For 30 years, we’ve been in the business of providing government relations guidance on appropriations, community development, housing and tax issues--working with leaders in the housing and community development industry to push back against the downward trend in federal investments for these programs. On Friday, Congress completed action on the 2016 omnibus spending bill, and a tax extender bill called the PATH Act (Protecting American Against a Tax Hike Act.) The president signed both into law that same day.  Enactment of this legislation is a significant accomplishment allowing housing and community development organizations to expand on their success and reach more communities in need. In short, it’s been a very good year for community development; one of the best in a long time.

Over the last 30 some years, there has been a 75 percent reduction in federal investment in community development programs, as measured as a share of GDP. As this trend grew, we worked with rural housing and community development clients to ensure they received the funding necessary to continue providing the essential development opportunities and services needed by low-income communities left outside the economic mainstream. The omnibus tax bills are a great affirmation of the value of this work.

ADVERTISEMENT

The PATH Act totals some $620 billion over 10 years. The tax bill includes a long-term, five-year extension of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), which is a federal credit that incentivizes investments for community development projects in low-income communities. As a result, $17.5 billion would be available for NMTC allocations over the five years.

The FY 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, with $1.1 trillion in appropriations, is $50 billion above the FY 2015 comparable level. The omnibus not only maintains funding for several of the housing and community development programs on which we focus, but it also offers some increases, including the most funding for Rural Housing programs in a generation as well as  the highest funding level in history of the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund.

The omnibus funding level is a relatively small increase overall, less than 5 percent, but it cleared the way for a reasonably good outcome and stems the trend of cutting programs aimed at revitalizing our nation’s most hard-hit communities. The five-year extension for NMTC is a big win on that plane too.

Working with the National Rural Housing Coalition, the CDFI Coalition, the NMTC Coalition, Community Development Corporations, Rural Community Assistance Partnership, Friends of the SBA Microloan Program, as well as several other organizations to help them share their stories of community impact, we’ve had great success educating decision-makers on the importance of more robust funding for their work  In the end, it is the work of these organizations in rural and urban communities across America that is the most convincing argument for federal housing and community development policy.

As a result, many members of Congress stepped in and have served as advocates and leaders for these housing and community development programs. Congressional champions have pointed to the work of the organizations in their districts and states to lead letters to peers, calling for a restoration of funds and additional resources during the House and Senate appropriations process. Members of Congress have spoken to the media and have gone to the House or Senate floor, highlighting the need for safe, affordable housing, small business, rural water system assistance, community revitalization efforts s addressed by the housing and community development industry.

With the omnibus restoring funding levels for some of these programs that had been slated for reductions, and record funding levels for several other programs, Congressional leaders and the White House have recognized the hard work of housing and community development organizations in underserved communities and the need for it to continue. Moreover, the long-term extension of the New Markets Tax Credit recognizes the value of encouraging the private sector to play a role in distressed communities’ revitalization.

Both of these bills are steps forward on the housing and community development front, not only for the organizations that have worked hard to educate Congress on the need for funding, but also for the low-income rural and urban communities they serve.

Rapoza is founder and president of Rapoza Associates, a public interest lobbying and government relations firm located in Washington, D.C