Apartment industry representatives from across the country gather every year in Washington, D.C., to ensure that our voice is heard. Congress has thousands of issues to deal with daily, and that’s why it’s important for us to take the time to explain ours.
The San Diego County Apartment Association sent 10 representatives to the NAA Capitol Conference from March 9 to 12; six representatives met with all five members of San Diego County’s congressional delegation. This year’s event was the best-attended conference ever.
The apartment industry is a major economic driver, annually contributing $1 trillion to the U.S. economy and supporting 25.4 million jobs. Those are big numbers. The apartment industry is a livelihood, a business and a home to 35 million renters.
The rental industry is booming, and today’s renters comprise a diverse population: young professionals, downsizing empty-nesters, families, couples and those looking for convenience, mobility or a close-to-work living option. Apartments help meet the housing needs of people from all income levels.
Apartments are the new housing resource. According to conference figures, one-third of Americans rent their housing, and one-third of those live in apartments. Rental households have increased by 6 million over the past eight years.
At the Capitol Conference, we stressed the need for the construction of an additional 300,000 to 400,000 rental units a year just to meet expected demand. However, only 185,000 new U.S. apartments were added in 2013. New apartment construction would support hundreds of thousands of jobs and add billions to the economy.
The National Apartment Association and National Multifamily Housing Council identified a dozen policy priorities for the apartment industry for 2014. Priorities of particular interest to our region include housing finance reform, immigration reform, disparate impact liability and potential cutbacks in military housing allowances.
Given the rental housing supply crunch, legislation for housing finance reform is needed to ensure that capital is available at all times in all markets. Legislation also should include a federal guarantee for multifamily mortgages. Multifamily housing financing reform must be addressed apart from single-family housing. The two industries operate separately and have divergent performance records.
The draft Johnson-Crapo bill — written by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and ranking member Mike Crapo, R-Idaho — released in March is a positive step in the bipartisan effort in housing finance reform.
Fair housing is another area of federal regulations that needs more work and clarity. The apartment industry is committed to equal housing opportunities for all. But a 2013 rule from the Department of Housing and Urban Development is unworkable because it puts multifamily housing providers at risk of inadvertently violating the Fair Housing Act for following common, legitimate business practices — such as criminal background checks or occupancy limits — that ensure safe housing for residents.
Two other key issues affecting the apartment industry are particularly significant to the San Diego region: military housing allowances and immigration reform.
The Department of Defense should avoid reducing the Basic Allowance for Housing for our military service members. A reduction would undermine the long-term stability of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative.
Service members receive a basic allowance, so they can choose what housing situation is best for them. A reduction not only would hurt the apartment industry, but would also be a terrible blow for our service men and women.
Immigration is a significant driver of rental housing. But a patchwork of state and local laws governing immigration impose additional responsibility on apartment owners to verify the immigration status of employees and residents beyond federal requirements. The arbitrary cap on temporary work visas for construction also affects the apartment industry.
Several immigration reform bills are under consideration. A comprehensive, bipartisan approach to immigration reform is needed, and we urge lawmakers to continue down this path.
What can you do? Stay informed with us at SDCAA and contact your representatives on these important issues that matter to your business.