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UPDATED to add USDA comments – HAC Concerned about Buy America Requirements

HAC Comments to USDA, July 2022

On July 29, the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which proposed to establish waivers from Buy America requirements for purchases of de minimis, small grants, and minor components of infrastructure projects.

Key Takeaways

  • Housing and community facilities should not be considered public infrastructure under the Build America, Buy America Act.
  • If housing and community facilities are considered public infrastructure, it would be in the public interest to waive the Buy America preference for USDA’s programs to finance these construction projects so that scarce funds and staff resources can be devoted to addressing the current housing crisis.
  • Waivers for purchases of de minimis, small grants, and minor components of infrastructure projects would also be in the public interest.

HAC Comments to HUD, July 2022

HAC expressed concern about the impact of “Buy America” requirements on affordable housing in comments it submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on July 15, 2022.

Key Takeaways

  • Buy America preferences should not apply to assisted housing. HUD’s priority should be to address the affordable housing crisis. Furthermore, the law defines infrastructure as projects that benefit the general public, while assisted housing is available to only a subset of the general population.
  • HUD should not apply Buy America preferences to owner-occupied housing because the Office of Management and Budget has specifically stated that private homes are not considered to be infrastructure.
  • HUD should not apply Buy America preferences when HUD assistance is used for infrastructure that is built solely to support affordable housing, as is the case with the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP).
  • HUD should not apply Buy America preferences to housing that receives less than $250,000 in federal funding, to developments with fewer than eight units, or to situations when HUD funding covers only a small portion of the per unit development cost.
  • HUD should issue expedited waivers for materials that experience price spikes.
  • HUD should provide guidance to help reduce administrative burdens on entities that receive HUD funding.

Build America, Buy America

HUD, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other federal agencies are subject to a “Build America, Buy America” (BABA) requirement in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, which mandates that iron, steel, manufactured products, and construction materials used in infrastructure projects be American made. The provision applies to most federally funded infrastructure projects; it is not limited to projects funded through the 2021 Act.

Any preferences for American-made products that were in effect before the Infrastructure Act passed remain in place.

Federal agencies were required to publish initial lists showing which of their programs could be subject to the Buy America preference. The Office of Management and Budget issued guidance for federal agencies regarding compliance and set up a website to track agency requests for waivers.

HUD Implementation

On June 1, HUD requested public comment to help implement BABA for its programs. It asked questions such as what HUD-financed projects might fall under exemptions from the preference, how materials are currently sourced, and more. It also asked what HUD programs might be considered to fund infrastructure in addition to those on its initial list, which includes HOME, the Community Development Block Grant program, and SHOP.

The deadline for comments was later extended to July 15.

HUD has moved to waive the buy America requirement while the department works on implementing it. HUD announced it was providing two waivers, both effective on May 14 (the statutory deadline for implementation) unless it issued a later announcement changing the date. HUD’s general waiver is effective for six months. Its waiver for Tribal recipients of HUD funds lasts for one year.

USDA Implementation

USDA did not include any of its Rural Development agency’s housing or community facilities programs on its initial list of infrastructure programs, which focuses instead on utilities and broadband programs. In a recent request to OMB, however, RD did include housing and CF along with others on a list of programs it intends to evaluate under the new law.

USDA Rural Development, like HUD, hopes to delay the requirements’ effectiveness temporarily. It asked OMB to approve a waiver that would last six months after the date of approval.

Treasury Implementation

The Treasury Department’s list of programs that may be subject to BABA’s requirements does not include any Community Development Financial Institution Fund programs. It does include the Homeowner Assistance Fund, a program intended to help homeowners impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds programs, which help state, local, and Tribal governments and can be used for housing.