In the nation’s long-running dialogue about jobs and the economy, the housing industry, and specifically affordable and workforce multifamily, believes it has a strong case to make. The problem? They don’t feel like they’re doing a good job of getting their point across.
Instead of making a persuasive argument, the tenor from last week’s Urban Land Institute’s "Future of Housing Policy in America" policy symposium, held at the Washington, D.C., offices of business advisory firm The Collingwood Group was one of defense. Housing advocates are fighting for resources.
Henry Cisneros, former HUD secretary and current chairman of CityView, a Los Angeles–based housing investor and developer, admitted on the first panel of the day that the biggest hit in the budget was to domestic discretionary programs.
That’s a shame, given the importance of housing. Cisneros asserted, as he has many times before, that a person’s health, education, and many other factors revolve around where they live. “There’s enough evidence to say a stable home matters,” he says.
And the former HUD leader suggests that the recovery is dependent on housing. “[Housing] is core to the recovery,” Cisneros said. “This is not a sideshow. We won’t get the American economy back on track without a robust housing sector.”
Housing can bring jobs. That’s something Eileen Fitzgerald, CEO of Washington-based NeighborWorks America, thinks the industry should be better about telling people. “We need to tell [the world] that we’re supplying local jobs in communities,” she said. “People care about jobs more than housing, so why not tell the jobs story.”
Doug Bibby, president of the National Multi Housing Council, and also a panelist, pointed out that housing didn’t come up at all in the recent presidential debates. "Despite homeownership being an aspiration for many and in light of the meltdown of the housing markets that have affected literally millions of owners, it is shocking that housing didn't even come up in the Republican party presidential debates,” Bibby said in a follow up e-mail after the ULI panel. “It never comes up in these forums and hasn't for as long as I can remember. I guess you could say that housing has a perception problem.”
But getting that point across is something the panelists said the industry isn’t doing very well. “We need to have a new narrative and new ambassadors,” said Ali Solis, senior vice president of public policy and corporate affairs for Columbia, Md.–based Enterprise Community Partners, who was also on Cisneros’ panel.