Wednesday, September 7, 2016

True solutions require cross-sector collaboration-- and funding

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

Congress is back in session this week after the long summer recess, with little time left to pass a continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded. This situation was created by both Houses of Congress' continued inability to move the appropriations process through regular” order. I use quotes here ironically as in recent years neither party has been able to achieve this when they have been in leadership. This process makes funding decisions based on needs, best practices or outcome measurements virtually impossible.  It also limits the ability of authorizing committees to craft new legislation, because funding fights consume energy while magnifying uncertainty.

At NHC we have spent nearly a decade thinking about how to change the political prioritization of affordable housing and community development. One of the common mistakes of this work is to assume that focus group-tested messaging will solve all of our problems. While this kind of research can be effective at helping us understand negative frames, we have to recognize that without both education and reform many communities will continue to be frustrated by our solutions.

Recently I had a chance to speak at a gathering of state community development associations, hosted by the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations in Cleveland. While I was there to talk about NHC’s communications work, the conversation spurred comments from audience members that while the public is very concerned about housing affordability and wants the government to do more, they also do not like or trust our solutions. One of the comments that struck me as a real and vital concern for the housing and community development field to address was, What if we designed affordable housing and community development delivery systems that could respond nimbly to the needs of our communities?”

What would this mean? For starters, in small and rural and communities, programmatic changes are needed to offer smaller multifamily development options in places where some residents feel 40-45 unit developments are too big for the scale of their neighborhoods.

HUD has done a lot of great work over the past eight years to connect its work to that of other federal agencies. How can that be expanded more significantly? It is still not easy to respond to community development needs from a single- or multifamily housing and services perspective, much less from a more comprehensive lens that includes housing, health, transportation and education.

In addition to our communications work, NHC has also spent time over the past decade researching best practices at the intersection of these cross-sector issues. We know that access to quality affordable housing is a key determinant of health, has a big impact on education performance and is made even more valuable when connected by public transportation modes to employment centers. 

How can housing, education, health and transportation funding streams and planning requirements be better linked and integrated?

There is obviously some logic to separate federal departments that allow expertise to coalesce, but agencies should still be incentivized to work together much more seamlessly. Past efforts on housing and transportation, veterans homelessness, and more show that this can work. Communities don’t and can’t benefit from to single-issue solutions whether they are recovering from disinvestment and population loss or from rapid growth, price escalation and displacement.

Congress needs to find a way to budget based on facts about community needs and the benefits of comprehensive development strategies. There is no doubt in my mind that while efficiency can be improved, at the end of the day, only with more funding can this country’s affordable housing and community development sectors turn the tide on community needs.

That being said, we will also never get where we need to be if we cannot improve the way different federal programs can be combined and designed to meet the needs of different communities across the country. If we are to build any momentum with the new Congress and presidential administration, our sectors must come together on comprehensive solutions while also making the case for more investment.

A very special session on housing and opportunity

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

We created an unusual breakout session on housing and opportunity for the upcoming Solutions for Affordable Housing national policy convening in December.  It’s something of an experiment. We hope to contribute to the conversation about how housing connects to opportunity by bridging divisions within the housing community, so that we can move past the too-simple distinction between mobility and place-based policies.

There is widespread agreement that where someone lives profoundly shapes the opportunities available to them: jobs, schools, transportation, health, and more. Too often, though, our debates on how to improve those opportunities devolve into proposals either to give people more choices about where to live or to make the places people already live better. Many in the housing community support doing both, but we still tend to group policy options into distinct buckets.

At NHC, we want to explore ways of linking place with choice. We know desirable neighborhoods because they are places that people can and do choose to move to. We make choices about where to live based on the investments a community has already made: school quality, ease of commute, neighborhood beauty, public safety, retail options, etc. So we created a Solutions session to link the conversations about mobility and investment in a constructive way..

I’ll be moderating a double session, which means there will be two panels, back-to-back. (Don’t worry, we planned a break in between.) The first panel will look at how place-based investments can create opportunity in communities, and the discussion will focus on the role of choice. How can place-making stimulate people to choose a community, either to move into or to stay? The second panel will look at mobility strategies, and the discussion will focus on the role of place-based investments in empowering choice. How can investments ease the path or create landing spots for people wishing to move? 

As with all NHC Solutions sessions, we’re aiming to make this both practical and interactive. Your questions, your stories and your ideas will be part of the session—but only if you’re there. Want to see who the speakers are and what the other sessions at the conference will be? Visit the agenda, and sign up for updates. I hope to see you in D.C. in December.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Criminal justice reform has housing impacts

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

Given the potential for Congress to pass criminal justice reform and release a large number of individuals from prison, housing providers should be thinking through how to respond to this population. Evidence shows that effective planning, services and housing can significantly reduce recidivism for ex-offenders, significantly reduce costs to the justice system and improve outcomes for these individuals. To serve ex-offenders, nonprofits, public housing agencies and landlords need an approach that isn’t overly burdensome or costly, protects existing residents and meets the goal of helping ex-offenders integrate back into society. Quite a tall order, but pilot programs and other strategies being tried could offer helpful models.
  • The Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) board has approved significant changes to its admission rules for ex-offenders. The pending revisions would establish a review panel to assess each application for public housing and Section 8 vouchers individually, weighing each applicant’s background, severity of conviction, rehabilitation efforts since incarcerations and current circumstance. Depending upon the nature of the conviction, officials will either admit the applicant or send their application to a three-member panel for closer review. The policy is pending HUD approval and would also apply to private entities that manage HANO’s housing stock unless they can prove they are not legally obligated to do so.
  • The Oakland Housing Authority has implemented a policy allowing ex-offenders who apply and are rejected to appeal if they can show mitigating circumstances. Applicants can provide updated drug-screening and job-performance reports, recommendations from parole or probation officers and references from family members or clergy. Two-thirds of the applicants who appealed their initial rejections saw those decisions overturned.
These are two examples of programs being implemented, and we hope to share more we learn about other programs.

Given research showing that criminal history does not provide good predictive information about housing success, and the possibility for significant criminal justice reform, exploring how to provide housing to ex-offenders is becoming increasingly important. Because of the negative stereotypes that affordable housing can face in general, serving this specific population can present even greater challenges. However, it also presents an opportunity to explore new ways to build community support and craft positive messages about affordable housing. Please email me with any best practices or models so we can learn more about housing ex-offenders and help inform practitioners.

It’s so hard to say goodbye

News from NHC
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

Since I was a senior at Howard University, NHC has been my home. I began here as a communications intern, with a strong passion for social justice issues but very little knowledge of affordable housing.  In the last two and a half years I’ve attended events, had long discussions with experts, spoken to the media, read research reports, sifted through numerous housing-related Google Alerts and did whatever I could do to gain an immense knowledge of this very necessary movement. In addition to that, I’ve sharpened my skills as a communicator—through writing, design, media relations and social media marketing. I’ve woken up happy to come to work every day because not only do I enjoy the work that I’ve done at NHC, but it’s mission driven work; work that will create positive change.

It’s hard to believe that this Friday, Sept. 9, will be the end. In bittersweet fashion, I announced my resignation in June as I go on to pursue graduate studies at the University of Chicago. I’m still in shock that in less than a week I’ll move to the country’s third largest city to take on a new, exciting challenge. But the sweet side to the sadness is that I can take all of the things I’ve learned here at NHC and apply them to my endeavors as a graduate student.

I’ll be pursuing a degree in social service administration and I’ve chosen the poverty and inequality program of study, with a social administration concentration. This program will prepare me to be on the front line of efforts associated with disadvantaged populations and marginalized people. I feel like I have a great head start through NHC. My goal is to move into community and economic development and other services and supports that can help disadvantaged communities. The advocacy for Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing that NHC participated in last year was a great starting point for me. Our annual Solutions for Housing Communications convening also gave me great insight on how to speak about and build support for affordable housing development. Research about the implications of access to safe, affordable housing for health and education were eye opening. I’m still fascinated by the numerous intersections housing has with other areas, and I’m excited to bring this perspective to class discussions and, if possible, incorporate it into some research.

So while it’s hard to say goodbye, I know that my time at NHC has equipped me for future success. I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned through my work in affordable housing to my future career in social service administration and community development.

Additionally, my departure also leaves an opening for a senior marketing and communications associate, a position NHC is currently hiring for. I encourage you to share the position with your networks and apply. You definitely won’t regret it.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

SKA Marin’s The Gilbert on First moves into phase II

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

NHC member SKA Marin recently began the second phase of development for The Gilbert on First, an affordable apartment development featuring studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom units designed for low-, moderate- and middle-income families. The development will provide affordable housing in conjunction with New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Developments mixed-income program.

The Gilbert forms an integral part of SKA Marin’s East Harlem community development, which includes Metro East 99, The Draper Apartments and Draper Hall. The Gilbert anchors the Draper Apartments and the two building share open space that includes a large garden and a shared rooftop terrace. Building amenities include security-activated entrances and additional garden space for children’s play.  Located within a flood zone, the first floors of both Draper and the Gilbert comply with the most current NYC and FEMA flood requirements. Both projects will be built in compliance with Green Communities Sustainability Requirements and are conveniently well served by public transportation.

Mixed-income development could soon have an even greater role in affordable housing development. The Affordable Housing Improvement Act of 2016, introduce in May, would establish an income averaging provision allowing the Low Income Housing Tax Credit to better serve households across the low-income spectrum in developments with mixed-incomes. NHC partnered with the New York Housing Conference to produce a fact sheet on income averaging in mixed-income developments to aid in education and advocacy efforts around the proposed legislation.

The Gilbert is one of five projects nationwide awarded a 2016 Enterprise Green Communities Health Action Pilot Grant for its goal of promoting health through housing.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

POAH to celebrate 15th anniversary Sept. 28

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

For 15 years, NHC member Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) has stayed true to its mission to preserve, create and sustain affordable, healthy homes that support economic security and access to opportunity for all. On Sept. 28, the organization will recognize all of its hard work and accomplishments in an anniversary celebration in Boston featuring a symposium and reception.

The anniversary celebration will feature a keynote from the Urban Institute’s president and CEO, Sarah Rosen Wartell, on strategies for addressing poverty and income inequality. A town-hall discussion focused on housing and community development in the next presidential administration and Congress will follow Wartell’s remarks and feature NHC’s president and CEO, Chris Estes, as presenter. POAH board member Reese Fayde will moderate the session.

Following the discussions, a reception will take place in the Boston Society of Architects’ Gallery. There is no charge to attend the event, but those interested in helping POAH celebrate its anniversary should RSVP to by Friday, Sept. 16.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

BRIDGE Housing to develop N. Williams Center in Portland

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

The Portland Housing Bureau recently selected NHC member BRIDGE Housing to develop 61 affordable apartments for low-income families at the N. Williams Center in the Eliot neighborhood of Portland, Ore. The community will serve very low- and low-income families and give priority to those who have been displaced in North and Northeast Portland.

Expected to break ground sometime in mid-2017, N. Williams Center will have four stories and feature one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Other site features include a children’s area, gathering spaces for residents, a chicken coop and community gardens. Art and garden programs will be provided to developmentally disabled residents. Additional supportive services will be included to increase the financial stability of all residents.

“While the neighborhood has a rich cultural heritage, many longtime residents have been priced out and displaced,” BRIDGE Housing President and CEO, Cynthia Parker, who has deep roots in the region, said in a press release. “We’re proud to be part of the solution and are committed to bringing quality and affordability to Northeast Portland.”

According to “Housing Landscape 2016”state data, 22 percent of Oregon’s low- and moderate-income working households spend at least half of their income on housing costs and renters are more likely to face severe housing cost burden, with 25 percent spending more than half their income on housing. The N. Williams Center development will help alleviate the strain of finding affordable housing that many displaces families in the region have experienced.

The N. Williams Center development received an allocation of $4.5 million in local and federal funds from Portland’s Housing Bureau and will leverage 40 project-based Section 8 vouchers from Home Forward, Portland’s public housing authority.