Roundtable to House Committee: Balance Housing and Energy Efficiency Priorities

The Real Estate Roundtable asked House lawmakers on Wednesday to direct the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to reconsider a recent federal energy codes rule because it does not adequately consider impacts on affordable housing. (Roundtable Statement, May 22 for House Hearing)

HUD’s Energy Codes Rule

  • Last month, HUD and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a joint rule that applies the most recent, stringent—and costly—model energy code standards to new residential construction receiving the agencies’ financial support. (Roundtable Weekly, May 3)
  • The rule would apply to both single- and multifamily homes covered by HUD and USDA programs, including homes backed with federal mortgage insurance. HUD itself estimated the rule would add at least $7,229 to the cost of building a new single-family home. (HUD’s rule | House subcommittee memo)
  • The May 22 House hearing considered how HUD’s rule and other green building policies impact homeownership, price buyers out of the market, and burden renters. The National Association of Home Builders testified at the hearing, and the National Multifamily Housing Council and National Apartment Association submitted a joint statement. (Subcommittee hearing YouTube video)

Roundtable Recommendations

  • The Roundtable’s statement explained that policymakers must prioritize both the climate crisis and our nation’s housing crisis, but that HUD’s federal codes rule is not balanced and should be re-considered.
  • The new nationwide rule imposing the highest energy efficiency standards, currently adopted by only a handful of states, must be assessed in light of the Biden-Harris administration’s goals to address the serious U.S. housing shortage and create two million affordable units. (Biden Administration Affordable Housing Policy Fact Sheet, March 7)
  • RER’s letter also explained how the new federal codes rule adds yet another layer to a stacked mix of stringent government rules and other headwinds that have made single- and multifamily housing construction a “hyper-regulated business.”
  • Reducing buildings’ energy use and climate emissions are critical policies, but the Administration should not pass new regulations that “make the housing crisis worse,” The Roundtable explained. A more balanced re-assessment of HUD’s and USDA’s action is warranted.

This week’s hearing follows House testimony recently delivered by Roundtable President and CEO Jeff DeBoer, who reinforced the messages that the health of commercial and residential real estate markets are intertwined—and excessive regulations that make housing prices and rents unaffordable for working-class families must be avoided. (DeBoer’s April 30 oral statement and written testimony | Roundtable Weekly, April 30)

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Biden Administration Determines Federally-Financed Housing Construction Must Comply with Costly “Model Energy Codes”

The Biden administration recently issued a “final determination” that all new single- and multifamily homes financed with federal mortgages must be built to stringent “model energy codes.” The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates this federal mandate on residential construction will add at least $7,229 to the cost of building a new single-family home, effectively establishing a disincentive to increase the supply of affordable housing—a federal policy strongly opposed by The Roundtable. (Bloomberg, April 25 and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), April 26)

Federal Compliance

  • The Roundtable believes this new federal regulation will reduce the supply of housing, increase home prices and rents, and make it more difficult for buyers to assemble a down payment.

  • The “final determination” from HUD and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is, in effect, a new federal-level building energy code that could impact approximately 150,000 units per year.
  • Although the energy code update technically takes effect May 28, the dates for “compliance” are May 2025 for multifamily, Nov. 2025 for single-family homes, and May 2026 for homes in “persistent poverty rural areas.” (NAHB, April 26)
  • This action stands in stark contrast to a set of policy recommendations submitted this week by The Roundtable and a broad real estate coalition aimed at broadening housing supply and lowering costs. (Coalition letter to House policymakers, April 29 and Affordable Housing story, above)
  • Additionally, Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer testified on April 30 before a House Oversight Subcommittee on the need to “create more effective incentives and programs to stimulate the production of affordable housing.” (see Policy Landscape story, above)

Varying Energy Standards

  • The HUD-USDA notice may also conflict directly with local energy codes in jurisdictions throughout the country.
  • The federal action will require all HUD- and USDA-financed new single-family construction housing to be built to the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). All HUD-financed multifamily housing must be built to 2021 IECC or ASHRAE 90.1-2019.

Zero Emissions Buildings (ZEB)

Apartment building with carbon neutral design
  • As Bloomberg reported, the Biden administration also issued this latest update as part of a larger effort to modernize building codes to reach its climate goals. Earlier this year, the Biden administration issued a draft of a federal definition for a Zero Emissions Buildings (ZEB). (Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 5)
  • RER and Nareit submitted comments on Feb. 2 to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on the draft ZEB definition, which would impose no federal mandates. (Joint comments’ cover letter and addendum | Roundtable ZEB Fact Sheet, Jan. 18 | Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 5)

The Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC) will discuss the repercussions of the HUD-USDA rule during its next meeting on June 21 in Washington, DC.

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