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Capitol Update: Tracking State and Local Policy Priorities Finds New Trends Emerging

Apartment Industry Colleagues,

This month, I’m going to step outside of the Capitol beltway for a few paragraphs. As you know, tracking, analyzing and reporting on state and local policy trends are some of the central functions within NAA Government Affairs. Though this column predominantly focuses on federal updates, periodically it’s important to change the focus to something a little closer to home for many of you.

In 2013, NAA Government Affairs took a different track with one of our central periodicals – the State and Local Policy Outlook. Traditionally this report provided a snapshot of the top trending issues impacting apartments and rental housing. This year we reshaped it into a tracking tool which follows the progression of policy priorities for our affiliates throughout the year via a detailed survey. We check in with the affiliates three times to see what are their priorities (both on offense and defense) and if and how they change over the course of the year.

The second edition of the State and Local Policy Outlook was released last month. We checked in with affiliates to see if their policy priorities had changed in any significant way or roughly remained the same. While many priorities remain the same, a few new ones have come into focus.

For example, as budget concerns persist, state and local governments continue either to increase existing taxes and fees or create new ones to generate revenue. Further, issues of access and affordability are at the forefront in many states whose recovery from the housing bubble slowly advances. Finally, the form in which the 2012 I-codes from the International Code Council (ICC) are adopted by local municipalities remains a top priority, especially as it relates to compliance and retrofit issues.

While not a new issue, affiliates are encountering an increase in proposals to legalize marijuana for recreational and medical use. In light of recent statutory developments, affiliates are challenged with crafting guidance that balances the federal prohibition with state or local legalization laws. Local smoking ordinances and apartment community smoking policies and possible fair housing discrimination implications must also be considered.

Staying with state and local work for a moment, NAA’s work with the Uniform Law Commission’s (ULC) drafting committee to revise the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (URLTA) has begun. As you know, the URLTA, codified in 21 states, has not been updated since 1972. The drafting committee is working to incorporate many statutory developments that have arisen since its inception, including areas such as domestic violence, security deposits and disposition of abandoned property. NAA assembled a working group of members and other experts in the field of landlord/tenant law to vet the current proposal and craft a consensus document that addresses the issues in the draft affecting the multifamily rental housing industry. This document will be sent to the ULC in November.

Meanwhile, back in the nation’s Capital, members of Congress, staff, lobbyists and the media are shaking off the delicious drowsiness that is the August recess and revving up their engines for the fall. The dominant topics of conversation are U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict, the next increase in the nation’s debt limit and the strategy of de-funding the Affordable Care Act by threatening a government shutdown. Also on the docket are potential forward progress on immigration reform, changes to the nation’s tax system and the deletion and replacement of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Out of the latter three issues I mentioned above, the best odds for meaningful action are in my view those related to Fannie and Freddie. While we may have concerns over the approach taken by the House Financial Services Committee in this regard, they at least moved the ball forward. The same cannot be said for either tax reform and immigration is uncertain. The Senate appears poised to soon lay down its own marker for changes to the housing finance system. Based on the Warner-Corker bill and conversations with other members of the Senate Banking Committee, it would seem that the Senate marker will be more to our liking than its House counterpart, though to what degree we cannot know at this point. Stay tuned for updates there.

I want to close with a big thanks for affiliates and members around the country who held meetings with their members of Congress over the August recess. As you know, the topic was immigration reform and we received numerous reports from affiliates who carried the message of the apartment industry on this important issue. We also had members who provided tours of their properties (affordable as well as conventional) for members of Congress. I consider this an especially important activity since many from Capitol Hill need an education on what our communities look like, how they function, who lives there and who works there. This knowledge can mean the difference when important legislative issues come before Senators and Representatives.

As always, hit me with an email if you (a) love what I said in this column and would like a signed copy, (b) despise what I said and me along with it or (c) have another perspective or opinion on any of the topics I raised.

Talk to you next month.


Greg Brown is NAA’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs. He joined NAA in the spring of 2010 to lead the expansion of the Government Affairs Department. Greg has been a housing advocate for 15 years, with a strong emphasis in multifamily issues. Tell him what you think about his musings.