President-elect Barack Obama has campaigned tirelessly during the past two years, visiting as many as five states in a single day. But fighting for the presidency is nothing compared to what lies ahead: Enacting the change he has promised during countless debates, interviews, and rallies across the country. The multifamily industry is optimistic that the housing sector will benefit from some of that change.
"It is my hope that by virtue of his personality and demeanor, Obama will mend relationships with our nations' global partners," says Steve Heimler, president of Calabasas, Calif.-based Cirrus Asset Management. "In so doing, he has the potential to ensure that the dollar continues to be a desirable instrument to foreign investors and to help prop up domestic real estate values during this otherwise downward spiral we are experiencing."
Obama has been relatively quiet on multifamily housing issues, with his message for change focused on "hot button" issues such as the subprime mortgage crisis, taxes, foreign policy, and health care. He has, however, announced his support for a handful of affordable housing initiatives, including the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which President Bush enacted in July to help provide housing to extremely low-income households.
"The expansion and implementation of the new national housing trust fund should be the No. 1 priority for the new administration," says Linda Couch, deputy director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). "The resources serve the lowest income households and those are the households most in need of affordable housing." Couch also expects Obama to push for increased funding for the Section 8 voucher program and to help combat homelessness.
Plus, Obama plans to establish an office of metropolitan and urban policy, which will likely lead to the development of affordable housing, transit-oriented neighborhoods, and greener communities, according to the NLIHC.
But don't expect these changes to happen overnight. "Obama is going to be severely hamstrung by what has happened to the economy and the huge deficit, so some of these initiatives may take awhile," warns Jim Arbury, senior vice president of government affairs at the Washington, D.C.-based National Multi Housing Council.
"The overwhelming job at the moment is to try to get the economy back on track and ease the credit crisis," Arbury continues. "But I think a key thing he can do early on is make sure that the GSEs don't lump multifamily and single-family housing together and recognize that lending to multifamily properties, especially at this point in time, is a lot less risky than lending to the single-family market."
Arbury adds that the Senate will not have a 60-vote majority, which will have a crucial impact on Obama's administration next year. "That means that a number of initiatives that might hurt us, such as taxes, will receive a much greater airing because there is not a filibuster-proof Senate. That is a huge plus."