Friday, September 28, 2012

NHC head honored by N.C. coalition for career achievement in affordable housing

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

The North Carolina Housing Coalition honored National Housing Conference President and CEO Chris Estes in Raleigh today with the Bill Rowe Service to Affordable Housing Award in recognition of his career achievements in affordable housing, chiefly building the Coalition into to one of the most effective state affordable housing groups in the nation in his nine years as executive director. Estes left the Coalition in July when he joined NHC.

The honor made for a poignant parting gift for Estes, who promised to continue his work advocating for safe, decent, affordable housing for all in Washington while never forgetting his time in North Carolina nor what can be accomplished at the state level. Staff and speakers recounted how Estes grew the organization from a two-person staff with a budget in the low six-figures into a state advocacy powerhouse with a staff of nearly 20.

The N.C. Housing Coalition 2012 Awards Luncheon capped off the 2012 N.C. Affordable Housing Conference, a joint annual meeting of affordable housing stakeholders in the state, co-hosted with the N.C. Housing Finance Agency and the Community Investment Corporation of the Carolinas. Estes also joined a Friday morning panel on the state of industry and politics in North Carolina alongside NCHFA Executive Director Bob Kucab and Public Policy Polling Director Tom Jensen. N.C. Housing Coalition will post resources from the conference soon, including resources from grassroots advocacy training and messaging sessions that will be of use to state and local housing advocates.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Former Fannie Mae chief cleared in federal court

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

Former Fannie Mae Chairman and CEO Frank Raines saw a long-running class-action lawsuit against him dismissed last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by Judge Richard J. Leon. Raines and other Fannie Mae executives were implicated in an accounting scandal in 2004, accused by regulators of manipulating earnings results, in part to inflate bonuses. Investors, led by two Ohio state employees’ pension funds, filed class action in 2005. In his decision, Leon wrote:

“There is not only no direct evidence that Raines intended to deceive Fannie Mae’s investors, there is no evidence that he even knew his statements were false….Additionally, plaintiffs fail to offer sufficient evidence to conclude that Raines’s statements that they specifically identify as misrepresentations are even false. Instead, plaintiffs merely carve up Raines’s statements to fit their story.”

The ruling clears Raines of civil charges of securities fraud and knowingly violating accounting standards. Read more coverage in the Wall Street Journal and in a blog piece by NHC board member Barry Zigas.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Even in flyover country, urban revival can leave out workers who make it possible

by Laura Williams, Center for Housing Policy

At the end of this month, I will be leaving Washington, D.C., and returning to the Midwest to begin a new job at The University of Chicago Urban Network. This, then, is my last blog post for Open House.

Rendering of the development. Image: CityWay
I initially wanted to mark the occasion by summing up my thoughts on affordable housing and what I’ve learned in almost three years at the Center for Housing Policy. It turns out my time here has not left me with a grand theory of housing or urbanization or development. If anything, I’ve come away more muddled; more aware of the competing interests that need to be balanced to achieve good policies. This is not a bad thing, and instead has reinforced the idea that data and nuance are king, and that there is no magic bullet.

So, instead, I’d like to spend my final moments in this space giving a shout out to Indianapolis. I’m from one of its suburbs, and this winter basked in the reflected glow of so many Super Bowl reviews. Today, I was forwarded an article from the New York Times about some new mixed-use walkable developments coming to town. The buildings are taking the place of a gargantuan surface parking lot near the headquarters of Eli Lilly on the south side of downtown. The renderings for CityWay are gorgeous, and every time a surface parking lot is replaced with dense housing and retail an angel gets its wings.

But. In this thoughtfully designed development so close to many jobs in the heart of downtown, one- and two- bedroom units are leasing for $900 to $1,300 a month. For reference, the fair market rent for such units is $629 to $747. That’s a big difference, particularly in a project that received a lot of public financing and support. The janitors, retail clerks, security guards, grounds keepers and receptionists that are employed nearby at Lilly, Lucas Oil Stadium, Rolls Royce and the new shops that are expected to pop up are not likely to be able to afford to live here. And that’s a shame.

More and more developments are mixed-use and walkable. This is a great thing! Let’s also work to make them mixed-income because there are compelling reasons to believe that mixed-income communities have lots of benefits.

Which I suppose brings me back to my grand theory of housing, if I have one. It’s one of inclusion. (And to read a lot more about that, pick up just about any publication from the Center for Housing Policy, ever.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Low Income Investment Fund and SF Fed gather thoughts of community development experts

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

"Investing in What Works for America’s Communities," a collection of articles by some of America’s foremost community development experts, was released today by Low Income Investment Fund (an NHC member) and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. The collection highlights integrated approaches to antipoverty efforts aimed at creating stronger more resilient American communities that pay attention to both place and people. The book calls on leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to recognize that they can work smarter and achieve more by working together. Among the 43 contributing authors are NHC’s 2011 Housing Persons of the Year: Sister Lillian Murphy of Mercy Housing and Nic Retsinas of the Harvard Business School.

Taken as a whole, the writings presented in "Investing in What Works for America's Communities" provide a glimpse into a future where communities are more sustainable, more resilient and more resistant to economic downturns. Through dozens of examples of innovative thinking and descriptions of what is already working, this book uncovers new ways of working and thinking that will help create the “entrepreneurial” approach to development called for by Elizabeth A. Duke, a Federal Reserve System Governor, who wrote the foreword.

Duke reminds us that truly sustainable communities not only provide decent housing, but also have the resources to support individuals and families and to create a dynamic business environment. Says Duke, "For this reason, community development today is a multidisciplinary exercise that challenges us to think holistically about how housing relates to jobs, educational opportunities, transportation, health care, and other services and amenities." Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Center for Housing Policy, who served on the advisory committee for the project, said that research about housing’s impact on other social areas has been a top priority for the Center. "It’s important that these connections are being accepted and acted upon, and particularly that we recognize the need to work together."

To review or download single articles, visit www.whatworksforamerica.org.

Download the full collection free

Monday, September 17, 2012

House hearing highlights veterans housing

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

A House hearing Friday underscored the need for further focus on veterans housing needs by presenting both veterans’ personal stories and policy recommendations from leading experts. House Financial Services’ Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity held “Housing for Heroes: Examining How Federal Programs Can Better Serve Veterans”. The first panel called on three veterans who had experienced homelessness and emerged stronger to offer their personal perspective on how to improve federal programs aimed at ending veterans homelessness.

The second panel called six experts whose organizations focus on programs serving homeless veterans. All witnesses acknowledged the progress made so far in the federal pledge to end homelessness by 2015 and offered a variety of comments on the challenges that involves. Particularly compelling were Steve Berg of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (an NHC member) and Baylee Crone of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, both of whom emphasized the essential HUD-VASH program for combining housing assistance with supportive services. The full list of witnesses for the second panel was:
  • Ms. Heather Ansley, Esq.,Vice President of Veterans Policy, Vets First
  • Mr. Steve Berg, Vice President for Programs and Policy, National Alliance to End Homelessness
  • Ms. Baylee Crone, Technical Assistance Director, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
  • Ms. Sandy Miller, Chair, Vietnam Veterans of America, Homeless Veterans Committee
  • Mr. Arnold Stalk, Founder and President, Veterans Village, Las Vegas, NV
  • Ms. Eileen Higgins, Vice President, Housing Services, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago
During the hearing, Rep. Al Green (TX) announced his bill, HR 6381, the HAVEN Act, to create a pilot program for home repairs and energy retrofits for low-income veterans. He acknowledged the contributions of Rebuilding Together (an NHC member) and Vets First in helping to design the legislation. Cosponsors of the bill include Bachus (AL), Cleaver (MO), and Heck (NV).

Members present at the hearing included Biggert (IL), Gutierrez (IL), Green (TX), Hurt (VA), Waters (CA), Dold (IL).

Friday, September 14, 2012

Your affordable housing project could be award-winning

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

2011 Gold Medal Winner,
  the Bridge Homeless
Assistance Center, Dallas

If you've completed a great affordable housing project with excellent design, enter it into the running for the 2013 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence. This prestigious award "celebrates urban places that are distinguished by quality design and their social and economic contributions to our nation’s cities. Winners offer creative place making solutions that transcend the boundaries between architecture, urban design and planning and showcase innovative thinking about American cities."

The committee has a very broad definition of what they're looking for. Last year, the Rudy Bruner Award honored projects as diverse as a homeless assistance center in Dallas, public parks in Brooklyn and Phoenix and a mixed-use, smart-growth redevelopment of a railyard in Santa Fe. Also, don't fret if your project is not located in a major city; according to the guidelines, "Urban environment is broadly defined to include cities, towns, villages, neighborhoods, counties and/or regions." One Gold Medal winner will receive $50,000 to use toward the project; four Silver Medal winners will receive $10,000 each.

Please take a moment to submit your great project that includes affordable housing. We would love to have an NHC member or partner recognized, and there can be no greater social or economic contribution in this climate than affordable housing.

The call for entries is open until December 10, 2012. Let us know if you apply! We'd love to highlight your project on the Open House Blog, too. Contact me at bwarenik (AT) nhc (DOT) org to tell us about your project or to discuss a guest blogging opportunity.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Rep. Campbell (CA) opposes eminent domain seizure of performing loans

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

A bill introduced by Representative John Campbell of California today would prohibit federal backing via FHA, VA, Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac for loans in counties where a municipality has seized a mortgage loan through eminent domain. The accompanying press release pulls no punches, calling the proposals for eminent domain seizure of performing loans “atrocious, corruptive, irresponsible and unconstitutional”. The bill, titled “The Defending American Taxpayers from Abusive Government Takings Act,” has been submitted to the House Financial Services Committee and awaits a bill number.

NHC has spoken out against the eminent domain proposals primarily on practical grounds. Although eminent domain powers are essential tools for neighborhood revitalization and community development, the proposed use on performing mortgage loans would do more harm than good, serving mostly to shift economic returns from one set of investors to another. For more, read NHC’s letter urging FHFA to make the consequences of the proposal clear to localities considering it.

Chris Estes highlights housing needs to senators on Capitol Hill

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Chris Estes, NHC’s President and CEO, yesterday joined a group of housing leaders convened by the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, Senators Harry Reid and Mark Begich to address the nation’s housing challenges. Meeting in a closed-door session in the U.S. Capitol Building, the leaders present exchanged ideas about the right steps forward for housing policy.

Speaking for NHC, Chris offered several points that built on contributions from others, many of whom are NHC members:
  1. We need a balanced housing policy with attention to both homeownership and rental options. We’re seeing the result of past inattention to rental housing, with shortages of safe, decent, affordable housing options for low and moderate-income families in markets across the country.
  2. There are proven models for effective lending to low-wealth and low-income borrowers, particularly when accompanied by housing counseling. We have to make sure that the increased regulation of mortgage lending does not inadvertently exclude responsible low- and moderate-income families.
  3. The housing recovery is key to economic recovery—we can’t expect jobs alone to solve the housing problem. We should make sure that the deficit reduction solution does not reduce essential housing programs and thereby undermine the housing recovery.
  4. Tight credit and appraisal constraints are the hidden housing challenges that limit our ability to create new houses and apartments as well as get financing to responsible new homebuyers.
  5. Planning for a new mortgage finance system has to separate the essential government guarantee from the particular difficulties of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Otherwise, we may fail to provide sufficient liquidity for multifamily rental housing and single-family homeownership, a gap that could hurt low- and moderate-income families most severely.
Senators in attendance included Reid (NV), Begich (AK), Carper (DE), Schumer (NY), Blumenthal (CT), Boxer (CA), Akaka (HI), Cantwell (WA), Merkley (OR), Bennet (CO), Cardin (MD), Mikulski (MD), and Franken (MN). Other housing organizations represented included the National Multi Housing Council, the National Apartment Association, the National Leased Housing Association, the National Association of Home Builders, the National Association of Realtors, the Mortgage bankers Association, the American Bankers Association, the National Affordable Housing Managers Association, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, and the Housing Policy Council of the Financial Services Roundtable.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Growing the economy by using community development programs differently

by Brian Tracey, Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Brian Tracey
As the economy continues to struggle, job growth remains the Holy Grail in any recovery. In that light, perhaps it’s time to embrace a new source of economic wisdom: Monty Python, the British comedy troupe that famously said, "And now for something completely different…"

Consider the current landscape. Overall growth remains dampened by the housing sector, many markets continue to be saddled by stubbornly high unemployment, and private investment remains a critical need in areas hardest hit by foreclosures and job losses. In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal in April 2011, Gary S. Becker, George P. Schultz and John B. Taylor stated, “When private investment is high, unemployment is low.”

Fortunately, certain federal programs have proven track records in attracting private capital to develop housing and create jobs:
  • The Low-income Housing Tax Credit program has helped build and preserve more than 2.4 million affordable homes since its inception in 1986, according to the National Council of State Housing Agencies. Annually, the program supports about 140,000 jobs and generates about $1.5 billion in revenue for state and local governments, according to the National Association of Homebuilders. 
  • The New Markets Tax Credit program funneled $20 billion to more than 3,000 qualified businesses through 2010, the U.S. Department of Treasury reported. The New Markets Tax Credit Coalition reports that 300,000 jobs have been retained or created through the use of the New Markets program. 
  • The Immigrant Investor Program, or EB-5, has generated more than $3 billion of foreign capital in the U.S. economy – creating at least 65,000 jobs – since 2003, according to the Association to Invest in the USA, a trade association of EB-5 Regional Centers.
Without question, we should continue the current uses of these programs. However, based on the above success in attracting private investment, we should also explore new and expanded options for these housing and economic development tools, which could help address our nation’s most pressing needs, particularly those of low- and moderate-income people. With a few simple changes, these programs can help bring back jobs and residents to neighborhoods hit hardest by foreclosures and the slow economy. Click here to read the article and learn more about these policy options.

Brian Tracey is the Chair of NHC's Finance Committee and Community Development, Lending and Investments Executive at Bank of American Merrill Lynch, an NHC Leadership Circle member.

Special thanks to longtime NHC member National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO)  for sharing Tracey's article in their publication Journal of Housing and Community Development. Learn more about NAHRO at www.nahro.org.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New servicing brings principal reductions

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

As servicing migrates to those able to handle the challenge of underwater and troubled loans, it is becoming clearer that principal reductions are an essential tool for helping homeowners, improving returns to lenders, and thereby preventing further foreclosures that destabilize neighborhoods. HousingWire’s latest article on Ocwen Financial Corp. points to a sharp uptick in principal reductions in the three months since Ocwen took over the Saxon Mortgage Services portfolio.

Shared appreciation mortgages are one of the tools Ocwen has pioneered for resolving underwater loans. Despite strong early results, others have been slow to adopt the shared appreciation model. Indeed, the Federal Housing Finance Agency has largely ignored it in the debate on principal reduction.

Ocwen is a member of NHC’s Leadership Circle. Paul Koches, general counsel for Ocwen, spoke about their servicing innovations at NHC’s 2012 Policy Symposium.

Monday, September 10, 2012

NHC Secretary and NeighborWorks CEO Eileen Fitzgerald recognized for influence in housing world

by Leah Logan, National Housing Conference

Congratulations to Eileen Fitzgerald, CEO of NeighborWorks America and NHC Secretary, for being named to HousingWire’s Influential Women of Housing 2012. HousingWire named 30 influential women to their 2012 list including Fitzgerald who they note “pioneered the nonprofit housing realm by bridging the private and public sector.”

Eileen Fitzgerald
As chief executive of NeighborWorks America, Fitzgerald oversees the provision of technical assistance, financial assistance and training to over 3,000 community-based organizations and oversees the support of a national network of more than 235 affordable housing and community development organizations serving over 4,000 communities.

The NHC membership roll is well-represented in this list, which included individuals from Bank of America Home Loans, CoreLogic, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. Read more here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

FHFA should weigh in on eminent domain

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Several cities and counties are considering using their eminent domain power to seize performing but underwater loans as a way to prevent foreclosures. NHC today urged the Federal Housing Finance Agency to weigh in on this issue so that local governments have full information on the consequences of pursuing such a risky policy action.

The desire for action to stem foreclosures and stabilize neighborhoods is understandable—the foreclosure crisis is severe and will not abate soon. Reducing the number of underwater borrowers could also benefit the economy as a whole. Federal policies have made some inroads, but several promising options such as targeted principal reductions by the GSEs and expansion of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program remain unused. Within that context, we can understand why localities might entertain extreme measures.

Eminent domain can be a powerful tool for curing blight and rejuvenating economically struggling areas. But the proposals being floated in San Bernardino County and elsewhere wander far beyond that mission and risk causing more harm than they do good. For a full discussion, read NHC’s letter, which notes:
  • Fair value determinations will trigger lengthy and expensive court battles.
  • Valuation risk will fall on localities, not new investors.
  • Loan volume would shift unnecessarily to FHA and taxpayers.
  • Local governments are not well-positioned to manage or restructure loans.
  • Proposals would encourage over-use of eminent domain to profit outside parties.
  • Lenders may reduce lending in affected communities.
Most critically, FHFA must make the consequences of eminent domain proposals clear to all by analyzing and describing the likely market reactions. If appropriate, FHFA should also describe how it would respond to eminent domain actions by localities. No locality should adopt such a sweeping change without full information as to the likely consequences. At the same time, FHFA should continue to seek other ways to respond to the foreclosure crisis, building on its good work in servicing and short-sale guidelines and reconsidering its position on targeted principal reduction.