The federal government’s HOPE VI grant program of the early 1990s provided local housing authorities with the funding and impetus to replace and/or renovate public housing projects that were severely dilapidated or beyond repair. But what began as a timely effort to upgrade substandard public housing quite unexpectedly morphed into a new, entrepreneurial approach to providing and managing affordable housing.
Housing authorities that previously , in many cases, perceived of themselves as governmental managers were awakened to the notion that they could better serve the public and stabilize their operations by utilizing principles of real estate management; in other words, by managing each property as a self-sustaining entity.
By adopting this “asset management”approach, housing officials began to manage the value of their properties in addition to managing the process, i.e. collecting rents and overseeing eligibility lists. Housing agencies realized they needed to become savvy real estate managers to remain viable during the up-and-down cycles of federal funding.
Also, by operating each HOPE VI property as a self-sustaining entity, housing agencies were able to take advantage of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program and forge partnerships with nonprofit and for-profit developers. The result of this infusion of private capital was a new type of affordable housing intended to retain property values, revitalize neighborhoods and create mixed-income developments.
The HOPE VI program exposed our industry to new ideas and, in the end, made us all realize there is no one-size-fits-all method for creating affordable housing and that each property must be managed on its own merits. Moving forward, it would be wise to ask ourselves: What other opportunities or resources can housing authorities tap into to improve property performance? And, how can the HOPE VI experience be expanded to benefit additional, non-public housing neighborhoods? Choice Neighborhoods, perhaps?
Rick C. Gentry is president and CEO of the San Diego Housing Commission. He has 37 years of experience in the affordable housing and community redevelopment field, including executive leadership positions at three housing authorities -- Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority, Austin Housing Authority, and Greensboro Housing Authority. Prior to being named the Commission’s CEO, Gentry served as senior vice president of Asset Management for the National Equity Fund in Chicago, Ill., the nation’s largest non-profit Low Income Housing Tax Credit syndicator.