The National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) welcomed its newest executive this month. Capitol Hill veteran Cindy Chetti started on March 1 as senior vice president of government affairs. Chetti will be responsible for developing and implementing strategy for all legislative and regulatory issues of interest to NMHC and its joint legislative partner, the Washington, D.C.-based National Apartment Association. She brings more than 20 years of experience in the U.S. House of Representatives to her role, most recently as the lead housing policy expert for the House Financial Services Committee, where she served for 10 years as a member of the Senior Professional Staff for the Committee’s Republicans.
Still, Chetti’s talents and accomplishments are lauded from both sides of the aisle and, the Financial Services Committee had a hard time letting her join the multifamily sector, as is evident from the standing room ovation she received after laudatory comments from both Committee Chair Rep. Spencer Bachus (R–Ala.) and Rep. Barney Frank (D–Mass.).
In her first media interview since joining NMHC, Chetti shares her insider’s view on partisan balance, the future of the GSEs, and the growing need for and acceptance of the multifamily industry in the formation of regulatory and legislative housing policies.
MFE: That was a pretty amazing send off by Spencer Bachus and Barney Frank. What was it like to be recognized that way by the House Financial Services Committee?
CHETTI: It was very unexpected. I was really touched by Chairman Bachus’ remarks as well as Mr. Frank’s. I think the world of both of them. I loved my job there, I loved the people I worked with, and I really loved the institution. It was a privilege to work there.
MFE: How has the transition been to the multifamily sector with this new role?
CHETTI: It was hard for me to leave the people and the job where I had the opportunity every day to get up and learn something new. So it was not an easy decision, but I’m very excited about coming to NMHC. I feel it is a great opportunity for me to stay involved in the issues I’ve been working on for the past 15 years in the housing sector. To be able to come to NMHC at a time when there is a real sea change in the conversations about housing policy and specifically about homeownership versus rental is especially exciting.
MFE: Speaking of that sea-change, do you think the government is coming to a more holistic understanding of what housing is, and the larger voice and impact multifamily housing could have in policy and law-making?
CHETTI: I think the housing crisis has led us to the point where we’re about to have an honest debate regarding the focus on homeownership versus renting, and that is a good thing. It is something we need to have. It’s a great time for the multifamily industry because of that debate. I mean, who would have thought, for instance, that the Presidential Taskforce for the first time would be looking seriously at issues like the mortgage interest deduction?
MFE: How do you expect the inclusion of multifamily in government dialogue will impact the reformation of the GSEs?
CHETTI: The GSEs are obviously a priority issue that we care about and one that is going to be the focus of Congress for the next two or three years or however long it takes. The housing crisis precipitated that conversation and there is the ability for multifamily to be part of that debate more so than before. The debate on an honest housing policy that understands the importance of rental likely begins with the GSEs, and the fact that the GSE debate incorporates multifamily as a critical component of housing finance means we have an opportunity to move forward, which is very encouraging.
MFE: What are some legislative and regulatory issues that you think are critical to NMHC that don't immediately involve the GSEs?
CHETTI: At any given time there are 30 to 40 issues that NMHC cares about. Housing finance is clearly one of the most important, as access to capital is the lifeblood of the industry. Other top priorites include energy policy, and specifically a policy that embraces incentives rather than mandates. Tax issues including the new 1099 reporting requirement with carried interest and estate tax reform are also issues that we continue to care about deeply.
MFE: Progress comes in degrees, of course, but do you think the partisan balance in Washington is advantageous to making some headway on any of NMHC's and NAA's agenda items?
CHETTI: It’s likely too early to tell if the partisan balance in Washington will be advantageous to the multifamily industry. Certainly I think this Congress is focused on budget deficits, and the ability to craft some kind of bipartisan agreement on that will perhaps color their ability to move forward on other issues like housing finance. However, I do think both the administration and Congress are focused on moving forward with something regarding GSE reform. It’s too early to tell if that will come incrementally or not, but as things start moving you have to look to have a seat at the table, and I’m going to do my best to make sure we have that seat.