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It wasn’t exactly a rout, but the mid-term election did shift the balance of power in Washington, DC. Jim Arbury, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Multi Housing Council, says he’s cautiously optimistic, although the measure of each–caution and optimism–varies by issue. Arbury himself admits to democratic leanings. In fact, for a time prior to coming to the NMHC in 1993, Arbury worked for Sen. Don Riegel (D-MI). Less politically specific, the council does stand to gain by a more receptive climate, and in a recent, exclusive interview, he spelled out the ways the group–and therefore the issues it champions–stands to gain.

GlobeSt.com: Overall, what did you think of the election? Arbury: The house was a foregone conclusion. I predicted that a few months ago. The senate was a surprise. Most people, including myself, thought it was going to be close but in the opposite. It was going to be 51/49 Republican.

GlobeSt.com: What about the state races?

Arbury: We really don’t track state races. We get involved in state and local issues on taxes and telecommunications, and in other selected areas where a state issue might be a driver for federal action. Beyond that, we don’t track what goes on in the states, although there was a fundamental shift there too.

GlobeSt.com: So what concerns will you face in 2007 and with the new climate, what are their chances for survival?

Arbury: Our primary thrust has been the general area of affordable housing. Specifically, we’re trying to get more balance in the federal approach to housing as opposed to the all-out emphasis on homeownership.

GlobeSt.com: Explain, please.

Arbury: We hope at least to achieve more understanding that affordable rental housing and rental housing in general plays a big role in meeting the housing needs of America. That was never more apparent than during the post-Hurricane Katrina debacle. If there hadn’t been apartments available, those people would still be in the Astrodome. So our main thrust in 2007 will be the Section Eight program and making sure there’s adequate funding. We’ll also be working toward reducing or eliminating the depreciation-recapture tax and deferring capital gains taxes on older properties so they can be sold and refurbished.

GlobeSt.com: How do you gauge the climate of receptivity for some of those initiatives?

Arbury: I think, in general, it’s positive. The way Congress used to work was that you’d have a series of hearings that would be used as the basis for developing legislation. In the past several years it’s more common that the legislation has been decided and then pushed through Congress. I understand why the Republicans had to do that. They were running Congress and had to get things done and it’s easier to do it that way.

GlobeSt.com: Am I hearing that the NMHC is a Democrat-leaning organization?

Arbury: Since coming to the counsel, I joke that we have to be political eunuchs. Our issues are not political in nature and our mission is to work with whoever is in office.

GlobeSt.com: Of course, affordable housing has been an issue that has outlasted several administrations. What do you hope to accomplish now?

Arbury: I think there’s going to be more receptivity to ideas that could make development more possible. There are so many roadblocks that governments everywhere have thrown up to keep people away, whether it’s the cost of land or impact fees or whatever it might be. The government truly has to want to be a partner in spurring these developments without going back to the days of public housing. If they want private investment they’ve got to put the incentives up front, number one. And if they keep pulling the football away–like Lucy used to do with Charlie Brown–and change the rules 15 or 20 years down the road, or if you’re not clear about whether or not there will be adequate funding for Section Eight vouchers and such, investors will stay away from it.

GlobeSt.com: So you’re anticipating much quicker response time?

Arbury: Barney Frank [D-MA], who’s the new chairman of the financial services committee, is very receptive to that balance in policy I was referring to. And Chris Dodd [D-CT] who’s in line to be chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, is someone you can definitely work with.

GlobeSt.com: So you’re a little more cautiously optimistic?

Arbury: Politically, I’m an optimist who always watches his back, but I am an optimist.

GlobeSt.com: And are you equally optimistic about tax reform?

Arbury: Much less than 50/50. There’s continued talk about tax reform and doing something about the alternative minimum tax. But watching [incoming chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means Charles B.] Rangel, the general thrust of taxation in 2007 in Congress will probably be to take away the tax breaks given to some of the energy companies. We might also see them trying to do away with the tax breaks that were given to the so-called rich–whoever they are–and use that money to pay for other things. They might make a small patch on the alternative minimum tax, but I don’t see any major thing happening in 2007.

GlobeSt.com: Immigration has gotten much press lately, and it’s something that impacts your membership. What is NMHC’s stand?

Arbury: Before all of the local jurisdictions get out of hand and try to turn apartment owners into policemen, something has to be done concerning immigration on a national basis. If you’re going to hold employers and apartment owners responsible for determining who is and who is not legal, you probably need to come up with a much better identification system, and that’s a federal government job.

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