Friday, January 23, 2015

Covington, Georgia, Pilots Controversial Program to Revitalize its Suburbs

By Amanda Gold, National Housing Conference

Originally approved in 2003 and planned to have 249 homes on large lots, the Walker’s Bend subdivision in Covington, Georgia stalled in 2007. With 79 homes built and only 50 sold, Developer Timber went bankrupt and left behind 160 empty lots and abandoned homes. Shortly thereafter, home values fell and crime rates increased. City planning director Randy Vinson has implemented a controversial plan to save Walker’s Bend, and the city of Covington will be the master developer.

Successes of Covington’s plan
  • Renovation of existing homes:
    • In a 4-2 vote, the city council approved the purchase of the empty lots and partnered with Habitat for Humanity to renovate eight townhouses that had fallen into disrepair.
  • Elimination of vacant lots
  •  Provision of affordable housing:
    • For low income residents, the city constructed 32 single-family homes and built a three-story apartment building with an additional 28 units. Next door, the city constructed a 26-unit apartment building for people with disabilities. 
  • Budgetary Success:
    • By the time Walker’s Bend is completed, the city expects to have made a profit of about $500,000.
Primary challenges
  • Community criticism:
    • Residents outside the affordable housing rentals are disgruntled by the influx of low-income residents.
    • Some community members have complained that low-income residents are responsible for increased crime in the area. NHC was unable to find data to show crime trends over the past ten years.
    • Some residents also complain about the increase in residential density because of the apartment construction.
    • However, the city’s plan isn’t limited to low-income housing. Market-rate homeownership units are planned along with other projects, but the lengthy process of acquiring funding has slowed construction.
Policy implications
  • Need for a long-term strategy for a severely distressed neighborhood:
    • Walker’s Bend provides an example of when a long-term strategy is necessary for neighborhood recovery, as well as how a distressed suburban neighborhood can provide an opportunity to create a number of other positive changes like inclusionary housing policy, mixed income neighborhood and a more sustainable development pattern.
    • Walker’s Bend also reveals some of the implementation struggles that a long-term strategy can face. Specifically this case shows that changing the development plan for an existing neighborhood, originally designed as market rate single family detached units to be a denser mixed income neighborhood, incurred neighborhood concern and community disapproval.
    • Did expectations about what the neighborhood was supposed to look like exacerbate community backlash?
    • Can inclusionary neighborhoods be a successful way to stabilize suburban neighborhoods without inciting existing homeowners to leave?
    • Can local government play a master developer role like Covington?
    • What kinds of community engagement strategies could be deployed to build support for these changes? NHC’s Communications HUB can be a resource for communities looking for messaging strategies for dealing with a changing neighborhood like Walker’s Bend.

Cities across America are grappling with the challenge posed by distressed suburban communities in the wake of the housing crisis. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, policy leaders and those in community development would do well to consider the lessons learned in Covington.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Recap of 2014

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

2014 held some interesting developments for the affordable housing sector, despite little housing legislation enacted. From changes in HUD and Congressional leadership to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) decision to fund the National Housing Trust Fund and Capital Magnet Fund, changes happened at many levels. Given last week’s announcement by the Administration to lower FHA premiums and continued policy actions from the FHFA, and Congressional interest in tax reform, we anticipate 2015 will be another busy year for housing.

Major housing policy developments of 2014:
  • Julian Castro, former mayor of San Antonio, became the secretary of HUD and Shaun Donovan became the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Castro has called HUD “the department of opportunity” and emphasized initiatives like Choice Neighborhoods, Jobs Plus, and the Rental Assistance Demonstration. He has also highlighted the need to bridge the digital divide and increase broadband access.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mae began offering 3 percent downpayment mortgages again. These programs will be targeted primarily to first-time and low-income homebuyers, those buyers with good credit but low wealth. These programs will offer first-time homebuyers a more affordable entry to homeownership but may also act as a substitute for FHA mortgages. Now that the Administration has announced a reduction in FHA premiums, we hope both of these developments will empower more creditworthy borrowers to purchase homes.
  • Republicans gained control of the Senate in the mid-term elections. With a Democratic President and a Republican-controlled Congress, legislative impasses are still likely; however, the benefit of not having a divided Congress could be the ability to get more legislation enacted if Republicans and the President can reach compromise.
  • Congress authorized the expansion of the Rental Assistance Demonstration Component 1 program, from 60,000 units to 185,000 units, in the FY15 THUD omnibus bill. This expansion will address all of the applications that have been approved on the waitlist as well as allow for new applications for 8,000 units. The bill also allowed residents in project based Section 8 to participate in the Family Self Sufficiency Program for the first time. Unfortunately, it also prohibited any FHA funding for the HAWK program and made cuts to the CDBG and HOME programs.
As these developments play out in 2015, we will work to keep housing in the forefront and keep you updated. Look for more on many issues, including the implementation of the National Housing Trust Fund and Capital Magnet Fund, the RAD expansion, and trends in homeownership. In 2015, we also anticipate renewed discussions around tax reform in policy circles and in Congress, attempts to modify Dodd-Frank regulations, as well as another round of difficult HUD and USDA budget negotiations.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New year, big goals

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

Happy New Year to all of our members across the country!  After a little time off to recover from a very busy year we are all excited to be back for what will be an even busier 2015.

On a more somber note, we are sad to mark the death of David Reznick.  Whether you knew David personally or not, chances are you knew about some of his work with the Reznick Group and later CohnReznick. He was at the center of the creation of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and a major force on affordable housing issues thereafter. I enjoyed getting to know David over the past couple of years and really appreciate his long history of support of NHC over the previous decades, and of the new goals we are working to achieve. He was especially supportive of our work on veterans issues, particularly the Veterans Rental Housing Working Group, meetings of which he sometimes even attended personally. He was a true giant in the affordable housing movement and had a significant impact on how our country provides homes for working families and vulnerable people. Our thoughts at NHC go out to his family, and to his colleagues at CohnReznick. For more on David and his life see Radiah’s write-up below.

As we look ahead in 2015, NHC has many exciting events coming up in the next few months to tell you about. In March we will hold our Annual Budget Forum via webinar so people across the country can participate. This will be an important way for you to learn where congressional budget discussions are headed on housing issues and what you can do to help policymakers understand the impact of funding for housing programs in your community.

This event will also include the release of the Center for Housing Policy’s Housing Landscape 2015. Housing Landscape summarizes the affordable housing challenges of low- and moderate-income working households in every state in the country. For the first time, Housing Landscape will include reporting on affordability challenges by race and ethnicity.

In April we will hold our first Solutions 2015 convening, Solutions for Housing Communications, in Seattle, Wash. This day and a half-long event will focus on the root causes of community opposition to affordable housing development and the communications solutions that can help the housing community build support and achieve our goals. This event will be especially valuable for those who develop affordable housing, but will be relevant for everyone who talks to public officials or community members about affordable housing. Look out for more details on this convening in the coming weeks.

In addition to all of this, we will continue our work on housing policy issues like tax reform, housing finance reform and funding for housing programs We will also launch new initiatives on implementation of the new fair housing rule and bringing a more comprehensive and integrated approach to community development. See below from Ethan and Lisa for more details on our policy and research plans for 2015.

We look forward to working with you on these efforts and are grateful for the opportunity to be a resource and ally in your work in the coming year.

BRIDGE Housing breaks ground on Vincent Academy

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

Housing and education was one of many housing intersection themes at November’s Solutions 2014 conference in Oakland and NHC member BRIDGE Housing got the momentum started with a groundbreaking ceremony just a week for Vincent Academy, a public charter school that will serve 350 students mainly from Chestnut Linden Court Apartments. Chestnut is an affordable development financed by BRIDGE. The development features 700 affordable units.

Funding for the project was provided by NHC Leadership Circle members Chase and Low Income Investment Fund, and by contributions raised through the Vincent Academy-BRIDGE Campaign for West Oakland.

“Through our partnership with Vincent Academy, we are addressing two systems—housing and education—that affect the ability of children and families to achieve their full potential,” said BRIDGE Housing President and CEO Cynthia Parker. “We’re proud to play a role in this important community development work that has far-reaching impact.”

Research shows that a child is more likely to perform better in school and have better educational success overall if he or she has access to stable, affordable housing. Our latest report, The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Education, highlights key findings from research on the links between housing and education, finding that [insert relevant finding]. Vincent Academy will do just that, working as a catalyst for families in nearby affordable developments.

In addition to Parker, speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony included Kate Nicol, head of Vincent Academy and Lynette Gibson McElhaney, an Oakland City Councilmember.

Research in a time of change: Understanding housing needs, identifying promising solutions

Developing solutions through research
by Lisa Sturtevant, PhD, National Housing Conference

By many measures, 2015 will be a period of transition in housing policy and planning. Home price appreciation is expected to cool in 2015 and a change to federal policy may lead to new opportunities for first-time homebuyers. At the same time, slow wage growth and construction activity will increase rental affordability challenges. Demographic and policy changes will create demands for new housing types and opportunities for service delivery. And localities will be called upon to proactively plan for ways to build inclusive communities.

What do you need to know in 2015? NHC’s Center for Housing Policy planned a research agenda for 2015 that responds to the policy, economic and demographic factors shaping the affordable housing landscape, with the goal of producing research to help policymakers and practitioners expand housing opportunities. Our research in 2015 will include analysis of five key issues that will be at the forefront of the housing discussion this year:

Demographic change and housing demand. In communities across the country  housing needs will be shaped by significant changes in the demographic makeup of the population. As part of our work to better understand, explain and forecast housing needs, the Center will analyze the relationships between key demographic trends and affordable housing needs and policies.

By 2030, one in five people in the U.S. will be age 65 or older, and it is critically important to understand the characteristics and housing needs of this population. In 2012, the Center published a report on the housing needs of the growing older adult population.  Last year, we conducted additional research on seniors’ housing needs with a report on supportive housing and worked collaboratively with the AARP Public Policy Institute (an NHC Leadership Circle member) on a project demonstrating effective policies for meeting the housing needs of older adults. In 2015, we will continue our analysis of the housing needs of seniors and evaluation of best practices in meeting those needs.

The U.S. population will turn majority minority between 2040 and 2050. The way in which the racial and ethnic composition of the country is changing will have important implications for future housing demand and housing policy. The Center will pursue research to help us better understand housing needs and preferences of fast-growing minority groups—particularly Hispanics—and make recommendations for ensuring this segment of our population has access to affordable housing.

Alternative measures of housing affordability. The nearly universal measure of housing affordability compares housing costs to household income; housing expenditures that exceed 30 percent of a household’s income have typically been viewed as an indicator of an affordability problem. This 30 percent rule of housing affordability evolved from the National Housing Act of 1937 and subsequent federal legislation defining income and rent limits for housing programs. The housing affordability measure has become a somewhat arbitrary benchmark that fails to account for the many other factors that determine how much an individual or a family can spend on housing and still have enough left over for other necessities.

The Center for Housing Policy has led important research on how combined housing plus transportation costs can be a better measure of housing affordability. With new location affordability data available from HUD, the Center will analyze the housing and transportation cost burdens among very low-income households to better understand the tradeoffs families make and to assess equitable housing and transportation policies.

In addition, in conjunction with our annual Paycheck to Paycheck report, will we will develop a national picture of the household expenses of working families, including housing, transportation, child care, health care, clothing and other expenses, and analyze how other household expenses impact the ability of low- and moderate-income households to pay for housing. The results from this analysis will provide a foundation for additional research on a more comprehensive definition of housing affordability.

The Intersections and Opportunities Around Housing and HealthExtensive research has documented the importance of stable and affordable housing in promoting health and well-being. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid expansion provide new opportunities for combining housing and health services to achieve better outcomes for low-income individuals and families.  

As part of the Center’s efforts to open dialogue between the housing and health communities, we will undertake several projects around the intersection of housing and health in 2015. We will update our 2011 review of the research on the impacts of housing on health, develop case studies of successful programs that have integrated housing and health services and review the research on cost effectiveness of connecting housing and health services. The primary goals of this work are to provide a link between housing and health professionals and to lift up best practices for combining housing and health services.

Building inclusive communities. In 2014, HUD released the proposed Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, designed to end patterns of segregation and create more inclusive communities, wider pathways to economic improvement and more opportunities for individuals and families to flourish. In 2014, NHC and the Center submitted comments on the proposed fair housing assessment tool, suggesting ways in which HUD could improve the design and release of the tool to help local communities advance their fair housing goals. In 2015, the Center will continue to do work that supports local fair housing efforts by analyzing common barriers to developing local strategies for AFFH implementation and making recommendations based on a review of best practices from around the country.

Inclusionary zoning policies can be a key mechanism by which localities plan for housing that is affordable to individuals and families all along the income spectrum. The Center has been a leader in research and best practices on inclusionary housing policies, including a research report on inclusionary housing and lasting affordability and achieving inclusionary housing through upzoning, both completed in 2014. This year we will continue our research on inclusionary housing, including a review of best practices in mandatory versus voluntary inclusionary housing programs and a comprehensive review of the impacts of inclusionary housing programs on local economies and housing markets.

As part of our efforts to be a resource to local policymakers and practitioners, we will also compile a comprehensive set of resources on inclusionary housing programs, as an extension of our site. This online resource will be a “go-to” portal on inclusionary housing, with research summaries, case studies and other resources for practitioners and researchers.

The nature of homeownership. This year could bring significant change to the homeownership market and it is important to understand the implications of new policy directives and market conditions. The housing market has rebounded in most places across the country, but there are signs that that the run-up in prices will slow in 2015. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) released new guidelines for first-time homebuyers which will allow a return to three percent down payments on home loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, a move which could bring more first-time homebuyers in the market in 2015. Access to homeownership among lower-income households and racial and ethnic minorities slowed considerably after the downturn, but there is concern that loosening mortgage requirements may lead to another round of foreclosures.

This year, the Center will pursue research projects to help the housing community better understand the impacts of federal policies related to homeownership, including the effects on the ability of first-time homebuyers to enter the market and the prospects for homeownership to reduce the growing wealth divide.

In addition, building on prior research on shared equity homeownership, the Center will pursue research that examines alternative means of homeownership, including not only shared equity homeownership, but also lease-to-own and other models. As a result of this review, we will better understand the avenues to open up homeownership to more households and also assess critically the opportunities for broad alternative homeownership models, as opposed to local, niche models.

As we head into 2015, we are excited about pursuing a research agenda that touches on issues at the forefront of the housing policy discussion. In addition to these lines of research, we will have a number of other projects underway in 2015, including Housing Landscape, our annual report on severely cost-burdened households, and Paycheck to Paycheck, our interactive tool and report on affordability for key workers in the community.

But we want to hear from you! What research would be most helpful to you in 2015? I welcome your emails (to on ideas for research reports, data, analysis and case studies that would be a help to you as you do your work on the ground helping to create affordable housing opportunities for individuals and families. Happy 2015!

Monday, January 5, 2015

New report shows households not receiving recommended home visits

News from NHC's family of members

by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference 

A November report released by NHC member National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH), in partnership with the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, revealed that homes where children have been exposed to lead, or have asthma, are not receiving the recommended number of home visits from Medicaid directors.

The report, Healthcare Financing of Healthy Homes Services: Findings from a 2014 Survey of State Reimbursement Policies, reveals that 27 states have some form of Medicaid reimbursement policy in place for in-home asthma services or follow-up service for lead, but many states have no mandatory follow-up procedure in place. Services are required by Medicaid’s early periodic Screening, Diagnostic and treatment benefit for children with lead exposure, but only 18 states currently require provision of these services.

“Asthma and lead poisoning are costly problems for our society and our healthcare system. These costs can be reduced by closing critical gaps in the delivery of recommended services and ensuring that once policies are in place they are translated into actual services for people who need them,” said Amanda Reddy, director of programs and impact at NCHH. Dr. Paul Jarris, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, added that the report “provides critical information” to help policymakers understand how vital reimbursement policies work so they can “assist with the challenges states face in implementing them.”

Healthy housing supports much more than physical health of a child. It promotes overall wellbeing. In a recent case study completed by NHC for last October’s How Housing Matters Conference, research showed that healthy, affordable housing promotes improved air quality and decreases exposure to toxins while enabling residents to lead more active lives.

The report authors will perform a follow-up analysis that may assist state and local agencies in exploring financing for healthy homes services at a later time. You can find the full report here.

Mercy Housing and National Housing Trust named AHF Readers’ Choice Winners

News from NHC's family of members

by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

Affordable Housing Finance (AHF) recently announced winners of its 2014 Readers’ Choice Awards and two NHC members were among the award recipients. Mercy Housing won in the family and seniors categories for its Caroline Severance Manor development in Los Angeles and Coast Side Senior Housing in Half Moon Bay, Calif., respectively. National Housing Trust (NHT) received top honors in the preservation category for Pullman Wheelworks in Chicago, an honor shared with Mercy Housing and Enterprise Preservation Corporation.

Mercy Housing and NHT were among 132 nominees, narrowed down to just 34 finalists across nine categories. Finalists were selected by AHF readers with judging criteria based on community impact, creative problem solving, innovativeness and more. Winners were honored in a special ceremony during AHF Live: The 2014 Affordable Housing Developers Summit held in Chicago last November. They were also featured in the November/December issue of Affordable Housing Finance.

Pullman Wheelworks, located in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood, features 210 affordable multifamily rental units with green upgrades. The development offers employment training and education services to tenants and is currently under renovation to accommodate future tenants who may have physical disabilities.

Severance Manor caters to families with children being raised by relatives other than parents and features one- to four-bedroom affordable units. Mercy Housing worked with California Community Foundation Land Trust and the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles to develop a mixed-use community with licensed child-care center and parking for the church. Coast Side Senior Housing features 40 one-bedroom units in a mixed-use development for extremely low-income older adults near downtown Half Moon Bay. The development is a key component to San Mateo County’s plan to integrate more senior housing in the downtown Half Moon Bay area.