Happy New Year. I hope you all had a joyous and restful holiday. As we embark on 2019, let’s take a moment to reflect on the past year and take pride in all we accomplished together.
The tax reform bill became law just days before the 2018 new year began, and NAHB spent last year monitoring implementation to address areas of confusion or unintended consequences that might hurt housing. Thanks to our advocacy, in February 2018 the IRS decided to let households deduct the interest on home equity loans used for home improvements. The IRS provided detailed proposed guidance on Qualified Opportunity Zone Funds, which encourage economic growth in underserved communities. Plus, we requested a safe harbor for quarterly tax filers.
Another major priority last year was fighting softwood lumber prices, which reached a record high of $582 per thousand board feet in early June. We took our concerns to the highest levels of government, the media, and the public. Thanks to our efforts, by the end of 2018 the cost of lumber had dropped more than 40% from these elevated levels.
To ensure a predictable, affordable supply of lumber moving forward, the U.S. must negotiate an agreement with Canada. Now that the U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade agreement, which does not include lumber, has been negotiated, NAHB is encouraging the U.S. and Canada to reach a new agreement.
NAHB also worked with policymakers to address the construction labor shortage. At a White House conference on workforce development in July, we promised to train 50,000 workers over the next five years through our educational arm, Home Builders Institute. We are also asking Congress and the Trump administration to increase federal support for construction skills training programs.
Our philanthropic arm, the National Housing Endowment, is committed to building the construction workforce as well. In 2017, the endowment created the Skilled Labor Fund, which has already provided grants to training programs.
NAHB members and HBAs nationwide are indispensable to this effort. NAHB also continued efforts to curb excessive regulations that increase home prices. Last year, we had important victories in the environmental and labor regulatory arenas. The EPA is now proposing to replace the overly burdensome definition of the Waters of the United States rule, adopted in 2015, with a more reasonable definition that clarifies which waters fall under federal jurisdiction. NAHB has been providing critical input during the rulemaking process.
In the fall, NAHB supported many housing-friendly candidates through BUILD-PAC, congressional endorsements, and the Defender of Housing awards program. Roughly 85% of the candidates we supported through BUILD-PAC won their races and 85% of the candidates we endorsed were victorious. We plan to work with the new Congress on policies that will keep housing affordable to American families.
Our legal advocacy also resulted in a significant victory in late November. The Supreme Court ordered an appeals court to reconsider its decision allowing 1,500 acres in Louisiana to be designated as critical habitat for the endangered dusky gopher frog, even though the frog had not been seen there in over half a century.
As we flip the calendar, I am excited about the year ahead and the growth of our industry.