Roundtable Weekly - November 8, 2019

Affordable Housing

Senate Banking Committee Considers Legislation to Promote Affordable Housing; White House Hosts Housing Roundtable


The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on Thursday held a hearing, "Examining Bipartisan Bills to Promote Affordable Housing Access and Safety," to discuss bipartisan legislation aimed at expanding access to affordable housing generally and improving safety conditions in federally-assisted housing specifically.

  • Among the bills considered at the hearing were:
    • the HUD Manufactured Housing Modernization Act (S.1804).  This bill would confirm for state and local recipients of funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (such as Community Development Block Grants), that manufactured housing is eligible for public dollars for construction and repair; and
    • the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act (H.R. 4300), which advanced unanimously by the House of Representatives’ Financial Services Committee in September.  This bill would authorize HUD to allocate Section 8 housing choice vouchers directly to any public housing agency that aims to assist youths aging out of foster care and at risk of losing their housing safety net.
  • The Roundtable advocates that safe, decent and affordable housing is essential to the well-being of America's families, communities and businesses.  The Roundtable is developing a multi-faceted strategy and is assessing policies such as those that encourage:
    • State and local governments to adopt and implement Yes in My Backyard (“YIMBY”) land-use policies to entitle affordable housing projects, such as high-density zoning and expanding by-right multifamily zoned areas;
    • Development of low-income and workforce housing units as a priority when the U.S. government disposes under-utilized and surplus federal properties;
    • Construction of manufactured housing – the only form of housing regulated by a Federal building code that includes standards for health, safety, and energy efficiency – as a gateway that opens the door for homeownership for millions of families;
    • Increased support for HUD’s Section 8 voucher program to assist very low-income, elderly, and disabled Americans to afford housing in the private market; and
    • Modernizing the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac through GSE reform, to focus their mission on providing liquidity in mortgage markets geared toward low-income and middle-class home ownership.
  • On November 1, Roundtable President and CEO, Jeffrey D. DeBoer, raised these priorities in a housing affordability summit at the White House with HUD Secretary Ben Carson and other industry leaders.  DeBoer’s comments followed on the heels of Secretary Carson’s remarks to The Roundtable several days prior at its 2019 Fall Meeting.  (Roundtable Weekly, November 1, 2019).    

The Roundtable will continue to work with our industry partners, the Administration, and Congress to implement a multifaceted strategy that addresses the nation’s housing affordability crisis.

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Opportunity Zones

Lawmakers Seek Greater Opportunity Zone Oversight and Information Reporting, Float Possible Reforms

Treasury Department x475

In response to allegations that the Treasury Secretary improperly intervened in the designation of certain census tracts as Opportunity Zones, key Democratic lawmakers put forward proposals this week to enhance Opportunity Zone information reporting, reform aspects of the tax incentives, and formally investigate the reports of wrongdoing.

  • The allegations, published in the New York Times, have been denied by both Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Michael Milken, the implicated private investor.  (Bloomberg, Oct. 29, 2019) (Letter from Michael Milken to the Milken Institute Community)
  • On Monday, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Richie Neal (D-MA) and the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced they were launching an investigation to determine “whether political appointees interfered in the process to potentially steer millions in tax breaks to longtime associates.”  (Letter to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin requesting a wide range of documents and records.)
  • The same day, Chairman Neal, Senator Wyden, Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman John Lewis (D-GA), and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) sent a letter asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to collect and analyze information about how the Opportunity Zones incentive has been implemented by Treasury and the IRS, how census tracts were designated as Opportunity Zones, what compliance measures were used to ensure adherence to the law, and how the Treasury Department can measure the effectiveness of the tax incentive.
  • Just two day later, on Wednesday, Senator Wyden introduced the Opportunity Zone Reporting and Reform Act (S. 2787).  Under the bill, in addition to requiring greater taxpayer reporting, certain previously certified census tracts would no longer qualify as Opportunity Zones.  Several types of real estate assets would be blacklisted and ineligible for investment (e.g., self-storage property, stadiums, casinos).  In the case of opportunity funds that are renovating or rehabilitating existing structures, the bill would increase the level of new investment required to qualify for benefits.
  • The Wyden bill would exclude multifamily housing as an eligible Opportunity Zone investment unless 50 percent or more of the housing units are rent-restricted and occupied by tenants whose income is 50 percent or less of the area median income.  (Detailed Summary)
  • If enacted, the restriction on multifamily housing could have a profound negative impact on future Opportunity Zone investment.  New research indicates that multifamily construction starts represented over one-half (53.2%) of the total commercial real estate investment in Opportunity Zones over the last 18 months.  (CBRE, Multifamily Development: A Bright Spot in Opportunity Zone Initiative, Nov. 6, 2019)
  • Also on Wednesday, Representatives Ron Kind (D-WI), Mike Kelly (R-PA), and Terri Sewell (D-AL) unveiled bipartisan draft legislation to enhance reporting requirements for opportunity funds.  The Opportunity Zone Accountability and Transparency Act would require opportunity funds to submit annual information reports that would be publicly available.  In the case of real estate investments, funds would report information such as: the aggregate amount invested, structures’ square footage, the number of residential units, the number of low-income residential units, and the number of employees, Failure to report information accurately could trigger a penalty up to $200,000.

Since its enactment, The Real Estate Roundtable has strongly supported the Opportunity Zone tax incentives as a potential powerful catalyst for transformational real estate investment in economically struggling parts of the country. Through its Tax Policy Advisory Committee and Opportunity Zone Working Group, The Roundtable has played an active role throughout the lengthy rulemaking process, offering constructive comments and recommendations to Treasury officials. (GlobeSt.com interview with Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer) (Roundtable Weekly, Dec. 21, 2018)

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Foreign Investment In U.S. Real Estate

EB-5 Reform Bill Introduced in Senate; DHS Regulations Scheduled to Take Effect November 21

U.S. Capitol

A comprehensive legislative overhaul of the EB-5 investment program was introduced in the Senate on Tuesday – as both the program’s expiration and the effective date for new agency regulations are expected on November 21.

  • The Immigrant Investor Program Reform Act (S. 2778), sponsored by Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD), Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and John Cornyn (R-TX), would extend the EB-5 regional center program until September 30, 2025.  The bill includes a comprehensive suite of long overdue measures to deter fraud and optimize national security protections, in the context of inbound foreign investment capital that helps finance U.S. economic development and spur American job growth. 
  • Key elements of S. 2778  include provisions to: 
    • Establish an EB-5 Integrity Fund to provide rigorous program oversight, to be funded by regional center participants;
    • Provide DHS with improved investigative tools to ensure that an investor’s funds are derived from legitimate and lawful sources;
    • Clarify DHS’s authority to deny or revoke immigrant investor petitions for reasons including fraud, misrepresentation, or national security concerns;
    • Allow bona fide sovereign wealth funds to co-invest in projects supported by EB-5 capital;
    • Provide visa “set asides” to help direct EB-5 capital to projects in rural areas and census tracts designated by the U.S. Treasury as “opportunity zones”; and
    • Establish new investment levels to $1 million for projects in rural and opportunity zone Targeted Employment Areas (TEAs); and to $1.1 million for non-TEA projects.

     

  • Compromise reform principles set forth by a coalition of rural and urban stakeholders in May reflect a number of provisions in the new bill.  (Roundtable Weekly, May 17, 2019)
  • The rural and urban business interests recommending EB-5 modernization have consistently urged holistic reforms from Congress, as opposed to piecemeal regulatory changes by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  (Roundtable Weekly, March 8, 2019)  The imminent agency regulations – scheduled to take effect on November 21, unless they are superseded by Congress – do not accomplish important objectives set forth in the Rounds-Graham-Cornyn bill, such as the fraud deterrence provisions, national security enhancements, and visa set asides for investors in rural and distressed urban area projects.  (Roundtable Weekly, July 26, 2019

November 21 is also the date that the underlying legislative authorization of the program expires, as connected to the current continuing resolution (CR) that keeps the federal government running.  For the past five years, Congress has consistently extended the EB-5 regional center program concurrently with spending measures that continue federal operations.  The timing of the DHS rules’ effectiveness and the program’s expiration on November 21, along with S. 2778’s introduction, are expected to spur new rounds of legislative negotiation for long-term EB-5 reform in the coming weeks.

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