U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Sept. 24 participated in an exclusive webinar that more than 1,000 members and invited guests registered to attend and discussed the need to address the lumber crisis as well as HUD's actions to address housing needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke noted that lumber prices are up more than 160% since mid-April and have added more than $16,000 to the price of a new single-family home. NAHB is urging U.S. lumber producers to ramp up production and asking the Trump administration to engage in new softwood lumber talks with Canada in order to eliminate tariffs averaging more than 20% on Canadian lumber shipments into the United States. Fowke asked Carson if he could make it a priority to add a sense of urgency with the administration.
Carson said that rising lumber prices are "a big roadblock" and that he would seek to "elevate" this issue by engaging with other top administration officials.
The HUD secretary also noted that the administration effectively eliminated the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule — which he said was so unworkable that only roughly one-third of applicants could figure it out — and replaced it with the Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice rule.
"This rule is a much clearer way for communities to meet their obligation to affirmatively further fair housing while still honoring the core tenet of federalism, that local citizens should govern themselves," said Carson.
On a related matter in a Q&A session with the HUD secretary, NAHB Second Vice Chairman Jerry Konter noted that many members were deeply offended by President Trump's remarks implying that suburban residents would no longer be bothered by low-income housing in suburban neighborhoods as a result of the updated rule.
"A lot of people took the president’s comments the wrong way," said Carson. "The AFFH rule was very cumbersome. We believe that multifamily housing can be built anywhere but it needs to be done carefully and based on the ideals of people living in that jurisdiction rather than people in Washington, D.C.
"America's suburbs are a shining example of the American Dream, where people of all backgrounds can achieve homeownership," he added. "We have already seen jurisdictions make strong progress promoting fair housing at the local level, and they will continue to do so without complicated certification processes from unelected Washington bureaucrats that would inevitably lead to blanket national policies on intimate local issues."
NAHB Third Vice Chair Alicia Huey noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's nationwide order to halt eviction for millions of renters through Dec. 31 provides no mechanism to recover back rent payments owed or any financial assistance to aid small business property owners.
Asked what the administration and HUD are doing to provide financial assistance to struggling renters and housing providers, Carson responded that his agency has already provided billions of dollars in housing assistance and has "pretty much depleted the coffers."
Carson added that it will be up to Congress to provide a rental assistance program to help renters and landlords. "That seems to be locked up in political arguments right now," he said. "I suspect after the election they [Congress] will come up with something but hope they will act before then."
Turning to the topic of opportunity zones, Carson said that in the last two years they have spurred $75 billion in private sector investment and created at least 500,000 new jobs in designated Opportunity Zone tracts.
"But that’s not all," he added. "The Opportunity Zone designation alone has caused a 1.1% increase in home values within these zones, which translates into an estimated $11 billion in new wealth for low-income communities."
Reflecting the clout that NAHB wields in Washington, Carson concluded his remarks by stating: "We appreciate the tremendous wisdom we get from you [NAHB] and will continue to use that in all of our policymaking."