MAA Leaders Talk Affordable Housing, Regulatory Issues and Section 8 with HUD Secretary
When U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro was planning a roundtable discussion with housing industry representatives in Jefferson City, Mo., he needed an appropriate venue.
And the staff of Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), whose district includes Jefferson City, knew just who to ask and where to have it.
They asked Steve Lightner, CAM, owner of several market rate and tax credit apartment communities in Jefferson City, to host the roundtable at one of his properties.
How this came about is a simple matter of being a strong apartment industry advocate. Lightner has built and maintained a relationship with Rep. Luetkemeyer from the time he was elected in 2008. Lightner has advocated on industry issues with the congressman during NAA’s Lobby Day on Capitol Hill, met with him about industry issues in Jefferson City and held a fundraiser for the congressman at one of his apartment communities. Luetkemeyer is Chairman of the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee – a key committee for the apartment industry.
Ultimately, this past May’s roundtable grew so large that it was moved to another location. However, Lightner and Gary Wilson, CAM, Owner of A.R. Wilson Realtors in Springfield, had major speaking roles at Secretary Castro’s roundtable, one of a series being held across the nation.
Lightner said the hour-long meeting with Secretary Castro and Rep. Luetkemeyer afforded all the interested parties, including Realtors and homebuilders, with time to touch on their top issues.
Lightner spoke on affordable housing and regulatory burdens. “Our tax credit properties are a great example of how a public/private partnership can work together to provide affordable housing,” Lightner, vice president of the Missouri Apartment Association, told Secretary Castro. “I am concerned, however, that increasing costs due to regulations, taxes, insurance, sewer and trash are going up faster than we can raise rents. Also, many of our residents can’t afford a big jump in rent.
“This hit home for me last month when a resident came into our office crying. We had just repaired a leak under her bathroom sink. She was embarrassed that all her toilet paper had gotten wet and she wouldn’t have money to buy more until her next paycheck. We gave her a roll of toilet paper. That just shows how tight some people’s finances are.”
As for the impact of regulatory mandates, “Here in Jefferson City, I have 48 tax credit units that are as nice now as they were when built 17 years ago. Unfortunately, the new mandated Energy Star hot water heaters will not fit in our existing utility closets. To install them, we must move walls, re-hang drywall and repaint. These costs will need to be passed on to our residents in the form of increased rents. If we can’t raise rents fast enough, then the property itself will suffer through deferred maintenance. If a dishwasher breaks down we may not have it in the budget to replace immediately. If the dishwasher hasn’t met its approved life expectancy, then we cannot access our replacement reserves,” Lightner said.
“We live in the real world where the cost of a roll of toilet paper is more than some can afford. Before regulations are implemented, the impact of those regulations needs to be considered,” Lightner added.
Wilson, president of the Missouri Apartment Association, discussed the industry’s concerns about aspects of Section 8 housing. “One of the biggest problems is the time it takes to inspect the properties. It can take one week up to six weeks. That’s a huge range. After that, it takes a couple more months to get the first check. That has a big impact on us and is especially hard on small owners. The process needs to be expedited. There’s got to be a better way,” Wilson said. “You want people to participate in the program but you also want them to fund it for several months.”
Wilson also expressed the industry’s concerns about mandatory participation in Section 8, which now exists in a number of cities including St. Louis. “We’re very much for Section 8, but very much for it being voluntary, not mandatory. Not everyone can afford to participate. If the number of cities continues growing, this could become a national problem,” he said.
Wilson, who is also a NAA Regional Vice President, said he had enough time remaining to make a few points about source of income and lead-based paint. Overall, he says, Secretary Castro “was definitely open to the dialogue.”
Secretary Castro told local reporters that the “biggest take-way for me is that people want us to work very well, to partner with the private sector and local governments, to get the red tape out of the way and get them a decent, safe place to live.”
Pictured above: Steve Lightner, Secretary Castro and Gary Wilson