency and effectiveness of the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program and increase the participation by private apartment owner/operators. We also will work with lawmakers on incentivizing local governments to bring down barriers to development and increase the supply of rental housing.

Daily Concerns and the Big Picture

Our focus next year will include issues impacting the day-to-day operation of apartment communities as well as structural elements of our industry. Fair housing (emotional support animals, criminal screening, occupancy standards, etc.), music licensing copyright rules, resident screening and data security are all too familiar issues for property management teams. Housing finance reform (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) and tax incentives for middle-income affordable housing development are more on the minds of development and financing teams. This is the depth and breadth of advocacy concerns in front of Congress, the executive and the federal court system.

As always, the help of NAA members is crucial to seeing our goals to fruition. To learn more about how you can help, click here. For a complete list of NAA’s federal legislative and regulatory priorities, go here. For answers to questions on the genesis of this list, please contact Greg Brown.