Inside Washington: A lobbyist’s view

At the NLBMDA Legislative Conference, housing is in focus.

BY Ken Clark

Washington, D.C. – It didn’t take long for housing affordability or the labor shortage to check into the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association’s 2019 Legislative Conference. A veteran housing industry lobbyist dove into both topics, and a few others, to kick off an early-morning Washington Briefing Breakfast here on Tuesday.

Jerry Howard, CEO of the D.C.-based National Association of Home Builders, predicted that housing affordability will be an important issue in the 2020 elections, and it’s one of the keys to the NAHB’s lobbying efforts currently. Rising costs, regulations and the much-discussed labor shortage all play a role in the affordability issue.

The Washington Briefing also included remarks from Representative John Curtis (R-UT), who described lumber dealers as “the cogs of the machinery of this country.”

NAHB CEO Jerry Howard in Washington, D.C.

As for labor issue, the NAHB is supporting the training and placement of a variety of groups: veterans (including homeless veterans), at-risk youth and even medium-security prisoners. The effort, he said, helps the labor problem and also helps society in general.

“We have to do something to increase our labor supply,” said the CEO of the NAHB, whose interests are often in line with those of the NLBMDA.

The rising cost of building materials plays a role in affordability, and forest management could mitigate the problem. He said countries with more advanced forest policies – Sweden, Germany and Russia, for instance – “laugh at the way we manage our forests.”

The rising cost of housing is fueled by regulatory compliance costs, which account for about 30% of the cost of a home, he said. And that’s a good reason for the industry to raise their voice in the halls of power.

Howard said lobbying is the “closest thing to a sport that adult people can play.” And he encouraged the pro dealers in the audience to visit their representatives on Capitol Hill with an attitude of “they work for you.”

Representatives in congress clearly don’t readily work with each other, however, and the level of in-fighting and mutual antagonism is higher today than ever, said Howard — at least in his years in Washington.

Two key groups that the NAHB is working to influence are the New Democratic Coalition, of central leaning Democrats. Also the “Problem-Solvers Caucus,” a bipartisan group of about 50 legislators — half Republican, half Democrat — are a focus. He described both of these groups as “incredibly important” to any kind of progress on legislation.

The breakfast briefing was sponsored by Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Do it Best Corp.

Howard’s presentation was followed by one from Representative John Curtis (R-UT). The former mayor of Provo, Utah, said that Washington, D.C.’s partisan battles aren’t as toxic as you might think, and he pointed to passage of numerous bills to attack the national opioid problem.

“A lot of good is happening that is never talked about,” he said.


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