Tuesday, June 3, 2014

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.

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