Monday, July 6, 2015

Building trust to build communities

What we're building
by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Fair housing connects to widely shared American values of equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination.  It also triggers divisive policy discussions about just how to achieve those values and fear of penalty for violating rules.  Starting from the practical realities of existing patterns of housing and lessons learned by many housing practitioners, NHC is working to help make communities stronger by building trust within the housing community based on our shared values.

Many different parts of the housing community need to work on fair housing.  Public sector agencies set the rules by which housing is built, financed and put into use.  At the state and local level, policy choices have powerful effects on housing costs, location and quality, but many state and local governments are wary of federal requirements and sometimes opaque enforcement.  At the federal level, HUD sees limited capacity for implementing housing policy in many localities, intransigence in a few and its own resource limitations for technical assistance and enforcement.  Over time, trust has eroded on both sides.

The public sector rules and enforcement have real costs and benefits for the private sector companies in the business of housing.  Trust is essential here, too: that rules will be applied fairly and allow business to proceed, and that businesses will make the investments needed to truly make systems fairer.  Mission-oriented organizations and government assistance help to fill the needs left unmet by imperfect markets, but they are profoundly resource constrained and cannot be the sole focus of fair housing efforts. 

The theme of trust runs throughout NHC’s work in fair housing.  Our reaction to the recent Supreme Court decision emphasized that our Inclusive Communities Working Group aims to help states and localities  learn from each other how to build communities that include people of all backgrounds, in ways compatible with both private enterprise and public sector objectives.  Our regulatory comments, convenings and resources around HUD’s forthcoming rule on affirmatively furthering fair housing emphasize the need for trust between the federal government and state and local governments while making measurable progress.  Look for more on this theme at our Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods convening in New Orleans, November 5-6.

We’re all better off if people can live near where they work, study and build their lives.  Getting there requires trust, which only comes through experience and shared values.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation, NAHRO release Value of Home

News from NHC's family of members
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

Last month, NHC members National Association of Housing Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) and Public Housing Authority Directors Association (PHADA), in partnership with the Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation (PAHRC) and Council of Large Public Housing Authorities (CLPHA), released Value of Home, their analysis of the latest data on the need for and value of rental assistance and the impact that assisted housing has on communities. The said goal of this report is to increase focus on housing assistance for people with low incomes.

Key findings from the report include that assisted families are significantly more likely to include children, seniors and disabled individuals, with 41 percent of assisted individuals being children and 50 percent of households headed by an elderly or disabled person. The report shows that recipients of rental assistance report better economic outcomes and greater stability in comparison to low-income unassisted renters, and that the presence of assisted housing in a community has been shown to contribute to economic development and revitalization, and reduce homelessness.

To further the conversation on these findings, PAHRC hosted a Twitter chat on June 23, moderated by Erika Poethig of the Urban Institute. Chatters discussed research demonstrating the growing need for affordable housing and the innovative ways in which housing assistance can serve residents and improve communities. Participants also had the opportunity to ask questions and share their own housing policy research.

Rental housing and assistance has significant impact on low- to moderate-income families and the communities in which they live. Our Policy Symposium last month tackled the ways in which affordable rental housing can be a platform for future success.  Rental housing experts discussed ways to determine the most cost-effective approaches to rental housing, ways to replicate and scale strategies and attract funding, and how those solutions improve the lives of residents. A free video recording of the event is available to view on our website.

Learn more about the Value of Home series here

NHC Board elections, Annual Gala and Policy Symposium

News from NHC
by Amy Clark and Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

Many of our members and friends are familiar with our Annual Gala. But June 11 and 12 were about more than just a celebratory gathering of the housing community.

We started the day Thursday morning with our Board of Governors meeting. We said thank you to John Kelly for his three years of leadership as chair, and welcomed Ted Chandler to his new role. While we are sad to see some of our board members step down, they will be ably replaced by the new slate of board members elected by the membership.

Thursday night’s Gala kicked off with a rousing performance from "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Corps Band. Gala co-chairs Senator Mel Martinez and Nancy O. Andrews of LIIF shared what this year's theme, creating community, means to them and their work. Audience members were touched by the moving stories shared by this year's Housing Visionary Award honorees, Piece by Piece Regional Foreclosure response Initiative led by Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, and The Community Properties Initiative led by Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing. Following the program, our guests enjoyed conversation, corn pudding and the sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing that they contributed to the Gala, exceeding NHC's fundraising goal.

The events of Friday opened early for Young Leaders in Affordable Housing members with a breakfast meeting on the future of the affordable housing field and the role young leaders can play. Kris Siglin of the Housing Partnership Network and Ali Solis of Enterprise Community Partners spoke at the session moderated by YLAH president Eva Wingren.

As Ethan said in our blog last week, the Policy Symposium "showed [the] many ways that housing can be a solution, and it drew together housing stakeholders to learn from each other." The keynote and research presentation helped us think about the importance of quality affordable housing at every stage of life, and the panels helped us think about the different ways homeownership and supportive rental housing create opportunity for people and communities.

We couldn’t close this reflection in good conscience without expressing the NHC staff and leadership's deeply felt gratitude for our sponsors, especially JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. They and all of our Gala and Policy Symposium sponsors make our work possible all year round. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Republicans are talking about housing and poverty. Are housers listening?

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference
In a speech at the National Press Club today, Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry talked about block granting housing programs as part of a solution to poverty. Along with House Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Perry is now one of two prominent GOP leaders talking about major policy change involving housing as a response to poverty. These proposals have a long way to go before any kind of enactment, but the housing community should engage with them now or risk being left out of the conversation.

Perry’s speech was surprising more for its tone, which sounded more like a general election speech than a primary speech, than its level of detail, which was still quite limited. He focused heavily on the economic situation in African-American communities and pointed to stubbornly high poverty rates as evidence of the failure of current approaches. He referenced values that cut across party lines: safe neighborhoods, housing and college costs that are affordable, the American Dream. He pointed to local policies that limit creation of new housing.

His proposed response is a “welfare reform bill” that replaces current “non-health care-related, anti-poverty programs” with an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit and block grants to the states. The speech had little further detail, but even that brief description signals sweeping change. It is our obligation as housers to provide information to policymakers thinking through these ideas, to help them understand how such change could affect long-standing investments in housing as well as where the real opportunities for constructive change exist.

Housing need cuts across party lines and geographic boundaries. So should housing advocacy.

LISC, LIIF awarded New Markets Tax Credits

News from NHC's family of members
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

The U.S. Treasury recently awarded two NHC members $60 and $70 million, respectively, in New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC). The Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) was awarded $60 million in credits and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) received $70 million. The funds will be used to spur economic development in distressed communities across the country.

Both organizations have a strong track record of using tax credit funding to boost development and reduce poverty and crime in communities. LISC has used past funds to construct a state-of-the-art library and community center in Petersburg, Va., a new health center in St. Paul, Minn. and a charter school in Harlem. Past funding for LIIF has financed redevelopment of Memphis, Tenn.’s Sears Crosstown, a state-of-the-art mixed-use facility consisting of commercial, residential and mixed-income space.  The development will also include office space, health clinics and an arts- and sciences-based charter high school.

“The NMTC program allows LIIF to make investments that spur economic growth and opportunity in high poverty areas with limited access to traditional capital sources,” Nancy O. Andrews, LIIF’s president and CEO said in a press release. Michael Rubinger, president and CEO of LISC, also shared that NMTC funds “encourage the private market to lend and invest in places that would otherwise seem too risky, sparking new opportunities and bringing new goods and services to people who need them.”

Since its establishment in 2000, the New Markets Tax Credits program has funded revitalization in low-income communities across the country. This awarding of funds is the last without congressional action after the NMTC program expired in 2014. The Senate Finance Committee has formed working groups on the program and is working to get the credit extended indefinitely. NHC supports the NMTC program and would like to see it extended. We’re closely monitoring congressional action around the New Markets Tax credit Extension Act of 2015. 

LIIF and LISC were among 76 total organizations awarded $3.5 billion in tax credit allocations by the U.S. Treasury. Nancy Andrews of LIIF co-chaired NHC’s Annual Gala this year. 

Affordable housing is much more than a roof

Solutions through research
by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference and the Center for Housing Policy

Affordable housing is health care. Research is continually deepening our understanding of the critical role of safe, affordable and quality housing in supporting good health for people of all ages. People’s need for housing goes beyond just shelter. Having a stable, safe and affordable place to live means that households have greater resources to access health care, less exposure to toxins that cause illness and lower levels of stress associated with being unable to afford housing or facing homelessness.  

At NHC’s Policy Symposium on June 12, Dr. Megan Sandel, a physician and researcher with Children’s HealthWatch, spoke about the lasting harmful effects that homelessness has on children. Her research team found that children’s health is negatively impacted by being homeless before they are even born. As a physician, she wishes she “could write a prescription for housing” in order to treat many housing related illnesses such as severe asthma. She encouraged affordable housing organizations to identify and approach community hospitals and other health care institutions to begin working together to use affordable housing to improve the health of community members.  

As the federal government and states explore ways to contain health care spending through improving health instead of just treating illness, there are new opportunities for housing providers to work with the health sector to improve the wellbeing of low-income families and individuals. NHC’s recent paper, Affordable Housing’s Place in Health Care, explores some of these new options for collaboration between housing providers and health care organizations. The affordable housing community must begin engaging the health community in order to access new, or leverage existing, sources of funding for affordable housing and supportive services.  

Many organizations are already forming innovative partnerships and housing developments. Look for NHC’s three profiles of promising affordable housing and health collaborations which will be released later this week. The profiles feature:
  • NHC member Volunteers of America’s new affordable and supportive housing development in New York City.
  • Hennepin County, Minn.’s Accountable Care Organization, integrating health care with social services and housing navigation assistance.
  • Georgia’s Healthy Housing and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, which uses Medicaid and other funds to test blood lead levels in children and conduct home risk assessments for lead exposure and other home hazards.

These programs and housing development are new and still evolving. They offer examples for how affordable housing organizations can think about ways to better serve their low-income residents by working with health care organizations to use housing to support good health. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Improving intergenerational mobility by investing in people and place

By Emily Brown, National Housing Conference

On June 25, HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research held a panel discussion on upward mobility, mixed-income housing and the importance of place. The discussion, entitled “Investing in People and Places for Upward Mobility,” was moderated by Katherine O’Regan, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research. Early in the discussion, O’Regan brought up intergenerational mobility, a child’s chance of advancing up the income distribution ladder relative to their parents, often a measure of opportunity. In the United States, intergenerational mobility is declining and is lower than in similar nations. Intergenerational mobility varies by race, with white children experiencing more opportunities for mobility and black children experiencing fewer.

The dialogue focused on mixed-income communities as a key strategy to improve outcomes for low-income families; creating mixed-income communities can be done through two approaches. The first, investing in people, involves facilitating the mobility of low-income individuals to low-poverty areas. The second, investing in place, focuses on a comprehensive community development approach that supports the transformation of a neighborhood. During the lively discussion, a few key themes emerged.

Strategies for supporting upward mobility vary and are as unique as the communities themselves. Panelists offered several strategies for promoting upward mobility and creating mixed-income communities.
  1. Provide high quality housing.
  2. Increase neighborhood safety.
  3. Invest in on-site services. 
  4. Leverage private, public and philanthropic funding.
  5. Provide strong role models within the community.
  6. Track a community’s performance over time to allow for mid-course corrections.
  7. Combine housing opportunities with improving schools.
  8. Develop strategies to address the challenges of sustaining resident engagement, staff capacity and financial resources.
Collaborative efforts allow for the strongest projects. Advocates should break down silos and allow housing efforts to work in tandem with investments in education and community wellness. Shared metrics ensure that partners share a vision of the future of the neighborhood. Finally, a diversified funding stream has great value, particularly when advocates can leverage the power of private investment.

Success can be difficult to measure. Each community is unique and will have different metrics of success, which makes measuring this success a complex task. Additionally, many indicators of improved outcomes – such as health or quality of life – are longer-term and subjective, making them more difficult to track. Some panelists agree that we need to rethink short-term performance metrics, because short-term metrics can be misleading.

For more information on some emerging projects or resources, keep an eye on the following: