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The case for why HUD is so critical, and why it matters that Ben Carson will soon be in charge

(HOUSING NEWS) Dr. Ben Carson accepts President-elect Donald Trump’s offer to head up HUD, an agency which carries more importance than most Americans ever imagined.

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Carson accepts HUD position

Former presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, has accepted President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination to head up the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Trump’s team confirmed on Monday.

Dr. Carson is the vice chairman of Trump’s transition team and is popular among traditional conservatives, but what does the real estate industry think of this morning’s announcement?

In response to the announcement of Dr. Ben Carson as President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s selection for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, NAR President William E. Brown said, “Realtors® know that the incoming Secretary of Housing and Urban Development has a big job ahead. Potential homebuyers face a range of hurdles, from rising prices to mortgage credit that’s burdened by fees and extra costs.”

“We congratulate Dr. Carson on accepting this important challenge and wish him the very best of luck in meeting the task ahead,” Brown added. “While we’ve made great strides in recent years, far more can be done to put the dream of homeownership in reach for more Americans. The National Association of Realtors® and its 1.2 million members looks forward to working with Dr. Carson to fulfill this important mission.”

Why HUD is so critical

Infrastructure isn’t often sexy, but it is important. It’s the same with Presidential appointments; potential appointments to Cabinet positions such as Secretaries of State and Defense are debated and discussed( and with good reason), while candidates for seemingly less prestigious positions, such as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development(HUD) are almost an afterthought.

As Dr. Ben Carson has now accepted the offer extended to him by President-elect Trump to become the next Secretary, he has previously said that he didn’t feel qualified to serve as a Cabinet officer because he’d never before run a federal agency.

With his reticence overcome, he’ll have an opportunity to affect the lives of more Americans than he perhaps thought.

Andrew Flowers, writing at FiveThirtyEight, provides compelling reasons why HUD plays a larger role in the lives of Americans than many think, whether the department gets the credit or not.

Scope of responsibility

With a budget of nearly $50 billion dollars and over 8,000 direct employees, HUD isn’t just a vast federal agency, but one whose responsibility touches the lives of millions of Americans through their programs on home ownership, public housing, and civil rights, such as the Fair Housing Act.

A staple of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the agency was established and given Cabinet status in 1966 and has created opportunities for millions of Americans to become first-time homeowners throughout their fifty years in existence, as well as ensuring that poverty and homelessness were battled at their front lines by ensuring that support was available for those who needed it most.

Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness

In the fight against chronic homelessness, a surprisingly common-sense approach seems to be working the best: give homes to the homeless. Based on the work of social researcher Sam Tsemberis, Utah has slashed their chronically homeless population by 72 percent between 2005 and 2014, reducing that number from nearly 2,000 to just over 500 in that time.

Similar results have been seen in urban metropolises such as New York City and Washington, D.C. with the same approach: provide housing, and a greater sense of stability emerges, from which the now former homeless can build while they find solutions to the other problems which may have faced them. Flowers identifies research by Matthew Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, that agrees with this.

This housing first approach ends the pattern of residential instability, which negatively impacts children and their parents. Although this seems to be a practical approach that’s meeting with success, it’s not backed by current U.S. housing policy.

Although HUD supports the housing voucher program, popularly known as Section 8, assisting 5 million people, and providing public housing to another 2 million, there’s a critical disconnect between those who qualify for assistance and those who get it. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has identified that 75 percent of Americans who qualify for housing assistance don’t receive it, for multiple factors.

Supporting mortgages

The Federal Housing Administration, a component of HUD, is involved in the underwriting of one out of every six mortgages, placing HUD on the hook for securing over $1 trillion in mortgages in the United States. That backing, in the form of FHA insurance is critical, especially for those homeowners in a lower-income bracket, to get the mortgage that they need at a lesser price than they could have secured on their own.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, HUD served a vital role in ensuring that the housing bust that led to the downturn in the United States wouldn’t be repeated.

Working with other regulatory agencies, HUD helped to provide a working definition of a “qualified residential mortgage”; this change in the definition has stopped some of the mortgage securitization that was a key component in the creation, and ultimately, the bursting of the housing bubble.

Fair play for all Americans

Making sure that all Americans, regardless of race, religion, creed, or gender, have an equal footing in obtaining housing was central in the Fair Housing Act, the 1968 bill that was a keystone of LBJ’s Great Society, and the raison d’etre for HUD’s action in their early days as a Cabinet agency.

Under the law, they were initially responsible for combating discriminatory practices in housing, such as refusing to rent or sell housing based on a protected category, setting different terms or conditions for sale or rental based on a protected category, or refusing disabled persons the ability to make reasonable accommodations to their property as necessary. However, their responsibilities extended beyond just ensuring that discrimination in housing was ended, as they were required to further the spread of fair housing in the United States.

In the Obama administration, this has been accomplished by refusing to allow federal funds to be used in areas that have been historically segregated; in order to access embargoed funds, both state and local public housing authorities would have to identify plans to provide changes in zoning regulations and in developing affordable housing to combat the segregation patterns.

America By The Numbers

HUD is also a robust source in the collection and reporting of housing data in America. Their biennial survey, The American Housing Survey (AHS), is a comprehensive examination of a wide variety of topics related to housing in the United States, covering information on homes and housing costs, and is used by multiple sources to drive legislation as well as to better understand patterns of change in cities and communities across the nation.

Flowers points out that HUD has shown the ability to improve their data reporting when needed; for example, in response to criticism that there was a dearth of information regarding evictions, HUD field tested questions regarding the topic that will be included in the 2017 version of the AHS.

A Time For Change

As with every transition in the presidency, change is bound to occur across all levels of the government. What was a priority for one administration may not even be an afterthought in another. As Dr. Carson has accepted Mr. Trump’s offer, he will have the opportunity to provide a safety net for those who need it, and reform where it is needed, to ensure that the impact that the housing market has on the U.S. economy is regulated safely, as much as is possible in a free market society.

Some believe that Carson’s conservatism may spell a shift in HUD’s priorities to fight desegregation and discrimination, and the political realities of the administration in which he serves leads others to believe that further assistance for those who need it most may not be swift in coming. Alternatively, bringing new blood into the department could shake it up and strengthen housing for decades to come and Carson could help Trump make good on his repeated promises to focus on urban renewal. No one can quite say, especially given how little attention Carson’s role has received compared to other appointments.

One thing is clear: Carson’s new role is far from ceremonial.

#CarsonHUD

Roger is a Staff Writer at The Real Daily and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Politics

Evictions are mounting, affecting renters and landlords

(POLITICS) Eviction moratoriums both ending and extending are causing ripple effects of economic trouble for renters and landlords.

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The United States continues to struggle to find a balance between public health protections to slow the spread of coronavirus and economic measures to prevent Americans from bankruptcy as a result.

While eviction bans initially provided relief for renters who lost jobs and couldn’t afford rent payments, the effects bounced up to property owners who lost those payments. Though the first coronavirus stimulus package renter protections extended to landlords, property owners say banks are still expecting mortgage payments as the relief expires. Many worry the expiration of the additional $600 added to unemployment will exacerbate the problem.

In Texas, the statewide eviction moratorium ended in May. Unlike other major cities which chose to use funds from the federal coronavirus stimulus package to pay for legal representation for tenants, Houston let local protections for tenants expire with the moratorium.

In Houston, there is little recourse for tenants served with an eviction notice. Tenants only have five days to appeal, and there is no legal defense for a tenant who can’t pay at least one month’s rent to the court registry. As a result, tenants facing eviction often surrender and leave. Unfortunately, the result is tenants moving in temporarily with friends and family while they look for new housing, causing overcrowding and presenting a health risk to everyone involved. The CDC has specifically named “poverty and crowding” as a top risk factor for COVID-19.

However, not all evictions are the result of unpaid rent. Marie Baptiste, a landlord in Randolph, Massachusetts reported to the Boston Globe that she has lost recourse against a tenant who not only stopped paying rent long before the pandemic started, but caused water damage and a rat infestation. The tenant argues the structural problems were her reason for withholding rent.

Consequently, Baptiste says she is now $19,000 in the hole for this property, and can do nothing about it. In July, Governor Charlie Baker extended the eviction moratorium to mid-October. In a survey conducted by MassLandlords, one-fifth of landlords are uncertain how they will keep up with mortgage payments. Many fear they will be forced to sell or face foreclosure without relief.

Without protections for both tenants and individual property owners, the eviction moratoriums could have long-term consequences for housing in large cities. Urban centers, already struggling with rent inflation and lack of affordable units as large developers take over, could see this problem exacerbated for years to come. It is imperative that the next stimulus package consider how relief for both renters and property owners can be leveraged to prevent these challenges.

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Politics

COVID-19: NAR’s fight for independent contractor relief

(POLITICS) Economic relief is on its way for the self-employed and independent contractors like Realtors, with NAR pushing politicians to pay attention.

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Earlier this week the U.S. Senate passed an unprecedented $2 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package. The bill is now in the U.S. House and is expect to be signed by the President without any issues.

Self-employed and independent contractors have been anxious about the bill since talks began. It would not be the first time theses types of workers were left out of key economic legislation. As the majority of the nation’s realtors are self-employed or commission-based, they have been hit hard by the economic effects of COVID-19.

Just last week home buyer disinterest tripled; few are looking to buy a home right now and social distancing restrictions have made it difficult to attract new clients or show property.

Realtors want to do their part to stop the spread of the virus, but just like everyone else, they need support during this difficult time.

During the last several weeks, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has been in constant discussion with lawmakers to ensure that these groups are taken into account for the economic relief package.

NAR Senior VP of Government Affairs, Shannon McGahn stated, “We have worked closely with Congressional leaders and the administration during the past several weeks to ensure all three bills bring relief to the self-employed, independent contractors, and small businesses. The real estate industry is responsible for millions of jobs and is key to our national recovery.”

The economic relief package includes $350 billion for the Small Business Administration 7(a) loan program. Under the terms, eligible small businesses, which in this case are those that have 500 employees or fewer, can receive up to $10 million toward mortgage interest, rents, utilities, and payroll costs. A portion of these loans will be forgivable.

In addition to relief through the loan program, self-employed and independent contractors will be able to take advantage of unemployment insurance benefits. This program could cover benefits for up to 39 weeks, a huge relief as many find themselves and their businesses suddenly devoid of cashflow.

This is the third relief package to be signed into law, with a fourth expected to be signed in the coming months. These are stressful COVID-19 times and no bill will ever be perfect, but some relief is on its way. 
 

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Politics

COVID-19: Senate passes the relief bill, now it’s in the House’s hands

(POLITICS) Many people heard that the Senate passed a relief bill, but don’t quite understand that it’s not a done deal. Now the House gets to add their input.

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The House can’t seem to agree on the COVID-19 relief bill. Yesterday, the Senate and the White House came to an agreement on a $2 trillion economic stimulus package. Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has publicly stated that the House will be reviewing the bill, but there is no commitment as to whether the bill will pass or not. The Hill reported that some House Democrats are concerned that they have not provided any input.

What’s in the measure?

According to CBS News, the actual text of the measure hasn’t been released, but they did get information from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about some of the contents:

  • Expanded unemployment benefits to boost the maximum benefit and to give laid-off workers full pay for four months
  • Direct payments to individuals making less than $99,000
  • $130 billion for hospitals
  • $367 billion in loans for small business
  • $150 billion for state and local governments
  • $500 billion for large businesses
  • Creates an oversight board to govern large loans
  • Prohibitions to prevent President Trump and family from getting federal relief

Will the measure pass?

Pelosi has said that this relief bill is a big improvement over the Republican’s first proposal. It seems as if she is working hard to move the measure through the House, but given the current state of politics, it’s hard to believe that anything will be done without some debate. 

Many Democrats have pushed for a food stamp increase, which is not in the current measure. However, the Democrats did win on the oversight board that protects the employees of the companies who are getting loans. Money for states was another Democrat victory in the current measure.

If the bill can pass the House unanimously, lawmakers won’t have to vote on the floor.

If the House can’t agree, the House will need to reconvene and amend the Senate measure or pass their own measure.

Under the COVID-19 travel restrictions and quarantine issues, it might be difficult to get anything done quickly. The urgency is real, but so is the responsibility. Representatives want the money to do what Congress intends, not for CEO compensation or stock buyouts.

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