Wednesday, June 27, 2012

NHC announces hire of new president and CEO

by Cynthia Adcock and Blake Warenik, National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy

The National Housing Conference today announced that Chris Estes will join the 81-year-old housing organization as its new president and CEO effective July 23. Estes is currently the executive director of the N.C. Housing Coalition, a post he has held since 2003. In his new position, Estes will lead NHC’s policy and advocacy work both in Washington and throughout the country. He will also work closely with NHC’s research affiliate, the Center for Housing Policy, to make the case for affordable housing and develop effective housing policy solutions. In making the announcement, NHC Chair John L. Kelly cited Estes’ record of successful leadership and organization-building expertise.

“Chris brings the skills and vision to strengthen the coalitions around housing that can marshal our collective strength in the difficult times ahead,” said Kelly.

Chris Estes
Estes joins NHC’s Washington headquarters after nine years at the helm of one of the country’s best-known state housing groups. During his tenure, he implemented strategies to successfully grow the N.C. Housing Coalition into one of the nation’s most effective state coalitions. He is widely credited with building the staff, broadening the coalition’s membership and forging productive relationships with both political parties at the state and federal levels, increasing the supply of affordable housing in the state and improving the quality of life in low-income communities.

Estes said he looks forward to the challenge. "I am honored with this extraordinary opportunity to lead NHC during this critical period. There is a new urgency around housing issues—a level focus we have not seen for many years. I aim to make NHC a stronger leader on housing issues, bringing my own experience to expand on a strong tradition. I hope to grow a vibrant "big tent" of advocates that maximizes the voices and power of the affordable housing spectrum to improve federal funding and develop more effective housing policy for the country.”

Estes already had extensive experience in economic development, smart growth advocacy, welfare reform, workforce development, affordable housing development and asset-building research before joining the N.C. coalition as its executive director in September 2003. He holds masters degrees in Social Work and in City and Regional Planning, both from UNC-Chapel Hill. He worked closely with the Coalition's partners on a shared legislative agenda and promoted the Campaign for Housing Carolina across the state.

Estes will work with a newly elected leadership team at NHC, including Kelly, a partner in the New York office of law firm Nixon Peabody. Kelly’s first official duty as Chair of the Board of Governors of NHC was presiding over the 2012 Housing Person of the Year Gala. Speaking to the approximately 700 attendees representing virtually every national housing organization in the country, Kelly said, “The whole housing world has been turned upside down and all assumptions are open to challenge. This can be, and has been, scary, but it also opens opportunities for NHC to play an important role in seeking consensus and in setting a new agenda going forward.” Kelly said he will work closely with the NHC Executive Committee and Board of Governors to bring about needed change in a thoughtful way.

Other newly elected executive committee members include:

Ted S. Chandler, Vice Chair
Chief Operating Officer, AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust

Eileen Fitzgerald, Secretary
Chief Executive Officer, NeighborWorks® America

Shekar Narasimhan, Chair of the Audit Committee
Managing Partner, Beekman Advisors, Inc.

See a full list of NHC’s Executive Committee and Board of Governors
See a full list of NHC’s Board of Trustees and Life Trustees

Friday, June 22, 2012

NHC Policy Symposium explores veterans' housing issues

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

NHC’s annual Policy Symposium brought together more than 200 representatives from the housing and veterans affairs communities to examine the challenges facing veterans and returning servicemembers. The key theme of the day was commonality—the housing challenges of veterans are quite similar to the housing challenges facing all in America: foreclosures, burdensome housing costs, underwater mortgages, and homelessness.

Speakers highlighted some of the particular challenges facing veterans:
  • Outreach to veterans who may not self-identify as being in need or younger veterans who may connect with traditional veterans' service networks 
  • The difficulty of obtaining reliable data to identify need and measure outcomes 
  • Geographic concentration in states with military bases or training facilities 
  • Coalescing local, state and federal resources with community support for veterans' housing 
  • Simply a large influx of in a short period of time 
The solutions covered by panelists included both new and familiar ground for housing stakeholders:
  • Greater availability of affordable rental housing particularly in places with stronger employment and housing demand 
  • Supportive services connected to housing for a broad range of need 
  • Housing counseling for home purchases, to sustain homeownership and to prevent foreclosures 
  • Improved mortgage servicing, including strategies to reduce principal on underwater troubled loans, building on the groundwork laid by the National Mortgage Settlement
  • Ongoing support for the HUD-VASH program, which Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould from VA called the “nuclear weapon in the arsenal against veteran homelessness” 
  • Strengthening federal support for existing housing programs like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, the HOME Investment Partnerships, and Section 8 that face increasing demand from veterans and non-veterans need alike
In opening remarks, Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia also touted his proposal for mortgage finance reform, which focuses on the nuts and bolts of how housing finance functions so that veterans and non-veterans alike can achieve homeownership.

HUD Acting Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development Mark Johnston spoke of the strong partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs and how those efforts dovetail with HUD programs to address homelessness.

NHC Policy Symposium live on C-SPAN2

by Blake Warenik, National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy

NHC's Annual Policy Symposium, bringing together experts and policymakers to explore veterans' housing needs and how the housing and veterans affairs communities can meet them, is live now on C-SPAN2 and online.

Watch the Symposium now

Speakers and panelists will explore veterans' housing issues, with topics including homelessness, rental housing, homeownership and foreclosure prevention, and frame how policy solutions for veterans can work for all Americans. The Policy Symposium is live until 1:00 p.m. EDT today.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why NHC is shining a light on veterans

by Blake Warenik, National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy

This evening marks the 40th time NHC, along with our members and supporters, has marked our annual Housing Person of the Year Gala, celebrating the achievements of some of affordable housing's greatest leaders and organizations along with our members and friends. But rather than celebrate the number, this year we chose to shine a light on one of the country's greatest housing challenges and the organizations rising to  it: meeting the housing needs of our veterans.

Our veterans are a venerated group, yet they are also particularly vulnerable. More than a million troops are expected to return to country over the next five years. Yet upon returning home, the youngest veterans of ongoing conflicts face an unemployment rate twice that facing non-veterans of the same age group. But veterans of all age groups and from all combat eras face unique problems. While veterans enjoy higher median incomes than non-veterans and are more likely to be homeowners by a wide margin, they are also far more likely to become homeless than the general population. Many come home from combat forever scarred—mentally as well as physically—and need and deserve a helping hand to readjust to civilian life. These are challenges that can be overcome. We must simply begin.

This diverse group also represents a cross-section of America; veterans are men and women of all colors, creeds and backgrounds. The challenges they face are often the same as those all Americans face, and policies that work for veterans will work for us all. As a country united to house our veterans, we can then turn and unite to solve the growing housing affordability and opportunity issues facing a growing number of our fellow Americans. 

We hope you can join with us tonight here in Washington as we honor five groups working tirelessly for our servicemen and servicewomen: The Home Depot Foundation, along with its partners Operation Homefront and Volunteers of America; and the collaboration between U.S. VETS and Cloudbreak Communities. Even if you're not able to make it, keep an eye out for new resources and tools from NHC and the Center to help you get started navigating the veterans' housing world.

Housing organizations are uniquely positioned to assist veterans, and NHC is leading the charge to organize our members and the housing world generally to work alongside veterans groups to respond to this growing need in a targeted, strategic way. Housing is a platform for economic development, health and so much more, and that we owe veterans our assistance in securing safe, decent, affordable housing is clear.

Tonight, as we are joined by our members, our friends, policymakers and military brass, we will share a moment to think of the brave souls not just on foreign battlefields, but fighting hard battles here at home: living on our city streets, facing foreclosure or entering a tough job market. We hope you will do the same not only tonight, but until they all have a place to call home.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

House Appropriations Committee approves THUD spending bill

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved the appropriations bill for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) with only minor changes from the version approved by the THUD subcommittee. The total level for HUD in the bill is at $33.6 billion, which is $3.8 billion below the FY 2012 level. The Committee stayed within the restrictive 302(b) allocation set earlier in the year (see the letter from 1,724 organizations calling for a higher 302(b)).

Committee approval prepares the bill for a vote by the full House, though as yet one has not been scheduled. The Senate’s THUD appropriations bill came in significantly higher at nearly $35 billion, leaving potential for a better outcome for housing if and when both houses of Congress come to agreement.

Friday, June 15, 2012

State of the Nation’s Housing highlights paradox of access and affordability

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

A recovery may be beginning in housing, but serious problems remain, particularly for households of low and moderate income. The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard released State of the Nation’s Housing 2012 on June 14 to offer insights on housing markets around the country and where those markets may be headed. While the report offers subdued hopes that “home prices may well find a bottom this year” leading to a rebound in prices and construction activity, it also highlights the paradoxical reduction in access even as homeownership becomes more affordable:
  • Rebounding rental markets are pushing housing costs higher for renters, leading to a sharp spike in housing cost burdens (as also document by the Center for Housing Policy in Housing Landscape 2012).
  • Limited access to mortgage credit prevents many low- and moderate-income households from achieving homeownership, even though housing prices are low relative to incomes.
The report’s conclusion speaks for itself:
Expanding the supply of safe, decent housing that is affordable to the growing numbers of low-income Americans is one of those critical needs—not only to ensure quality of life for cost-burdened individuals and families, but also to repair the social fabric of entire communities damaged by the recession. Now is not the time to cut back on housing programs that have had demonstrated success in providing a springboard to opportunity for many of the nation’s most vulnerable households.
Read more in State of the Nation’s Housing 2012, and also see this video Q&A with the Joint Center’s Eric Belsky.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

NHC proposes interim stabilization for multifamily mortgage finance

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

We need to pay attention to multifamily housing as an essential piece of the mortgage finance puzzle, as our latest paper points out. Congress will likely not act until next year at the earliest to map out the future mortgage finance, particularly Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In the meantime, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which oversees Fannie and Freddie, can take steps to stabilize multifamily mortgage finance and prepare for the transition to come. Those measures should:
  • Protect taxpayers by making sure guarantees are fully paid for, recognizing that the federal guarantee of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has become effectively explicit
  • Prevent market disruption by maintaining mortgage capital delivery channels
  • Strike the right balance of public and private capital risk by strengthening proven mechanisms for private entities to bear risk ahead of government
  • Create and preserve affordable multifamily housing even as the market readjusts
The National Housing Conference submitted proposals to FHFA on June 13, presented as comments to the agency’s Draft Strategic Plan. That plan, notably, did not mention multifamily housing at all. In summary, the paper recommends that FHFA:
  1. Encourage private capital to bear more of the risk in multifamily by:
    a.  Specifying the portion of the MBS guarantee fee that pays for the government wrap.
    b.  Structuring multifamily MBS to have at least 20% of risk borne by private capital with benchmarks for comparison of different models.
    3.  Limiting GSE total portfolio size in multifamily to encourage securitization.
    4.  Requiring that more than 50% of the apartments financed in any given year be affordable to residents at 80% of AMI or below
  2. Improve transparency with quarterly division-level reporting for the multifamily business units.
  3. Pilot new approaches in multifamily to reach underserved segments in a cost-controlled, carefully monitored way.
Read NHC’s paper for more detail.

Friday, June 8, 2012

House THUD Appropriations marked up at reduced levels for HUD with some bright spots

by Sarah Jawaid, National Housing Conference

The House Appropriations Committee released their fiscal year 2013 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill earlier this week, and it was marked up in a House THUD subcommittee hearing today. This bill comes in at $51.6 billion in discretionary spending – a reduction of about $4 billion below FY12 levels and about $2 billion below the President’s budget FY13 request. The bill includes $33.6 billion for HUD, a decrease of $3.8 billion below FY12.
  • $26.3 billion for Public and Indian Housing; this is an increase of $759 million above last year’s level and $250 million below the President’s request
  • $8.7 billion for Project-based vouchers at the President’s level which would short fund the account 
  • $19.1 billion for Tenant-based voucher program, slightly above the President’s request but contract renewals are at the President’s level which assumes savings from revenue raising provisions 
  • $75 million to fully fund the President’s request for VASH vouchers 
  • $650 million for Native American Block Grants 
  • No funding for the Choice Neighborhoods or Sustainable Communities programs. 
  • $3.3 billion for CDBG – an increase of $396 million above last year’s level 
  • $1.2 billion for HOME – an increase of $200 million above last year’s level
Both majority and minority committee leadership stated that this was a good bill given the tough allocation but expressed some concerns that they hoped would be dealt with as the process continues. Ranking Member Rep. Olver was encouraged to see the process moving forward and thought the bill did well for programs such as HOME, CDBG and VASH. However he was concerned with short funding the project-based Section 8 account and zeroing out of Sustainable Communities. The bill is expected to be marked up in the full committee in the coming weeks before going to the House floor and then conference with the Senate.

Friday, June 1, 2012

QM and QRM rules are delayed

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

The CFPB announced Wednesday that it was reopening a portion of the qualified mortgage (QM) rule for additional comment. The reopening focuses specifically on new mortgage loan performance data that has become available, rather than reopening the entire rule again. The QM rule implements a portion of the Dodd-Frank law designed to limit mortgage origination to loans that the borrower has the ability to repay. The delay means a rule is unlikely to appear until after the election in November.

What does this mean for access to affordable housing?

  • Uncertainty about the QM and other regulations is part of what’s making it hard to get a mortgage right now. Without a final rule, lenders will remain skittish.
  • The qualified residential mortgage rule (QRM) won’t come out until after the QM rule does. QRM, which defines mortgages that can be securitized without the additional cost of the issuer retaining risk, is a subset of the QM, so regulators are likely to wait. QRM also requires six regulators to agree, unlike QM which is coming from a single regulator. See the NHC comment letter on QRM.

It also means regulators are trying to get it right—to craft a standard that makes mortgage credit available broadly but also safely to low- and moderate-income borrowers in all parts of the country—so that we don’t see a repeat of unsafe mortgage products designed to fail. Let’s hope they do get it right.