Saturday, July 07, 2007

APA Legislative and Policy Update - 070507

July 5, 2007

F E D E R A L

Hearings Examine HOPE VI Reauthorization
SENATE BILL LINKS HOUSING, EDUCATION

Committees in the House and Senate recently held hearings on reauthorization of the HOPE VI program. HOPE VI was created in the early 1990s to help communities replace deteriorated public housing and foster mixed-income neighborhoods. The program's current authorization is set to expire this year.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) introduced Senate legislation, S. 829, to reauthorize the program through 2013. The legislation would create a new requirement that HOPE VI projects partner with local schools to develop a comprehensive educational reform and achievement strategy. The bill, which has bipartisan support, also modifies some selection criteria.

Among those testifying were affordable housing developers Richard Barron and Jonathan Rose. Both lauded the program and pointed to the additional, private sector investment generated by HOPE VI. Researchers from the Urban Institute presented findings on improved safety and quality of life in HOPE VI neighborhoods. Some witnesses expressed concerns about the displacement of residents.

Leaders of the House Financial Services Committee plan to move House legislation later this summer. In the initial hearing on the issue, several members of the House Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), supported the program but said any reauthorization must include guarantees of "one-to-one" replacement for public housing.

In this issue:

F E D E R A L
Hearings Examine HOPE VI Reauthorization

F E D E R A L
Affordable Housing Trust Fund Bill Introduced

F E D E R A L
Senate Passes Energy Bill

F E D E R A L
House Transportation Committee Passes Energy & Climate Bill

F E D E R A L
House Continues Work on Global Warming

F E D E R A L
House Explores the Benefits of Intercity Rail

F E D E R A L
Senate Appropriations Committee Clears FY 2008 Interior, Environment Bill

S T A T E
Oregon Legislature Sends Measure 37 Rewrite to Voters

Previous issues

At the House hearing, HUD officials said a "one-to-one" requirement could increase the cost of HOPE VI projects by at least one-third. Some in Congress and the administration have floated the idea of a "one-to-one" requirement for affordable housing, as opposed to public housing. HUD also expressed concern about any links to education, stating that anything "beyond bricks and mortar" will slow projects.

HUD opposes any reauthorization of HOPE VI and has asked Congress to eliminate funding for the program in recent budget requests. Congress has repeatedly rebuffed those proposals and appears likely to do so again this year.

The chairman of the House Appropriations Transportation–HUD Subcommittee has pledged continued funding for HOPE VI. As reauthorization discussions continue on Capitol Hill, some groups are promoting new provisions aimed at "greening" affordable and public housing and enhancing access to transit.

F E D E R A L

Affordable Housing Trust Fund Bill Introduced
BILL SEEKS 1.5 MILLION UNITS OVER 10 YEARS

Last week, House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) formally unveiled legislation (H.R. 2895) establishing a national affordable housing trust fund. The move surprised few because Frank recently moved two bills through his committee providing revenue sources for the trust fund: the proposed GSE Affordable Housing Fund (H.R. 1427) and Federal Housing Administration savings resulting from the enactment of the Expanding American Homeownership Act (H.R. 1852). The GSE (government-sponsored enterprises) bill has been approved by the House and is pending in the Senate.

The goal is to produce, rehabilitate, and preserve 1.5 million units of housing over the next 10 years. The bill allocates 60 percent of funding to participating local jurisdictions and 40 percent to states. HUD would be required to develop a formula for these allocations based on a number of factors, including population, housing affordability, percentage of very- and extremely low income families, cost of construction and rehabilitation, and the extent of substandard and aging housing.

Under the legislation, all trust fund money must be used for the benefit of low income families (below 80 percent of median income). At least 75 percent of funds must go to extremely low income families (below 30 percent of median income). State and local governments could make grants to eligible recipients, including nonprofit housing providers. Participating jurisdictions would have to create an allocation plan based on priority housing needs and geographic diversity, and include information about the ability to leverage funds from other sources.

APA has long supported the creation of a trust fund and renewed the call for adoption of this legislation in its recently adopted policy guide on housing. APA hopes to work with legislators to strengthen the linkage to comprehensive plans and smart growth efforts.

F E D E R A L

Senate Passes Energy Bill
BLOCK GRANTS INCLUDED IN LEGISLATION

After weeks of debate, the U.S. Senate finally cleared energy legislation addressing an array of contentious issues. The final bill, approved 65-27, increases automobile fuel efficiency standards and requires a major increase in use of biofuels. Efforts to seriously weaken the new CAFE standards were turned back. The legislation also includes provisions creating a new Energy and Environment Block Grant program modeled on Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).

The Senate bill did not attempt to address comprehensive global warming policies such as a "cap and trade" regime or carbon tax. Those issues will likely be debated in separate legislation later this year. Efforts by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) to raise renewable energy requirements for utilities were derailed by procedural moves. After the vote, Sen. Bingaman said he would seek another legislative vehicle for his renewables plan. Attempts to channel funding into controversial liquid coal technology were defeated. The liquid coal concept is popular among many coal state senators who argue that the expensive technology would reduce dependence on foreign oil, but many experts are concerned about the global warming effects of shifting to liquid coal for fuel.

The Senate also rejected sweeping changes to the tax code. The provisions would have created $28.5 billion in incentives for renewable power, biofuels, plug-in hybrids, and other technologies funded through new taxes on oil companies. Both the renewables requirement and tax plan had majority support but not the 60 votes required to shut off debate.

Both the Energy and Natural Resources and Environment and Public Works committees plan further action later on energy and climate issues.

F E D E R A L

House Transportation Committee Passes Energy & Climate Bill
PROVISIONS MAY BE INCLUDED IN HOUSE ENERGY BILL

Last week, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee marked up its contribution to the summer energy package promised by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The committee's action sends to the House floor a number of energy efficiency programs related to the transportation sector. Among the bill's key provisions are additional support for expanded commuter rail service, expanding use of alternative fuels, increasing the federal share for the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program, and program parity for rescissions of federal budget authority. The bill also expressed support for "complete streets" policies.

The bill lacks any proposals to dramatically reshape the country's national energy policy but represents an important step toward adopting policies that will reduce the nation's greenhouse emissions and dependence on foreign oil. The bill also acknowledges the vital role of transportation in addressing energy and climate issues. "Each of these [provisions] is an individual modest step but, added up, it's significant," said committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.).

The committee approved H.R. 2701, The Transportation Energy Security and Climate Change Mitigation Act, after voting on more than a dozen Republican amendments to the bill. Amendments targeting the bill's provisions on Amtrak, CMAQ, and the distribution of federal funds among transportation programs were all defeated. APA endorsed the bill and opposed the amendments designed to weaken its key provisions.

The markup came one week after Republicans forced the committee to postpone work because of a disagreement over the amendments. In the end, the only amendment that passed was one from Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) that directs the Transportation Department to study the feasibility of using coal-to-liquids technology.

F E D E R A L

House Continues Work on Global Warming
EPA SEEKS TO DELAY WAIVER DECISIONS UNTIL DECEMBER

Responding to criticism from their own party, the Democratic chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee backed down from plans to prohibit EPA from granting waivers to California and other states seeking to implement greenhouse gas emission reduction programs. Although Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.) agreed to pull the provisions from legislation pending in the committee, they may seek to insert similar language once the bill comes to the House floor.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson further clouded the outlook for resolution of the waiver issue by indicating that no decision would be made until December. California's Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened to sue EPA if the waiver isn't granted by October 22. Powerful Californians in Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, vow to keep up pressure on EPA to act.

The House is continuing to work on a variety of energy and climate bills. Speaker Pelosi hopes to have major global warming legislation on the floor of the House later this summer. The House took an important symbolic step on global warming last week by adopting a resolution as part of the FY 2008 Interior and Environment spending bill endorsing "mandatory steps" to address greenhouse gas emissions. An effort by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) to strip out the language was defeated 153–274.

F E D E R A L

House Explores the Benefits of Intercity Rail
CHAIRMAN CALLS FOR INCREASED AMTRAK SUPPORT

The House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials met last week to hear testimony on the benefits of intercity passenger rail. The hearing comes as Congress begins work on reauthorization legislation for Amtrak.

The subcommittee heard from three panels of witnesses ranging from state government officials to non-governmental organizations. The main focus of the hearing was Corridor Route Services, or shorter regional travel. Corridor trips account for about 81 percent of all intercity passenger rail trips, and Amtrak operates nearly all intercity passenger rail in the United States.

The hearing largely touted the positive role of rail in increasing mobility, travel choice, and economic development. Several witnesses spoke about benefits for further regional economic growth and neighborhood revitalization through stations and transit-oriented development strategies. The witnesses all called on Congress to provide more funding for Amtrak to provide intercity rail service. The president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Mark Schweiker, spoke specifically about the impact of rail in terms of congestion relief between New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) said "[W]e need to ensure passenger rail is a priority in the United States. We were once the premier country in passenger rail service and now we are dead last behind every other industrialized country in the world." She promised that her panel will aggressively pursue a reauthorization bill in the 110th Congress.

F E D E R A L

Senate Appropriations Committee Clears FY 2008 Interior, Environment Bill
PROVISION WOULD PROTECT SMART GROWTH OFFICE

Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2008 Interior, the Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations legislation. The bill provides more than $27 billion in overall spending and is approximately $1.5 billion more than the amount requested in the administration's budget. Among the biggest winners in the bill are the EPA Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund and the National Park Service.

In response to the recent Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Senate bill includes $2 million for the EPA to begin rulemaking on mandatory emissions reporting as part of the first steps toward meaningful greenhouse gas regulation. This will require EPA to use its existing authority under the Clean Air Act to develop and publish a rule requiring mandatory reporting from sectors of the economy that produce greenhouse gases.

The bill approved by the committee also contains language designed to protect the EPA smart growth program from proposed budget cuts. The administration's FY08 request redirected at least a third of the smart growth program's budget into other program areas. APA and partners have been working closely with Congress to prevent this highly effective program from losing its current levels of funding and staffing. The Senate language would limit EPA's ability to shift resources away from smart growth. Amendments calling for increases for EPA's smart growth efforts may be offered when the bill goes to the Senate floor.

S T A T E

Oregon Legislature Sends Measure 37 Rewrite to Voters
SPECIAL ELECTION SLATED FOR NOVEMBER 2007

After extended debate about how to fix the broken takings system established by 2004's Measure 37, the Oregon legislature approved H.B. 3540 during the closing hours of the 2007 session. The legislation will ask voters to weigh in on proposed revisions to Measure 37 in a special election this November.

The referendum is likely to spark a replay of the state's heated electoral battle over takings. Supporters of revision are encouraged by polls showing a majority in the state now oppose Measure 37. A new study from Oregon State University economists found the state's land-use laws have contributed directly to increased property values. The referendum will be known as Measure 49 and appears on the ballots as "Modifies Measure 37; clarifies right to build homes; limits large developments; protects farms, forests, groundwater."

The rewrite seeks to strike a balance between easing restrictions on some rural landowners while preventing abuses that threaten to lead to irresponsible development. The proposal eases the path for rural landowners who seek to build as many as three houses, although there are restrictions on high-value farmland and areas with groundwater shortages. Landowners who seek to build as many as 10 houses must prove losses in value, minus tax breaks they have received, and are limited to two sites.

Measure 49 would prohibit all claims for industrial and commercial development, including billboards and quarries, and protect water supplies by prohibiting claims for subdivisions in critical and limited groundwater areas. The proposal also seeks to correct the valuation methodology for claims.

1 comments:

Samuel D. Bornstein said...

Regarding the introduction of the "Affordable Housing Trust Fund Bill". This proposed bill is clearly in response to the SUBPRIME MORTGAGE LENDING CRISIS, whereby low and moderate income individuals have been hurt by abusive lending practices. It should be understood that the solution should not only be confined to throwing funds at purchasing homes. The most important ingredient is to educate these borrowers to be able to handle their finances and avoid financial errors which will lead to failure. The best way to help the borrower is to guide him/her with financial literacy which is currently lacking and causing harm.

We all need a better understanding of how to conduct our lives in this complex financial environment. There are tools which can help. My research has concluded that they will be effective, if we give them a try. It seems that with the impending catastrophe regarding SUBPRIME Loans, now is the best time to try a new and innovative approach which can save us from catastrophe in this crisis.

I wanted to share with you a new and innovative idea that may offer a solution to this crisis. I have submitted two comments on this crisis to the Federal Reserve Board. I presented them at the FRB hearing on HOEPA on June 14 in Washington, DC where the current crisis was discussed, and they appear on the FRB website.

I also will be giving a presentation to the Third Annual SUBPRIME ABS conference to be held in Las Vegas on Sept. 19-20, 2007. The Press release appears below.
IMN Announces Third Annual Subprime ABS: Where Are We Heading?

LET'S NOT REACT TO AN ACCIDENT, LET"S PREVENT ONE:



The key to the subprime crisis is the borrower, and no one has approached a solution from this direction. It seems that all we have been doing is watching helplessly while the subprime defaults and foreclosures threaten our economy with disaster.

This is a critical time. Everyone seems to be helplessly reacting to this crisis, whereas, we should be proactively involved in trying to lessen the impact of default and foreclosures by helping the borrower monitor his/her financial health. This way, the borrower will be guided to “stay-on-track” and avoid financial harm. A by-product will also be an improved credit score for the borrower. This is a win-win situation for all involved.

By way of introduction, I have been involved with research in the subprime crisis and its impact on the lending community. I attended the Federal Reserve Board hearing on HOEPA on June 14, 2007, and I submitted two comments which suggested a solution to this crisis. As an educator for the past 30 years as well as a practicing CPA and Consultant for 30 years as well, I have approached this issue from a unique perspective. I would like to suggest a "proactive" solution. Let’s not be “reactive”, let’s be “proactive”.

There is something that can be done, and it requires that we recognize the key player in this drama: THE BORROWER. The financial health and financial literacy of the borrower will have a major impact on the situation. I suggest a new and innovative approach using Artificial Intelligence to help monitor the financial health of the borrower and enable the borrower to be better able to payoff the mortgage and be prepared for “payment shock”.

It is not enough to consider the borrower’s income as the sole factor in determining qualification for the loan. There are other factors that should be considered such as spending patterns, other debt, credit card balances, and other variables that are unique to each borrower. This can be accomplished using AI as a tool to not only help the borrower qualify for the loan, but it can also be used during the most critical period, the years of paying-off the loan, to monitor the financial health of the borrower. My two comments to the Federal Reserve Board spell out my solution.

The key to any mortgage is having the capacity to payoff the loan, not just simply qualifying for the loan. What good is lending to the borrower, who is lacking in financial literacy, if he/she unknowingly will be making the wrong borrowing and spending decisions which will result in loan default? I believe that the subprime borrower will welcome this guidance because at this time, this borrower is helplessly failing in record numbers!

I believe that both the borrower and the lending community will benefit. This can be accomplished by providing the borrower with an impartial evaluation of the borrower’s ability to afford the loan and it will help monitor the borrower during the course of paying off the loan. The borrower will have greater confidence in the loan decision, and the lender will gain confidence in the borrower’s ability to qualify and repay the loan. This process will lower the probability of delinquency, default, and foreclosure. The analysis will also provide an opportunity for “due diligence” on the part of the lender. In effect, the lender will be able to rely upon this impartial analysis and fulfill the lender’s fiduciary responsibilities.

I welcome your contact on this issue.

Best Regards,

Samuel D. Bornstein, CPA, MBA, BME
Professor of Accounting & Taxation
School of Business
Kean University, Union, NJ

Bornstein & Song, CPAs
Certified Public Accountants & Consultants
P.O. Box 627
Oakhurst, NJ 07755-0627

Tel: (732) 493 - 3399
(732) 493 - 4799
Cell: (908) 433 - 6744

Email: bornsteinsong@aol.com