Thursday, May 26, 2011

Access to Public Transit: Necessary but not Sufficient

When people think of extensive public transit systems, New York City, Washington, DC, and Chicago frequently come to mind. But according to a new report by the Brookings Institution, they rank 13th, 17th, and 46th, respectively, when you consider how well a transit system connects people with jobs. Instead, when pondering top transit systems, we should be thinking about Honolulu, San Jose, and Salt Lake City, it seems.

The authors of Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America analyze transit systems in the largest 100 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and rank each on two measures: the share of the working-age population that lives within three-quarters of a mile of transit access; and the share of employment opportunities that a rider can reach on transit in less than 90 minutes (a fairly high bar). The study finds that roughly 70 percent of the working-age population in the metros studied has at least limited access to transit. However, thanks in part to the suburbanization of both people and jobs, a transit rider is within a 90-minute commute of only 30 percent of the jobs in these regions.

In terms of access, low-income neighborhoods are at a significant advantage to others. Nearly 90 percent of the working-age population in these metros has access to transit, which makes sense because these neighborhoods are often located in more densely developed, centralized locations that are easier to serve with transit. These same neighborhoods also have access to a greater share of regional jobs after a 90-minute commute, but at 36 percent, the share is still remarkably low. And because more high-skill jobs have remained in the cities (near transit) than low-skill opportunities, residents in low-income neighborhoods can access 40 percent of the former but only 32 percent of the latter.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Rest of the Story on HOME

by Maureen Friar, President and CEO of the National Housing Conference.

Housing groups around the country, including many NHC members, are responding in force to a series of articles in the Washington Post that disparage the HOME program.  The articles largely ignore the strong track record of the HOME program in creating more than one million affordable homes, instead looking at a few anecdotes and simplistic statistics on project delays, when in fact only 2.5 percent out of 28,000 active developments are delayed.  That’s a strong track record, particularly during the worst economy since the Great Depression and the bursting of the housing bubble when many private sector projects are delayed or derailed entirely. 

HUD’s blog post provides additional context missing in the Post articles, noting that more than any other federal program, HOME has allowed the approximately 650 states and localities who have used the program since 1992 to deploy federal funds and leverage private capital to provide much-needed affordable housing.  HUD’s oversight makes sure that funds committed to projects that cannot proceed are repaid to the government and redeployed to projects that can move forward.  Indeed, in the last two months, HUD has cancelled nearly 2,000 stalled projects totaling $290 million. 

Housing development is a complex process in the best of times, but in the wake of the economic crisis, delays are widespread in the private sector. The economic downturn and severe dislocation in the capital markets over the past few years stalled many projects across the country—both affordable and market rate, subsidized and unsubsidized, and in all markets.  A National Association of Home Builders survey (NAHB) from earlier this year found that more than half of builders reported stalled projects.  In comparison, HOME’s track record stands out for very strong completion.

Share of respondents who reported putting projects on hold until financing climate gets better- percent of respondents by region
(Source: NAHB’s Acquisition, Development,
and Construction Financing Survey, 1st Quarter 2011

Land Acquisition
Land Development
Single-family Construction
Multifamily Construction

Overall housing activity slowed down dramatically during Great Recession, as one can see from data on housing starts and housing completions:

During a period of such precipitous decline, we should be lauding the HOME program for helping essential affordable housing projects stay on track.

Furthermore, the Post article’s criticism leveled at nonprofits misses the mark, observes Michael Pitchford, President and CEO of the Community Preservation and Development Corporation.  “The articles focus on small, struggling and even startup not-for-profits in several instances,” Pitchford objects, “once again ignoring the larger context that most not-for-profit developers have sound financial footings and a track record as a good steward of federal funds.” Pitchford adds that affordable housing delivered by nonprofits often comes “service-enriched” to the great benefit of residents and surrounding communities.

As the country takes a renewed look at the HOME program, we should keep in mind a few key points:

  • HOME helps real people.  The National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA) has collected stories to show the human benefit of federally supported state housing programs like HOME. The “Faces of Home” website offers real stories of families and individuals whose lives have been changed by HOME funding and other programs. Low-income people who desperately need affordable housing will be the victims should federal resources for housing programs be reduced or eliminated.                                                                         
  • HOME is a huge producer of affordable housing—more than one million units. Many projects rely on HOME funding during the development process, which can take years even under the best of economic conditions.
  •          Working families need affordable housing, but it is getting harder to find.  According to a report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies released in April, there is a substantial and growing scarcity of affordable rental housing for low- and moderate-income Americans. A Center for Housing Policy report finds that nearly one in four working households spends more than half of their income on housing costs. And despite falling home values, housing affordability worsened significantly for working owners and renters between 2008 and 2009.

    ·         We are losing affordable homes that it took years to create.  Since the mid 1990s, more than 700,000 apartments with federal subsidies tied to them were lost from the subsidized housing stock (either through demolition or owner decision to abandon subsidies and turn the units into market-rate rentals).  Meanwhile, nearly 12 percent of low-cost rentals existing in 1999 were demolished or otherwise permanently lost from the housing stock by 2009.

For 80 years, the National Housing Conference has advocated for decent, safe, and affordable housing for all Americans. The HOME program has been an important element of our national commitment to creating housing opportunities for all Americans—we should measure its accomplishments fairly, recognize failures when they occur, and seek to do better.  In the wake of the housing collapse, now more than ever we should look to expand affordable housing opportunities for Americans that build on proven solutions.  

Click here to read the Post articles. We encourage participation in the discussion on HOME in the comment thread.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Young Leaders in Affordable Housing Hosts First Peer-to-Peer Learning Session

Young Leaders in Affordable Housing members gathered Thursday in person and by phone at Enterprise Community Partners in Washington, D.C., to learn about the federal appropriations process. They gathered for the third monthly YLAH speakers series session, entitled “Federal Budget 101 - How does HUD get its money every year?” 

What made this session different from the previous two was that the speakers were young professionals, not seasoned veterans. The goal of the peer-to-peer learning sessions is for YLAH members to share their specialized knowledge with their peers so that all YLAH members can gain a more holistic understanding of the affordable housing field.

At the May 19 session, Mindy La Branche of the National Council of State Housing Agencies and Amanda Roberts of Enterprise Community Partners shared their knowledge of federal appropriations with their peers. La Branche began with an overview of the usual annual appropriations process—starting with the President’s budget request and ending with signed appropriations bills. Roberts followed with an overview of the unusual appropriations processes of the past two years, from the 2009 stimulus to the current debate over raising the debt ceiling.

Participants asked questions and came away with a thorough understanding of how federal housing and community development programs receive funding. Stay tuned for future peer-to-peer learning sessions on affordable housing finance and development.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

No Fair Shake for Lower-Income Bay Area Residents

As you sit under a two-ton chandelier in ballroom of the Hilton in Union Square during the Seismic Risk Mitigation Leadership Forum, you may look up and wonder…is San Francisco well-enough prepared for a major earthquake? The U.S. Geologic Survey estimates there is a 63 percent chance that a major earthquake – one of magnitude 6.7 (roughly the same magnitude as the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake that caused extensive damage and 63 deaths across the Bay Area) or greater – within the next 30 years.

But despite the precarious situation we’re contemplating in the Hilton ballroom, it’s likely you would be safer during a major quake inside that 46-story steel frame skyscraper than inside one of the many thousand smaller and less resilient buildings that house many of the city’s lower-income residents. Although San Francisco and other cities in the area are likely better prepared for an earthquake than any other region in the U.S., there is still a great risk that much of the affordable housing in the Bay Area would be lost indefinitely if “The Big One” struck.

Friday, May 13, 2011

New positions at NHC and the Center

The National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy are looking for exceptional candidates for the following positions:

We need your assistance to help find candidates that are mission-focused team players that will work with NHC and the Center to expand our impact. Please share this announcement broadly through your networks and with any job candidates you think fit the bill.

Complete position descriptions and application instructions are available at Please direct questions about these job opportunities to NHC's Director of Administration, Mary Cousins at

The application deadline for all three positions is Friday, May 27.

NHC and the Center are equal opportunity employers

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Bringing Research Out of the Cocoon

What happens when the Federal Reserve brings researchers together from across the nation for a Community Affairs Research Conference?  As attendees learned recently, you get solid research presentations plus a call to make the research relevant.  Papers, presentations, and discussions on topics such as the impacts and use of foreclosure prevention counseling, shared equity homeownership, LIHTC, credit scores, loan modification, and fringe financial services can only inform policy discussions if researchers learn how to communicate them outside of academic circles.  Talking to other people living inside the ivory tower (or the research cocoon if your home base lacks a tower) about methodologies and regressions is not going to turn current research consensus into new policies being implemented or existing policies adapted or maintained.

The Community Development staff at the Federal Reserve is emerging from the research cocoon with a series of videos highlighting neighborhood stabilization approaches in Cleveland, Phoenix, and Detroit.  The Cleveland video highlights the area’s use of data to inform their stabilization efforts.  The Phoenix video talks about the use of public-private partnerships to bring Realtors in as part of the neighborhood stabilization solution.  The video about Detroit shows how the city is bringing community leaders together to think about strategic use of resources when blight is so widespread.

The big challenge for the housing research community is to communicate the findings of rigorous studies as clearly as the Fed can now showcase strong practices from the field.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

New Award Recognizes Achievement in State and Local Workforce Housing Programs

After a long career as a real estate executive and more than 35 years of active engagement with the Urban Land Institute (ULI), Robert C. Larson passed away in 2010.  This year, ULI’s Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing is introducing a new award to honor his memory and to recognize exemplary state and local programs that have demonstrated success in the production, rehabilitation, or preservation of homes for moderate-income families.  (A separate category of awards will recognize new and emerging programs.)  Eligibility for the award is open to states and localities, including state and local departments and offices, and applicants need not be ULI members.

There is no cost associated with applying for the Robert C. Larson Award, and the deadline for submissions is June 15, 2011.  Click here for more details or to download an application packet.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Good and Bad News about Metropolitan Mortgage Delinquencies

The latest serious mortgage delinquency data released on have a mix of good and bad news for homeowners and communities.  The good news is that the overall serious mortgage delinquency rate (loans that are either 90+ days delinquent or in the foreclosure process) is showing signs of stabilizing.  The bad news is that the rate is still quite high and the foreclosure rate itself is still on the rise.  Taken together, these trends suggest that the foreclosure problem remains severe but the pipeline of troubled loans may be slowly shrinking.  The evidence also suggests that loans may be lingering longer in the foreclosure inventory.