An Incredible Year for Grassroots Advocacy
Written by and from the viewpoint of Greg Brown, Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Apartment Association
We’ve reached the mid-point of the second session of the 114th Congress, but in many ways it feels like the end of the session. Most of the heavy legislative lifting that can get done before the elections has been completed. The campaign for the White House and 435 public service jobs in the House and 34 in the Senate has taken every bit of oxygen in the room. There are only a handful of legislative days left in the year during which only the red-label tasks will get accomplished. There will, of course, be a flurry of legislative activity during the post-election “lame-duck” period before Congress adjourns sine die, but that almost feels like an entirely different legislative session since whatever happens is dependent upon the outcome of the election. Regardless, for the apartment housing industry this has been an incredible year for grassroots advocacy.
In March, NAA hosted another record-breaking Capitol Conference, drawing more than 700 attendees to Washington, D.C., to advocate on Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, Flood Insurance and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) litigation. More than 500 advocates went to Capitol Hill sharing our perspective and pressing our case for action in these areas. The work at the Capitol Conference and follow up grassroots outreach later in the spring has generated real results in all areas.
In July Congress passed and sent to the President’s desk the “Housing Opportunity through Modernization Act.” Top among this legislation’s key components is a reform of the inspection process for apartment homes to be rented by someone using a Section 8 voucher. Now, units that have been inspected in the previous 24 months do not have to be inspected again before a voucher holder moves in. This will eliminate weeks of delay for low- and moderate-income families trying to find a home and thousands of dollars of lost revenue for apartment owners and operators.
Reform of the ADA litigation process also made significant progress during the first half of 2016. The “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2015” would address a growing trend of “drive-by” lawsuits against owners of commercial and residential real estate intended to generate fee settlements rather than address a genuine ADA design deficiency. The legislation preserves the goals of the ADA while providing owners 120 days to correct any deficiency before litigation can begin. Thanks to strong advocacy efforts, this bipartisan legislation passed out of the House Judiciary Committee with the support of Republicans and Democrats. This is a critical step that increases the chances of final action before the end of the year.
Finally, legislation to expand private market flood insurance coverage options is halfway towards passage by the Congress. The “Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act” would help address the limited – and typically expensive – sources of flood coverage in the private marketplace. Most importantly, it would increase the protection of apartment communities across different markets and whenever it is needed. The bill passed the House of Representatives unanimously and is now in the hands of the Senate. Based on our experience with Section 8 voucher reform, such a strong bipartisan showing in the House dramatically increases our chances of positive action in the Senate.
As you can see, this year has been marked by strong advocacy performance by ourselves as advocates on reasonable, targeted and bipartisan policy initiatives. But our work is not over. There are many more policy concerns for us to tackle both this year and when the new Congress and Administration arrives in 2017.
And speaking of 2017: Make sure to mark your calendars for the 2017 Capitol Conference and Lobby Day on March 7 – 8. Our goal is to create another record-breaking event, bringing in more advocates to reach all 535 members of Congress. Registration opens in early November.
This article was written by Greg Brown, Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Apartment Association. Any questions or calls to action may be directed to Greg via email or 703-797-0615.