NAA’s commitment to serving as the voice of the rental housing industry is made possible by the dedication of its members, and nowhere has that been more apparent than through the advocacy efforts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Political advocacy has long served as an important vehicle for change in the rental housing industry and remains at the forefront of the National Apartment Association’s (NAA) priorities. NAA’s advocacy endeavors have allowed housing providers of all sizes to boost their voices and amplify their unique perspectives, helping inform political decisions that affect the industry long-term.
NAA’s advocacy efforts are founded on the importance of relationship-building, which ultimately results in legislators who are well-connected to and better informed about our industry, its contributions to the nation and the challenges it faces. Legislators value these relationships: According to the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), 95% of Members of Congress surveyed said that “keeping in touch with constituents is very important.” The Key Contact Program—a long-standing staple of NAA’s advocacy and grassroots activity—allows members to build and maintain these critical relationships with their representatives.
Though advocacy’s importance has always been evident, the constantly evolving impacts of the pandemic have brought it even more to the forefront. As COVID-19 first reached our nation, NAA developed an advocacy strategy to support sustainable solutions that would help both renters and rental housing providers alike. This approach built upon NAA’s existing framework of relationships and, despite the challenges of maintaining and building these connections in a remote world, NAA members across the nation joined in to ensure that the industry would weather the pandemic.
From the early days of the pandemic, NAA called for rental assistance dollars to help keep rental housing providers and their residents whole. Sadly, despite an unprecedented 73,839 NAA member messages to Congress alongside NAA’s in-house federal advocacy efforts, those calls were ignored until December 2020, nearly nine months later. By that point, rent debt had already ballooned to $57.3 billion, but because of the advocacy of NAA and its members, Congress allocated a nearly $47 billion down payment on that still-growing debt (estimates peg current, unfunded rent debt to be $26.6 billion—that’s on top of the money that Congress has given for rental assistance). Further, NAA regularly called for fixes in early COVID-19 relief legislation, including demands to include the industry in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and categorizing the industry as “essential workers” to ensure continuity of rental housing operations in lockdown. And despite exceedingly difficult conditions on Capitol Hill, NAA continued to ensure that the industry’s voice had a seat at the table through all phases of COVID-19 stimulus and relief legislation.
When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced their federal eviction moratorium in September 2020, NAA was immediately opposed to the order as it failed to address the problem at hand, leaving renters with insurmountable debt and rental housing providers to unfairly absorb the debt. In media interviews, conversations with the Trump administration and meetings with lawmakers, NAA made clear that this move was jeopardizing the future of housing affordability and the entire rental housing industry. In immediate response, NAA was the first to sue the CDC and seek a halt of their unlawful, overreaching eviction order. Ever since, NAA has applied all resources to educate both lawmakers and the public on why eviction moratoria are fundamentally harmful policies and continues to pursue all possible legal action against the CDC and federal government.
Rather than a temporary response to the challenge, NAA strongly supported direct, streamlined rental assistance—the only sustainable solution that helps rental housing providers and their residents address their financial debt. Thanks to the diligent and consistent efforts of our advocates, NAA helped secure two rounds of federal rental assistance. The first, allocated last December in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, paired with the second allocation, included as a part of the American Rescue Plan Act in March, provided nearly $47 billion in rental assistance to help residents pay their rent and housing providers continue providing safe, affordable housing.
Despite the allocation of critical rental assistance, slow distribution of these funds by states and localities has presented a challenge in making renters and housing providers whole again. Largely, states that have adopted additional provisions beyond federal guidance have seen slower rates of distribution. On the ground, NAA’s network of affiliated apartment associations began extensive advocacy projects designed to streamline distribution by working alongside state and local administering agencies. In Virginia, both the Virginia Apartment Management Association (VAMA) and the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington (AOBA) worked to remove problematic barriers to participation and streamline the application process, vastly improving the Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP) to be one of the nation’s most efficient.
As advocates continue working to accelerate the disbursement of these funds, concern over the long-term future looms. “The mounting housing affordability crisis is quickly becoming a housing affordability disaster,” Bob Pinnegar, NAA President and CEO told The New York Times. Recent federal advocacy has yielded several pieces of legislation designed to responsibly help address the nation’s housing affordability problems. Participation by NAA’s members, who are contacting their federal legislators and urging support, are helping to advance these solutions-oriented, sustainable bills.
In particular, these pieces of legislation work to address problematic challenges to the development of affordable rental housing stock. The Yes In My Backyard Act (YIMBY) works to remove critical barriers to housing development, working to ensure that affordable housing is available and accessible to everyone. The Choice In Affordable Housing Act addresses the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, working to better incentivize housing provider participation in the program. Finally, the Build More Housing Near Transit Act seeks to spur development of more affordable housing with easy access to transportation infrastructure and the Promoting Affordable Housing Near Transit Act is designed to transform unused land left from federal transit projects into affordable housing. Each of these pieces of legislation is oriented to fundamentally improve our nation’s housing affordability crisis, providing sustainable solutions that help everyone long-term.
The pandemic has touched and changed many aspects of our lives forever and advocacy is no exception. In response to an evolving political landscape, NAA has launched several new initiatives designed to foster stronger relationships, better inform our leaders and, ultimately, enact real change. The new Influencer Program engages members with NAA’s advocacy related posts on social media to educate broader networks, including members of Congress, on key rental housing industry issues. Further, the Letter to the Editor (LTE) program captivates larger audiences as members write and place LTEs that help bolster NAA-supported policies by educating members of Congress and the public on issues facing the industry. And robust public relations efforts further the work of our advocacy teams and allows NAA to blanket the airwaves and ensure that the rental housing industry voice is included in all housing policy discussions.
Altogether, our industry has weathered unprecedented and unimaginable challenges throughout the global pandemic. And while the road ahead may be unknown, NAA’s commitment to supporting the industry through robust advocacy will always continue thanks to the dedication of our members. To find out more about NAA’s advocacy work or to get involved in one of our advocacy programs, please visit naahq.org/advocacy/action-center/advocacy-365.
Zach Quimby is Communications Specialist for NAA.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the National Apartment Association (NAA) has worked in support of its members and the entire rental housing industry. Here are some of the highlights.
- NAA helped secure nearly $47 billion in direct rental assistance to help both renters and rental housing providers alike.
- NAA’s affiliated apartment associations are helping states and localities streamline their rental assistance distribution programs, working to make renters and rental housing providers whole again.
- NAA held numerous meetings with key stakeholders throughout the pandemic to educate lawmakers on the importance of sustainable solutions for the industry and worked to ensure that our members always had a seat at the table throughout pandemic relief discussions.
- NAA has worked to provide solutions for the mounting housing affordability crisis, advocating for and supporting four pieces of legislation in Congress at present – all oriented to ensure that rental housing remains sustainable and affordable long-term.
- NAA continued a robust advocacy program that engaged members in supporting sustainable solutions to the pandemic’s challenges, including 73,839 NAA member messages to Congress.
- NAA continues to echo its messages to the public through the media, with a total reach of 1,921,560,957 and an ad value (AVE) of $3,304,400 in just the first half of 2021 alone.