Monday, July 25, 2016

CPCD shows housers can take the lead on public safety

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

NHC Leadership Circle member the Community Preservation and Development Partnership (CPDC), along with the Council for Court Excellence and fellow Leadership Circle member the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), recently surveyed 5,000 residents living in Washington, D.C. about perception of public safety amid increasing concerns about rising crime and homicide rates. The survey found that residents in the District’s Ward 8 feel the least safe and that a partnership approach is needed to improve concerns about public safety.

The survey was conducted last summer online and through face-to-face interviews for the purpose of measuring a baseline level of perception of public safety among city residents as a means to promote more collaboration with local police to identify strategies for improving it. Among its findings are that residents of Ward 8 feel the least safe in their neighborhoods, on public transportation and in parks and playgrounds. The survey also notes that younger D.C. residents experienced high rates of exposure to violent crime. The results come at a time where there is much concern nationally about rising rates of homicide in major cities and have pushed CPDC to launch and lead a “Collaborating for Prevention” initiative to foster community-driven public safety plans to ensure that residents thrive.

“Public safety is core to a community’s quality of life,” CPDC Senior Vice President for Community Impact Strategies, Pamela Lyons, said in a press release. “Our goal with this survey is to identify what we need to do to strengthen partnerships between residents who live in communities across the city and the law enforcement officers who are supposed to protect them. Residents are ready to build stronger, trusting relationships with police and work together with them to create safer neighborhoods for themselves and their families.”

Ensuring public safety is a vital aspect of strengthening the bond of community development. At our July Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force meeting LISC presented on community safety initiatives and community policing. View a recording of the meeting and visit our website to learn more about the Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force and to get involved.

Read the full report, “Perceptions of Public Safety: Report on the 2015 DC Public Safety Survey,” here.

The limitations of data-driven policymaking

by Brian Stromberg, National Housing Conference

My work on opportunity mapping at NHC has uncovered some important issues regarding the use of data in both describing social problems and in prescribing the solutions. For example, one question that came up during the webinar I recently hosted referred to the limitations of data-based methods like opportunity mapping. In the interest of expanding the discussion out from simple description, I wanted to provide a more nuanced discussion of what opportunity mapping and other forms of data-driven policymaking can mean for the participants on both sides of the process.

Opportunity maps have an unavoidable limitation: they are static representations of very non-static processes and relationships. Maps are a very powerful and important tool for translating facts and figures into a more relatable format. However, like a travel guide, they are outdated from the moment they are printed. Neighborhoods in many of the cities embarking on the great Geographic Data Journey (most recently prompted by the updated AFFH rule) are changing rapidly. On top of that, there are a lot of things that can factor into “opportunity” that are not easily mapped, such as social relationships. The ability of households to rely on neighbor and family members can mitigate some of the negative consequences that come from living in “low opportunity” areas.

Besides the inherent limitations of using a static map to represent active social processes, another issue to consider is how the data informing the maps are chosen. Many of the data used for making opportunity maps are “publicly available,” but this does not necessarily translate to “publicly accessible.” Equity in data access can be difficult to achieve given the technical knowledge required to find, analyze and visualize data. Not only can the simple process of gathering and packaging data for analysis be time-consuming, but effective analysis and visualization of that data often requires some sort of training in various software packages and analytic theories. Data can be difficult to wrangle even for seasoned researchers; community members that haven’t had the privilege of learning the same skills are likely to struggle even more.

One potential answer for both of these issues may come in the form of community engagement. Including community members at various steps in the mapping process helps build equity into the final product. First, community members can be engaged with the selection of indicators, as well as during the data collection stage. This can help address the first concern mentioned above. Second, the actual analysis of the data and the creation of the map can benefit greatly from including community members whose voices are less likely to be heard in such technical policymaking processes. Training these community members might be beyond the scope of any data analysis program (in terms of agenda and in terms of simple capacity). However, the simple act of incorporating the importance of community perspective increases the possibility of policies that are inclusive rather than divisive.

The use of large datasets in analyzing social problems is an increasingly popular topic. Researchers at the Urban Institute recently published an essay on the use of data in predicting neighborhood change. The authors also cite the work of the Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities project, which has funded an expansion of data-driven policymaking in 39 cities across the United States. Another recent data-driven project is the Silicon Valley Triage Tool, an algorithm developed to efficiently distribute resources for homeless people. The use of an algorithm to solve social problems created by a local economy whose success is based on monetizing algorithms may seem a bit too on-the-nose. Mother Jones has a balanced discussion of the tool and its implications. The federal government has also been participating in this expansion of data-driven policymaking. In addition to the broader Open Government Initiative, the White House recently launched the Opportunity Project, which collects open data sources from federal agencies and a dozen cities around the country.

Clearly, data-driven policymaking is becoming part of common practice. The potential for new insights is too great to ignore. Like other data-driven methods, opportunity mapping is an attempt to redress inequities that have built up over time. It’s important to remember that maps contributed to these inequities through the practice of redlining, and the seeming objectivity of data has been used in the past to justify oppression. As cities begin to grapple with the flood of data that is washing through policymaking, we need to make sure that the most vulnerable communities are not swept away, but are instead lifted up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Making the most of summer

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference 

I hope you had a restful, safe and celebratory Independence Day. The Wire took last week off in deference to the national holiday. The news here in Washington continues to be a fair amount of activity on the regulatory front (see below for more information on the opportunities). On the legislative side bills on non-housing issues and the gravitational pull of the election has led to a growing recognition that the appropriations bills are likely to not get passed and we are headed for another continuing resolution. As we move closer to the fall we will begin forecasting what this means for housing funding.

While progress on getting appropriations for housing programs passed in regular order remains doubtful, we have been encouraged by the strong bipartisan support for the Housing Opportunity through Modernization Act and are hopeful that past bipartisan support on homelessness issues will ensure renewed funding for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

After a significant amount of discussion around the issue of principle reduction, FHFA announced in April that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will offer principal reduction to certain seriously delinquent underwater borrowers. Today they launched an interactive map on that highlights the top 10 states where these potentially eligible borrowers live. The map can be sorted by MSA or ZIP code.

In addition to focusing on funding and regulatory issues at the federal level, NHC is working to develop the agenda and fill out the speaker lineups for our next two convenings: How Housing Matters on December 13 and Solutions for Affordable Housing on December 14.

In June, NHC elected six new members to its Board of Governors. I wanted to again welcome them to the board:
  • Dan Soliman, Director, Housing Impact Area, AARP Foundation.
  • Diane Yentel, President and CEO, National Low Income Housing Coalition.
  • Kirsten Johnson-Obey, Senior Vice President of Policy and Legislative Affairs, NeighborWorks® America.
  • Sandra Henriquez, Director of Operations, Rebuilding Together.
  • David Adame, President and CEO, Chicanos Por La Causa, Phoenix, Arizona.

In addition, the following were appointed to the Board of Governors by NHC regional affiliates the New York Housing Conference and the California Housing Consortium:
  • Marc Jahr, Consultant with Community Development Futures, LLC.
  • Carol Galante, I. Donald Terner Distinguished Professor in Affordable Housing and Urban Policy and the Faculty Director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley.

Our full Board of Trustees and Board of Governors rosters are available on our website.

As always, thanks for being a member of NHC.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

2017 housing finance reform…already?

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

At NHC, we are already preparing for what could happen on housing finance reform next year, even though it is still summertime. The big question of what to do with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other parts of our housing finance system still needs a definitive, legislative answer. NHC wants to make sure that affordable housing is a part of that answer in a constructive way.

Yes, I know there’s an election still to happen between now and 2017. It will be incredibly distracting for several more months, and then when it is over, the new Congress and the new administration will face the same questions that have stood open since 2008. Housing choices are required by life events, but they are enabled by financial options. How do we ensure that new parents can get a mortgage for the house with enough space for the baby? Can the recent college grad afford an apartment near her first job? Are there affordable housing options for the farm workers, restaurant workers, retail workers and the many other lower income people who keep our economy running? 

The technical details of housing finance reform help to provide the answers to those questions. At NHC, we are trying to connect the dots between the technical details and core messages of affordable housing. For instance, Shekar Narasimhan and I wrote an article on why multifamily finance needs its own solution in housing finance reform, potentially different from single-family. Yesterday, I spoke on a webinar for Habitat for Humanity affiliates who want to understand more about housing finance reform and the role they can play in making it happen. Our policy team is engaging with the Federal Housing Finance Agency on a range of regulatory issues. And at our Solutions for Affordable Housing conference on December 14, policy experts in housing finance will discuss the outlook for reform in 2017.

Post-election, we will have another opportunity to move beyond the temporary patchwork that has held the housing finance system together since 2008. Let’s make sure affordable housing is ready to play our part.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

NHP Foundation acquires Mark Twain hotel; to be preserved as affordable housing

News from NHC's family of members

by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

The NHP Foundation, an NHC member, recently acquired the Mark Twain Hotel in Chicago in partnership with Pembrook Capital Management LLC, The Chicago Community Loan Fund, Bellwether Enterprise Real Estate Capital, US Bank and the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development. The Foundation will preserve and maintain the property as affordable apartments under the city’s new single-room occupancy preservation ordinance.

The building includes 152 single-occupancy units and over 9,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space. The NHP Foundation expects to begin the development phase of the project in 2017 and plans include upgraded kitchens and the addition of community space. The property will be listed in the National Register’s Proposed Residential Hotels in Chicago, 1900–1930 group designation, which recognizes the accommodation from this era as historically significant.

“Since 1932, the Mark Twain Hotel has been a landmark of the Gold Coast neighborhood. The acquisition and future renovation of the property by the NHP Foundation is an incredibly exciting project for all parties involved,” Richard Burns, president and CEO of the NHP Foundation, said in a statement. “We are proud to be a part of Chicago’s efforts to preserve its affordable housing, and we are delighted with the opportunity to significantly improve the property while providing a better quality of life for the residents.”

Twenty-five percent of renters in Chicago face severe housing cost burden, compared to just 15 percent of renter households, according to “Housing Landscape 2016,” NHC’s annual report on the affordability challenges in metro areas across the nation, The city’s single-room occupancy preservation ordinance (SRO) will help to ensure that more low- to moderate-income families have access to decent, affordable housing in the city.

The acquisition of the Mark Twain Hotel is the largest deal so far under the new SRO funding program for affordable developments .

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ocwen, NAACP renew “Help & Hope for Homeowners” borrower outreach events for 2016

News from NHC's family of members

by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference 

NHC Leadership Circle member Ocwen Financial Corporation recently announced that it has renewed its partnership with the NAACP for its 2016 Help & Hope for Homeowners borrower outreach events. The events offer struggling borrowers the opportunity to receive in-person, individualized mortgage counseling that helps them better afford and maintain their homes. Four borrower outreach events are scheduled to be held in Florida, New Jersey, Texas and Washington.

During the events, homeowners have the opportunity to meet with Ocwen Home Retention Agents and HUD-approved financial counselors to learn about loan modification programs, including principal reductions, which can help make their homes more affordable. In the program’s first year, Ocwen and the NAACP met with approximately 800 Ocwen borrowers in four states, where many of these attendees were able to receive a loan modification.

“From an idea born during a meeting in 2013, to the success it has become today, the Help & Hope for Homeowners borrower outreach events are making a significant difference, not just for individual borrowers, but for communities throughout the country,” Jill Showell, Ocwen’s Senior Vice President of Government and Community Relations, said in a press release. “Exploring innovative methods of borrower outreach with the NAACP has yielded strong results, and we look forward to leveraging this success in 2016.”

Ocwen has completed more than 627,000 loan modifications to date, many of which included a principal reduction for borrowers whose mortgage exceeds the current value of their home. Learn more about the Help & Hope for Homeowners events here

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

SAHF joins Clean Energy for Low Income Communities Program Accelerator

News from NHC's family of members

by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced three new Better Business Accelerators and 50 new partners that will join them in improving the critical infrastructure in communities nationwide. NHC member Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF) was announced as one of the partners and will work to support clean energy adoption for low-income communities.

The Clean Energy for Low Income Communities Accelerator supports the President’s Climate Action Plan with the goal of accelerating investment in home energy efficiency improvement projects across the country. The collaboration’s focus is to lower energy bills in low-income communities through installation of energy efficient renewables. The program also encourages the development of innovative partnerships, best practices and funding models that a state-level agency, local government or utility program could deploy for communities that are most in need.

“SAHF is excited to help deliver the many benefits of clean energy to low income communities,” Rebecca Schaaf, Senior Vice President for Energy at SAHF said in a press release. “This collaboration is an opportunity to bring affordable housing to the forefront of green building practices and ensure a seat at the table for all income groups as we build our clean energy future.”

NHC is committed to work on energy efficiency in affordable housing. We are actively engaged in advocacy for the Clean Power Plan, an EPA requirement for states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we’re focused on making sure energy efficiency improvements happen in a way that benefits low-income communities and affordable housing.  View our policy brief on the subject.

Since the launch of the multifamily component of the Better Buildings Challenge in December 2013, SAHF and its eleven members have been key partners to the Department of Energy, developing and sharing a wide range of tools to help partners achieve their goals, including the EZ Retrofit Tool and an Operations and Maintenance Toolkit.