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Capitol Update: Congress Returns from Recess to Sequestration; Industry Will Feel Impact

Happy spring if indeed spring has arrived in your neck of the woods. Here in the Nation's Capitol, Old Man Winter is taking his sweet time in departing; much to everyone's chagrin. 

In other news, Congress returns from its annual two-week spring recess this month. This time was likely especially exciting as constituents across the nation share their (a) outrage, (b) thankfulness or (c) confusion over sequestration, which is now in full effect. Soon furloughs, shortened federal office hours and other impacts will be felt and sequestration will cease to be an “inside the beltway” abstract discussion and become all too real. For members of the apartment industry, impacts could be felt in the form of slower processing of Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan applications and, for some, shorter renewals of Project-based Section 8 contracts.

I’m happy to report that NAA just completed another successful Capitol Conference in Washington, D.C.  We broke records again for our presence on Capitol Hill; almost 320 Congressional offices were visited and we had more than 100 first-time attendees participate in the Conference. The apartment industry was well represented and carried the message to elected officials on housing finance issues, tax reform and immigration. Thank you to everyone who attended and did their part for this industry!

Big news broke this month on the Senate side of the Capitol in the announced retirement of Sen. Tim Johnson, Democrat from South Dakota and Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Chairman Johnson will depart the Senate following the 2014 elections which means a lot of campaign activity at home to replace him. Still uncertain is what, if any, impact this will have on legislation within the Banking Committee on issues of concern to our industry, reform of the housing finance system, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and FHA, improvements to the Section 8 voucher program and extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA). Ostensibly, it means that the Chairman can focus on working on these issues without the distraction of campaigning, fundraising, etc.

The retirement of Senator Johnson also has larger implications for the balance of power in the Senate overall (my apologies for raising campaign 2014 items so soon after we've just recovered from campaign 2012). South Dakota brings the present total to five of open Senate seats that Democrats will now have to defend, increasing the opportunity for Republicans to take back control of the Senate. On its face the odds are in favor of Republicans winning the Johnson seat as the state is more red than blue. But, as we saw last year in Missouri, Indiana and Montana, that is no guarantee for GOP victory.

As the outlook dims for passage of tax reform or gun control legislation, all eyes and efforts are turning to immigration reform.  Groups representing big business, big labor, agriculture and high tech are all girding their loins for the battle which will take place this spring and summer.  The apartment industry has a voice in this debate as well.  When you see members of Congress at home, tell them that fixing national immigration policy demands comprehensive federal legislation which does the following:

  • strengthens border security,
  • provides a reliable system for employers to efficiently verify the immigration status of employees,
  • supports a rational visa program to adequately address changing workforce needs for growing our economy and offer a reasonable opportunity for earned legal status to undocumented  individuals currently living and working in the United States, subject to certain criteria.

Moreover, remind them that immigration policy is a federal responsibility with national security and economic implications that should be handled by the federal government.  Comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level would provide legal certainty and mitigate the incentive for state and local governments to enact a patchwork of laws (which is already occurring), including measures imposing mandates on rental housing providers to verify the immigration status of apartment residents. That is not an appropriate role for our industry to play.

Thanks for reading. Have a great month.