The National Council of State Housing Agencies's annual meeting opens today in Seattle amid the annual conventional pessimism about the face of the two key programs NCSHA champions: mortgage revenue bonds and the low-in-coine housing tax credit.

Last year at this time, The Bond Buyer's pages were filled with what proved to be very premature requiems for both programs. We didn't listen. We were too busy making the extensions happen.

Now once more conventional wisdom predicts Congress will pass no tax bill -- or at least none with MRBs and the low-income housing tax credit in it. We think the record 387 House and 89 Senate MRB cosponsors and the 304 House and 82 Senate tax credit co-sponsors argue for a different conclusion.

So do the signatures of more than half the House on a bipartisan letter to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., and the ranking minority committee member, Bill Archer, R-Tex., urging a bill this year with MRBs and the tax credit in it. NCSHA is making these things happen.

Making things happen is the new watchword at NCSHA, the only representative of state or local government exclusively devoted to the full range of housing issues. Through its Washington staff, NCSHA concentrates the energies of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, targeting them on expanding the amount and simplifying the delivery of federal housing assistance to those who need it.

A Year of Accomplishments

Armed with the hard facts and intense lobbying efforts that housing finance agencies provide and reaching out to other housing groups, NCSHA shapes housing policy. The results include:

* Last fall's surprise MRB and credit extension after most observers had written them off. State housing finance agencies have assisted more than 1.3 million American first-time home buyers with MRB loans and have allocated tax credits to help finance more than 316,000 low-income rental units.

* The astounding $1.5 billion fiscal year 1992 appropriation for HOME, the new federal block grant program to help states and cities generate thousands of additional units of affordable homes. The $1.5 billion was not included in last year's budget summit agreement, is half a billion more than the President asked for, and was carved out of other programs competing for the same funds. NCSHA played a key role in forging and influencing the efforts of a coalition of more than 50 Washington housing power centers to work for maximum funding of the HOME program and a separate coalition that convinced Congress to waive the HOME state-local matching requirement this year.

* NCSHA, nearly alone, took a strong stand in Congress for greater resources from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for affordable housing. That activated a coalition that helped write and pass a House bill to direct Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to provide $3.5 billion over the next two years for new programs for low-income housing. Similar Senate action is expected.

* NCSHA continues its role of a "friend of the court" to Congress in critiquing the performance of the Resolution Trust Corp. affordable housing program. NCSHA has been called upon continually to testify on the "real world" experience in the RTC at oversight hearings held in both the House and Senate. It also works directly with the RTC to help improve its programs.

Much Remains to Be Done

We do not rest on our oars. Despite increases in federal and state assistance, the number of people living in substandard housing or burdened by excessive housing costs continues to rise.

In "The State of the Nation's Housing: 1991," the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies recently painted a dismal picture for first-time home buyers and low-income renters clinging to the bottom rungs of the housing ladder. The Harvard study noted that even if leaders offer loans with as little as 5% down, only 22% of white renters and 4% of black renters either meet the down payment requirement of can afford to pay the mortgage.

Meanwhile, the availability of apartments for the lowest-income renters continues to shrink. According to the Harvard study, "the number of units with contract rents of less than $250 fell steadily from over 8.6 million in 1974 to only 6 million in 1989.

The MRB and tax creditr are the only federal programs available to help reverse these trends. MRBs finance more than 100,000 first-time home buyer mortgages each year. The credit can finance 125,000 low-income rental units. NCSHA intends to stay with the job until both MRBs and the tax credit are made permanent parts of the tax code.

The HOME program provides an important complement to MRBs and the tax credit in addressing the needs of low-income households. In 1992, the HOME program must be reauthorized by Congress.

We'll also have to fight again to maintain or increase this year's extraordinary funding levels. (This year's appropriation represented 75% of the full $2 billion the current authorization provides for).

We'll also push an effort begun successfully this year with the Senate Banking Committee to count tax-exempt bond financing repayable from project revenues toward the HOME match, once that requirement is reinstated.

At the same time, key regulations are being written at HUD and the Treasury that will either strangle or simplify the administration of HOME and the tax credit. NCSHA speaks for the states in aggressively pursuing simplified, but effective, administration of these programs by those agencies.

Meanwhile, in its own meetings, NCSHA brings the public and private sectors together in a unique idea incubator, to explore the cutting edge of new housing finance techniques.

This year's annual conference in Seattle, for example, is devoted to the theme of claiming and leveraging the new public and private housing finance resources that NCSHA and the other groups with which it works have made available, paradoxically -- and thankfully -- in a time of severe fiscal constraint.

In Congress, in the administration, with the private sector, NCSHA remains committed to "Making It Happen."

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