Following some unrecorded introductions (due to technical difficulties), Congressman Dan Newhouse begins speaking.
Congressman Newhouse: Well let me start by saying how much I appreciate this opportunity to talk to Tri-City Realtors, to have an open conversation, hear your concerns, hear your priorities, listen to your issues and help me understand some of the challenges and issues you’re facing. I really value this time, I’m going to be taking notes tonight so I can learn and I hope we have a great 2 way conversation. It’s my estimation that Washington DC, and perhaps any of you will agree with me, had taken a top down approach, and I like the fact that we can work to solutions, to look for more of a bottom up approach method of getting where we need to be. So that’s the underlying agenda for tonight and I appreciate many of you for taking the time from your busy schedules to share some of your concerns. So before we begin, I wanted to talk about a couple of things that are going on today in Congress, some of which I believe will have a positive impact on the housing market. Earlier this year, back in February, there was some legislation that I supported to reform some of the housing policies that we have in this country, and I think this was an effort that, really, touched off in for the first time in many years, specifically HR3700, which was the “Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act”. As you may notice, people come up with some really clever names for things around here. This updated some rules for FHA Condominiums. It limited financing if less than half the units in the complex were Owner Occupied, which limited options for folks to buy. So that was essentially reduced to 35 percent in July and touched on some pretty onerous provisions on condominium lending. It also insured Veterans would have fair access to housing and homeless assistance programs. It authorized the Rural Housing Service Single family housing guaranteed loan program that will help delegate approval authority to preferred lenders. It also extended the period for which a family could use a family unification housing voucher and increased the ceiling for that housing voucher age requirement. It also provides a thoughtful limitation on Public Housing Tenancy for Over Income Residents. Another ongoing effort, I’ve been hearing from a lot of different Secretary’s, is reigning in the Dodd-Frank laws as well as some of the unaccountable Federal Agencies including the CFPB, which has become a four-letter-word around here, it’s the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which among many things, it’s made it harder to lend and harder for people to own a home. Under Dodd-Frank, and there’s some really interesting trans-happening in the Country, and we’ve been seeing a tremendous consolidation of the banking industry, as you know, hitting some of our community banks especially hard. This was a number I was really surprised and disheartened to learn, there are now fewer banks in the country than there were during the height of the great depression, right around 6500 banks. I also want to briefly want to mention, with the end of the fiscal year approaching, a lot of people are focused on Congress and its efforts to pass a Continuing Resolution which will fund the Government, talk is now through at least December. Let me tell you a CR, which is called for short, in my view, is far from an ideal process, all it does continue current spending levels and I think by doing that, we really give up the, a lot of people like to point to is the authority Congress has at the Power of the Purse. It’s critical, I think, we turn back to a normal appropriations processes, or some people refer to as “regular order” where we develop appropriations bills, it goes through the committee process, each bill is debated, discussed, before voted on the House Floor. That’s what I want to see us getting back to, and I know our Speaker Ryan has that as a goal. So like I said, this not a period of time that I’m just gonna talk, I want to hear from you. I want this to be a good two-way discussion, that way I better understand some of the things you feel are important, so with that, I’m happy to take your questions and look forward to your input.
Moderator: Thank you Congressman. I’m very excited to getting to out questions on the call. Not everyone can make it on the call tonight, so we were able to get some questions from some of those who weren’t able to make it. So the first question is “Where do you see flood insurance going, and can you see flood insurance being part of the market?”
Congressman Newhouse: Well I think certainly flood insurance has to be accessible, it has to be affordable, but what we’ve seen over the past few years is that the program itself has to be sustainable, so I think there’s definitely a space for Federal programs to make sure we can accomplish all three of those things, that flood insurance is affordable to homeowners, accessible to them, but that the program which I think, as you know though some of the natural disasters we’ve had over the last few years has really gotten out of whack in the amount of claims paid out, and certainly won’t argue hasn’t been a sustainable program, some reform efforts have been made and I will continue to support passage of those efforts to make sure that we keep a sustainable program. One of the things I have supported, I’ve introduced an ability for private insurance carriers to enter the market. I think that would give consumers an option. I also think, by doing that, I want to make sure they have parity with the government program so they can be competitive and be able to be successful in that business. Like I said, the underlying priority is to make sure that are no way are they accessible, affordable, but also sustainable.
Moderator: Thank you. Question number 2 comes from a caller on the line:
Caller 1: Thank you Congressman Newhouse for the opportunity to talk to you today. A couple of questions. I’m from the West Richland area, the Tri-City Association of Realtors, and one of the things that’s been in the works for a while is an off-ramp in our area, and I was recently visiting with the Port of Kennewick and they were telling me that the off-ramp, even though it’s in the Urban Growth Boundary, it was going to be put on the back burner with the Dept of Transportation in regards to a bridge going into the Pasco are. Have you heard anything with that happening?
Congressman Newhouse: Is that with the State Department of Transportation?
Moderator: I thought it was Federal because they were talking Federal Highways and things. I’m pretty sure they were talking about it Federally.
Congressman Newhouse: Yeah, I know the community has been looking for Federal funds as well. I think the State did authorize… I’m trying to remember… I read an article in the newspaper about that recently to get that interchange put into place… and I think you are absolutely right, I think there was more to it than that, than a bridge in Pasco… I’m trying to remember, but there’s something, there was another dynamic to it, but I think there is a grant process that the County has been very active in, in fact one of the County Commissioners and I have gone out to look at the area where the interchange would be located, so I know there is a lot from the County going towards this. As far as a holdup on a Pasco Bridge, I’m going to have to look into that deeper, if you’ll allow me to do that…? If you can leave us your information, I will get back to you on what I find out.
Moderator: Thank you Congressman. I wanted to take another opportunity to thank you. Here is the next question: The USDA Housing Loan Program is a vital tool for the District, and I wanted to thank you for your help in protecting and improving the program, and I was wondering if you would be willing to expand a little on that. Why you believe it’s important to protect and improve that program.
Congressman Newhouse: Yes, and let me just say call my office at 509-713-7374 and we can continue the conversation on the interchange off I-82. But I appreciate the comment about the USDA 514 Housing Program. I’m very supportive, in fact, I’m reminded almost every weekend that I’m home because I drive by one of those projects in the city of Granger, so I’m reminded about the success of that as well as the potential for what that could mean for housing in Central Washington. So I think as far as the state goes, we utilize the On Farm Housing tremendously, we’re one of the top states when it comes to utilizing the H2A Program and I think we have an opportunity to blend the two, to meld the two together, to take advantage of two good programs and that would fulfill a tremendous need in Central Washington as we’re looking for options for agriculture labor. So I’m very supportive, and I’m looking for ways we can improve those to meet these needs.
Moderator: Thank you Congressman.
Congressman Newhouse: Please let me also mention, the Yakima office is 452-3243 and the Washington DC is 202-225-5816. I just wanted to get that in.
Moderator: Awesome thanks. Let’s go ahead and take another question from one of our members who could not participate in the call tonight: Congressman, do you see tax reform in 2017, specifically, which may take away the mortgage interest deductions or the 2nd home mortgage deductions or the 1031 exchange or anything like that?
Congressman Newhouse: Well I do see tax reform efforts on the horizon, in fact, that’s part of the agenda that the House Republicans have put together, part of what we call our “Better Way”, there’s an effort to simplify our tax system… in fact, on Thursday morning I’ll be going to a meeting to hear the next step forward on the efforts that we’ll be putting forth there. I don’t have specifics on any necessarily any efforts yet, but as far as “simplification” goes, I’m not sure what that will look like, but I can say some of the things you mention such as the mortgage interest deduction or the 1031 program or other kinds of things may or may not be on the table, but I think it’s’ safe to safe to say that in a “simplification conversation” looking at the big picture to try to improve the tax situation for Americans, we’re going to be talking about a lot of things, so I guess my, what I would tell you, everyone, in the real estate business, to make sure that your voices are heard in this conversation. I’ll need to be able to express on your behalf what your priorities are from your perspective and I because intend to be very engaged in this process, I think it’s a very important part of our agenda. I think our tax code is overly complicated, and I think that simplification is something that a lot of people will welcome, but I also know that it’s not going to be an easy process, and so I know, like I said, we’re very preliminary in this at this point. There’s nothing on the proverbial chopping block that I know of at this time, but it shouldn’t be a broad conversation. I understand the positive influence of some of the programs like the Mortgage Interest Deduction. Those kinds of things are key in insuring the housing market remains strong and folks can make that decision, probably one of their biggest buying decisions of their lifetime, and I want to make sure that we leave things in place that will continue to build strong communities, but like I said, my biggest message to you is let’s make sure that the Realtors’ are at the table when we’re discussing what Tax Reform looks like. I hope that’s not too long of an answer, and we’re just getting started in this conversation.
Moderator: Definitely not too long of an answer Congressman. We have another caller live on the line, caller, you are live on the live to ask the Congressman.
Caller 2: Hi Congressman Newhouse, I work for a real estate brokerage in your district, and we appreciate the relationship with you and the open door we have with your office. It’s really appreciated. I wanted to ask if you’ve heard anything about Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac restructuring.
Congressman Newhouse: These days I’m not sure if I hear anything, to tell you the truth. I don’t know of any pending legislation or reform efforts. I guess, to better understand what you are asking, let me turn it around: Is there something that I need to know that needs to be happening with Fannie Mae or Freddy Mac?
Caller 2: Well, I think past proposals were probably quite a bit more extreme than what we think needs to happen, so in some sense, I suppose no news on this front is probably good news.
Congressman Newhouse: OK, I believe Chairman Hensarling in the Financial Services Committee… I sat with him in a meeting a few months ago, I’m trying to remember, but I don’t think there were any large fixes in the works. It seems like there may be some small, what you might call “technical fixes” perhaps, and I can’t even tell you what those were… so I suppose if you say “no news is good news”, that’s what I’m hearing.
Moderator: Thanks Congressman. We have another question from another member who could not be here tonight: What do you see as a future or solution to the EPA rule on Waters of the US.
Congressman Newhouse: We’ll, we’re getting a new administration in January. As to what that administration’s priorities will be as it relates to this rule change remains to be seen. As you know currently, I think you may know it’s still tied up in the Courts, being challenged by more than two dozen states, I believe, so it’s being blocked from going into effect, at least until going through the court challenge. I’m not sure what the timeline may be for any decision there. We, in Congress, have made several efforts to dismantle Waters of the United States… it’s been a… I tell you, it’s one of those things I’m getting tired of hearing. It’s like it’s constantly part of the conversation to dismantle or change. There are Federal things happening in the Appropriations Process that would essentially ban the WotUS Rule from going into effect, so it’s like we’re waiting for the courts to take action while moving forward as best we can to prevent it from going into place. This is, in my estimation, is a huge overreach on the part of the EPA, one that has huge implications. As you all know, I’m a farmer. I’m very concerned about the implications it might have on my land, my neighbor’s land. I’m sure it has a potential tremendous impact and might have an impact on the Realty business as well, so it’s something we’re staying very engaged in, and I shouldn’t say, because I have no idea who’s going to win in November, but I’m optimistic we’ll be able to turn the ship on this one.
Moderator: Thank you Congressman. In mind of your time, that will be our last question. However, before we close, Congressman, I’d like you to give you an opportunity to make any closing remarks to the callers on the line.
Congressman Newhouse: Well, first I appreciate having so many Realtors on the line and nobody tried to sell me a house (Laughter), but it was so valuable to hear through your questions what’s important to you ,t at I need to pay attention to, that being a Representative is something I take very literally. I represent you here in Washington DC and in order to do my job I need to know what you think and what your concerns are, so I appreciate very much all of you for taking time to sit in and ask questions and listen. If I could make one request, even though we’re going to hang up in a few minutes, let’s make sure the conversation continues. Please be in touch with me, contact my office. If something comes to mind, if there’s something you think I should know about, don’t assume we’ve already seen a particular bill being introduced or an initiative come up… some chances, we have, but not necessarily. There are thousands of issues hearings and it’s really difficult to keep a finger on all of them, so I depend on people in this district that can help me make sure things don’t go unnoticed and to be on top of them as it happens. So I appreciate the time to do this today and look forward to doing it again sometime soon.
Thank you to everyone, have a good night…