Thursday, July 13, 2017

Should members of Congress receive housing stipends?

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

In a recent interview with The Hill, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) advocated for a housing stipend to help members of Congress afford housing in D.C. According to Chaffetz, who retires at the end of June, the $174,000 salary for members of Congress is insufficient to allow them to pay for homes in both their home districts and in D.C.

NHC’s Paycheck to Paycheck database shows that in order to own a median-priced home in the Provo-Orem metro area, which falls within Chaffetz’s district, his household would have to earn nearly $75,000 a year. To rent a typical two-bedroom home in the Washington, D.C., metro area, Chaffetz’s household would have to earn almost $65,000. Few would dispute that residents of the D.C. metro area face high housing costs. But given the $174,000 salary of members of Congress, Chaffetz theoretically would be able to afford the combined cost of owning a home in his district and renting in the D.C. area.

Some members of Congress may find it harder to juggle the costs of two households if their home district has high and rising housing costs like that of San Francisco, where owning a median-priced home would require a family to earn over $275,000. This raises the question of how people who are essential to the running of our federal, state and local governments afford housing in costly areas on much lower salaries than congressmen and congresswomen.

Instead of pursuing housing subsidies for special groups, such as members of Congress, we should think more broadly about strategies to promote access to quality housing that is affordable to Americans at all income levels.   

Monday, July 10, 2017

Summer forecast

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

With our Housing Visionary Award Gala and Annual Policy Symposium behind us, NHC has much work planned for the last six months of the year.

NHC will continue its active participation in the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding to advocate for housing funding at HUD and USDA through the remainder of the budget process. Congress continues to work through the appropriations process in hopes of passing a budget before the September 30 end of the fiscal year, making the next few months important for budget advocacy.

To put similar focus on the housing policy discussion, NHC brought national housing and community development organizations together this spring to launch Strong Voices for Housing. We are currently working with this group of more than 35 national organizations to develop messages that all of us can use to more consistently and coherently position housing as a vital issue area for government support.

Solutions for Affordable Housing 2017, NHC’s national housing policy convening, is set for November 29 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Following up on last year’s look at what was ahead for housing in the Trump administration, this year’s convening will connect potential policy action from the agencies with solutions emerging from practice and opportunities in the legislative environment. Plenaries and breakouts will provide opportunities for engagement with the administration, policy makers and leaders in the field. This convening will be an important opportunity to learn from and connect with colleagues, and is a great opportunity to sponsor a high-profile national convening. Visit our website to sign up for updates. I hope you’ll plan to attend.

As part of our continued effort to support our members and raise the national profile of housing, NHC has joined Our Homes, Our Voices for a national week of action that anyone, anywhere can participate in. What began as a single-day event has now expanded into a National Housing Week of Action, July 22-29, calling for increased federal investments in affordable housing and community development. To date, local housing advocates have planned 29 events in communities across the U.S. Visit the website to learn about the Week of Action and the campaign.

In September, NHC will release “Paycheck to Paycheck 2017,” a report and database comparing the median wages of over 80 occupations with the housing costs in over 200 metro areas across the country. This year’s report will analyze the impact of housing costs on fast-growing occupations in the health care sector.

Change where you live

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Is ZIP code destiny? However you answer that question, the frame behind the question shapes how we think about policy. In a housing context, connecting where you live to your life outcomes can lead to a too-quick conclusion that people should just move (if they can afford to). But “change where you live” means two things: to move to a new home, and to make where you live now a better place. Too-high housing costs limit both of those options.

In the popular press and policy circles, the ZIP code-as-destiny concept is a common point of debate. Some focus on evidence that your neighborhood shapes your educational achievement, health and economic success. Others focus on your individual choices as key. President Obama used the idea as a springboard to talk about the Fair Housing Act. Still others look for ways to make place matter less, such as online work and education. Much of the discussion started with research from the Equality of Opportunity project.

I was recently at a roundtable, “Building Healthy Communities: How to Support States in the Development of Community-Based Solutions and Sustainable Infrastructure,” convened by the National Governors Association and attended by a mix of housing, environment and health experts. The ZIP code-as-destiny concept came up a few times, mostly from the health experts. Some from the health field think in detail about how to improve homes and neighborhoods, particularly experts in lead contamination. But many are quick to ask for housing policy change to help people move to better neighborhoods, as are advocates from other fields.

In America, 6.3 million poor people live in places of concentrated poverty (out of a total of 14 million people living in those places). Practically speaking, most of those people aren’t likely to move, nor should they have to. And in America, they should have a chance to better their own lives and those of their children.

But the vast majority of poor households spend far too much of their income on housing. They’re stretched just to afford where they live now, and homelessness is just one minor crisis away. People at higher incomes are stretching, too, and are finding their range of housing options shrinking.

Changing where you live has to mean giving everyone more and better choices. Making housing less expensive, helping communities thrive and ensuring some help for those who need it most are all part of changing where you live.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Making the case for connecting low-income residents to the internet

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

Recently, I moderated a panel on affordable housing and broadband at the United States of Anchors conference, hosted by the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition. At the conference, I learned even more about why getting low-income residents connected to the internet is so important. Eighty percent of students need internet access to complete homework assignments and because 90 percent of job applications are online, all low-income residents need internet access to apply for jobs. Job seekers with at-home internet find employment seven weeks faster. 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. I also heard about unique programs and partnerships, challenges for housing providers to consider in their broadband program planning and financial benefits for housing providers in getting their residents connected.

Unique programs and partnerships:
  • Rhode Island Housing has a program with its seven public housing agencies to incorporate questions about broadband access into its recertification process. 
  • Libraries play an important role as local conveners when implementing digital inclusion.
  • In Seattle, the public housing agency is looking at how to wire buildings to allow multiple internet providers.
  • Having multilingual community-based partners is important for outreach.
  • The Alliance for Technology Refurbishing and Reuse is a helpful resource for devices.
  • In the ConnectHome expansion to 100 PHAs, EveryoneOn hopes to have a set-aside within the expansion for rural and tribal communities.
  • Boulder Valley School District is piloting an antenna on one elementary school building, giving the internet service provider antennae access in exchange for providing free home internet for students in the free and reduced lunch program. 
Challenges for housing providers:
  • How to provide tech support for devices.
  • Long-term maintenance of networks and devices.
  • How to measure impact and determine program metrics.
  • The long-term plan for connection when many low-cost offers are time-limited.
  • How to best engage with the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program.
Financial benefits of getting affordable housing residents connected:
  • Streamlined recertification process.
  • Residents can pay rent online; can be component of digital literacy.
  • Direct debit program for rent can improve accounts receivable.
  • Using mobile work orders– via app or online– can make property maintenance more efficient.
Register for NHC's 6/29 webinar with EveryoneOn to discuss its expansion of "ConnectHome Nation," a national initiative in partnership with the HUD to bridge the digital divide in low-income communities. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Affordable housing is a key support for high school graduation

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

As pictures of high school and college graduates marching across stages made the rounds of social media, I thought back to comments I heard from Jonathan Rose, of innovative affordable housing developer Jonathan Rose Companies, at a recent conference. According to Rose, “graduating high school doesn’t happen at 18, it starts when you are born.” A teenager’s ability to succeed in high school and graduate is influenced by many different factors throughout their lives that can either help or hinder their efforts to graduate high school.

One of those key influences is a child’s home. Research demonstrates that there are several pathways through which affordable, safe and quality housing can support a child’s educational progress and success. Access to affordable housing reduces the risk of homelessness and housing instability that can prevent a child from going to school or being able to focus while in school. Quality housing can reduce the risks of children being exposed to harmful toxins that may exacerbate asthma attacks and result in school absences, or lead, which can harm developmental and cognitive development in children. Affordable housing in safe neighborhoods with high-performing schools and other services can give children a solid foundation to pursue educational success.
As discussions about how to support the educational achievement of low-income children take place, it is important to not only think about how to better support teachers and schools, but also focus on how to enhance the impact of their work through better support of low-income households, so that their children are better equipped to learn in the classroom. Housers must make the effort to be at the tables where education reform discussions take place, and to take on the role of partner and stakeholder in efforts to improve educational opportunity for low-income children.

Steps states can take to create and preserve affordable housing opportunities

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Next week, after NHC’s Annual Gala and Policy Symposium are in the rearview mirror, I’ll participate in a roundtable convened by National Governors Association, “Building Healthy Communities: How to Support States in the Development of Community-Based Solutions and Sustainable Infrastructure.” Affordable housing is an essential part of healthy communities, so I thought of actions states can take to create affordable housing opportunities, which can help make residents healthier and communities stronger.

1.      Commit state resources to creation and preservation of affordable housing. Nothing speaks more clearly about a state’s priorities than the commitment of its own scarce resources. Committing funding to affordable housing draws investment from the private sector and leverages public investment from local and federal sources. States have many means by which to commit resources: property tax abatements or exemptions for affordable rental properties; direct appropriations for loans, grants or rental assistance or supportive services (as New York announced last month); state tax credits that work in concert with the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit; bond issuances (like Rhode Island did in 2016) and financial resources generated by state housing finance agencies.

2.       Empower better land use policy. States can empower localities to make zoning, permitting and other land use decisions that encourage greater density, smarter growth and greater availability of affordable housing (both subsidized and unsubsidized). In some cases, state law should be changed to remove a restriction on such inclusionary housing policies, as Oregon did last year. In other cases, state law can grant authority, provide a model or establish a baseline inclusionary standard. All of these steps are ways to help market forces generate more unsubsidized affordable housing within existing communities and make it easier to create and preserve subsidized housing.

3.      Establish strong connections between housing and other agencies in state government. Partnerships that address the linkages between housing and other issues allow housing to better meet community needs. For instance, when housing agencies and health and human services agencies work better together, it is easier to create permanent supportive housing to prevent and end homelessness (Virginia is one example among many). Energy or environmental protection agencies can encourage energy and water conservation that simultaneously make homes healthier and more affordable, but they need connections with housing agencies to do so effectively, especially for multifamily rental properties. When housing and transportation agencies cooperate, it becomes easier to create and preserve affordable housing near transit lines. Leadership at the state level can make these partnerships possible.

Committing state attention, resources and regulatory powers to affordable housing has a benefit beyond the direct housing help.  It shows policymakers in Washington that the state is serious about solving housing problems. During tough budget battles in D.C., showing that all levels of government are sharing the burden makes a much stronger case for federal help. Truly achieving our shared goal of an affordable home in a thriving community for all in America will require efforts by many, with states playing a key role.

Gala Honoree Spotlight: Shaun Donovan

by Andrea Nesby, National Housing Conference

In city and federal government and across multiple presidential administrations, Shaun Donovan has left a lasting, positive impact on housing policy that will be recognized for generations to come. 

“Shaun’s remarkable intelligence, vision with an unrelenting focus on results, combined with his political acumen and passion for public service are simply unparalleled,” says Carol Galante, a professor in affordable housing and urban policy at the University of California Berkeley (USC) and faculty director of USC’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation. “He cares deeply for the people and communities he served.”

Donovan’s career as a public servant began in 1998 as a deputy assistant secretary for multifamily housing at HUD during the Clinton administration. In this role, Donovan spearheaded the “Mark Up to Market” program, cutting project-based Section 8 opt-outs in half in just two years. Donovan also served as acting FHA commissioner during the transition from President Clinton to President George W. Bush. Following his time at FHA, Donovan took on roles in the private sector, and worked as a consultant to the Millennial Housing Commission, which was created by Congress to establish strategies to expand housing opportunities.

He returned to public service in 2004, becoming commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). Tasked by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg with rolling out an ambitious housing strategy, Donovan created and implemented the New Housing Marketplace Plan to build and preserve 165,000 affordable housing units, the largest municipal affordable housing plan in the nation's history.

John Kelly, a partner at Nixon Peabody, served as director at HPD and recalls Donovan’s drive and expertise.  

“Shaun brought his knowledge of HUD from his first term as deputy assistant secretary for multifamily housing to HPD, as he understood how federal policy affected the city’s housing programs and how to best work with HUD to accomplish the city’s goals,” shares Kelly. “He has an academic’s thoughtfulness in approach to addressing housing needs, but a pragmatist’s focus on getting the work accomplished.”

In 2009, Donovan returned to HUD under President Obama as the fifteenth Secretary of HUD, becoming the second-longest serving secretary of HUD. As secretary, he led negotiations on the $25 billion National Mortgage Settlement, co-created the National Disaster Recovery Framework to rebuild stronger and smarter after natural disasters and championed the Housing First model of supportive housing, which has been adopted by many organizations working to end homelessness.

“No one is more deserving of the Coan Award than Shaun Donovan, who throughout his career has been committed to solving what is arguably the most serious housing problem: homelessness,” says Nan Roman, executive director of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “Because of his leadership and commitment, and despite the headwinds of rising housing costs, investments increased and homelessness decreased while he was Secretary of HUD and OMB director.  And I know he will not be satisfied until everyone has a home they can afford, and no one is homeless.”

Donovan was appointed director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 2014, where he served for two-and-a-half years. At OMB, Donovan focused on using technology to produce a more effective government, modernizing citizen-facing services and leading efforts to shape the regulatory system into one that protects Americans while promoting economic growth.

For his unwavering commitment on both local and federal level to creating and preserving affordable housing, NHC is pleased to honor Shaun Donovan with the 2017 Carl Coan, Sr., Award for Public Service. We join with our members in looking forward to what is certain to be many more years of service to housing and to the nation.

NHC established the award in 1984 to honor Carl A.S. Coan, Sr., for his leadership on housing and community development legislation during his professional career. NHC continues to honor Mr. Coan’s legacy by presenting the award to those who demonstrate exceptional commitment to affordable housing.