Thursday, February 26, 2015

Appropriations subcommittee hearing on HUD budget highlights challenge of austerity

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

Yesterday, the House Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development held its first hearing on the HUD budget. HUD Secretary Julian Castro shared major points from the President’s FY2016 budget request before taking questions from committee members. Questions were primarily thoughtful and constructive, trying to understand how certain HUD programs work. The most significant comments in the hearing came from the chairman and ranking member in their opening statements.

Subcommittee Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla) reminded the subcommittee of the current budget context.
  • With Budget Control Act caps in place, no federal agency should expect an eight percent increase over FY2015, the president’s proposed funding increase for HUD.
  • HUD’s FY2016 budget, under the BCA caps, is particularly challenging because of a decline in FHA receipts and the need for additional funding this year for project based Section 8 renewals.
Subcommittee Ranking Member David Price (D-N.C.) made several counter points.
  • This proposed HUD budget is still low when compared to previous years.
  • Sequestration was never supposed to happen because of its incredibly damaging outcomes; its existence illustrates a failure to address the factors that are truly driving the federal deficit. 
  • This self-enforced austerity is a disaster and we need a comprehensive budget agreement, or at a minimum, a short-term budget agreement similar to the Murray-Ryan deal. 
  • Without a budget agreement, the burden falls on discretionary programs, making appropriations decisions very challenging.
While the discussion also included other concerns like HUD internal management and the proposed FHA administrative fee, the primary comments clearly indicated the difficult budget environment facing housing and community development programs and the important value HUD programs provide.

EAH Housing breaks ground on affordable development for homeless veterans

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

Last month, NHC member EAH Housing and Core Affordable Housing hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for Willow Housing, an $18 million community for homeless veterans. The development is located on the Menlo Park campus of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and will provide veterans with affordable housing in close proximity to VA services provided on the Menlo Park and Palo Alto campuses.

Willow Housing will feature approximately 43,000 square feet of interior footage that will house community amenities that meet the needs of veterans who will live in the community. The space will include amenities like an indoor gym, business center and community kitchen, laundry, offices for case management, leasing and maintenance and enclosed bicycle storage. Willow Housing is expected to meet guidelines for LEED silver certification and will also accommodate residents’ service animals and be fully ADA accessible.

“EAH Housing is passionate about serving those in need and Willow Housing will touch countless lives," Mary Murtagh, president and CEO of EAH Housing said in a press release. "This is more than just providing a place to live; it's about creating homes and building a community. We look forward to continue working with our partners to build both housing and hope."

Many veterans returning home must readjust or are disabled and require supportive housing programs and assistance in order to successfully return to civilian life. Ensuring access to decent, affordable housing plays a major role in helping veterans to navigate back into society. NHC is dedicated to helping the housing community to continue to effectively address veteran’s housing needs by identifying solutions through research and developing policy responses. Our Veterans Rental Housing Working Group brings together housers and veteran service practitioners to identify policy actions aimed specifically at the rental housing needs of veterans. If you’re interested in joining the working group, email Rebekah King at Additional veterans housing resources can be found on our website

Veterans had the opportunity to give input on the building design and creative process through focus groups. Willow Housing is expected to be competed on Dec. 31.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Novogradac & Company accepting nominations for Community Development Individual Achievement Awards

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

Novogradac & Company is currently accepting nominations for its inaugural Community Development Individual Achievement Awards. The awards were created to recognize those who demonstrate substantial dedication to the advancement of community envelopment, policy and legislative priorities. Winners will have made a significant impact in the community development field and will be honored on June 11.

The Community Development Individual Achievement Awards join several other Novogradac awards programs that recognize demonstrated excellence in the fields of renewable energy, community development, historic preservation and affordable housing. Winners will be announced in three categories: Federal Legislator of the Year, State Legislator of the Year and Public Executive of the Year. Nominations are judged in four key areas: vision, leadership, innovation and impact.

“We’re proud to announce the inaugural round of the Novogradac Journal of Tax Credits Community Development Individual Achievements Awards,” Nicolo Pinoli, conference chairman and partner in Novogradac’s Portland, Oregon office said in a press release announcing the awards. “We look forward to recognizing the efforts of the men and women who have given families across the country the tools to take the future into their own hands.”

The deadline for nominations is March 12. Winners will be recognized at Novogradac’s New Markets Tax Credit Conference in Washington, DC and be featured in the 80-page Journal of Tax Credits, Novogradac’s monthly publication that includes features on technical tax credit issues, developments and more, written by credit industry experts.

More information about Novogradac & Company’s various awards programs can be found here. To submit a nomination for the Community Development Individual Achievement Awards click here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The federal budget and local responses to housing needs: Research on funding and flexibility

Solutions through research
by Lisa Sturtevant, Ph.D., National Housing Conference

At NHC’s Annual Budget Forum, we heard from housing providers working across the country about the need not only for increased federal funding for housing development and services, but also for greater opportunities for flexibility. The Center for Housing Policy, NHC’s research division, strives to increase understanding about how local housing programs are related to and are supported by federal housing programs. By showcasing best practices and innovative programs, our research helps to build the evidence base around the importance of the housing programs to the individuals and families they serve, as well as to the overall well-being to the communities in which we all live.

Working with Arlington County, Va., the Center has helped develop the affordable housing element of the county’s comprehensive plan. As part of that effort, we assessed the set of local land use strategies, financing tools and services that the county provides to meet the housing needs of its residents. Critical to that assessment was an understanding of how the county’s local programs—for example, its local voucher program and its housing trust fund—are related to and supported by federal programs.

The intersection between local housing efforts and federal programs can also be keenly observed in veterans’ housing programs. In a report examining successful permanent supportive housing models that target veterans, we describe the key federal programs that allow for not only the construction of affordable rental housing for this population, but also for the provision of health care, job training and other services that help vulnerable veterans live comfortably and self-sufficiently.

Federal policies and programs have particular importance to providers seeking to combine housing and health services for our large and growing senior population. We analyzed different models of integrating housing and health services in our report, Aging in Every Place, and found that while programs need to be designed based on an assessment of particular local needs, successful approaches will require funding from both local and federal sources.

In a series of case studies prepared as part of last fall’s How Housing Matters Conference, Center researchers focused on housing programs that were successful in improving health and educational outcomes among low-income seniors and children. Through those case studies, we found partnerships and collaboration at different levels of government were important to building a successful program. So, too, was the availability of funding from federal, local and other sources.

Look out this spring as we release new reports on veterans housing and housing and health that will highlight the important linkages between federal and local housing programs, and the opportunities for positive outcomes when localities are able to make flexible use of federal resources to meet their communities’ unique needs.

Budget forum highlights the value of affordable housing investments

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

Last week, we held our Annual Budget Forum, but instead of an in-person event just for folks on Capitol Hill, this year’s forum allowed everyone to participate via webinar. With great attendance in our new format, the discussion focused on the importance and value of federal investment in affordable housing. Laura Hogshead, HUD’s deputy chief of staff for budget and policy, discussed a number of promising policy changes as well as higher funding levels within HUD’s proposed FY 2016 budget. We also had a great panel of practitioners sharing their understanding of how federal funding helps create and preserve affordable housing:

While the HUD budget request proposes welcome increases in funding levels, given the difficult budget environment with the return of sequestration and potential challenges like debt ceiling negotiations, HUD funding for FY 2016 is very uncertain. The affordable housing community needs to advocate together for greater funding at the highest step in the waterfall—the 302(a) and (b) allocations that guide the appropriations committees—as Ethan Handelman, NHC’s vice president for policy and advocacy discussed on the webinar. The need for greater affordable housing funding is especially important given the intersection of housing with other issues as described by Dr. Lisa Sturtevant, NHC’s vice president for research and director of our Center for Housing Policy. Dr. Sturtevant’s presentation highlighted research findings that stable housing leads to better education outcomes, improved health and increased economic self-sufficiency for families.

The most interactive part of the budget forum was our panelists’ discussion on the value of federal housing programs from the state, public housing, homeless and developer perspectives. They highlighted how states deploy a variety of federal programs to meet many different housing needs; how we are making progress to end homelessness largely because of federal commitment and resources made available for that purpose; how public housing serves our most vulnerable families and can improve their circumstances; and how developers leverage federal resources effectively to create affordable housing. The theme from all four panelists was that demand for affordable housing far exceeds the supply.

The continuing need for affordable housing, its positive impacts on residents and the difficult budget environment highlight the need to advocate together for sequestration relief and greater funding.  NHC is part of the early effort by the NDD United campaign to reach out to members of Congress. We are also active in the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding.  Together, housing stakeholders should seek out nontraditional allies and emphasize with members of Congress how investments in affordable housing pay incredible tangible and intangible dividends. Presentations from NHC’s 2015 Budget Forum are available here and the recording from the event is available here.

Monday, February 23, 2015

National Affordable Housing Management Association receives Friend of the Elderly Award

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

NHC member National Affordable Housing Management Association (NAHMA) was recently awarded the 2015 Friend of the Elderly Award, given by the Retirement Housing Foundation, Inc. at its annual anniversary celebration. The award recognizes organizations and individuals who have made substantial contributions to the housing, health, social, spiritual or psychological quality of life of older adults.

Past recipients of the Friend of the Elderly Award include former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, the Alzheimer’s Association, NHC member LeadingAge and Meals on Wheels. NAHMA is celebrated for advocating on behalf of and working with property managers and owners to ensure older adults and other underserved populations have access to quality, safe affordable housing.

“We are honored to be acknowledged for our work to advance the development and preservation of decent and safe affordable housing,” NAHMA Executive Director Kris Cook said in a press release.  “It is a priority for NAHMA to be a leading advocate for the property managers and owners who provide quality affordable housing to the elderly, people with disabilities or the working poor.”

Research shows that by 2030, one in five people in the United States will be 65 or older, so it is vital that housing advocates continue to ensure affordable housing options and supportive services be available to older adults. A case study NHC produced last year for the MacArthur Foundation’s How Housing Matters Conference provides an example of such service-enriched housing in a profile of the Richmond Health and Wellness Program clinic in Richmond, Virginia. The clinic, located in a Section 8 finance affordable apartment building, offers care coordination, wellness education and much more to help residents maintain their health between doctor visits. More research on housing and older adults can be found on our website.

The award was presented to NAHMA in California on Feb. 27. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Lessons from bicycle advocacy: How Seattle learned to put people first

by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference

For years, negative rhetoric around cycling infrastructure hampered Seattle bicycle advocates’ efforts to improve safety and access for cyclists. The simple changes they made to the way they framed the issue created surprising wins—and lessons learned for affordable housing advocacy.

In a post on DC-area blog Greater Greater Washington, Michael Andersen of The Green Lane Project describes the evolution and eventual demise of the term “war on cars” in Seattle. It’s a catchy catch-all phrase meant to categorize (or demonize) efforts of planners and advocates to create more dedicated lanes and other infrastructure for cyclists. The moment influential people and media outlets started using the term, bicycle advocates took up arms, with mixed results. Advocacy group Seattle Neighborhood Greenways was one organization that decided to change the debate by changing the language.

Evidence of success: 
New bike infrastructure in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. 
Photo by the author. 
People-first language humanizes instead of “otherizing”
Are you a driver? A transit rider? A pedestrian? A cyclist? In reality, you are probably like most people and use multiple modes of transportation depending on your purpose. But those labels serve to artificially divide people into factions, pitting us against ourselves. In his post, Andersen shows that Seattle Neighborhood Greenways deliberately changed the vocabulary to change the tone. By simply adding “people who…” to each term, the listener is subconsciously encouraged to think first about what unites us—we’re all human—instead of about what divides us. Advocates for people with disabilities have made great strides in getting us to put “people” before the “disability” in our communications, and the housing community is making strides in using terms like “people experiencing homelessness.” Maybe it’s time for us to talk about “people who rent” instead of “tenants” or “renters.”

Junk the jargon
Jargon can be useful in the working world. Who hasn’t felt that particular mixture of joy and relief when speaking to someone at a meeting or event who “gets” our lingo? I’ve yet to meet a houser who could resist the tractor-beam pull of a well-used acronym. But the flipside of jargon is that it excludes, and when we bring our jargon out of the office and into the light of day, the message we are silently telegraphing is that those who don’t understand are not welcome in the conversation. Seattle Neighborhood Greenways threw out the RRFBs and the hybrid beacons and brought in “safer ways to cross busy streets.” Safe street crossings? I don’t need a flashing light to tell me that this is something that’s good for me. There’s similar thinking behind NHC’s effort to refer to the LIHTC simply as the “housing credit.” What other jargon-junking changes do you think the housing community could make?

More than words
No one would argue that simply switching up our vocabulary will get us the policy wins we need to ensure everyone in America has access to a safe, decent, affordable home. We need a bigger base of people who support this idea, and ever-closer ties to the policy makers and thought leaders who can put solutions into action. But if we want to build that base, we’re going to have to reach beyond our circle of usuals and bring in those who don’t see themselves as housing advocates. Cutting out the jargon and putting people first are two ways we can use language to create a more inclusive housing movement.

For more ideas about how to reframe the housing conversation, visit the Framing and Messaging Toolkit on the Housing Communications HUB