Wednesday, September 6, 2017

How the housing field can help Texas rebuild

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

Hurricane Harveys devastation has rightfully been the dominant national news story for more than a week. While other stories will eventually crowd out the recovery, Harvey will be the focus of the housing community and south Texas for the next several years.

I believe the major focus for HUD leadership and related agencies will be the housing and planning issues in Houston and surrounding communities. This will bring both challenges and opportunities. As we have seen in the past, funding for emergency relief and recovery can get attention and support from Congress, though not always easily, but this new spending will create even greater pressure to balance the budget through cuts to non-defense discretionary funding.

The recovery in south Texas and Louisiana will be years in the making and will bring many issues into the mix. With flood insurance covering only an estimated 25 percent of flooded homes, asking people to rebuild with loans alone will be politically difficult. Toxic water, mold and mildew have rendered most all of the houses touched by water in need of a complete, and costly, rebuild.

How, whether and where to rebuild will be complicated issues to manage. The Houston area has done little to regulate building codes or manage its flood plain. The National Flood Insurance Program must be renewed by the end of September. Harvey’s aftermath will necessarily inform the debate on the federal role in flood: paying to rebuild again and again after floods compared to funding mitigation and improved storm management systems and creating incentives to rebuild outside of flood plains. As I have mentioned many times, NHC has taken an active role in the SmarterSafer Coalition, and we will continue to advocate for the needs of affordable housing residents and the preservation of affordable housing in the rebuilding process.

While much attention will be on the challenge homeowners face in rebuilding, renters face significant challenges as well. It is unclear at this point how much public housing and rental housing subsidized by the Housing Credit and project-based Section 8 was damaged, how many voucher holders were displaced, or how many unassisted renters were displaced. Ample rental stock and relatively low vacancy rates, plus FEMA vouchers, will help in the short run, but it is unclear where people will live in the long run and if there will be enough vouchers to meet what is sure to be increased need. Coordinated support and case management will be essential for the many families who experienced total loss to return to economic stability.

The housing community's challenge will be to work together to protect important affordable housing programs in the budget and regulatory environments, by framing housing programs in a disaster relief context and sharing lessons learned from Hurricanes Rita and Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

NHC and our Leadership Circle members will meet with HUD Sec. Ben Carson this week to discuss how we can be helpful. I also hope we can bring the full affordable housing and community development continuum together in a coordinated and collaborative manner. It will be easy for folks to jump forward at the beginning but with a recovery that is going to take years, we need everyone at the table helping HUD, the state of Texas, the city of Houston, and other jurisdictions see the long-term issues as well.

There will no doubt be many challenges related to effective rebuilding, preservation, prevention of displacement and protection of low- and moderate-income households. With all of us working together over the long haul, we can both improve these communities and strengthen the housing field for the future.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Improving housing policy after Hurricane Harvey

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

With all eyes on Texas and Louisiana in the path of Hurricane Harvey, most of us are focused on victims’ critical need for safety, food and shelter. As housers, we should also be thinking about what comes next, building on the lessons learned in past floods. In three policy areas, we know ways to build better and prepare smarter as we rebuild homes, mitigate future damage and insurance against flood risk. NHC and our members are working in all of these areas to improve policy.

Rebuild for the future. As recovery help moves past emergency needs to rebuilding, we should make sure it goes to strengthen communities for the long term. I learned just last week about a NeighborWorks® America affiliate, The Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, which has a RAPIDO disaster recovery housing pilot that creates temporary housing designed to be more resilient to floods and able to expand as households grow. The post-Katrina recovery efforts of NHC Gold member Enterprise Community Partners, a 2014 Housing Visionary Award honoree, and many others gives us much experience to draw on in the months to come. If past federal responses are any guide, we should expect recovery funds to use proven tools like Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Community Development Block Grants, both of which are well-suited to create long-term community assets.

Mitigate future damage. Investing now to protect homes, business and communities against future floods will pay off. Mitigation can mean using natural features to absorb storm water, improving land use policy to require safer buildings or making targeted physical improvements. Communities at risk should invest in mitigation, and the federal government should help, especially in communities with many low-income individuals.

Reform flood insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) expires next month, and Congress has only started the process of reforming it. There are draft bills in both chambers, with a good bit of daylight visible between them. For the program to do what it must to manage risk and signal to property owners how to protect themselves, it needs to change, likely with more private insurance participation. More accurate maps, rates that reflect risk, incentives to mitigate risk and especially targeted help for those who need it will make us all safer. NHC and our coalition partners, at SmarterSafer, including newest member Habitat for Humanity International, have been working with members of both parties to encourage timely and effective NFIP reform and reauthorization.

Housers will play a big part in leading the rebuilding efforts after this disaster. Let’s bring our best thinking and strongest efforts, so that we are all safer when the next storms strike.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Fighting racism by fighting for affordable housing in your neighborhood

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

The overt racism and hatred on display in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month reinvigorated the national conversation about racism in America. But what is often left out of this discussion is how systematic and institutional racism is preserved every day through a multitude of indirect actions by people who would never consider themselves to be racist. Marisa Novara of the Chicago Metropolitan Planning Council explains how many people support segregation and “subjugation” of people of color by objecting to the development of affordable housing in their community and protesting other policies that would support low-income households and households of color.

As Novara explains, many Americans overlook the extent to which our neighborhoods are segregated by race and do not think about the many ways that this segregation is perpetuated by people who object to affordable housing being developed in neighborhoods of opportunity, places with quality schools, grocery stores, access to health care and more. The objections to affordable housing are often conveyed as concern about school crowding, increased traffic, and fear of crime; though evidence shows that affordable housing development does not result in these oft cited problems.

The core problem that contributes to these “not in my back yard (NIMBY)” positions is the pervasive, if not always conscious, fear of the “other,” the idea that there are inherent differences between people who look different. Few Americans accept that these common objections to affordable housing reinforce racial segregation and racism in our country. It results in children of color disproportionately attending low-performing schools, struggling to access quality healthcare, and living in environments where they are more likely to be exposed to trauma that has long-term impacts on their development and well-being.

As many people participate in conversations about racism and ask themselves “what can I do?” they should look to how they make their voice heard when a local planning board considers a new affordable housing development. Do you show up to the public meetings and proudly proclaim you support for giving low-income families and families of color a home in your neighborhood? Or do you assume that as long as you speak out against white supremacists, that you are doing enough?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

ConnectHome Nation can lead the way in getting all affordable housing residents connected

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

HUD and EveryoneOn announced the expansion of its ConnectHome program this May. I spoke at the launch event to both demonstrate NHC’s support of the ConnectHome Nation program and share our hope that this expansion will lead to new models and partnerships that will make the difference in getting all affordable housing residents connected to the internet. ConnectHome Nation plans to expand the current program from 28 communities to 100 communities by 2020, but the expansion is exciting beyond just its size. The expansion will allow the ConnectHome Nation program to go beyond just public housing agencies to include private owners of HUD-assisted multifamily housing as well. The expansion will also include a new resource platform to share best practices and details on how other communities can make progress in closing the digital divide for affordable housing residents.

By expanding the ConnectHome Nation program to more communities, we will learn more ways to tackle the challenge of how to make sure residents have the broadband infrastructure to get connected, access to a low-cost connection and access to devices and digital literacy training. Connecting low-income residents to the internet at home is essential because so many aspects of life are moving online. At least 80 percent of students need internet access to complete homework assignments and 90 percent of job applications are online. Job seekers with at-home internet find employment seven weeks faster than those without. Social workers can conduct virtual home visits for families with young children, making it possible to serve more families. The Free Application for Financial Student Aid will soon move entirely online, making home internet even more important for students applying for help with college tuition. And these are just a few examples.

NHC hopes that through the expansion, owners and developers will be able to see examples of how other properties have been able to finance the investment and maintain a broadband network. Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority in Ohio, a current ConnectHome Nation participant, used line-of-sight technology and community partnerships to provide free broadband to residents in some of its buildings. The District of Columbia Housing Authority, also a ConnectHome Nation participant, leveraged the public Wi-Fi network to serve some of its residents with free broadband. Boulder Housing Partners, while not a current participant, leveraged its participation in the Rental Assistance Demonstration program to include a community Wi-Fi network for residents. I hope examples like these will be discussed more through the new resource platform. By sharing these models and others through the ConnectHome Nation expansion, we can start to make real progress in getting affordable housing residents connected!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sometimes it takes a threat to push housing issues to the forefront

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

NHC has spent much of the past five years thinking, writing and working on ways to increase support for affordable housing and community development. Part of this work is to make clear that while affordability, housing security and community access to opportunity have worsened, we have not seen a commensurate increase in political will and funding at the federal level. For these reasons we have been emphasizing that in order to improve the situation we need change the way we have been doing our advocacy and education efforts.

This has been magnified by the Trump administration, where funding for federal housing and community development programs have come under attack. Instead of increasing support for housing programs that could create needed savings or address the growing severity of the problem, the Trump administration’s budget proposes elimination of funding for several important programs, and dramatic cuts to others.

As I have noted in previous editions of Under One Roof, we have seen a significant increase in attention to these issues over the past few years in high-cost regions where housing affordability, displacement and ending homelessness have received enough public and political attention to increase funding at the state and local levels. The question that remains is how to ensure that these issues receive bipartisan political support beyond the major high-cost metros, especially in the suburban and rural communities where affordability issues may play out differently.

It may be a small start, but it finally feels like we are beginning to seem some transfer of support to more members of Congress and an increasing level of bipartisan common support for some housing programs.

The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017, introduced by Sens. Cantwell and Hatch and supported by a bipartisan Senate coalition, would expand and improve upon the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program as recommended by the ACTION Campaign.
In his nomination hearing, Joseph Otting, the nominee for Comptroller of the Currency, voiced his support for NeighborWorks® America, despite the administration’s proposed defunding of the independent agency.
The Senate THUD subcommittee provided strong funding support for all housing and community development programs on a bipartisan basis, forging a very different path from the House committee recommendations and the Trump administration.

While this does not mean we have achieved sufficient support to meet the nation’s housing needs or even enough support to prevent program funding from being reduced in the FY 2018 budget process, there is a new sense that leaders in both parties are willing to speak up in favor of housing programs even in a difficult budget environment. Now is the time for everyone in the affordable housing and community development field to join the national efforts to increase support for this work:

The Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding, of which NHC is an active member, is working to coordinate budget advocacy among national housing and community development organizations. 
NHC launched Strong Voices for Affordable Housing this year to bring leaders from national groups together to share messaging and policy strategy on issues like tax reform, infrastructure, housing finance reform and more.
Our Homes, Our Voices is a national effort organized by the National Low Income Housing Coalition to mobilize local advocates to call for greater congressional investment in affordable homes and communities. More than 60 local events were held around the country in support of these programs during the National Housing Week of Action. 

Organizing locally, and mobilizing nationally, are the best ways for every organization, business or advocate to engage members of Congress on behalf of affordable housing and community development programs. The range of priorities across the housing and community development sector can make it difficult for us to speak consistently and coherently to national policymakers as a movement. While many organizations have specific programs or issues that matter most to our work, coordinated advocacy is vital maximizing the many different voices in our field and to preventing the programs we care about from being pitted against each other.

With all of us joining coordinated efforts to raise our issues at the federal level, we will build the movement to ensure safe, affordable homes for all. 

Thanks again for being a member of NHC and for supporting this work.

Want to grow the economy? Then shrink community opposition.

by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference 

Last week, economists at ApartmentList brought us news that in recent years, “only 10 of the nation’s 50 largest metros have produced enough new housing to keep pace with job growth.” ApartmentList also found that while job growth often happens in a region’s core city, a greater share of places to live are added to the suburbs than to the core cities. The result, of course, is that demand near job centers outpaces supply and rents increase dramatically.

While ApartmentList was crunching these numbers, the YIMBYTown conference was happening in Oakland. YIMBY stands for “yes in my backyard,” the pro-development counterpoint to community opposition. Broadly, YIMBYs support housing development—especially rental housing development— particularly near job centers, even if that makes existing residents uncomfortable. First reported as a sort of Bay Area tech economy anomaly, the YIMBY movement has taken hold in high-cost cities around the country. What’s most exciting to me about the YIMBY movement is that it didn’t start with career housing advocates like me; it started with people looking around their communities, seeing housing problems and asking themselves, What can we do?

The YIMBY movement is important because it asks leaders of high-cost cities to look at the big picture when housing developments, market-rate or affordable, are proposed. It can’t be easy for an elected official to tell her constituents that she’s supporting new development over their objections. But it won’t be any easier to look, a generation from now, at what could have been. If the development trends highlighted by ApartmentList continue, it’s not difficult to imagine a time when companies make expansion and location decisions based in part on the state of the housing market. YIMBY activists could be just the push local elected officials need to go all-in on support for housing development in neighborhoods that need it. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Innovative integration of housing and health in Portland, Oregon

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

During a recent meeting of NHC’s Housing and Health Working Group in Portland, Oregon, group members learned of the exciting work in Oregon to integrate housing into that state’s focus on health in the state Medicaid program. As described by Enterprise Community Partners, one strategy to address the health and well-being of low-income Oregonians is to use the Flexible Funds Pilot program, which authorizes Medicaid funds to be used on non-clinic services in order to address social determinants of health. The program supports the health of individuals by offering services such as short-term rental assistance and security deposits to improve the housing stability with of Medicaid enrollees.

The Center for Outcomes Research and Education (CORE) will evaluate the impact of this use of Medicaid funds on the health of enrollees. If found to be effective, the hope is that other states will work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to seek more flexibility in using Medicaid funds to address social determinants of health. Other research by CORE has found that helping Medicaid enrollees access affordable housing has a significant, positive impact on their health.

Oregon is also experimenting with the use of Medicaid funds to support the use of traditional health workers who apply a deep understanding of the culture of their community and focus on health equity to their interactions patients and help them navigate the health care system and address the social determinants of their health.

Oregon’s use of Coordinated Care Organizations, health care provider networks that offer a comprehensive approach to health care and the flexibility to address social determinants of health, are another avenue used in the state to better address the complex health needs of low-income residents with an integrated approach to well-being.

Even as efforts to repeal or change the Affordable Care Act stall in Congress, states are still focused on how to create health systems that achieve better health outcomes at lower costs. Oregon’s strategy of integrating care and seeking flexibility in the kinds of services Medicaid can fund provide an example for how other states may be able to reform their health systems to serve low-income residents more effectively.