"We've all been there before, my friend," were the first words I heard as I got up from the witness table in the House Financial Services Committee hearing room.  The person patting me on the back and whispering in my ear was someone I had admired for many years, going back to when he was mayor of San Antonio.  The individual was none other than Henry Cisneros who served as HUD Secretary under President Clinton.  

I had just concluded a grueling 2 ½ hour testimony and appeared to be the only person among the many witnesses and supporters who was lukewarm to the idea of a national housing trust fund (NHTF).  Let me be clear: I wasn't lukewarm to the idea of a national housing trust fund; rather I was less than excited about using FHA receipts to fund it.  Throughout the hearing, I was grilled, basted, and largely denounced by the various Congressmen, most of whom in attendance were Democrats.

Many states have housing trust funds that use a variety of funding sources: a portion of document recording fees, real estate transfer taxes, and the like.  Since no similar fee exists at the federal level, finding a funding source becomes, well, tricky. 

Before delving into the intricacies of a funding source, it is fair question to ask why exactly do we need a national housing trust fund? Some people would say, "Isn't that why we have HUD?"  And to my earlier point regarding state housing trust funds, aren't they augmenting federal housing efforts? 

Truth is, most state housing trust funds are woefully underfunded and no one can say HUD is completely meeting the housing needs of the elderly or disabled among other underserved groups.  According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition there are only 37 rental homes available and affordable for every 100 households with incomes below 30% of their area median.

It also would be helpful to understand just who would benefit from this new funding.  If current public housing tenants are any indication, the Council of Large Public Housing Agencies report that seniors account for 31% of all residents and 34% are headed by a person with a disability. Two out of every five residents is a child and 70% of households are extremely low-income; 71% of households have annual incomes of less than $15,000.

Rightfully so, the fund would be targeted at extremely low income families and persons and would help preserve existing as well as increase affordable rental housing especially in areas with inadequate supply.

The legislation that created the NHTF was included in the HERA bill signed by President Bush in July 2008.  Since then, however, no funds have been appropriated.  Not one dime. The original plan to use a portion of revenue from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went awry with the federal conservatorship in the fall of 2008.

To help ensure an appropriate level of control and compliance, states and governors will administer the funds based on a formula developed by HUD and will also be held accountable to the federal government for their use.  No funding formula is perfect and I for one might question why, under the existing proposed allocation formula, New York would get almost twice as much as Texas, but I will give credit to all that this is at least a step in the right direction.

And speaking of need, perhaps the housing needs of persons living in areas with less national visibility could receive funding priority once the funds have been allocated: the areas within the boundaries of the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Texas Colonias for starters.  No one could argue there is an adequate supply of decent and safe housing in either geographic area which happens to be one of the requirements under HUD's formula.

More than two years have passed since the NHTF was signed into law.  And given the still struggling economy, there is little doubt the need has subsided since that time.  I would hope members of Congress from both parties would give the NHTF some level of funding perhaps $1 billion to start - which would be a big step forward to meeting the housing needs of those less fortunate - seniors, children, and persons with disabilities.