Record Number of Builders Carry Concerns to Capitol Hill
More than 1,350 builders from across the country arrived in the nation’s capital on May 10 to participate in NAHB’s annual Legislative Conference and to urge their members of Congress to maintain a national priority for housing and to increase housing opportunities for all Americans.
“A record number of builders trekked to Washington to call on their Capitol Hill lawmakers to enact policies that meet our nation’s ongoing housing needs,” said NAHB President David Pressly. “Be it tax policy, excessive regulations that harm housing affordability, property rights or other important issues that affect a builder’s business, the meetings provided a special opportunity for industry professionals to speak directly to their federal representatives and communicate the challenges that their businesses face every day.”
In more than 300 individual meetings with their representatives and senators, builders called for action on the following NAHB legislative priorities:
- Tax simplification. Builders called on their lawmakers to support and protect the mortgage interest deduction and all other housing tax incentives in the current tax code. Members of Congress were told that a proposal by the President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform that is currently being studied by the Treasury Department represents a radical departure from America’s decades-long commitment to support federal tax policies that promote homeownership and the production of affordable rental housing. With a $700 billion cost for eliminating the alternative minimum tax, which is ensnaring more and more middle-class Americans, curtailing housing incentives is an obvious source of additional revenues. Though Congress is unlikely to take up the issue this year, lawmakers were urged to reject any tax reform plans that would hurt housing. For more information, e-mail Greg Brown at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8421.
- Recognize housing’s critical contribution to the economy. The nation’s home builders emphasized the important role that housing plays in maintaining a healthy economy, creating jobs for workers in their local communities and accumulating household wealth. At present, housing accounts for more than 16% of Gross Domestic Product, with the industry creating 6 million jobs in 2005. Housing also plays a leading role in the way most Americans save and accumulate wealth. Today, American home owners have more than $11 trillion in housing equity. Furthermore, housing pays for itself, with each new single-family home generating an average of $27,500 in new taxes compared to a cost to the government of $24,840. Apartments bring in $27,845 in new taxes at a cost of $23,270. Housing’s share of state economic activity ranges from just under 10% to as much as 27% of Gross State Product. Lawmakers were asked to support efforts to keep housing on track as the nation’s most important economic engine and wealth builder. To learn more, contact David Crowe at x8383.
- Federal storm water permit program. House members were urged to support legislation that will be introduced in the near future by Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman John Duncan (R-Tenn.) that would resolve the difficulties with the Environmental Protection Agency's storm water enforcement policies. Complying with storm water requirements adds approximately $1,400 to $4,500 to the cost of every lot. This bipartisan legislative solution seeks to reform the regulatory process without harming the environment by allowing builders to correct permit violations that don’t cause environmental harm; waiving the need for a federally-based permit if storm water runs into municipal storm sewers; providing that federal enforcement of state-issued storm water permits is the exception, and not the rule; and eliminating the need for federally-based permits if a site is deemed to have a low risk of soil erosion. For more information, contact Jason Lynn (legislative) at x8307, Marolyn Parson (regulatory) at x8157 or Duane Desiderio (legal) at x8146.
- Immigration reform. It is estimated that more than 20% of the building industry's entire workforce is foreign-born, making the immigrant population essential to meeting housing demand and sustaining economic growth in this country. Builders called on their senators to support comprehensive immigration reform that would secure and protect the nation’s borders and also create guest worker programs that would provide a more efficient system for dealing with those who would like to come to the U.S. and work. Builders asked lawmakers to support a plan that would provide illegal immigrants with an opportunity to pay restitution and become legal U.S. residents. While business has a role in enforcing immigration policies, builders called on their senators to ensure that general contractors are not held accountable for the hiring decisions of subcontractors who work on their job sites. For more information, contact Jenna Morgan Hamilton at x8407.
- Endangered Species Act reform. NAHB supports the passage of legislation to update and improve the Endangered Species Act so that true species conservation and recovery can be achieved, while balancing the needs of our growing communities. Builders thanked their House members who voted for H.R. 3824, the "Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act." The bill cleared the House in September by a bipartisan vote of 229 to 193. The measure would strengthen existing law by enhancing species conservation and protection efforts, eliminating excessive environmental regulation and giving private landowners incentives to enact voluntary conservation measures. Builders urged their senators, particularly those who sit on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Fisheries, Wildlife and Water Subcommittee, to introduce and consider a similar reform measure at the committee level, and to move the legislation to the Senate floor soon thereafter. For more information, contact Jason Lynn at x8307.
- Property rights, access to federal courts. Builders urged their House members to cosponsor H.R. 4772, the “Private Property Rights Implementation Act.” Introduced by Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), the measure would allow property owners who are raising a federal constitutional claim under the Fifth Amendment to have a federal court decide the merits of their case. Currently, all other civil rights cases can be brought directly to federal court. H.R. 4772 does not provide special rights for Fifth Amendment claims, it merely puts Fifth Amendment takings claims on par with the rest of the Bill of Rights. Under this measure, the federal courts would not be deciding local issues, only constitutional questions. The measure does not require Fifth Amendment cases to be filed in federal court. It simply grants the property owner the option of going to federal court. For more information, contact J.P. Delmore at x8412.
- Government sponsored enterprises regulatory reform. Continued federal government support of America's housing finance system through the housing government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) — Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks — is vital to our nation's housing policy and must be maintained. Over the next decade, America's families will likely need 125 million mortgage loans to purchase or refinance a home, totaling $27 trillion in mortgage originations. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac play a leading role in providing the funds to support mortgage originations, which primarily come from the sale and securitization of loans in the secondary market. NAHB believes that any legislation to revamp the regulatory structure of the GSEs must strengthen and safeguard their financial health while also preserving their vital housing mission. The House-passed GSE bill H.R. 1461 would achieve these important aims.
However, builders urged their senators to oppose S. 190, a GSE bill that was approved by the Senate Banking Committee on a party line vote last July. NAHB believes this measure would harm the GSEs and jeopardize the nation’s housing finance system by imposing aggressive minimum capital requirements, portfolio limits and program approval language. And unlike H.R. 1461, Senate bill S. 190 lacks an affordable housing fund. Senators were urged to address NAHB policy concerns before the full Senate considers the bill. For more information, contact Scott Meyer at x8144.
Builders attending the Legislative Conference said they made a real difference in advancing NAHB’s housing goals by meeting with their lawmakers and legislative staffs.
Home builder Diana Symbol, owner of Professional Services Unlimited in Wasilla, Alaska, said that she and about 30 other builders who met with their entire state congressional delegation — Sens. Ted Stevens (R), Lisa Murkowski (R) and Rep. Don Young (R-At Large) — reported progress in a number of areas.
“Our meetings were very successful. We received a personal commitment from our lawmakers to work with us on storm water and tax issues,” said Symbol. “In addition our senators said they would help to pass S. 1955, small business health insurance legislation that is now pending in the Senate.”
Bob Ross, owner of G&R Construction Services, a residential remodeling, single-family custom home and commercial building firm in Austin, Texas, reported that a group of eight to 20 builders talked with both senators and four representatives from the Lone Star State and that the lawmakers were “generally supportive” of the issues raised by builders.
“It’s important as builders, and as members of NAHB, that we visit with our lawmakers and share the concerns of our industry,” said Ross. “This was a productive day for the cause of housing.”
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who addressed the NAHB Executive Committee the day before the Legislative Conference, told builders that the best way to advance their cause was to follow up their scheduled Hill visits with a phone call or letter or by seeking an appointment with their federal representative in their home district.
“Our members who walked the halls of Congress on May 10 sent an important message to their federal lawmakers — namely, to support policies that will increase the supply of affordable housing and expand homeownership and rental housing opportunities for America’s working families,” said Pressly.
To read legislation, click here and enter the bill number in the box at the center of the page.
For more information about the conference, e-mail Michael Strauss at NAHB, or call him at 800-3685242 x8252.
Photos by Herman Farrer