Affordable-Housing Advocates Feeling Overlooked

Late last year, the Obama administration convened a conference aimed at addressing national housing policy. The 12-member panel discussed financing and affordability, among other things. Though many agree that the conference was necessary, many affordable-housing advocates feel the discussion panel lacked diversity.

Two separate panels were convened; Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner led one, the other was led by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Panelists included six corporate executives, five members of academic institutions, and just one member from a civil rights organization.

The main complaint affordable housing advocates had with the conference was the lack of community organizations. Not one community organization was represented on either panel. The lack of representation has some advocates worried that housing policy changes would focus on benefits to big business and wealthy investors, rather than the low- and middle-income people who need access to low-income housing, especially since some of the panelists have been heavily involved in mortgage-back securities investments.

Excluding community organizations means the entities through which a large portion of low-income housing dollars are funneled played only a small part in the discussion. Though most HUD money is allocated to city, county and state governments, a high percentage of affordable housing projects are funded through non-profit entities that receive grants from local municipalities.

The criticism is an unusual turn for affordable-housing advocates who have historically praised the Obama administration for favoring the advice of community organizations over corporations and academics with regards to affordable housing strategy. It’s also an unusual turn for the Obama administration, which has often championed the need for affordable housing.

Andrew William, a spokesman for the U.S. Treasury Department said “a number of consumer advocates” lent their voices to the panel discussions, but he didn’t specify who those advocates were.