Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Resource Available to Help Homeowners Contact Foreclosure Counselors

Housing counseling agencies funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have announced the release of a new resource, the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Fund. This fund will be administered by NeighborWorks America and can provide homeowners with information and assistance to avoid foreclosure through the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan (HASP).

Borrowers who are interested in exploring their options and eligibility under HASP can use this resource to locate and contact a counseling agency for free counseling using their address. This service is also provided to non-profit housing counseling agencies that are working with the Federal Government.

Monday, March 30, 2009

NHC Advocates on the Inclusion of Affordable Housing in Transit-Oriented Development to Senate Leadership

On March 26 NHC President and CEO Conrad Egan participated in a Policy Symposium titled "Creating Livable Communities: Housing and Transit Policy in the 21st Century."

This event was hosted by Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

View the press statement released by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs here. Or, read Egan's testimony below.

Statement of
Conrad Egan
President and Chief Executive Officer of National Housing Conference

Before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs

“Creating Livable Communities: Housing and Transit Policy in the 21st Century”
March 26, 2009

"Let me begin by summarizing a few major points on the coordination of transit and housing policy and its role in developing livable communities. The combined costs of transportation and housing paint a more accurate and complete picture of affordability. While many individuals in search of affordable housing have been forced to “drive ‘til they qualify,” research now shows that as families move further from work, their transportation costs go up, often leading to a higher combined cost.

This dilemma is illustrated well in the study, A Heavy Load completed by the Center for Housing Policy, which documents that once families are between 10 and 15 miles from their employment center, the increase in transportation costs exceeds their housing cost savings. These added expenses are becoming increasingly difficult to bear for working class families with incomes between $20,000 and $50,000 who typically dedicate 57% of their income on housing and transportation

Local, regional, state and federal policies must guide strategies for reducing the burdens of housing and transportation costs on low and moderate income families by supporting the construction of transit-oriented development. Moreover, by building transit-oriented development, communities across the United States will undoubtedly witness reductions in vehicle miles traveled, energy use and green house gas emissions; reductions in traffic congestion; and improved livability and public health outcomes.

As transit-oriented development is built, we must also ensure housing affordability through federal policy and during the local decision-making process. Proper guidance should incentivize the construction and preservation of affordable housing stock near public transit and job sites so that it is available to households of all incomes.

It is crucial that policymakers move from rhetoric to specific legislative action quickly in order to help the nation achieve its 21st century transportation goals. As a result, the National Housing Conference has created a list of three specific recommendations for Congress and the Administration to keep in mind as work is completed on upcoming transportation legislation.

First, Congress and the Administration should revise the allocation formula for transportation funding to create strong incentives for communities to preserve and expand the availability of housing affordable to families with a mix of incomes near public transit stops, job centers, and other compact, amenity-rich areas. Second, Congress and the Administration should create more flexible guidelines for using transportation funding to support affordable, transit-oriented development. And third, Congress and the Administration should provide funding and technical assistance to help communities coordinate their transportation, land use and housing planning efforts.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this symposium. The National Housing Conference looks forward to working with members of Congress to find innovative policy solutions that will create and support sustainable, livable communities that will be accessible for all."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Guest Blogger Melody Fennel: The Impact of the Mark-to-Market Accounting Rule on Multifamily Housing Preservation Funds

Financing for multifamily housing preservation continues to shrink as the recession grinds on. One of the remaining and most reliable sources of affordable housing funds is now threatened. That’s due to a convergence of two issues that may seem to have little to do with one another: the Affordable Housing Program (AHP) of the Federal Home Loan Banks, and the mark-to-market accounting rule of the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB).

The AHP is the nation’s largest source of private sector funds for housing and community development. It is funded with 10 percent of the Home Loan Banks’ net income each year. Nearly three-quarters of a million housing units have been built using the AHP.

Such funding could dry up overnight if adjustments aren’t made to FASB’s mark-to-market rule.

During normal times, mark-to-market makes sense. It helps provide transparency to investors. Now, however, the market has disappeared for the mortgage assets held by many of the Federal Home Loan Banks. Simply put, there is no market in which to mark the assets.

These institutions plan to hold the assets to maturity. Regardless, the rule makes them value these assets as if they would be selling them now. That forces the Home Loan Banks to take huge accounting losses on paper, and therefore no funds are available for the AHP. If FASB adjusts the rule, AHP funds would continue to flow.

Mark-to-market shouldn’t be suspended altogether. Advocates who have lobbied Congress and FASB to adjust the rule say the rule can be changed without gutting it. FASB decides very soon.

Melody Fennel is a public policy and government relations professional based in Washington, DC. She previously served as assistant secretary for congressional affairs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and as a professional staff member for the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

NHC Chair Helen Kanovksy to Become General Counsel At HUD

On Wednesday, President Obama announced his intent to nominate NHC Chair Helen Kanovsky, chief operating officer of the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, to serve as general counsel for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Kanovksy, who has served as chair of NHC for the past three years, has also served on the board of NHC’s research affiliate the Center for Housing Policy.

At the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, Kanovsky manages an organization that has provided over $5.25 billion to finance 86,000 units of multifamily housing creating over 58,000 union jobs in the construction industry. Additionally, during her tenure on the boards of NHC and the Center, she has not only demonstrated a strong commitment to affordable housing, but also a keen knowledge of all the related policies and issues - making both organizations more viable at a time when enormous challenges exist within the housing community.

Kanovsky also previously served as Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator John Kerry, as well as Executive Vice President and General Counsel of GE Capital Asset Management and its predecessor, Skyline Financial Services Corporation. She was a partner and associate at Dickstein, Shapiro and Morin, and also served as Special Assistant to Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris at HUD, HEW and HHS.

NHC would like to congratulate Kanovsky on her nomination and wish her well as she continues to advocate for policies and solutions that address our nation's housing challenges and opportunities.

To learn more about Kanovsky and her recent nomination, please read the HUD Press Release.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

President Obama Hosts News Conference

President Obama held his second news conference yesterday evening to discuss, among other related items, his economic agenda and goals for the 2010 budget.

At the beginning of the conference President Obama updated his audience on the progress of the economic recovery package that was signed into law last month and provided greater detail on the Administration's "comprehensive strategy" to mitigate the ongoing economic recession.

Moreover, President Obama cited the initial success of the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan stating:

"This plan's one reason that mortgage interest rates are now at near historic lows. We've already seen a jump in refinancing of some mortgages, as homeowners take advantage of lower rates. And every American should know that up to 40 percent of all mortgages are now eligible for refinancing. This is the equivalent of another tax cut, and we're also beginning to see signs of increased sales and stabilizing home prices for the first time in a very long time."

For more information, read the transcript from last night's event here.

Or, watch this brief video of President Obama's opening statement from yesterday's news conference below.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Treasury Unveils Public-Private Investment Program

The U.S. Treasury Department released details on the "Public-Private Investment Program" earlier today. This two-pronged plan is intended to help financial institutions wipe distressed loans off their balance sheets in order to increase credit liquidity and enable these organizations to raise capital despite current market conditions.

Treasury Secretary contributed this Op Ed in today's Wall Street Journal justifying the "Public-Private Investment Program" and providing further detail.

The Treasury Department plans to use between $75 and $100 billion in capital from the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) and capital from private investors to generate approximately $500 billion in purchasing power and buy legacy assets. With additional financing from the FDIC and Federal Reserve this program has the potential of leveraging $500 billion to expand to $1 trillion of purchasing power over time.

In order to clean bank balance sheets of troubled legacy loans, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and Treasury plan to use half of the TARP resources allotted for this program to attract private capital to purchase eligible legacy loans from participating banks through the provision of FDIC debt guarantees and Treasury equity co-investment. The Legacy Loans Program will create individual public-private investment funds to purchase asset pools on a discrete basis. The Treasury Department and private capital will provide equity financing and the FDIC will guarantee debt financing issued by the Public Private Investment Funds – and provide oversight of these transactions - to fund asset purchases

The Legacy Securities Program is designed to jump start the market for legacy securities for a continued flow of credit and enabling banks to resume making credit card, automobile, student and small business loans once again. This program consists of two parts that are intended to draw private capital into these markets by providing debt financing from the Federal Reserve under the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF) and by matching private capital raised for dedicate funds targeting legacy securities.

The Treasury Department released this fact sheet about the Public-Private Investment Program. For more information, visit this Web site.

Long & Foster President and CEO Expected to Become New FHA Commissioner

Today, the Administration is expected to appoint David H. Stevens as commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Stevens currently serves as president and CEO of Long & Foster Companies, the largest privately-owned real estate company in the United States, and has an extensive background in single-family home mortgages.

Prior to his time at Long & Foster, Stevens was executive vice president and national wholesale manager for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. He has also been a senior vice president for Freddie Mac, where he managed the company's single-family mortgage business.

Stevens’ anticipated appointment comes at a time when FHA is facing numerous challenges due to the subprime and foreclosure crises. The agency, which insures loans made by FHA-approved lenders, has experienced a significant increase in demand recently – insuring approximately 30 percent of all new mortgages in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared to about 2 percent three years ago.

While the Administration has neither confirmed nor denied Stevens’ new position, the planned appointment was first reported Sunday evening by the Washington Post. To read that story, please click here.

This past week, President Obama has also filled additional leadership positions at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

On March 17, the Administration nominated Carol Galante, current president of BRIDGE Housing Corporation, as Deputy Secretary for Multifamily Housing Programs at HUD.

Meanwhile, on March 18, President Obama announced his intention to nominate Raphael Bostic as Deputy Secretary for Policy Development and Research at HUD. Bostic is a professor at the School of Policy, Planning and Development at the University of Southern California where he specializes in urban development and economics.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Key Leaders Speak About the Importance of Rental Housing Preservation at MacArthur and NHC Symposium

Yesterday, NHC and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation hosted a symposium entitled Partners In Innovation: A Dialogue on Federal, State and Local Rental Preservation Solutions, which brought together experts from across the nation to discuss the vital role that preserving affordable rental homes can play to help address the current housing crisis.

Key public officials, such as U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, spoke throughout the day about the important role that the Federal government can play in supporting innovative approaches to state and local rental housing preservation.

Specifically, the event featured three plenary discussions highlighting the work of 12 states and cities who were recently awarded a total of $32.5 million in grants and low-cost loans – including Denver, Florida, Iowa, Los Angeles, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon and Portland, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington and Seattle – to launch projects to preserve affordable rental homes for more than 70,000 families as part of the Foundation's Window of Opportunity Initiative. Representatives speaking about model preservation programs supported by the Foundation in New York City and Cook County, Illinois, were also featured at the symposium.

**To listen to the remarks made by HUD Secretary Donovan yesterday, please Click Here.

**To view the agenda from the event, please
Click Here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Secretary Donovan Says HUD Agenda Will Focus on Both Homeowners and Renters, As Well As Urban Development

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has an enormous task ahead of itself, as housing has become the focus of sustained national attention and foreclosures continue to impact millions of families across America.

A recent edition of “All Things Considered,” a show featured on National Public Radio, details the more prominent role that HUD will play in the Administration under Shaun Donovan, the agency's new secretary, as it tries to restructure housing in America.

While the radio piece emphasizes Donovan's commitment to helping struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure under the new $75 billion housing relief plan, the segment also focuses on his deep understanding of and experience with strategies that incorporate the needs of renters.

As the former housing commissioner of New York City, Donovan is well-versed in programs designed to expand the stock of rental housing that is affordable to all. At a time when the supply of rental housing was drying up in New York City, Donovan created a $230 million acquisition fund to provide capital for affordable-housing developers. Among other strategies, Donovan also implemented the use of inclusionary zoning policies – which grant developers the maximum height for their market-rate residences if they agree to build low-cost housing as well. To date, this program has created 1,833 units of affordable housing in the city.

Further reinforcing the secretary’s comprehensive approach to housing, Donovan says:
"In terms of my own work, historically, I understand that home ownership is not an entire national housing policy. Rental housing has a critical role to play, as does what I think has really been a neglected part of HUD's mission: Remember, there's not just housing in the title of this agency, but urban development. We need to put the 'UD' back in HUD."
Read more here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Guest Blogger: Michael Bodaken on Preserving Opportunities through Transit-Connected Affordable Homes

The Economic Recovery Act will help working families, not only because it invests in affordable housing, but also because it invests $18 billion to improve and expand our nation’s transit systems.

Expanded transit service can mean much needed cost savings for working families. On average, working families spend 57 percent of their incomes on housing and transportation. (Source: Center for Housing Policy’s A Heavy Load report.)

But working families will only realize cost savings if their homes are accessible to transit options. Thus, we must secure and expand affordable housing opportunities near transit to ensure that all benefit.

This goal is not without its challenges. Land near transit enjoys a premium; a premium that will likely grow as demand for homes near transit increases. Reconnecting America reports that demographic changes are expected to double the demand for homes near transit by 2030.

Further complicating the situation is that many existing subsidized apartments located near transit are at risk of being lost over the next five years. The National Housing Trust and Reconnecting America have identified more than 100,000 subsidized apartments within a half mile of light rail in 8 cities. These homes are truly a unique and essential resource. More than 60%, however, have federal contracts expiring over the next five years.

Fortunately, state and local leaders are finding innovative ways to save housing near transit. In Denver, the MacArthur Foundation is helping to establish a $15 million Transit-Oriented Development Fund. It will assist affordable housing providers acquire at risk housing near transit. In Atlanta, an Affordable Housing Trust fund has been set up to ensure that affordable homes exist around the new BeltLine transit system.

We know full well what the future holds for our cities if current trends continue: more walkable, transit rich communities. Unless we take steps to ensure that working families have a place in our revitalized urban centers, they will be forced to the sprawling fringes of our metropolitan areas.

Michael Bodaken currently serves as president of the National Housing Trust.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Increased Demand for Affordable Rental Housing in the Washington, DC, Area Emphasizes Need to Preserve and Create Homes for Renters

At a time when many homeowners are becoming renters after losing their homes to foreclosure, ensuring the affordable supply of rental housing is something that is quickly showing up on the radar of many. However, a recent article in the Washington Post sheds light on the demand that already exists for affordable rental housing in the Washington, DC, region, saying that many tenants with high rents in the area are increasingly seeking help from government agencies to meet their basic needs during the recession.

"The foreclosure crisis had overshadowed the fact that there are still huge needs for affordable rentals," said Melissa Bondi, housing director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth in Washington. "It is not as if a $500,000 house in foreclosure is magically available to a family that is being paid by the hour."

The story is a reminder that despite the drop in housing values, renters in the Washington, DC, area still face a high-priced market, as rents for affordable units remain relatively stable and vacancies are limited. Even in more affordable neighborhoods, a one-bedroom apartment can rent for approximately $1,000 per month.

In January, the waiting list for affordable housing and housing vouchers in the District of Columbia alone contained approximately 25,000 applications. Many of the applications are for families, which translates into about 70,000 individuals in need, according to Dena Michaelson, a spokeswoman for the District of Columbia Housing Authority.

To read this story in its entirety, please Click Here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

NHC's Director of Policy, Sharon Price, Featured on CNN

Check out the video below that features NHC's Director of Policy, Sharon Price, discussing details of the Administration's "Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Guest Blogger: Moises Loza on the Significance of Rental Housing in Rural America

Rental Housing in Rural America Must Be Preserved

Even during an economic crisis based partly on homeownership problems, policymakers must remember rental housing needs, including the need to preserve existing affordable rental housing in rural America.

About 450,000 rental units are included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (RD) housing office’s portfolio of loans made directly to affordable rural rental housing producers through the Section 515 program. These properties are aging; many badly need repairs and renovations. At the same time, some owners want to prepay their mortgages and leave the Section 515 program, often because they hope to convert their apartments to market-rate rentals.

Section 515 units are affordable for the lowest income rural residents; the average annual income of all 515 tenants is $10,921 and that of tenants receiving RD Rental Assistance (RA) is only $9,055. The majority of Section 515 tenants are elderly or disabled, and many of these properties are located in places where few other rentals are available.The single biggest problem for rural preservation efforts is a shortage of funding. RD has preservation programs in place, yet applications far exceed the available funds.

An appropriation of $400 million for RD’s Multi-Family Housing Preservation and Revitalization Preservation Revolving Loan Fund programs would rehabilitate and preserve 14,870 Section 515 rental units and create 4,400 construction jobs over 18 to 24 months. Nearly $1 billion is needed just to renew existing Rental Assistance contracts in FY 2009, and additional funds could make rents affordable for more Section 515 and 514 tenants.

In addition, both of RD’s preservation programs need permanent authorization from Congress, and RD must develop regulations to implement a new law requiring it to expedite sales of Section 515 properties to new owners who would keep them affordable for low-income tenants.

Only Congress and the Administration can take the steps needed. Only the federal government – representing the United States as a whole – can fulfill our nation’s commitment to provide every American with a decent, safe, affordable home.

Moises Loza currently serves as the executive director of the Housing Assistance Council.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Want to Learn More About Rental Housing Preservation? Stop by the HousingPolicy.org Discussion Forum to Chat With Your Peers

Are you curious about ways to grow or maintain the stock of affordable rental housing in your community? Do you want to share information with your peers about how rental housing has benefited neighborhoods in your area? Well, now there is a place to share this kind of information, and more.

The HousingPolicy.org Discussion Forum – recently launched by NHC's research affiliate the Center for Housing Policy – is currently featuring a discussion group entitled "Rental Housing Preservation," in which affordable housing policymakers and practitioners can quickly and easily share ideas, innovations and questions about rental preservation housing policy with their colleagues around the country.

The Forum, available through both HousingPolicy.org – the Center for Housing Policy’s online guide to state and local housing solutions – and its new sister site Foreclosure-Response.org, is intended to be a place to pose questions, exchange ideas, and learn from the experience and expertise of others.

In addition to the "Rental Housing Preservation Group," the Forum includes discussion groups on the topics of Foreclosure Prevention, Neighborhood Stabilization, Inclusionary Zoning, and Shared Equity Homeownership. Stop by the Forum today to learn more about these topics and participate in the conversation.