Public housing is rebounding. Led by innovative Public Housing Agency (PHA) directors, creative federal programs, strong association support, new financing products and resident leadership, publicly owned housing is being revitalized and rejuvenated. Fundamental to this progress is the increasingly stronger connection of public housing to the rest of the world of real estate through such vehicles as HOPE VI and other recapitalization tools.
Underlying this momentum is the growing realization that publicly owned homes must become property-based assets and that revenue and costs must be transferred to those assets from the agencies. Such changes are increasingly enabling PHAs to attract private sector debt and equity capital to their developments. Obviously, continued deep subsidies, such as project-based section 8, will be necessary to serve very low income residents.
This effort will be accelerated by the Administration’s proposed Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, which recognizes the need to develop neighborhood based strategies that link public housing to nearby privately owned developments in order to strengthen community vitality, which includes improving educational opportunities.
However, the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative is best viewed as a prototype that will hopefully and quickly move beyond the relatively few communities it will initially aid. Hundreds of publicly owned developments still need significant renewal and they must remain a priority focus of financial and policy support.
Most importantly, the current and future residents of publicly owned homes must continue to be central to this rebound. These residents must be involved and supported to achieve their own best paths to success. After all, these residents are integral to the renewal of public housing.
Conrad Egan is president and CEO of the National Housing Conference. With more than 40 years of experience in the affordable housing industry, he previously held positions at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and NHP, Inc. During 2001 and 2002, he took a leave of absence from NHC to serve as executive director of the Millennial Housing Commission, established by the United States Congress to recommend ways to better support good housing for all Americans. Egan also served for eight years as a commissioner for the Fairfax County, Virginia, Redevelopment and Housing Authority (FCRHA), and as chairman of the FCRHA for six of those years.