Leader of New Congress Promises to Preserve, Build Affordable Housing

By Anuradha Kher, Online News EditorBoston–U.S. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, recently laid out affordable housing legislative priorities for the 111th Congress during the National Housing & Rehabilitation Association (NH&RA) Fall Developers Forum held recently in Boston. Representative Frank emphasized that an affordable housing preservation bill will be a top priority when the Congress convenes in January.  Congressman Frank delivered his remarks after accepting NH&RA’s 2008 Affordable Housing Vision Award.   “We are certainly happy that the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee has made a strong commitment to the preservation of affordable housing and equally strong commitment to production,” Peter H Bell, executive director of NH&RA, tells MHN. “Of course, all this will take time. The new Congress has to get sworn in go through the regular process. It might be somewhat accelerated due to the urgency of the situation.”Congressman Frank noted, “First, we’re going to deal with [affordable housing] preservation. Any owner of subsidized affordable property who would like to keep those units in the inventory will get full cooperation from the law. We’ll do exit tax relief. We’ll do whatever it takes. Because if you’re trying to keep an inventory of affordable housing, preserving what we have makes so much more sense than letting that go out of the inventory and starting from scratch.”  Bell explains that the exit tax relief, which has been talked about for many years, will refresh the stock of affordable housing inventory.Congressman Frank also said that he and his staff are working closely with the House Ways & Means Committee to create a new set of programs that will enhance the development community’s ability to provide high-quality housing as well as also address the lack of liquidity in today’s affordable housing debt and equity markets. He emphasized the importance of maintaining the affordable rental housing sector, noting that the country was in its worst economic situation since the Depression “in substantial part because it became the philosophy in America to denigrate rental housing and to assume that only if someone owned his or her own home, could that person live decently. Going forward, there is now a recognition that homeownership is a good thing for many people, but there are tens of millions of Americans for whom homeownership is not economically or, in some cases, socially, appropriate–that the alternative has to be decent, affordable rental housing.” “The Obama administration will actively support these initiatives because Sen. Obama has spent time as an urban activist and is attuned to the housing problems, particularly for low-income residents,” says Bell.