Webinar Recap: State Measures to Improve Affordable Housing Access

States across the nation are facing housing shortages resulting in an affordability crisis, and the Northeast is no exception. Fewer new homes are being built now than prior to the Great Recession, according to national findings by Fannie Mae and a regional study by the Regional Planning Association.

As the cost to purchase or rent a home increasingly becomes out of reach for many, income inequality is rising in the United States. Median household incomes also fell in the aftermath of the Great Recession, contributing to a 15-year stagnation. It took until 2015 for median household income to climb back to where it was in 2000 (adjusted for inflation). The widening gap between high-income and low-income earners is being reflected in the market’s behavior. Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies reports that an increasing share of the limited new home construction is being built for the higher-cost market segment.

To unpack these challenges, CSG East hosted an affordable housing webinar on Tuesday, November 14 on “State Measures to Improve Affordable Housing Access.” Opening remarks were delivered by Peggy Bailey, the Vice President for Housing and Income Security at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who highlighted several ways states can influence housing affordability and access: “When it comes to housing, many of those policy choices can be mitigated at the state and local level, policies that can reverse redlining and improve residential integration, that direct resources to affordable housing and community development, and thinking about helping ease the capital costs that it takes to build affordable housing.”

Recommendations to states for improving affordable housing access include the following:

    1. Rental subsidy for low-income workers
    2. Expanding tenant-based protections to reduce evictions
    3. Talking with developers about financing challenges
    4. Addressing zoning laws and advancing inclusionary zoning
    5. Addressing the burdensome environmental review process

Ag Labor: Congressional Working Group Releases Interim Report Highlighting Challenges

On April 28 and 29, 2023, members of the CSG East Agriculture and Rural Affairs Policy Committee gathered in Baltimore, Maryland, for a summit to discuss policy options for overcoming the challenges around labor shortages in the farm and food processing sector. At the summit, industry experts and government representatives discussed the problems currently facing the agricultural sector and possible solutions.

Since then, a Congressional Working Group, made up of members of the House Agriculture Committee, has published an interim report on the challenges agricultural producers and processors face in securing a steady and reliable source of labor. The bi-partisan working group, chaired by Congressmen Crawford (R-AK) and Davis (D-NC), issued the report, based on the results of five roundtable sessions and surveys.

An excerpt of the report is published below. Click here to read and download the full report.

 

Introduction

As Members of the House Committee on Agriculture, we are responsible for the authorization and oversight of federal policies critical to supporting farmers, farmworkers, ranchers, foresters, rural communities, and consumers. We also have a duty to be voices in Congress on issues and policies impacting the livelihoods of these constituencies, even if legislative jurisdiction rests in another committee or committees.

An urgent challenge facing the agricultural sector is producers’ lack of access to an adequate workforce. This has been a problem for decades, and it continues to worsen. Farmers in the U.S. are already reeling from record-high production costs that have translated into thin margins. The inability to find and hire workers is only exacerbating this negative trend.

In the summer of 2023, the House Committee on Agriculture formed the Agricultural Labor Working Group (ALWG) to identify the issues causing the lack of available domestic workforce, the impact this has on our nation’s domestic food supply, and the potential solutions to address this critical challenge. The ALWG has been engaged in a rigorous agenda and has received input from numerous stakeholders, employers, and workers around the country with a specific focus on the H–2A visa program for non-immigrant agricultural workers.

Food security is a national security issue. A large threat to America’s food supply is an unstable workforce available to deliver safe, affordable, and abundant food. This issue deserves the focused attention of the House Committee on Agriculture and the broader Congress and is a necessary undertaking to ensure the success of the agricultural industry for years to come.

Previous efforts to reform the H–2A program have been largely unsuccessful. But that does not mean the effort is over. In the coming months, the ALWG will utilize the information contained in this report, as well as past and future testimonials and information, to develop a final list of policy recommendations to refer to the committee of jurisdiction: the House Committee on the Judiciary.

This report is a summary of what we have heard from various stakeholders, the current state of affairs, and the bevy of issues that farm employers and workers face when utilizing the H–2A program. This report is intended to be a politically neutral document to inform policy makers rather than advocate for particular policy solutions. This report will:

    • Detail the many complexities and burdens employers and workers face that make the H–2A program more difficult to comply with and administer.
    • Cover the pros and cons of the possibility of expanded access to the H–2A program for various sectors, as well as impediments to hiring workers in a timely manner.
    • Describe the cost burden employers face and how participation in the program will impact labor expenses and profitability for producers as well as discuss the types of wage possibilities for domestic and foreign workers which may reflect regional and national economic trends.
    • Discuss the working and living conditions of H–2A workers, and their relationship with producers that use the program.
    • Reference testimonials from farmers, producers, employers, workers, and stakeholders from across the country who have contributed to our ALWG survey.
    • Provide a detailed accounting of problems with the H–2A program and the negative impacts these issues are having on our domestic food supply.

Food security is a national security issue. A large threat to America’s food supply is an unstable workforce available to deliver safe, affordable, and abundant food. This issue deserves the focused attention of the House Committee on Agriculture and the broader Congress and is a necessary undertaking to ensure the success of the agricultural industry for years to come.

 

SBA announces $19 million in grants for state trade development

Trade represents nearly 58 percent of the world’s $80 trillion economy—and 95 percent of the world’s consumers are located outside the United States, presenting an enormous opportunity for U.S. small business.

The State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) was designed to assist states with increasing the number of small businesses that export — as well as the value of those exports, an important way for U.S. small businesses to grow revenue and boost local economies.

In September SBA announced a total of $19 million in grant awards to fund 46 state international trade agencies in the program’s ninth grant cycle.

The principal goal of the STEP program is to increase the number of small businesses exporting to foreign markets and to increase the value of those exports.

 

RPA – housing production is lower now than before the Great Recession

Housing production across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut remains lower than it was prior to the Great Recession, according to a report by the Regional Plan Association (RPA).

It found that building permits for housing units were down 7.5% during 2010-2022 (when 684,000 units were permitted) compared to 1997-2009 (when 741,000 units were permitted). Despite fewer homes being built, the population has increased faster since 2009, and these households are increasingly cost burdened by rents and mortgages.

The report also highlights a steep decline of mid-size (2-4 units) housing development as a major shortcoming. “The decline of mid-sized buildings partly explains the housing gap between the two time periods.” Read the full report here.

States discuss regional strategies to address PFAS

In recent years, a growing number of states have established policies to address contamination from per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), which have been used in the manufacture of thousands of products, including cookware, cosmetics, food packaging, carpets, and firefighting foams. There are thousands of different PFAS, some of which have been more widely used and studied than others. One common characteristic is that PFAS do not break down in the environment or in our bodies – and hence, they have been dubbed “forever chemicals.”

During a panel discussion at the 2023 CSG East Annual Meeting in Toronto, Ontario, Maine State Representative Lori Gramlich described a situation that she called the “perfect storm.”

In November 2016, Fred Potter, a dairy farmer, learned that his water contained PFAS at levels that were two times higher than what the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency considered to be safe. Potter later learned that the PFAS contamination stemmed from the spreading of municipal sludge back in 1986. The PFAS levels were so alarming that Potter could no longer sell the milk produced by his dairy cows. He had to euthanize most of the herd. “And he and his family have been plagued with health problems ever since,” said Gramlich.

During Gramlich’s first term in the legislature in 2019, she learned about Potter’s experience from a colleague who represented his district. Since then, Maine has become a leader in addressing PFAS contamination. Governor Janet Mills created a task force bringing together state agencies and other stakeholders to explore the extent of PFAS contamination in the state and create a plan to address it. Gramlich, who serves as House chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, introduced several measures that have been enacted, including legislation that requires transparency from manufacturers who add PFAS to their products, and will compel them to phase out their use in Maine.

During the panel, Gramlich was joined by Rhode Island State Representative Terri Cortvriend, and Maryland State Senator Katie Fry Hester, who discussed efforts among them and their colleagues to assess the extent of PFAS contamination in drinking water, pesticides, and other products; remediate where possible; ban or phase out their use in a wide range of products; and promote safer alternatives.

Given the pervasiveness of PFAS contamination and broad concerns about how to protect communities from harm, several members suggested that CSG East organize a regional summit in the coming months, to convene officials from all three branches with a range of experts to explore alternatives to PFAS and discuss best practices.


CSG East looks forward to continuing this important conversation with our members going forward. You can sign up for future meeting notices via Constant Contact using this link.

New Jersey Grieves Passing of Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver

New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver died Tuesday after a sudden illness. She was 71.”It is with incredible sadness and a heavy heart that we announce the passing of the Honorable Sheila Y. Oliver, Lieutenant Governor of the State of New Jersey,” her family said in a statement. “She was not only a distinguished public servant but also our cherished daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and hero.”

Oliver was born and raised in an ethnically diverse Newark neighborhood and went on to become the first woman of color to serve in a statewide elected office in New Jersey history. In 2021, Lt. Gov. Oliver was reelected to serve a second term in office. She was only the second Lt. Gov. in New Jersey history, following a 2005 constitutional amendment to establish the office in that state.

Previously, Oliver was elected to serve the 34th Legislative District in the New Jersey General Assembly. A trailblazer in every sense of the word, in 2010 she became the first Black woman in state history to serve as Assembly Speaker, and just the second in the nation’s history to lead a state legislative house.

Oliver was an active member of the CSG East Executive Committee during her tenure in the Legislature, and served on the host committee for the 2012 Annual Meeting in Atlantic City.

In a statement, Gov. Phil Murphy said Oliver “brought a unique and invaluable perspective to our public policy discourse and served as an inspiration to millions of women and girls everywhere, especially young women of color.”

Under Article 5, Section I, paragraph 8 of the New Jersey Constitution, Gov. Murphy will have 45 days to appoint an acting Lt. Gov. to complete Oliver’s term in office.

 

Federal funding for workforce development: Federal opportunities for states

Continued labor shortages are putting pressure on state leaders. Since the pandemic, states have experienced a decrease in the labor force, resulting in more job openings than workers seeking employment. While America’s rising retirement-age population is a contributing factor, many jobs remain unfilled due to a lack of trained, qualified candidates.

To untie this particular knot in the labor market, many states are focusing efforts to address labor shortages on reskilling and upskilling workers or potential workers. As a result, states throughout the country are seeking to establish and expand workforce pipelines, such as registered apprenticeships, to fill key shortage areas. As state leaders develop these initiatives, many are asking what opportunities are available to fund workforce development.

To help answer this question, CSG East’s Education and Workforce Development Committee hosted a webinar featuring Emlyn Bottomley from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and Paige Shevlin from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The speakers addressed resources available to states through their respective agencies and through federal legislation, such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).

 

Tackling the Housing Affordability Crisis: Zoning Reform in Maine

By Rona Cohen

Five years ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a wave of new migration to Maine from states as far away as California, a housing crisis already loomed in the city of Auburn. A former mill town and manufacturing hub once known as “the shoe capital of the world,” the city of 26,000 residents had an aging population, stagnant growth, and major employers like Proctor and Gamble couldn’t find enough workers.

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, who was elected in 2017, took a hard look at the factors hindering young adults and families from putting down roots in the city, and it quickly became clear that they revolved around a lack of access to housing. Specifically, it was a crisis driven by outdated, restrictive, and in some cases, discriminatory zoning regulations.

“There’s a direct correlation between stagnation, degradation, and zoning,” Levesque said during a virtual discussion organized by CSG East on May 19.

Over the course of 2019, Levesque’s administration engaged residents in a citywide planning process, asking for input on how they would reimagine the city for growth and economic sustainability.

“There were 120 residents coming together and envisioning what they wanted the future of Auburn to look like,” Levesque said. “And it was really interesting because everything they wanted — walkability, things to do, entertainment — really needed people. So, we came to the conclusion that our biggest focus was to have people. And in order to have people, you need to have housing.”

In testimony before a state legislative panel last year, Levesque described new measures the city has implemented to transform the housing landscape, including:

  • Eliminating single-family exclusionary housing zones;
  • Enacting ordinances enabling accessory dwelling units (ADUs) anywhere in the city;
  • Eliminating parking minimums;
  • Increasing density by allowing developers to build 16 units per acre, up from a previous four, if sufficient infrastructure existed;
  • Reducing the number of complicated residential zones from 32 to eight;
  • Identifying prime development areas;
  • Providing grants for energy efficiency;
  • Eliminating 40 percent of permitting fees; and
  • Simplifying the process for rehabilitating existing buildings or developing new housing, including creating a flat, $25 filing fee for new home construction.

Levesque said that by removing zoning barriers, the city of Auburn hopes to make it as easy as possible to build. Municipal staff will guide individuals through the process of building a single-family home, or duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes, which are all now legal in the city. Over the last two years, more than 800 new market-rate housing units have been built in the city or are in various stages of the planning process, thanks to the reforms they have implemented.

“I can’t stress this enough: It’s about the individual. We believe people will solve the housing crisis if given the tools and the ability to do so,” said Levesque.

A population influx
In a sense, Auburn’s efforts were prescient. Over the last two years, Maine has experienced a net migration of 34,000 new residents, which is a significant influx to a state with a total population of 1.4 million. The majority of these new residents are under the age of 45, which adds to the state’s housing constraints, said former House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, who now serves as a senior advisor in the Maine Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future.

Home prices are rising: the state’s median home price jumped by 12 percent from 2021 to 2022, and anecdotal evidence suggests that prohibitive housing prices are making it impossible for some qualified workers to move there. In the city of Rockland, where the median price of a dwelling soared by 40 percent last year, the town hired a new police chief from out of state who was unable to find an affordable home – and ultimately, had to turn down the job.

“So this is not just an issue that’s impacting the private sector; it’s also impacting the public sector and our municipalities in terms of recruiting employees to work in education, public works and obviously, fire and police,” said Fecteau during the May 19 virtual discussion.

The state needs to build around 1,000 affordable housing units each year to meet demand, but until recently, annual construction only met a quarter of that need. In the last couple of years, however, new construction jumped to nearly 800 units in 2021 and just under 1,000 last year, spurred largely by new policies aimed at boosting development.

During his tenure as speaker, Fecteau made housing reform a priority. He established a commission that convened a wide range of stakeholders to consider how to reform zoning and land use to encourage more affordable development. The resulting legislation, enacted in 2022, included most of the municipal recommendations already adopted by the city of Auburn. The legislation established the following three key policies:

  • A density bonus for affordable housing projects that meet certain income requirements.
  • It enables up to four units of housing on any lot that is designated for residential use. The provision makes Maine the third state in the nation, after California and Oregon, that now allows building up to four units on lots that previously only permitted one single-family home.
  • It reduces nearly all barriers to building accessory dwelling units across the state.

The law created a Housing Opportunity Fund that offers grants and technical assistance to municipalities to develop new policies and plans to increase the supply of housing.

Fecteau added that the legislation included certain restrictions to allay concerns about excessive sprawl. For example, additional density would be permitted only in areas deemed “growth areas” based on local comprehensive plans. In towns without comprehensive plans in place, new development would be limited to areas with adequate water and sewer infrastructure. “It’s about nuance, and I think we were able to strike that balance,” he said.

Leveraging federal funds
Prior to the passage of LD 2003, Fecteau helped to forge a number of incentives to stimulate new, affordable housing development.

In 2019, he sponsored legislation creating a low-income housing tax credit that enabled the state to leverage federal funds. The law provides $80 million over eight years for the creation of multifamily affordable housing available to residents earning up to 60 percent of the area median income. Last year, the state added another $25 million to the fund, and this year, Governor Janet Mills’ proposed budget contains an additional $35 million for the program.

Additional initiatives include:

  • Rural Affordable Rental Program: Last year the state invested $20 million of federal American Rescue Plan funds in this new program, which is designed to build smaller projects, ranging from five to 18 rental units, that are intended to fit the character of rural communities. This year, Governor Mills’ budget proposes another $35 million for the program, which is available to residents making under 80 percent of the area median income.
  • Innovation Fund for Attainable Housing: This is a proposed $10 million fund to create new programs around housing solutions.
  • Housing First: Officials are also moving to establish a statewide initiative to tackle homelessness using the Housing First model, which has been implemented in cities and states across North America. The approach provides access to permanent housing for individuals and families without preconditions – such as treatment or sobriety requirements — and offers support services in an effort to ensure that people will stay housed. There are currently three sites that incorporate the Housing First policy, and officials are hoping to build 14 additional sites across the state with the goal of effectively ending chronic homelessness in Maine, said Fecteau.

Achieving the American dream
Getting public buy-in for a major zoning overhaul can be a contentious and emotional process, particularly among residents concerned that changing the design of their communities will diminish the value of their homes, which is typically a family’s largest source of wealth.

Fecteau admitted that while there was some pushback from groups who opposed the reforms set in motion by LD 2003, there was momentum for change across the state.

“There were probably twice as many people who were supportive of taking on this work because this is being felt in all our communities — people are struggling to find housing and employers are also struggling to find employees — so the timing was perfect.”

In Auburn, Levesque heard complaints from residents worried the reforms would change the “character” of their neighborhoods – a word that he interpreted as code for people of different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. Levesque found this thinking to be so discriminatory that the city is in the process of stripping the word “character” from all of its zoning ordinances, starting with its comprehensive plan. The opposition comprised a group of “a couple dozen people at every meeting” who fought zoning changes that would allow apartments or accessory dwelling units in areas that had historically been zoned for single-family residences.

“Eventually, I just put them in a box and didn’t listen to them anymore because it all stemmed from one thing: They thought that success was finite and that the more people that achieved success through home ownership, through having a place to live, somehow diminished the amount of success that they and their family had,” said Levesque. “I found that immoral, and I told them that. Because growth is good, housing is good, the American dream is a reality — if we allow it to happen.”

This article was first published by CSG East.

CSG East job opening: Policy Analyst

The Policy Analyst is responsible, through self-direction and in concert with the Director of Policy, for providing policy analysis and research support to designated constituents, including one or more CSG East policy committees, to monitor, understand, and share analysis on relevant state policy issues. The Policy Analyst conducts research, writes, and edits policy papers, articles, and other documents and correspondence, coordinates webinars, contributes to various group projects and team activities as directed, and represents the CSG East region and constituents in external forums as appropriate. The Policy Analyst also contributes to publications, online resources, and social media efforts as directed.

The Policy Analyst is a service-oriented role that allows for exercise of independent judgment under the direction of the Director of Policy and the CSG East Director. The Policy Analyst maintains a collaborative relationship with the Director of Policy, the CSG Eastern Office Director, other staff, and external parties.

This opportunity is based in our New York City office but offers flexibility to work from home part of the work week.

 

Apply here

 

What you’ll do: 

Specific responsibilities of the Meetings and Operations Coordinator include the following: 

  • Administers and provides staff support of assigned committee and program activities, including programmatic and logistical duties. Policy committees comprise state and provincial officials from the 18 CSG East member jurisdictions (New England and Mid-Atlantic states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eastern Canadian provinces.)
  • Conducts policy research, surveys, and develops suggestions for the consideration by policymakers.
  • Maintains communication, conducts outreach, and establishes rapport with legislators, as well as with federal, state, provincial, and local government officials, and representatives of other regional entities.
  • Demonstrates a commitment to maintaining a non-partisan, non-advocacy perspective.
  • Staffs one or more standing committee(s) of the CSG Eastern Office. Preference given to candidates with background in housing and fiscal issues. Specific duties include working with committee officers and members to identify, prioritize, and pursue committee objectives, including the development and production of committee workplans, meeting agendas, events, and other deliverables.
  • Develops and manages relationships with state officials and policymakers, including legislative and other governmental contacts.
  • Serves as principal staff liaison to two or more Eastern jurisdictions (states, provinces, territories).
  • Responsible for tracking state sessions and coordinating visits to member state capitols to establish and maintain professional relationships, networks, and assist with promoting CSG East programs and services.
  • Prepares concise written responses to information inquiries initiated by members of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
  • Participates in the planning, organizing, and convening of policy workshops, online webinars, technical tours, and state visits by identifying topics, arranging for speakers, supporting logistical planning, preparing information, and participating in such programs.
  • Contributes to Eastern Office publications, web-based resources, and social media efforts as directed.
  • Serves as member of other in-house teams as assigned.
  • Participates in/contributes to various CSG-wide activities.

What you’ll bring: 

  • Bachelor’s or advanced degree in public policy, political science, or related field (additional relevant experience may be substituted for education requirement).
  • Three years’ experience in state government, public policy, association management, or related field.
  • Research, writing, and policy analysis experience preferred.
  • Working knowledge of the legislative, executive, and judicial process.
  • Experience working collaboratively with multiple partners, with a preference for having worked with public officials.
  • Ability to interact effectively with diverse people in different contexts and foster equity and inclusion through self-awareness, cultural sensitivity, and valuing others.
  • Dedication to public service with an unfailing commitment to act with civility, be nonpartisan in performing CSG duties, and be a responsible steward of member and donor funds.
  • Exhibits appropriate interpersonal skills and relationships with both internal and external partners and maintains open and frequent communication with legislative members.
  • Understanding of state and federal legislative processes.
  • Maintains a network of state government contacts and resources.
  • Excellent research, writing, editing, and verbal communication skills.
  • Ability to work independently and be an approachable, collaborating member of a team.
  • Ability to organize, prioritize and complete multiple projects in a detail-oriented manner.
  • Microsoft Suite and computer competency.
  • Travels by plane, train, and vehicle, overnight and for varying lengths, to fulfill duties and responsibilities as needed.

How you apply: 

If you’re interested in helping us facilitate the exchange of ideas among state leaders, you should upload the following elements with your application:

  1. Cover letter explaining your interest in the position and CSG East. Applications without a cover letter will not be considered. (See this article from Indeed on how to write a simple cover letter.)
  2. Resume

CSG believes that pay equity and pay transparency to advance workplace fairness. Compensation will be equitable and based on experience and education. The salary range for this position, based in New York City, is $65,000 to $80,000. This salary range is subject to change based on work location and market conditions.

Qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to characteristics including but not limited to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or protected veteran status. CSG is an Equal Employment Opportunity employer.

 

Preventing Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions

There are over one million wildlife-vehicle collisions each year in the United States, resulting in an average of 200 human deaths and 26,000 injuries annually, as well as $8 billion in property damage, health care costs, and lost workdays, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). In the Eastern Region, where highly populated areas overlap high deer and other wildlife populations along forested stretches of highways, the problem is serious enough to warrant action.

This month, USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program established through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to be managed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Through the program, a total of $350 million will be available over five years to states and communities to build wildlife crossings over or below busy roads, add warning signs for drivers, acquire mapping and tracking tools, and more. This amount includes over $111 million in funding for the first round of grant awards this year. Eligible applicants include state departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), local governments, regional transportation authorities, special purpose districts, public authorities with a transportation function, Indian tribes, and Federal land management agencies (FLMAs).