Housing Meeting Anticipates ‘Fresh Start’ Under Obama Administration

By Keat Foong, Executive EditorNew York—The New York Housing Conference (NYHC) and National Housing Conference’s (NHC) 35th Anniversary Awards Luncheon meeting this week evidenced  a sense of anticipation in the affordable housing industry on the eve of an incoming Obama Administration.  An experts’ briefing entitled “A Fresh Start? Affordable Housing in the Obama Administration—a National Perspective” was held before the luncheon.  Conrad Egan, NHC president and CEO, said at the briefing that “we are already encouraged” by how quickly President-elect Barack Obama has moved in preparation for his incoming administration. Egan said the Government Sponsored Enterprises are now “GOEs”—Government Owned Enterprises, and he said it is unlikely that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will return to being a hybrid of public entities and private shareholder owned entities that they were before. Egan said he is stunned by the amount of money the federal government is willing to consider spending in handling the economic downturn. He said there is evidence the next White House will have support for a housing and community development agenda, and he said a lot of things are now possible that were not previously. There will not necessarily be “a lot of flexibility on the government side,” he said, but the opportunity exists “to open minds and hearts to new ways to doing business.”Egan emphasized it is time again “for HUD to become the bully pulpit of this nation’s housing development policy.” He said he hoped the incoming HUD secretary would once again rise to the challenge. There was also talk of the possibilities for housing in the infrastructure initiatives under the fiscal stimulus plan. There is a very large amount of money going into transit and fixing the infrastructure, said Sharon Price, NHC director of policy. “We can ask to tie” these fundings to affordable housing, community housing and smarter growth, she noted.  There is a major new transportation bill that is moving through Congress, said Egan. It is time that housing is a part of transportation policy. “Housing needs very much to be a part of that discussion,” Egan added.   One panel participant, Evelyn Wolff, said that the housing industry should be “out there advocating” for funds. But NHC’s Price cautioned that although there may be “more energy” on the part of the federal government on housing and housing policy next year, the industry needs to be realistic. She suggested it will not necessarily be the case that the government will now have no limits on its spending on housing. “It would be better than it has been but we should be realistic about how quickly change comes,” she said. At the awards luncheon that followed the panel, Judy Calogero, CEO of NYHC, said that President-elect Obama may understand that housing is a critical part of the suffering infrastructure. And New York City Housing Authority Chairman Tino Hernandez said that he is “extremely hopeful” that with the new federal administration and stimulus package, ways will continue to be found in reinvesting in housing and public housing.