Monday, October 24, 2005

Congress May Restrict Non-Profit Role in Housing

The US House of Representatives is currently considering Government Sponsored Enterprises regulatory reform legislation (HR 1461). The bill, among other things, establishes a national Affordable Housing Fund (AHF) to support grants for the "production, preservation and rehabilitation of rental housing" and "housing for homeownership." The AHF would be funded entirely without taxpayer dollars by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Members of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), a group of conservative lawmakers, have opposed the AHF measure (which was ironically introduced and sponsored by Republicans). The RSC has led an effort to amend the bill to severely restrict the role of non-profit groups in the federal affordable housing program. Specifically, the amended bill would prohibit non-profit organizations from receiving grants from the AHF if:

  • the organization does not have housing as its primary focus; or
  • has engaged in any voter registration efforts within one year of applying for the grant; or
  • has any affiliation with any other organization that engages in voter registration

Interestingly, the RSC-led amendment exempts for-profit businesses from the above restrictions.

This attempt to exclude many of the most effective affordable housing organizations in the country from the AHF grant program is reprehensible! The RSC proposes to force these non-profits to choose between helping those they serve to participate in that most basic of our democratic rights, the right to vote, on one hand, and receiving an AHF grant on the other.

What possible harm does it do to register citizens to vote? And why should participation in a voter registration drive prohibit a non-profit organization from receiving an affordable housing grant? Why exempt for-profit businesses from these restrictions? Is the RSC simply worried that the non-profits might register more Democrats?

I don't know the answers to those questions, but I believe that AHF grant program is a worthwhile cause and Congress ought not restrict the right of non-profit organizations to participate. The law has sufficient safeguards in it to ensure that the grant is used for the intended purpose. I urge those interested to contact their Congressional representative and voice their support for the Federal Housing Finance Reform Act of 2005 (HR 1461) while opposing the unreasonable restrictions on non-profit organizations. Act now, the bill may come to the floor this week!

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