Friday, January 31, 2014

NHHFA opens emergency shelter for families in transition

News from NHC's family of members

by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

Bedford, New Hampshire’s former Manchester Community Resource Center will soon become the Manchester Emergency Shelter after the Board of Directors of NHC member New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority (NHHFA) approved $750,000 in funding for the project last month. The facility will be converted into a 12-unit emergency shelter for families experiencing homelessness. The project is sponsored by Families in Transition (FIT), a New Hampshire-based organization that seeks to provide families facing homelessness with interventions that will help them to lead successful lives.

The shelter will include a Head Start daycare program sponsored by Southern New Hampshire Services, Inc., a health clinic operated by the Mobile Community Health Team, a commercial kitchen and food pantry, an intake center and private bathrooms for all residents. Funding provided by NHHFA will go toward the facility’s housing elements.

Families in Transition has spoken often about the need for a facility of this type in Manchester,” NHHFA’s Executive Director Dean Christon said in a press release. “We are pleased to play a role in their vision and to support the creation of safe and affordable housing for families in need.”

Combining investment in shelter with services and supports is often used to increase the impact of each. Last year NHC hosted a tour of a senior living facility in DC that combined apartments with specialized services for residents. On our blog, we’ve detailed the negative impacts of federal budget sequestration on the ability of providers to create permanent supportive housing options for people exiting homelessness. NHHFA’s efforts show how states and local communities are stepping in to meet the challenge of homelessness even as federal funding lags behind.

Funding for the program comes from NHHFA’s Special Needs Housing program. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

DC Housing Authority programs assist new homebuyers

News from NHC's family of members

by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference  

Last month, NHC member District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) celebrated 15 of its clients becoming new homeowners. The clients are graduates of DCHA’s three assistance programs: Family Self-Sufficiency, Workforce Development and Homeowners Assistance, which provide, among other things, job training and counseling, credit counseling and financial management and meetings with financial institutions about lending and mortgage processes.

The Family Self-Sufficiency program is provided as part of DCHA’s Housing Choice Voucher program (HCVP). Many clients begin in this program before enrolling in the Homeownership Assistance Program, a multi-year commitment that has seen more than 80 families purchase homes in the District since its inception.
To ensure the success of these programs, DCHA developed a new Homeownership Coordinating Committee that includes Bank of America, Habitat for Humanity and the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization to support new homebuyers before, during and after the home buying process is completed.

The advancement of innovative housing strategies like those employed by DCHA is a pillar of NHC’s federal housing policy agenda. We also work to build awareness among affordable housing developers and managers and service providers of the programs available to help low income residents build assets and achieve their goals. A plethora of resources on homeownership assistance and counseling, including down payment assistance can be found at Housingpolicy.org. NHC hosted a webinar last month that focused partly on our publication More than a Roof, which examined initiatives to increase the economic security of residents. The webinar also touched on the benefits of homeownership vouchers and how they can be used to mortgage homes.

HCVP Director Ronald McCoy said in a statement that DCHA clients “took advantage of [the] program and worked hard to improve their credit, attended first-time homebuyer workshops, developed personal and household budgets, and attended financial literacy workshops.” Noteworthy, many clients completed the programs while working or attending college full-time. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Urban Land Institute, Enterprise Community Partners release report on affordable rental housing

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

The Urban Land Institute Terwilliger Center for Housing and NHC member Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. released a report, “Bending the Cost Curve: Solutions to Expand the Supply of Affordable Rentals,” earlier this month. The report focused on identifying affordable housing cost drivers and recommendations on how housing developers can reduce these costs while still building and maintaining quality housing.

The report was released on January 16 after over a year of research and interviews with 200 experts from Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco. Researchers held roundtable discussions in these cities, with follow-up conversations taking place in Boston, Houston, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Seattle. These discussions formed the basis of the research, which examined how to overcome the many barriers associated with creating affordable rental units, such as financing, zoning, processing delays and code restrictions.

“Drivers of cost come at all points in the development process and are deeply intertwined, but the need for more affordable rentals compels us to take on the challenge of understanding the drivers and work to mitigate them,” Lynn Ross, executive director of the Terwilliger Center, said in a press release.

To combat these challenges, the report offers several recommendations for keeping affordable housing affordable, while maintaining quality for residents. Suggestions include: promoting cost-effectiveness through consolidation, coordination, and simplification; removing barriers to reducing construction costs and delays; supporting the development and dissemination of information and best practices and facilitating a more efficient deal assembly and development timeline.

NHC has explored the various factors that affect housing development costs, including location and building type. Our 2013 paper on Lifecycle Underwriting, cited in the ULI/Enterprise report, found that the combined cost of developing and maintaining affordable multifamily housing is between $40,000 and $70,000 lower per unit when existing properties are rehabilitated versus developing new properties. Our Affordable Homes Toolkit can be found at HousingPolicy.org and provides resources to learn more about what states can do to expand development opportunities, generate capital for affordable housing, and counteract some of the cost barriers discussed in "Bending the Cost Curve.”

We will also be participating in a Twitter chat discussing the report, hosted by Enterprise on Feb. 5 at 1pm. Follow @EnterpriseNow for more details and to participate!

The joint report will be used “to spark federal, state and local conversations that lead to policy change and financial innovation, ultimately stretching limited resources for affordable housing,” Enterprise’s Senior Vice President of Public Policy and external affairs, Ali Solis, said in a press release. “At the same time, we must maintain high quality, green standards so that affordable homes can be sustainable for the long haul. That is our challenge as an industry.”

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What the State of the Union should say about housing

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference 

From the buzz in Washington, we expect President Obama to deliver a State of the Union address that picks up the theme of inequality and ways to remedy it. Some topics like health care, unemployment assistance, and immigration are unavoidable. Housing looms too large to be ignored entirely, but will it receive a passing mention or be a central theme? Here are a few reasons why housing should be prominent:
  • Housing is a pocketbook issue. Few other expenses consume as large a share of the household budget. For the more than 18 million households spending half of their income on housing, it’s issue number one. 
  • It’s still hard to get a mortgage. That is, unless you have lots of cash on hand and pristine credit. We’re overdue for housing finance reform, and there’s momentum in the Senate the president could build on. Getting it done is a tall order, but if done right it could do a lot to help both owners and renters. 
  • Neighborhoods are still struggling with foreclosures. The pain of the foreclosures wave is more concentrated than it has been in the past few years, as some places have started to bounce back. In many neighborhoods, however, folks are still working hard to break the cycle of disinvestment that comes with foreclosures. President Obama could champion new efforts to keep families in their homes, right-size mortgages, and bring stability to struggling neighborhoods. 
  • Good housing policy can pay off. There are a host of ways that smart housing policy pays off: housing the homeless reduces costs for emergency response; stable housing improves children’s school performance; greener housing makes families healthier and reduces energy costs; new housing production boosts economic growth and creates jobs. 
We’ll see tonight how President Obama chooses to include housing in his State of the Union message. Watch for more from NHC after the speech.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Congress moves toward passage of $1.1 trillion FY14 spending bill

by Liza Getsinger, National Housing Conference  

Lawmakers are moving quickly to pass the omnibus appropriations bill rolled out by congressional appropriators late Monday night. The specifics of the $1.1 trillion spending deal, which is based on the FY2014 - 2015 budget deal struck late last year, were kept tightly under wraps in an attempt avoid any political maneuvering before Monday’s unveiling. With the current continuing resolution (CR) expiring today the House and Senate passed another short-term stopgap measure that would keep the government funded through January 18 in order to give lawmakers the necessary time to enact the omnibus spending bill. Congress is moving quickly in order to move the bill through both chambers in three days. Today the House passed the spending bill 359-67; the bill is now expected to be immediately taken up by the Senate. The omnibus, while imperfect, represents a big step forward for the return of bipartisan appropriations work and will set the tone for continued negotiations for FY15.

So what does this all mean for housing programs? The omnibus measure includes a total of $32.8 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development programs, which will provide a slight, but temporary reprieve from devastating sequestration cuts. While the bill does not provide the level of funding proposed in the Senate bill last summer, but it does provide a necessary bump in funding over last year’s post-sequestration levels that will help to maintain housing assistance to those in need. The additional funds provides crucial funding support for housing and community development programs such as tenant and project based rental assistance, HOME, and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). A more detailed look at program funding levels can be found in a chart here. With programs like project-based rental assistance and the public housing capital fund still underfunded, Congress has a long way to go in order to provide the necessary funding that meets the growing housing needs of all in America. This is why NHC, as part of the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding, will continue to advocate for higher funding for all essential housing and community development programs. Look out for more details on the budget and appropriations process in the Washington Wire and on NHC’s Open House Blog.

A budget summary chart of selected HUD and USDA housing and community development programs can by found here.  

Call for Proposals: Solutions 2014

by Amy Clark and Leah Logan, National Housing Conference

By all accounts, last year's Solutions conference was a great success, due in large part to the strength of the workshops offered. And the breadth and depth of knowledge of our workshop panelists was a major part of why our workshops got such great reviews from conference guests.

We want to make sure Solutions 2014, to be held November 18-20 in Oakland, Calif., is just as successful. So we're inviting practitioners, advocates, and applied researchers to submit workshop proposals using our online form. Read on for information about what we're looking for. Questions? Contact Leah Logan at llogan@nhc.org.

Benefits of Becoming a 2014 Conference Presenter
Conference presenters gain visibility and recognition as a leader in their field and play an important role in advancing peer-to-peer learning. Presenters who choose to attend the conference also receive a discounted conference registration fee.

Deadline for Submitting a Proposal
Proposals are due by 5 p.m. EST Monday, March 3, 2014, and notification of acceptance will be made by the end of April. Apply online using this form.

Conference Audience
Conference attendees include housing program providers and administrators; housing finance lenders, syndicators and equity investors; for-profit and nonprofit affordable housing developers; housing and community advocates; state and local government officials; urban/regional planners and architects; board and staff of local and state housing finance agencies; state and local government officials; board and staff of community development corporations and community-based organizations interested in housing; technical assistance providers; property managers and REALTORS®; communications staff of housing organizations; neighborhood stabilization practitioners; and policy-oriented researchers. Participants come from all regions of the country, but the majority are likely to be from the West Coast. More than 400 people attended last year's conference.

Focus of 2014 Conference
Solutions 2014 is designed to provide practitioners, advocates, policymakers and program administrators with the best available information on how localities and states can work collaboratively to address residents’ housing challenges and develop inclusive, resilient and sustainable communities. The 2014 conference will be organized around the following workshop tracks:

Restoring Neighborhoods: Highlights strategies and research that communities can use for preventing foreclosures, stabilizing neighborhoods and creating a more resilient housing system.
Inclusive Communities: Explores local and state policies that expand affordable housing opportunity in desirable neighborhoods and help affirmatively further fair housing.
Housing Communications: Focuses on promising communications strategies for expanding awareness of the benefits of affordable housing and building support for affordable housing policies and development.
Housing Intersections: Presents strategies and research about how housing policy and practice can have a broader impact on individuals, families and communities. Topics will include the intersection between housing and education, health, economic security, and community wellbeing.

In addition, we will present cross-cutting sessions on new and innovative strategies to serve the housing needs of veterans and older adults throughout the conference.

Workshop submissions should fit into one or more of the four tracks, and should offer practical solutions and innovative approaches to state and local housing challenges.

NHC encourages workshop submissions from practitioners, advocates, and applied researchers. Individual presentation submissions are welcome, but proposals for entire workshops organized around a single topic are preferred.

Session Formats and AV Support
  • A variety of session formats is encouraged, including panel discussions, roundtable discussion, moderated debate, and interactive workshops. The most successful sessions in the past have included substantial discussion among panelists and audience members.
  • The number of presenters in each session will be limited to three.
  • AV equipment and a technician will be available throughout the conference.
  • Workshops will be 75 minutes in length which should include time for audience Q&A.
Selection Criteria
The National Housing Conference is looking for workshops that emphasize new and creative ideas; interweave research, policy, and practice; and encourage participation of conference attendees both during and after the conference.

Reviewers will prioritize workshop proposals that:
  • Take into consideration all of the above information and are submitted by the March 3 deadline;
  • Include presenters who have expertise and experience related to the proposed workshop topic;
  • Offer opportunities for participants to develop new skills and/or replicate a successful program; 
  • Encourage a lively, engaging session with attendees;
  • Avoid the promotion or selling of products or services;
  • Add diversity, additional points of view, or specifically address issues
  • Impacting communities that are not represented in other workshops.
  • Focus on veterans’ or older adults’ housing issues.
What are you waiting for? Submit your workshop proposal today! We can't wait to see how your ideas will shape Solutions 2014.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Looking ahead at 2014

All the policy, research and communications resources
to look for from NHC this year
by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

Welcome to 2014! In the December edition of Under One Roof I recapped NHC’s successful and busy 2013. This month I’ll touch on what 2014 has in store for NHC and our members.

Ethan writes below about NHC’s work to bring the housing community together around a set of mortgage finance principles. We are asking national and state organizations to endorse these principles in a coalition-based advocacy effort to shape Congress’s work on the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This will be one of NHC’s major legislative efforts throughout 2014.

We have written several times about our Housing Communication HUB, which we believe will be a major resource for the advocacy and development communities. In February the HUB will move from “beta” status to the full version, and we will aggressively market this resource to folks so everyone can benefit from accessing and sharing best practices, research and other tools related to how we educate and advocate around affordable housing.

We expect in March to again host our annual Budget Forum at the Capitol to engage and educate Congressional staff. We are also planning a webinar version of the Budget Forum so folks across the country can participate and ask questions. The Budget Forum will also coincide with the release of Housing Landscape 2014, which Lisa Sturtevant discusses below. Other research to expect from the Center this spring include an evaluation of a Moving To Work public housing authority and a literature review of best practices and impact benefits of affordable housing options serving older adults.

Later this spring we will hold a national convening on the issue of rental housing for veterans. Last year we convened a small workgroup of practitioners to help us identify changes that could be made to improve the ability to develop multifamily housing that serves veterans. Recommendations include changes to regulations at HUD and VA, and increasing the allocation of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. Our goal will be to bring together a wide segment of the multifamily sector as well as supportive services organizations to inform and finalize our policy recommendations and create an organized advocacy effort in Congress and the agencies.

In June, we will again hold our Annual Gala and Policy Symposium. Last year’s symposium focused on the future of the Federal Housing Administration and the future of neighborhood stabilization and foreclosure recovery. This year we expect the Symposium to look at the significant need for more affordable rental housing, and at the impact of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule on affordable housing development. June is also the time when the Center will release research on community land trusts and inclusive land use policies.

In the early fall we hope to partner with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago and other sponsors for a convening in Chicago on the housing issues of that metro region. Likely to be a one-day affair, we hope this will be the first of many regional housing convenings held in locations around the country.

Also in the fall, the Center will release Paycheck to Paycheck, our annual report on wages and housing affordability in more than 200 metro areas. The Center also plans to release some important research on best practices concerning housing and services for female veterans. In addition, we’ll publish a toolkit on the HUB on communicating about veterans’ housing with policymakers, community members, and veterans themselves.

Finally, we will end the year with Solutions 2014, our national conference on state and local housing policy, in Oakland, CA, in November, and the NHC/New York Housing Conference Luncheon in December. Solutions 2014 will again focus on rebuilding communities, inclusive community strategies and housing communications. We will also host a track on the intersection of housing with other social issues, and will weave housing-focused research into each track. We also hope to include workshops on housing for older adults and veterans as well as resident organizing efforts that have been a part of state and local funding campaigns.

All in all, 2014 promises to be a very busy and productive year! Naturally, this list does not include the myriad legislative and regulatory advocacy efforts we engage in alone or as part of larger coalitions. We expect to continue our work on housing funding, rural housing issues, and tax reform that will likely pick up after the election, as well as on many others we can’t predict yet!

Your support of NHC as a member, Leadership Circle donor or event sponsor makes all this possible. I hope all of our members will continue to see the value of supporting and participating in our many education and advocacy events throughout the year.

Many voices together for housing finance reform

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

America is more than ready for an improved housing finance system, and 2014 looks like the year for Congress to get the critical work done. Even if election-year politics get in the way of passing a bill, there’s enough bipartisan momentum that committees will do much detailed drafting that will flow into future bills. That means the affordable housing community should make our voices heard on the need for the federal government to support an effective secondary mortgage market that provides for affordable housing.

At the end of December, NHC’s Board of Governors formally adopted principles for housing finance reform accompanied by an explanation of the need for Congressional action. We’re gathering formal endorsements of these documents as we build a broad and deep coalition, one that represents for-profits and nonprofits; public sector and private sector; urban, suburban and rural interests; homeowners and renters.

As you read the two documents (here and here), think of them as representing a consensus position, not a blueprint. Many members of this coalition will offer specific plans for housing finance reform, and some may disagree on specifics. But core principles like the need for an explicit, priced, and carefully structured federal guarantee and the importance of affordable housing unite us. Our unity is our strength, which makes this coalition effort so important.

I hope you can join us. To learn more or offer your endorsement, contact me at ehandelman@nhc.org. NHC’s Policy Committee and Public Strategies Committee are jointly crafting an outreach strategy, so expect to hear more.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Housing Statistic to Kick Off 2014

Developing solutions through research
by Lisa Sturtevant, Ph.D., Center for Housing Policy

The housing statistic for 2014 is 25%.

The Center for Housing Policy will release its annual Housing Landscape report in February, which will show that more than 25% of low- and moderate-income renters in the U.S. spend more than half of their income on housing costs.

These are renting households with members who work at least 20 hours per week and have household incomes of no more than 120% of area median income. These are child care workers and librarians, restaurant workers and janitorial staff, customer service representatives and administrative assistants. These are the workers who serve the residents in our communities and work for the businesses that drive our local economies.

Even as economic conditions improve and the housing market recovers, the number of severely cost-burdened households has increased since the recession ended. In 2012, more than 10 million renters across the country spend half of their income on rent, leaving worryingly little for food, health care, transportation, savings and emergencies.

Local affordability varies considerably, and Housing Landscape will provide detailed data for over 200 metropolitan areas across the country. In addition, the Center will provide guidance to local housing policymakers, advocates and practitioners to help them understand how to use these statistics to talk to decision-makers about the housing challenges in their communities.

Other statistics you can use in 2014:
0—the number of metro areas where a housekeeper or waiter could afford to rent a typical two-bedroom apartment in 2013 (Center for Housing Policy, Paycheck to Paycheck). 
44%—the increase between 2000 and 2010 in the combined housing plus transportation costs for the typical household in the nation’s largest metro areas (Center for Housing Policy, Losing Ground). 
50%—share of state and local officials who agree that there is “a lack of affordable homes for working families making between $25,000 and $50,000,” compared with 41% who agree that there is “a lack of affordable homes for low and moderate income families,” demonstrating that messaging matters (Center for Housing Policy, Building Support for Affordable Homeownership and Rental Choices). 
11.6%—foreclosure rate in the Miami metro area in December 2013, the highest foreclosure rate for any major metro area (Center for Housing Policy, www.foreclosure-response.org). 
88.5 million—the number of people in the U.S. age 65 and older in 2050, an increase of more than 48 million from 2010, and indicative of the tremendous shift in housing needs and demand we will face in the decades to come (Center for Housing Policy, Housing an Aging Population).
The Center for Housing Policy is a resource for national and local housing data and statistics. If you have not visited our websites lately, make it a new year’s resolution to see what kinds of data and research we have available, at HousingPolicy.org, Foreclosure-Response.org, and in our publications library.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

NHC members named Better Buildings Challenge partners

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

President Barack Obama’s Better Buildings Challenge has been expanded to include multifamily housing, and twelve NHC members have been named inaugural partners in the expansion. Extension of the program was announced last month by the Department of Energy and HUD. Partner organizations were chosen based on leadership in building and sustaining mixed-income multifamily housing. The goal of the Better Buildings Challenge is to assist building owners in creating more energy efficient, multifamily housing units.

President Obama charged multifamily housing owners to join the Better Buildings Challenge in his recent Climate Action Plan. Challenge partners commit to cutting energy in their buildings by 20 percent in a 10-year span. Roughly one fourth of households live in multifamily units, spending about $40 billion annually on energy costs. According to The Community Builders (TCB), if these units were just 20 percent more energy efficient, more than $7 billion would be saved per year and greenhouse gas emissions would decrease by 430 million tons.

“We are proud to partner with the DOE and HUD and answer the call to make multifamily housing more energy efficient,” said TCB President and CEO, Bart Mitchell, in a press release. “We are committed to building and sustaining communities that use less energy and help our residents save money.” TCB is one of the twelve NHC members named an inaugural partner.

The expansion of the Better Buildings Challenge demonstrates the great efforts made by organizations around the country to improve green housing and promote energy efficient living. Like our many members, NHC is also on board. In September, we featured a special roundtable discussion on how to make properties healthier and more energy efficient through green renovations at our Solutions 2013 Conference in Atlanta. The discussion, part of our Restoring Neighborhoods track, featured housing practitioners and policy makers from NeighborWorks® America, Wells Fargo Housing Foundation, Community HousingWorks, Southface and the city of Columbus, Ohio.

NHC members BRIDGE Housing Corporation, EAH Housing, Eden Housing, Forest City Enterprises, Homes for America, LINC Housing Corporation, Mercy Housing, National Housing Trust, NHP Foundation, Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, TCB and Volunteers for America were all named inaugural partners in the expansion.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

NYCHDC celebrates opening of affordable senior living facility

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

NHC member New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC) recently celebrated the ribbon-cutting of Riverway Apartments in Brooklyn. The new complex features 115 units of affordable housing for seniors 62 and older and an onsite supportive services center for residents.

Developed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s New Housing Market Plan (NMHP), Riverway features 114 single-bedroom units and one two-bedroom unit reserved for an onsite building superintendent. The building is also accessible to residents with disabilities and features call buttons and handrails to meet the safety needs of older adults. NMHP is a multibillion dollar initiative created to finance 165,000 affordable housing developments by the end of 2014. The plan has so far funded the preservation or creation of over 156,769 affordable housing units across New York’s five boroughs. There have been 37,360 units in Brooklyn to date.

“I am proud that HDC could once again take a leadership role in funding a development which will serve our most vulnerable population,” said Marc Jahr, president of HDC. “This is an excellent example of how government agencies and nonprofit organizations help create new affordable and supportive housing,” he continued.

As one of the nation’s most vulnerable populations, older adults are often overlooked when it comes to finding quality housing that meets their needs. Meeting these needs has been an important part of the discourse NHC has had with policymakers and affordable housing providers who are invested in ensuring that senior housing challenges are addressed. Several of our reports have explored ways of incorporating the needs of older adult residents into affordable housing. At our Solutions 2013 Conference, we featured several sessions addressing the nation’s readiness to develop and maintain housing for older adults

In addition to Jahr’s presence at the ceremony on behalf of HDC, notable attendees and partners of the project included; NHC member SKA Marin, HUD, the Calvary Church of God, Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Chairman John Rhea, New York Hub Multifamily Director Teresa Bainton and NHC member New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas.

FHFA cancels g-fee hikes and differential pricing

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

The Federal Housing Finance Agency announced today that it would not go forward with the last-minute changes it had announced in December, which included increasing the guarantee fees charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and charging differential guarantee fees for states with slower foreclosure timelines. In the FHFA news release, new director Mel Watt stated that: “The implications for mortgage credit availability and how these changes might interact with the new qualified mortgage standards could be significant. I want to fully understand these implications before deciding whether to move forward with any adjustments to g-fee pricing.”

This action is a strong positive signal that FHFA is rebalancing its approach to mortgage finance to address access to credit and housing affordability as part of the effective functioning of the secondary mortgage market. NHC has consistently advocated for a focus on access and affordability by the agency, and we specifically opposed the differential pricing of guarantee fees tied to foreclosure timelines. Slowing down to take a careful look at each of the actions done so quickly at the end of last year is wise. NHC welcomes the new approach.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

LISC receives $2.25 million MetLife Foundation grant

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

MetLife Foundation recently awarded NHC member Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) with a $2.25 million grant to support LISC’s 71 Financial Opportunity Centers (FOC) in their efforts to develop long-term financial stability for low-income families. The centers work with families to manage debt, find jobs, create household budgets, and get access to public benefits. The grant is part of MetLife’s five-year, $200 million commitment to financial inclusion.

Specifically, MetLife is partnering with LISC to launch a pilot program, Twin Accounts, which will focus on assisting low-income families in building their credit scores. According to LISC, an improved credit score is one of the most important steps in helping families to improve finances. It also helps provide better access to rental housing, lower insurance rates and expanded job opportunities.

“The FOC model provides the tools and services that low-income residents need to stabilize their financial outlook,” said LISC Vice President for National Programs, Kevin Jordan. “The recession may have been officially over for several years but its lingering impact is alive and well for many low-income families.”

FOC is one of a number of ways affordable housing developers and managers can provide asset-building programs for their residents. In a January 16 webinar, representatives from NHC, the Assets for Independence program, and the California Coalition for Rural Housing will discuss a range of financial education and matched savings programs for low-income residents.

This partnership is not the first between LISC and MetLife. The organizations have partnered in the past on programs that helped to build and expand LISC’s Community Safety Initiative, and on financing supportive housing for homeless veterans through the Bring Them HOMES program, another LISC initiative.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Momentum for housing finance reform in 2014

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Many signs point to Congress moving housing finance reform forward in 2014. Whether that means passing an actual law (a rare feat these days) or drafting and negotiating what will eventually get passed in a future session remains to be seen. Either way, this year is a time for advocates to focus on the great unfinished work coming out of the housing crisis: fixing mortgage finance.

The Senate Banking Committee continues to lead the way, and it will likely mark up a bipartisan bill in the first quarter. That effort got its start with the Corker-Warner bill, and the committee has been hard at work since gathering comments and revising the bill.

Prospects for constructive activity in the House are dimmer, and action in the House Financial Services Committee will likely focus on Chairman Jeb Hensarling’s (R-TX) PATH Act, an extreme proposal with little hope of broader support. It may take Senate and White House action to put a bipartisan bill on the House’s agenda.

Mel Watt was sworn in Monday as the new head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. NHC is hopeful he will move regulation of the secondary mortgage market towards broader access to and affordability of housing even as Congress works its way through reform legislation.

One positive signal from the White House this week came from Gene Sperling, Director of President Obama’s National Economic Council, who put housing finance reform on the short list of issues with real momentum for action in 2014. Strong action from the White House could help to focus Congressional attention and move legislation forward.

All this means advocates should use 2014 to remind elected officials how important housing finance reform is to neighborhoods still recovering from waves of foreclosures and households struggling with high housing costs. As I said before the Senate Banking Committee last year, the work of rebuilding the mortgage finance system cannot be only about making markets function—it must be about shelter. As the federal government creates new mechanisms for housing finance, deploys its full faith and credit, and encourages private entities to put capital to work, the social purpose of safe, decent, and affordable housing for all in America must guide those efforts.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

What’s ahead for housing policy in 2014

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

A version of this post originally appeared in Under One Roof

Simply predicting that housing policy will be locked in partisan gridlock for 2014 would play safely to the odds, especially if the recent budget negotiations were any indicator. But that would miss some of the possibilities for effective, bipartisan legislation, helpful regulatory change, and essential action around the country that may well occur this year. Consider a few areas:
  • Reforming housing finance. The Senate Banking Committee has been quietly working away in a bipartisan way to craft legislation to replace Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Indeed, I testified for NHC at a recent hearing. Expect the ongoing effort to carry on into 2014 and perhaps beyond, depending on whether legislation can make it through 2014. With the confirmation of Rep. Mel Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, expect change at that agency in directions that better support affordable housing.
  • Preventing foreclosures. We’re far from out of the woods on foreclosures, despite the fatigue with the issue in policymaking circles. Although rates of mortgage distress are slowing, the absolute numbers are still much worse than normal market conditions, particularly in areas hit hardest. Last year saw extensions of HARP and HAMP, as well as HUD’s recent proposed rule on housing counseling (see NHC’s comment letter through our National Foreclosure Prevention and Neighborhood Stabilization Task Force). 
  • Rebuilding neighborhoods. Last year saw some of the final milestones of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, and the nonprofit sector in particular is seeking to build on the capabilities created through NSP and the lessons learned. Look for new partnerships between nonprofits and for-profits, particularly in the growing single-family rental sector. Also possible are regulatory changes in FHA’s 203(k) program that could help finance acquisition and rehab of distressed properties.
  • Access to credit. The multi-year saga of the qualified residential mortgage (QRM) rule continued in 2013 when regulators released a new proposal to align QRM with the now-final qualified mortgage (QM) rule. Their proposal was very much in line with NHC’s advocacy. There may well be a final rule in 2014.
  • Encouraging fair housing. In 2013, HUD proposed regulations to implement its obligation to affirmatively further fair housing. NHC’s forum on fair housing helped stakeholders come together to understand the issue (also see our comment letter). HUD has many comments to digest on a politically fraught issue, so it may be well into 2014 or beyond before we see next steps.
The policy activity, however, will occur against the backdrop of many housing markets that are already shifting from the low gear of depressed prices and foreclosure activity to the high gear of rising costs and affordability concerns. The change is happening rapidly in some places, potentially quicker than policy can react. It’s essential that we maintain good lines of communication between practitioners on the ground and decision makers in Washington to help us collectively make the right decisions for housing.