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November 11, 2008

Steering Through Crisis

Big shout-out to great sponsor the Marymount University! You can earn your Master’s in Human Resource Management at their Reston Center campus in 24 months. Don’t miss the info session tomorrow, Nov 12, 6:30 PM. See ad to the right for more details.


National Multi Housing Council President Doug Bibby has some pointers on how to steer through a major policy crisis. He says instead of barreling into Congress demanding a bailout when the housing meltdown occurred, his association (which represents the apartment industry) tried to position itself as an “honest broker, making the case for what the government ought to do and not to do,” and a sort of truth squad taking on competing interests “who were simply trying to bail themselves out of bad decisions that caused the crisis.”

Indeed, we didn’t see any six-shooters when we visited him in his office at 1850 M St. the other day, but kind of a homey atmosphere that even evoked references to 1950s TV. Doug is experiencing the housing and economic crisis first hand—his 31-year-old “boomerang generation” daughter just moved back home to get an advanced degree. “We’re not building homes for Ozzie and Harriet any more,” he told us, meaning the country is experiencing demographic and household shifts (like a greater immigrant population) that will result in more renters. Doug says he knows that with so much focus on single family houses now, “multifamily housing is not going to be top of mind.” But he says “facts are our friends” and sees this as a great time to educate policymakers: Apartments, he points out to politicians, are by definition greener, more affordable, typically more accessible to public transportation, and use infrastructure more efficiently.

Doug’s biggest concern before Congress is making sure that when Fannie & Freddie shrink by 10% as called for by August’s housing stimulus bill, the proportion of funds available to multi-family housing stays the same. Doug says Fannie's and Freddie's multi-housing default rates are both less than half a percent, whereas single-family defaults are in the 2-4% range. He also says you can turn a negative into a positive if you help members find the lessons to be learned. “Once more people understand that we have over-subsidized and vastly over-built single family houses while delivering too few apartments to communities across the country, we believe that they will start to make more balanced decisions relating to housing policy.”


Doug says his role at NMHC is “the most interesting and exhilarating phase of my career.” And he has had the chance to meet some pretty important world leaders—like Gerald Ford, Tony Blair, and (we’re winking here a little) N.J. Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, who he attended summer camp with at Camp Chewonki in Wiscasset, Maine. Doug still keeps up the team sport he learned as a youngster; he’s part of a “Geezer league” in Laurel, Md. where as usual he’ll be playing ice hockey this winter.

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