Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Help! What degree should I get for a career in affordable housing?

by Eva Wingren, Young Leaders in Affordable Housing

For people in the age cohort targeted by the Young Leaders in Affordable Housing, extensive post-bachelor’s education might be required to even get a foot in the door for some of the highly technical careers in housing. On the other hand, with skyrocketing levels of student loan debt, it is important to choose your graduate degree program wisely. This blog series will feature the personal experiences of YLAH members with a variety of different graduate degrees to help you determine which type of program will help you accomplish your career goals.

Masters of Public Administration

I earned a Masters of Public Administration at the public university in my home state. It was a somewhat recession-motivated decision to go back to school only one year after undergrad. I had very little idea of what I wanted to do, other than somehow be of service. I laugh a little now when folks approach me for informational interviews saying they want to “work in nonprofits,” because that encompasses basically everything under the sun, but I was that person not too long ago. I chose the MPA program because I figured it would be general enough to be of use no matter what I chose to specialize in.

What to expect

An MPA is sometimes jokingly referred to as an MBA for nonprofits, and there is a lot of truth to that. I took classes in budgeting, economics, management and strategic analysis. The hard numbers classes have really helped when I have attempted real estate finance. And as for economics, the housing market is full of market failures, where demand is constrained far below supply by things like production costs and housing quality codes. I spent the year between undergrad and grad school in Southeast Asia, where there is far less chronic street homelessness, but also far worse housing conditions and a lack of urban planning, so that’s one of the tradeoffs America has made, and it’s helpful to be able to talk about that from an economics perspective. Finally, there are public policy classes, but they are more about what a policy should be rather than how to gain the influence to get it enacted. In addition, you’ll have to take about a third of your classes in a subject discipline. I created my own urban policy sub-discipline using classes from the Master of Real Estate Development program in the urban planning school.

Why an MPA?

The beauty of an MPA is that it can prepare you for a wide variety of careers, with sufficient targeting on your part. I think an MPA would be appropriate for anyone who wants to work at a nonprofit, think tank or government agency. For trade associations or more government affairs-type work, an MPP or a law degree might give you an edge, but an MPA would also give you the necessary skills. My peers were at many different levels in their careers, and some had founded their own nonprofits. I consider my peers to have been a huge learning resource. Had I gone straight into the working world, I don’t think I would have been exposed to so many different ideas, work styles and potential career trajectories.

Use your career services department!

My career services department was probably the best part of the MPA program. Department staff helped me get the internship that got me interested in housing. They prepped me for interviews intensively in my final semester and have continued to stay in touch three years later as I undertake another job search. I worked part time at two paid internships as I worked toward my degree, and graduated with a strong network in the housing field and two job offers. I would encourage returning students to ask questions about your grad school’s career services offerings, and use them throughout your time there. I also think that interning during your degree, or better yet, keeping your job and going to school part time, puts you in a much stronger position than leaving a job to pursue school again fulltime.

You might be a good candidate for an MPA program if you want to spend some time exploring your career options and obtaining hard skills that will work in a variety of contexts.

As President of the Young Leaders in Affordable Housing, Eva is passionate about connecting the next generation of housing leaders to each other and to the training, resources and opportunities that they will need to end homelessness and housing instability in America in her lifetime. She has worked at Mercy Housing and is a former Fulbright scholar to Malaysia. 

The latest research on the connection between affordable housing and health

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

Affordable housing leads to better health outcomes than unaffordable, unstable and poor quality housing. The Center for Housing Policy’s new report, The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health, is an update to a 2011 report, by the same name, that reviews research on the various ways that housing influences health. The latest edition of the report includes the most recent research on the connection between housing and health outcomes for individuals of all ages.

New research on the impact of housing costs, quality and stability on health reinforces the original 10 hypotheses in the 2011 report which trace the pathways through which affordable and stable housing supports positive physical and mental health outcomes. Much of the new research in the report focuses on the harmful effects of stress, caused by unaffordable housing or foreclosure proceedings, on mental health. Current research also confirms that a lack of affordable housing options can result in victims of domestic abuse returning to their abuser or struggling with housing instability. Several recent reports also expand our understanding of how unaffordable housing reduces spending on food, which is harmful to the health of children and adults.

One area of continuing uncertainty in the research is the differing impacts of unaffordable homeownership and unaffordable renting. While recent research continues to show that homeownership appears to have greater health benefits than renting in the abstract, it is not clear whether owning is more beneficial to health than renting when ownership is not financially sustainable.  

This updated report serves as a resource that explains how investment in quality affordable housing can lead to better health outcomes for children and adults.

To read the full report, click here.    

Monday, April 20, 2015

House panel looks at public private partnerships for affordable housing

by Amanda Gold and Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

On April 16, 2015, the Housing and Insurance subcommittee held a hearing entitled, “The Future of Housing in America: Increasing Private Sector Participation in Affordable Housing.” The subcommittee heard testimony from four witnesses:
  • Adrianne Todman, executive director of the DC Housing Authority (DCHA).
  • Brad Fennell, senior vice president of WC Smith. 
  • James Evans, director of Quadel Consulting. 
  • Sheila Crowley, president and CEO of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.
All of the witnesses stressed the importance of government involvement in affordable housing. Subcommittee members disagreed about what the appropriate balance should be between the public and private sectors and used their questions to draw distinctions. Many questions focused on the pros and cons of the Moving to Work (MTW) initiative in public housing, the Rental Assistance Demonstration and ways to encourage effective private sector involvement.

Balancing public and private investments in affordable housing
  • Chairman Blaine Luetkemeyer’s (R-Mo.) opening statement highlighted the importance of public private partnerships in leveraging public funding. Saving his questions for the end, Luetkemeyer concluded the hearing by asking the witnesses to follow up with the subcommittee, highlighting programs that stretch funding to serve more households and pilot projects that should be tested.
  • Crowley expressed concern about relying too heavily on the private sector, noting a fundamental challenge stemming from conflicting objectives in the public and private sectors. HUD wants to provide decent and affordable housing, but private sector operators care about profits. Private sector actors need public investment to make their involvement cost effective. 
  • Fennel described successful development supported by the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) in which developers’ business interests align with the public sector objectives of affordable housing and strengthening communities.  
  • Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.) highlighted the need for government support to make housing affordable, noting the gap between need and what the private sector provides without subsidy. He also took time at the end of his questions to press Crowley on her proposal to cap the home mortgage interest deduction and its impact on homeownership in high-cost markets. 
  • Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), prompted Fennel to discuss improvements to the LIHTC program that would provide more commercial and service opportunities in properties, greater income mixing and more certainty in financing.
Pros and cons of Moving to Work

Many of the members seemed interested in the Moving to Work (MTW) initiative in public housing: the successes of MTW, areas for improvement and the degree to which the program or a specific policy innovation could scale up.
  • Pros: Todman highlighted many of the advantages of MTW, including increased local control and flexibility, helping clients find affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods, providing funding for social services and allowing programs to support one another. Evans recommended expanding MTW or building innovations into existing public housing and Section 8 programs. Rep. Dold (R-Ill.) highlighted the value of local flexibility.
  • Cons: Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) asked about the risks to residents created by MTW flexibility. Crowley mentioned that with increasing flexibility, MTW removes a lot of the protections normally afforded to public housing residents. With limited data to support the efficacy of many of these programs, she advised the subcommittee to proceed with caution.
Rental Assistance Demonstration

The Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) allows public housing authorities to convert properties from public housing funding to long-term rental assistance contracts, thereby bringing in private capital to renovate and preserve the housing.
  • Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), ranking member of the full committee, expressed strong concerns about the risks of the program and protection of residents.
  • Rep. Velazquez focused on the Section 3 hiring requirements of RAD and how broadly it would apply within RAD. 
  • Evans noted that RAD transactions rely heavily on LIHTC to provide capital and suggested ways to make the two programs work better together. 
  • Todman discussed RAD in the context of DCHA’s current and past efforts to recapitalize and preserve public housing, emphasizing the need for flexibility and additional resources.
Targeting of Home and CDBG

In a surprising exchange, Rep. Waters asked Crowley her reaction to the idea of retargeting all of the CDBG and HOME block grants into low income housing. Crowley’s response emphasized her desire to see greater targeting. The exchange is likely to spark further discussion among housing stakeholders. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) also highlighted the particular needs of communities that have seen population loss, declining housing markets and blight.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lessons learned in Seattle and beyond

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

Last week we had the pleasure of holding Solutions for Housing Communications: Building Acceptance for Affordable Housing in Seattle in partnership with the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County. We were pleased to host big contingents from Washington state and California, in addition to attendees from 13 other states and a diverse range of professionals like developers, local and state government officials, service providers, communicators and advocates.

Special thanks to NHC board of governors members Janis Smith, Steve PonTell and Linda Mandolini for speaking at the convening. Our gratitude also goes to Washington State Housing Finance Agency Director Kim Herman and Diane Sugimura, Director of the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, who participated in our Wednesday luncheon plenary. We also extend a big thank you to Nicole Macri and her colleagues at DESC in Seattle who led a mobile workshop highlighting DESC’s work to build acceptance for supportive housing in three Seattle neighborhoods.

We’ve already begun planning for another Solutions for Housing Communications convening next spring, likely on the East Coast. For more information on the content and take-aways from last week’s event, see Amy’s article in Briefing Room.

The Washington Wire has several important updates on the budget process, NHC’s advocacy on tax reform and for the Housing Credit, updates from our Connectivity Working Group and other important notices.

One of the interesting aspects of the National Housing Trust Fund is how it will be utilized by states to produce more housing to serve households at 30 percent of area median income (AMI) and below. A new report by the Technical Assistance Collaborative looks at how three states, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Illinois, have worked to create these targeted, difficult-to-develop units for a population with the greatest housing needs. These innovations at the state level will be important for others to model. It will also be vital to engage HUD on ensuring that federal funding sources can work with these effective state efforts. 

NHC is honoring two examples of high-impact local collaborations at our 43rd Annual Gala. Now is the time to secure your table, buy tribute ads and get your sponsorship in for this terrific gathering of the affordable housing community. Come help us celebrate our two honorees, the Community Properties Initiative in Columbus, Ohio and the Piece By Piece Initiative in Atlanta, Ga. You can read more about our honorees as well as purchase your tickets or become a sponsor on our website.

Deep in the heart of NIMBY

News from NHC 
by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference


Community opposition is one of the most vexing challenges to affordable housing development. NHC is exploring solutions. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Start by looking in the mirror
At Solutions for Housing Communications in Seattle last week, we kicked off the convening with an exploration of the psychology and language of not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) sentiment. As I emphasized in my presentation, the concerns expressed by neighbors of prospective affordable housing developments are usually unfounded, but they’re not unreasonable. Safety and quality of life are important to all of us, and a little empathy can go a long way to building trust and understanding between housers and the broader community. (This is why I suggest we drop the term NIMBY altogether when describing people in our communities.)

It’s a process
There’s no one right way to prepare for and counter opposition, there’s no single person or group with all the answers and having decades of experience doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to learn. I heard over and over again from convening attendees last week about how hearing from others helped them feel they could improve their own approach, and watched plenary panelists take notes on each other’s remarks.  We can all learn from one another, and whether through personal networks or resources like the Housing Communications HUB, we should continue to share our experiences and reach out for advice (and commiseration).

Change the message, change the frame
There are a few truisms that seem to underlie the community opposition conversation: if we just share the facts, acceptance will follow; and when it comes to building support, it’s the housing developer’s responsibility to do the heavy lifting. In Seattle last week, we explored the idea that while commonly raised concerns are more mundane, conflicting beliefs about who has the right to access—and make decisions about—space could actually be a foundation of persistent community opposition. More exploration is needed, but I believe this new frame can help us rethink the way we talk about the positive impacts of affordable housing. And as I write in the most recent edition of Shelterforce, local governments committed to increasing their community’s supply of affordable housing must be equally committed to vocally supporting, and de-politicizing, the affordable housing development process.

Opposition to new development of any kind is not likely to be swept from the American landscape in anyone’s lifetime. But by continuing to explore the roots of the issue, engaging community members and involving key stakeholders like government officials in solutions, we can bring the problem closer to solved. NHC will continue to address community opposition in future events and research. Have questions we could help answer or topics you’d like to see covered? Share them in the comments.  

What to make of the personnel changes at HUD

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


You may have seen some recent announcements of new appointments at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), names you might recognize moving to new jobs with titles you don’t entirely recognize.  The changes are part of the normal end-of-an-administration turnover, but they also reflect political constraints and changes within the agency itself. It remains an open question whether the new roles will empower policy action or create new logjams.

Among the recent and coming changes are:

  • Biniam Gebre, formerly acting FHA Commissioner, moved to become Senior Advisor to Deputy Secretary Nani Coloretti.
  • Ed Golding, previously Senior Advisor on Housing Finance to the Secretary, will become Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Housing, which includes the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).
  • Harriet Tregoning, previously head of the Office of Economic Resilience, will be appointed Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development.
  • Laura Hogshead, formerly Deputy Chief of Staff for Budget and Policy, became Chief Operations Officer reporting to the Deputy Secretary.

All of these are talented, committed public servants who are filling much-needed roles in the agency. As we near the end of President Obama’s second term, it is natural for staff to consider leaving as they think beyond 2016. Expect more openings to come in the next year and a half, and expect those to be steadily harder to fill as the time left gets shorter.

Why the new title of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS)? HUD’s org chart already had its share of jawbreakers for title, after all.  Other agencies have used the title in the past but it is new to HUD. The key distinction is that a Principal DAS does not require Senate confirmation. Given the long delays in confirmations already and now a Senate no longer controlled by the same party as the president, avoiding the confirmation process could put staff to work faster.

Changing the org chart could also create logjams, however. A Principal DAS doesn’t have all the powers of a DAS, so the Deputy Secretary will have to sign off on some decisions, such as the release of formal notice and comment documents. If there are too many demands at one point in the chain, it can be hard for anything to get through. For staff changing jobs within the agency without a successor coming in behind them, there may be a period of having, in effect, two jobs at once—not a position I would wish on anyone.

From my and Chris’ conversations with HUD staff, we get a strong sense that they are working hard to move policy forward efficiently while managing transitions and possibly along the way finding some long-lasting improvements to HUD’s organization. Personnel changes are only some of the many challenges to come. The best way to judge results will be the policy action and program implementation we see, which ultimately mean homes created, communities strengthened and people helped.


Enterprise invests in new affordable homes for seniors in Arizona

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

NHC member Enterprise recently announced a LIHTC deal to create a development in Santa Cruz County, Arizona for older adults. Bowman Senior Residences will feature 48 apartments for older adults earning less than 60 percent of the area median income ($20,000 per person), and replace two dilapidated buildings in the area. Data from the American Community Survey (2010-2013) shows that the median income for householders age 65 and over in the U.S. for the three-year period of 2010-2013 was $37,137. For householders aged 65 and over for the same period in Arizona, the median income was slightly higher, at $39,210.

The development is financed primarily by the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, with nearly $10 million syndicated by Enterprise. Co-sponsors are Gorman & Company, Inc. and Nogales Community Development Corporation. The apartment community will provide residents with many on-site services, including nutrition and financial literacy classes, health screenings, weekly transportation services, wellness classes and more. The development will also allow them to have easy access to the surrounding community.

“Creating Bowman Senior Residences is the latest step toward Enterprise’s generational goal of ending housing insecurity in the U.S., so that nobody is homeless or paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing,” Raoul Moore, Enterprise’s senior vice president of syndication said in a press release. “It’s critical to grow the supply of quality, affordable homes with services for seniors to keep pace with America’s aging population.”

NHC’s most recent report, Housing Landscape 2015, found that 33 percent of working households face extreme housing cost burden and forfeit a majority of their income on housing related costs. This burden often becomes even more difficult for older adults, many of whom are on fixed-incomes. Developments like Bowman Senior Residences will help to lessen the burden older adults face when trying to afford decent housing.

Bowman Senior Residences are scheduled to open at the end of this year.