Monday, June 30, 2014

Research road trip

Developing Solutions through research
by Lisa Sturtevant, Ph.D., National Housing Conference

We’ve been taking our research on the road! One of the best ways we can connect our research with the work being done on the ground by advocates, developers, policymakers and other researchers is to present our work and participate in discussions about the nation’s housing challenges and promising solutions. Research staff has been on the road quite a bit over the past few weeks presenting our research, sharing our expertise, and collaborating with others working on housing issues. Just a few examples:
  • Research associate Janet Viveiros was invited to present at a two-day conference of users of the American Community Survey (ACS) data, where she highlighted our work analyzing ACS data for NHC’s Housing Landscape. Janet presented on a panel alongside researchers from NYU’s Furman Center, the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and the Housing Assistance Council. Her presentation was very well-received and brought a new audience to Housing Landscape
  • As a result of our growing expertise on shared equity programs, inclusionary housing and permanent affordability, senior research associate Robert Hickey was asked by the Coalition for Smarter Growth to provide expert testimony to the District of Columbia’s Committee on Economic Development on a proposed bill around homeownership preservation and equity accumulation. Drawing on our extensive research on shared equity, Robert helped outline the case for designing balanced programs with long affordability periods and opportunities for modest equity growth to ensure future generations can benefit from affordable homeownership in a fast-growing city.  
  • Senior research associate Maya Brennan framed the critical links between affordable housing and educational outcomes as the lunch keynote speaker at a conference on housing and education policy sponsored by Housing Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Urban and Regional Development. In her presentation to housing and education practitioners and policymakers, Maya talked about the impacts of affordable and stable housing on education, and she helped bridge the gap of understanding in the housing and education communities. Read more on Maya’s experience in the Briefing Room section of this newsletter.   
  • I was invited to participate in a panel discussion and webcast around the Joint Center for Housing Studies’ 2014 release of State of the Nation’s Housing. Alongside the report’s lead author and representatives from the Ford Foundation, Center for Responsible Lending and National Multifamily Housing Council, I provided perspectives on the housing affordability challenges highlighted in the report. In the aftermath of the recession, the challenges of housing affordability have affected families higher up the economic ladder who have been confronted by rising housing costs—particularly on the rental side—stagnant wages, and a restructuring economy. The range of housing needs and the variation in housing affordability across the country (as we describe in our annual reports and online tool on housing needs) suggest a need for comprehensive solutions at the federal, state, regional and local levels that draw on both public and private resources.
We will continue to look for opportunities to share our research to help broaden the understanding of housing needs in the U.S. and to discuss promising and innovative solutions for ensuring all individuals and families have access to safe, decent and affordable housing. We hope to see you on the road this summer! And remember, you can always find our research reports, briefs and blogs at

Home is where learning begins

News from NHC 
by Maya Brennan, National Housing Conference

As Housing Virginia explored in its recent Housing and Schools Symposium, partnerships between the housing and education communities are essential for supporting children’s long-term success. Long before children enter a classroom, they develop cognitive capacity, pre-reading skills, and problem-solving experience they will build on for the rest of their lives. This learning starts at home. It also starts in childcare settings that, even at the least expensive, rival fair market rents. And once traditional schooling begins, the home environment influences whether students of all ages start the day ready to learn. The housing options available for most low-income families present nearly impossible trade-offs for their children’s education.

To access better-performing schools, parents may try to stretch their budgets with unaffordable housing in strong school districts. But that choice may lead to overworking, overcrowding, parental stress, and risks of eviction or foreclosure. If low-income parents opt instead to stay with housing they can afford, the options may only be substandard quality units that jeopardize kids’ health, or housing in areas of concentrated poverty, unsafe neighborhoods, or underperforming school districts.

None of these tradeoffs are easy, but they are a fact of life for most low-income families.

With a growing awareness of income inequality and the achievement gap, interest in combined housing and education solutions also seems to be on the rise. Housing Virginia’s symposium brought together a mixed audience of educators and housers, all interested in supporting children’s outcomes together. I had the privilege of sharing insights about the challenges and solutions during the luncheon keynote.

So what was the takeaway?

ADD to the partnership. Housing and schools are better together, but cannot do this work alone. The transportation, workforce development, and health communities, and possibly others, all have important roles to play.

SUPPORT each other. Keep the lines of communication and areas of work open across traditional silos. Housing developments, for example, may offer quality out-of-school-time programs in their community space. From the education side, schools can open dialogue with the local housing authority or affordable housing owners to work on ideas for reducing student churn in high turnover schools.

ADVOCATE for each other. Housers, advocate for your local schools and sufficient funding there. Educators, advocate for additional affordable housing funding, or for inclusive programs that make sure affordable housing is equitably distributed in the region.

PLAN together. School improvements cannot work in a vacuum, and housing improvements without quality schools will have a harder time attracting residents. Planning together can improve overall results.

In Virginia, Washington State, Massachusetts, and elsewhere, the housing and education communities are pairing up to improve outcomes. Working with education and anti-poverty partners, Massachusetts’s Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association won a $1.4 billion bond bill that will add affordable housing throughout the Commonwealth, as well as fund mixed-use developments with early childhood learning facilities and space for out-of-school-time programming. Inspired by a cross-agency partnership in Tacoma, Washington state legislators have considered legislation to prioritize local housing trust fund dollars to projects that involve  housing and school collaborations. And in Virginia, the housing and school communities have kicked off their partnership through the Housing and Schools Symposium. With a vision and the support of strong leaders, the picture for Virginia’s low-income families may change.

Friday, June 27, 2014

San Diego County passes $600 million veterans housing act

News from NHC's family of members
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

San Diego County has passed the Veterans Housing and Homeless prevention Act of 2014. Early support of the funding proposal by NHC member San Diego Housing Federation aided significantly in its passage. The act, also known as Proposition 41, will see implementation of a housing and homeless prevention program in the area, which will provide $600 million for the creation of affordable housing for veterans.

Voters express overwhelming support for the act, with 68 percent voting in favor of passage. State statistics show that about 16,000 veterans in California are experiencing homelessness, with roughly 10 percent of those veterans being from the San Diego region. The approval of Proposition 41 will allow three state agencies, the California Department of Veteran Affairs, the California Department of Housing and Community Development and the California Housing Finance Agency, to begin hosting stakeholder meetings to determine implementation of the new veterans program.

Keeping housing available and affordable for veterans is a cause that NHC is also committed to supporting. Last May we published Veterans Permanent Supportive Housing: Policy and Practice, a report that highlights essential elements of support and funding for permanent supportive housing for veterans, and which drew on the work of our Veterans Rental Housing Working Group. Additionally, we’ll be hosting a convening this September on rental housing for veterans, and will release a veterans housing communications toolkit.

San Diego Housing Federation was an early endorser of Proposition 41 and will continue to support stakeholder meetings that will take place in the area. The first meeting in San Diego is scheduled for July 10 and will be used to determine the structure of the program and what services it will provide. Meetings will also be hosted in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego in September. San Diego County encourages the public to attend.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

New York City Housing Development Corporation approves three-borough bond development

News from NHC's family of members
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

NHC member New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC) recently approved the issuance of a bond totaling over $372 million to develop and maintain sixteen affordable housing units in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan. The bond will finance the development of 11 buildings, each with over 1,200 units, and protect seven existing developments with nearly 1,000 units each.

The bonds are a combination of tax-exempt and recycled funds and the developments they help to create will be counted in Housing New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to create or preserve 200,000 homes in the next ten years. The goal of the plan is to combat New York’s rising shortage of affordable housing by providing affordable units for a variety of income levels, preserve existing properties, create jobs and increase community development.

“Each of these projects speaks to the core principles and values of the [Housing New York] plan,” said HDC President Gary Rodney. “[They speak to the] preservation of existing affordable housing; flexible financing innovations that spread our resources more widely; providing deeper affordability when possible, and creating community facilities, commercial and retail space that will further enhance and create economic empowerment in the neighborhoods they serve." In total, the HDC Board of Directors voted to authorize use of over $600 million in bonds for affordable housing developments.

A total of 17 projects were approved and financed by the board in June. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

J.P. Morgan Chase pledges additional $100 million for Detroit recovery efforts

News from NHC's family of members
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference 

NHC Leadership Circle member J.P. Morgan Chase has a long history of banking in Detroit, in part from through acquisition of National Bank of Detroit.  So when the city began facing financial troubles that eventually led to bankruptcy last December, Chase stepped in to assist with the recovery process. The company is investing $100 million over a five-year span to help accelerate the recovery process.

The funds provided by Chase will be allocated to cover a variety of initiatives that include strengthening workforce readiness, increasing economic growth through community development and growing the city’s small businesses. Partnerships with community development financial institutions, including Invest Detroit and Capital Impact, will strengthen the city’s ability to develop new retail, commercial and residential properties and sustain or rehabilitate existing properties, through the formation of the Chase Invest Detroit Fund and Detroit Neighborhoods Fund, respectively. Chase has committed $50 million to this effort.

Chase is pledging another $25 million to neighborhood revitalization and stabilization to support Detroit’s work to diminish neighborhood blight and restore properties to productive use. These efforts, which are being supported by the Detroit Land Bank Authority and the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force, will also encourage homeownership.

“With this investment in Detroit, JPMorgan Chase is stepping up and doing our part when our country and this community need us,” said Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon in a release. “We are putting our resources and expertise to work to help this iconic American city chart the course back to economic prosperity.”

“Chase’s commitment of private resources to stabilize a place hit so hard by the foreclosure crisis relies on the same logic that animates NHC’s policy work in this area. Strong, vital neighborhoods benefit all, and we should all pitch in to help them recover,” commented Ethan Handelman, NHC’s Vice President for Policy and Advocacy. “Indeed, that’s a key theme of discussions in the Restoring Neighborhoods track at our Solutions Conference this November.”

Other partners in the recovery commitment are Bizdom, Brookings Institution, Community Development Advocates of Detroit, Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation, Detroit Youth Employment Consortium and Eastern Market Corporation. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Chicago Fair Housing Convening brings advocates and housers together

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference 

On Monday, NHC joined many other housing and civil rights groups to organize a regional convening in Chicago to bring community development and fair housing legal advocates together with other affordable housing supporters.  The meeting drew over 150 participants to discussions of the parallel strategies of building more opportunity by investing in distressed communities and opening pathways to opportunity in communities with greater existing opportunities.  Lisa Sturtevant from NHC’s Center for Housing Policy kicked off the day with a moderated panel on national and regional trends.  In my closing remarks, I highlighted three themes that emerged during the day: inclusion, unity, and trust.

Inclusion is the core value that brought us all together.  Inclusive communities provide opportunity to all, either by welcoming new members to existing opportunity or by creating more opportunities in place, so that people are not, in effect, trapped or isolated.  Building inclusivity, however, requires difficult conversations about race, income disparity, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, and other cleavages that divide us.

Unity is what we must achieve to win victories for affordable housing.  If we spent most of our effort fighting for more resources for affordable housing rather than trying to divide up the limited resources currently available, we could relieve much of the pressure we are under.  It is a telling reminder that a recent amendment to the THUD appropriations bill that would have prohibited HUD from using 2015 appropriations to implement the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule failed by only 6 votes (and not entirely on party lines).  We must all pull together to support affordable housing to have much hope of overcoming opposition.

Trust is essential to achieving fair housing outcomes.  We must build more trust between HUD and state and local governments, who from past experiences worry about enforcement actions that can go awry.  We must build more trust between legal advocates and housing developers, so that focus on particular tactical moves does not overwhelm broader strategy.  We must build more trust in affluent communities that affordable housing will enhance, not disrupt, their neighborhoods.  And we must build more trust in distressed communities to overcome a history littered with broken promises of better times and new development to come.  Trust-building is slow, but we must embrace it consciously and forthrightly to have a hope of succeeding.

As NHC’s CEO Chris Estes often says, we in affordable housing must think of ourselves as a movement, not just an industry or a legal strategy.  A movement inspires people to action, such as building and preserving affordable homes, organizing to build community support, or pursuing legal and administrative remedies.  A movement also brings change, be it new policies, changes in political leadership, and ultimately in the hearts and minds of people.  As an industry, we are a small one at best, but as a movement we can be strong.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How cognitive science can improve housing programs

Developing solutions through research
by Maya Brennan, Center for Housing Policy

Sometimes answers to housing policy questions lie in unlikely places. Recently, I found myself looking to neuroscience and psychology journals to understand the underpinnings of success for the Family Self-Sufficiency program and other housing-based economic self-sufficiency programs. What do neuroscience, psychology, and the like have to do with FSS? Let’s start at the beginning.

Residents with housing assistance have lived through a lot. The average household income of HUD-assisted renters is around $13,000 per year, and half are racial minorities. Waiting lists for assistance are long (and often closed), which means families may have spent years in a daily economic struggle – made worse by limited options in safe neighborhoods. There is a decent chance that the men, women and children receiving HUD assistance have faced major challenges including persistent poverty, exposure to traumatic events, or repeated experiences of social bias.

Poverty, trauma, and social bias can have long-lasting effects on the brain. Patterns of brain use strengthen certain pathways and weaken others. The high-stress, reactive nature of life in persistent poverty leads the brain to prefer ‘fight-of-flight’ impulses over longer-term goals and decision-making processes. A highly reactive brain can make it very difficult to create or follow a plan to make economic progress – and so the poverty trap begins.

But these harms, like a physical injury, can be repaired with re-training efforts. Regular reinforcement of longer-term thinking patterns, such as by offering interim feedback and intensive coaching, can help individuals restore cognitive balance well into adulthood. On the flip side, reinforcement of high-stress, reactive behavior patterns can make escaping the poverty trap more difficult, which suggests that unrealistic time limits and work requirements may not lead people to work harder, but instead lock the door on their longer-term potential.

After understanding how cognitive science can affect housing programs, what’s next? Housing authorities, armed with this knowledge and a set of five guiding principles, can help right the wrongs of persistent poverty, trauma, and social bias. They can achieve this through adopting or adapting an FSS program, using partnerships to add capacity and expertise and evaluating their existing programs and rules with an eye to reducing residents’ ‘fight-or-flight behaviors’ – all without necessarily breaking already-strained budgets.

At NHC, we believe strongly in linking the housing community with other fields, and we recognize the value of translating research into practical guidance and tools. Our latest report is another example of this line of thinking – even though it comes with a lot of new cognitive science vocabulary.

All housing is local: NHC works nationally to help move housing forward in your community

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

We are putting the final touches on Moving Housing Forward: Seizing the Moment, our 42nd Annual Gala on June 12th at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. If you have not yet secured your ticket, there is still time to do so. I’m looking forward seeing the many of you who will be in attendance.

NHC has a vital role to play in federal housing policy both as a convener, and as educator and advocate. We are also a resource for members on the policy climate for both legislative and regulatory issues. But we don’t just focus on what’s happening in Washington.

As I noted in last month’s Under One Roof, we are intentionally making the Gala a national event by honoring and bringing together folks from different parts of the country. Likewise, we are planning events outside of Washington so that each year we can better connect to different regions of the country and make sure those working in housing can benefit from NHC’s resources and come to understand why we are a valuable organization to be a part of.

In what we hope will become an annual event, on October 20th we will partner with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago to host a Regional Housing Forum. Our goal is to bring a diverse audience of housing professionals together from throughout the upper Midwest for a day of conversations about the region’s housing issues. We hope to highlight some of the great work going on in the region, present examples of best practices in other places that may be useful as well as increase understanding of the needs, challenges and opportunities that exist there for folks interested in increasing the supply of and access to quality affordable homes. We’ll have more information for you about this convening soon, and if you’d like us to do this in your part of the country in future years, please let me know.

In November we will host our Solutions 2014 in Oakland, CA. This conference focuses on housing issues most keenly felt at the regional, state or local level and will feature over 35 workshops covering a wide range of topics, from strategies to help neighborhoods recover from foreclosure to examples of how to increase affordable housing in high-opportunity areas. It will show examples of how to incorporate values-based messaging into housing discussions, as well as how to understand housing’s intersections with other important community issues like health and education. It will provide examples of how residents of affordable housing are being mobilized and empowered to participate in advocacy efforts for more funding and development, as well as tour the many wonderful examples of quality affordable developments in the Bay area.

All of this is just a portion of our effort to be an organization of value for those working to increase the supply and access to quality affordable homes. We thank you for your membership and financial support and hope you will let others know about why becoming a member of NHC will help them in their work.

Connecting the dots on affordable housing

What we're building
by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference 

Housing is in a delicate state: the foreclosure crisis is only slowly receding, rental costs painfully burden low- and moderate-income people, there are innumerable barriers to building in many localities, and it’s still too darn hard to get a mortgage. When you layer on the additional challenges that come with regulated or subsidized affordable housing in an era of budget austerity, the complexity can be overwhelming. So where are the bright spots, where creativity unites the public and private sectors to meet the need for affordable housing? NHC’s Policy Symposium on June 13 will highlight a few, both to inspire and to focus our efforts.

The housing economy and the finance that fuels it are still front and center, so we have asked Mary John Miller, Under Secretary for Domestic Finance, United States Department of the Treasury, to give us her perspective on where housing is headed, and how the federal government is helping to guide it. To connect that federal perspective to the current and future need for affordable housing, NHC’s own Lisa Sturtevant, Vice President for Research, will help us understand how changing demographics will shape the demand for affordable homes near jobs, schools, transit, and all the other necessities of life.

From there, we look to the state level, where coalitions of dedicated housers are coming together to create state housing policy solutions. Massachusetts passed an historic $1.4 billion state bond bill last year to build and preserve affordable housing—a true bright spot and an example to others. California is still finding its way, searching to replace the redevelopment authority funding source that fell in a round of budget cutting. And Indiana, like many states with mostly stable or declining real estate markets and less economic growth, has its own particular challenges.

Rental housing, often forgotten in media accounts of ups and downs in housing, is an arena for public sector and private sector to work together toward housing all those who, by choice or necessity, rent a home. Many factors are putting increasing demand on rental housing, but there are often the greatest barriers to development and preservation in places that need rental housing the most. Whether it is a private rental developer seeking to assemble financing and meet demand in the market or a nonprofit developer doing the same thing with a mission overlay, some of the challenges are the same. When you add perspectives from public housing and the newly professionalizing single-family rental sector, interesting connections will emerge around how to house all who need shelter, despite limited public resources and shifting market challenges.

I hope you will join me and many NHC members and friends as we try to connect some of the dots on affordable housing.

WHEDA shows progress with ‘Transform Milwaukee’ video

News from NHC's family of members
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

Two years ago, NHC member Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDA), with support from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, announced the beginning of Transform Milwaukee, a public-private partnership initiative focused on restoring economic prosperity to the Milwaukee metropolitan area through the city’s industrial, residential and transportation areas. Now, to show the progress of the initiative WHEDA has released a video to highlight its successes.

The seven-minute video captures the progress Milwaukee has made in economic development, transportation and neighborhood stabilization. Through clean water technology sponsored by the Global Water Center, a city-wide jobs program, transportation and development, and other methods, Milwaukee, with backing from WHEDA will increase state revenue.  With this comes neighborhood stabilization and increased employment.

“Our approach simply is to leverage both the infrastructure investment that state, city, county made with the labor force, and to use it to attract, retain and grow companies,” WHEDA Executive Director Wyman Wilson says in the video.

Eloise Anderson, secretary of the Department of Child and Family Services, said that the goal of Transform Milwaukee is to return industry to what it used to be. “What I remember is a great place to live,” Anderson said. She is involved in the initiative’s efforts to improve economic development through housing and neighborhood stabilization.

To view the video, visit

Monday, June 2, 2014

National Center for Healthy Housing releases healthy housing standard

News from NHC's family of members
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

The 100 million homes in the United States will soon have the option to adopt the new National Healthy Housing Standard, unveiled last month by NHC member National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) and the American Public Health Association. The health-driven standard can be adopted by government agencies as a regulation or as a voluntary best practice for property maintenance by communities and property owners.

NCHH’s 2013 report, State of Healthy Housing, studied housing conditions in 46 metro areas nationwide and found that about 40 percent of homes in these areas have one or more health and safety hazards. Drawing from data collected in the American Housing Survey, the report also reveals that over 6 million housing units are considered to be substandard. The new standard is designed to help to lower this rate, which has remained stagnant for over a decade.

“We are calling on federal, state and local agencies to seek adoption of this health-based standard to ensure that every person in America has access to a safe and healthy home,” said Dr. Thomas Vernon, chair of NCHH’s Board of Directors.

The work NCHH is doing to promote healthy housing standards demonstrates the incredible link that housing has to health and wellbeing. With approximaetely 25% of asthma cases linked to poor environmental conditions in homes, NHC champions efforts to promote the intersections between housing and health. The Center for Housing Policy is working directly with NCHH to keep the housing and health communities connected by helping the public health community bring health impact into the forefront of housing policy decisions.

This kind of effort also demonstrates why it’s important to support funding for federal data collection efforts like the American Housing Survey. These services give housing advocates and practitioners an accurate view into what communities need and help to facilitate targeted solutions like the National Healthy Housing Standard. Last week NHC joined stakeholders to advocate for continued funding for the Census Bureau and we will continue to support any ongoing efforts to maintain data collection.

The standard is based on evidence gathered from environmental public health services, engineering and building science and was overseen by NCHH and a technical review work group comprised of international experts and leading housing professionals. 

Boston Housing Authority celebrates nation’s largest energy efficient public housing project

News from NHC's family of members
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

Last month NHC member Boston Housing Authority, along with Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, celebrated the completion of the nation’s largest energy efficient public housing rehabilitation. 

he venture rehabilitated 13 of Boston Housing’s properties to include infrastructure upgrades, key measures for water conservation, energy efficient lighting, replacement of outdated apartment temperature controls and upgrades to energy management systems. In all, the rehabilitation cost over $66 million. Boston Housing expects to save $4.8 million annually from the upgrades in energy and water costs, with expected savings of $100 million over the 20-year contract term that Boston Housing shares with Ameresco, the project contractor. 

“We’ve proven that public housing can also be energy-efficient housing. We’re excited to be moving forward with green technology and upgrading our residents’ homes at the same time,” Boston Housing Administrator Bill McGonagle said in a press release.

Energy efficient “green” housing is an attainable standard that can help housing developers limit costs. NHC continues to support efforts of housing developers to go green. In Feb. we hosted a forum, How green is my Housing Credit: Proven results from green affordable rental housing, which discussed how to promote affordable green building, rehabilitation, and retrofits using the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. The panel discussed how green features in affordable housing developments can save on operating costs, improve residents’ health and benefit the environment by using less energy. A total of 17 different energy- and water-efficiency improvements were made in the rehabilitation. The updates are expected to reduce carbon monoxide emissions by 13,000 ton every year.