Friday, February 28, 2014

Sec. Donovan calls for housing finance reform to address rental housing need

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference 


HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan today called for elements of housing finance reform to focus on the unprecedented need for affordable rental housing during an address at the Center for American Progress.  Donovan called the state of rental housing in America a crisis, “the worst rental affordability crisis that our country has ever known.”  He highlighted the successful track record of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac multifamily businesses throughout and after the financial crisis, and he supported key elements of multifamily housing finance reform that NHC and others have been advocating: a properly priced government backstop behind private risk-bearing capital, continuation of both successful GSE multifamily platforms, allowing competition from new issuers, ensuring that housing finance reaches all qualified borrowers and neighborhoods, a baseline portfolio requirement to serve affordable housing, and generation of at least $5 billion in annual revenue from the entire secondary mortgage market dedicated for affordable housing. 

NHC, CAP, and others support these elements to housing finance reform.  You can see details in my recent testimony to the Senate Banking Committee.

See a full recording of Sec. Donovan’s speech and the following panel discussion.


The Landscape of Housing Affordability—Widespread Challenges and Local Solutions

Developing solutions through research

by Lisa Sturtevant, Ph.D., Center for Housing Policy


The Widespread Challenge of Housing Affordability


The landscape of housing affordability in the U.S. is complex and evolving, but the fact remains that millions of working American households continue to face daunting affordability challenges, even as the economy recovers. The Center for Housing Policy’s latest edition of Housing Landscape chronicles the changes in housing costs and wages for low- and moderate-income workers.

According to our analysis of the most recent American Community Survey data, more than one in four low- and moderate-income working renter households spends more than half of its income on housing. While the share of severely cost burdened households fell slightly between 2011 and 2012, there are still more than four million working renter households facing substantial affordability challenges.

Rising incomes and declining costs drove the modest affordability improvements in 2012. Wages of low- and moderate-income working households rose slightly faster than rents, and owner costs continued to fall, which led to a slight decline in the share of severely cost burdened working households.

In the report, the Center finds high housing costs and low incomes remain significant challenges in many parts of the country. The highest cost burdens are in states on the coasts with high-cost metro areas. As the housing market has rebounded and rents have risen, it is very difficult for low- and moderate-wage workers to find affordable housing in these desirable, fast-growing places.

Local Solutions to Housing Challenges

The landscape of housing needs in communities across the country depends on macroeconomic and demographic trends, but in many cases the responses and policy interventions are driven by local capacity and innovation. The Center for Housing Policy is currently working on several projects that highlight effective local programs and is providing support to local government efforts to find solutions to their affordability challenges:  

  • Research associate Janet Viveiros has just completed an analysis of home- and community-based supportive service programs that have been effective in helping older adults age in place. She found that there are common elements to successful supportive service programs, but the characteristics of different communities influence which approaches are most successful. Janet profiles successful home- and community-based programs targeting older adults in three types of communities: multifamily buildings concentrated in dense neighborhoods, single-family and multifamily homes clustered in a few neighborhoods, and single-family homes dispersed across a wide geographic area. The final report will be available on the NHC website in March.
  • Senior research associate Maya Brennan is working on a paper analyzing how Moving to Work (MTW) agencies are using flexibility in funding and management to develop successful self-sufficiency programs. Grounded in cutting-edge brain science research on the effect of poverty on mental well-being and decision-making, Maya offers recommendations for how local housing authorities can structure their Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) programs to increase the potential for low-income families to improve their economic well-being. She shared her research findings with the Fairfax County (VA) Redevelopment and Housing Authority, an NHC member, and members of their community housing group as they begin to design their MTW activities. A final report will be out later this spring.
  •  Robert Hickey, another senior research associate at the Center, was invited to participate in a day-long event in Seattle hosted by the mayor and city council as part of their efforts to revise and expand the city’s inclusionary housing programs. Alongside developers and local government officials from communities throughout the west coast, Robert provided information on how other cities have successfully developed productive inclusionary zoning (IZ) programs. His IZ research—including his report on inclusionary housing after the economic downturn—was of tremendous value to the local officials and housing community working to find solutions to Seattle’s affordability challenges.
  • Finally, this week I’m kicking off a year-long project to develop an affordable housing plan for Arlington County, Virginia. In addition to a housing demand and supply analysis and a countywide housing survey, the Arlington study will include a review of successful local housing policies and programs from around the country. The process will include significant input from county housing staff and community leaders, and will culminate in a comprehensive plan affordable housing element.

These research and outreach activities by Center staff underscore the important links we strive to make between policy analysis and program implementation. Understanding that housing affordability challenges across the country are complex and evolving, our work at the local level provides a valuable resource to local housing staff, advocates, developers, and others.

National Housing Trust receives MACEI award

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



The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recently announced the seven recipients of the prestigious 2014 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions (MACEI Award) and NHC member National Housing Trust (NHT) was among them. NHT received $1 million from the MacArthur Foundation to create an innovation fund that will sponsor policy work.

The MACEI Awards are given every year to organizations that exemplify a body of work or research that mirrors the core values of the MacArthur Foundation.  Recipients have exhibited strong leadership and made a measurable impact that is likely to expand into the future. Recipients must also have an implementation plan for expansion or sustainability of programs and the organization as a whole.

NHT earned the award for its continued commitment to preserving affordable rental housing by working to ensure that private rental housing is sustainable and available.  NHT accomplishes these goals by offering housing policy solutions and developing and financing affordable housing.  NHT has renovated and preserved more than 25,000 affordable rental properties throughout 41 states. These renovations have leveraged over $1 billion in project financing.

Most recently, NHT has joined the green preservation movement, advocating for increased energy efficiency in affordable rental housing nationwide. The organization is leading a state-by-state campaign to convince private utility companies to fund additional energy efficiency projects on existing homes. 

“It was unexpected and most appreciated,” NHT President Michael Bodaken told the Washington Post of the award. “It’s not every day you get a gift or an award for doing work you love.”


In addition to NHT, 2014 MACEI Award recipients are: Campaign Legal Center, NatureServe, ProPublica, The Citizen Lab, The University of Chicago Crime Lab and Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative.  

NPR features Housing Partnership Network REIT effort

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


NHC member Housing Partnership Network (HPN) was recently featured in an NPR story on HPN’s formation of the first-ever nonprofit real estate investment trust (REIT).  The REIT allows investors to pool their funds to buy property and collect dividends without any public financing.

Investors are offered modest five to seven percent returns on their investment and HPN has favored investors’ desire to preserve affordable housing. So far the REIT has snagged several large-scale investors, including Prudential, Citibank and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to invest $100 million.

HPN and its coalition of nonprofit members hopes that the REIT will assist in preserving housing units that cater to low and moderate-income families. The REIT will help HPN to improve the conditions of moderately-priced apartments that might otherwise be purchased by high-power developers who would increase rent and force existing tenants out.

“What we're trying to do is keep rents affordable, but also really invest in the property, really invest in the community and really invest in the residents," said Drew Ades, president of Housing Partnership Equity Trust, HPN’s social-purpose REIT.

Often, properties are built with rents that cater to low to moderate-income families, but these lower rental costs are not high enough to fund building upkeep. This is an issue that many communities with affordable rental housing options are trying to handle. HPN’s REIT addresses the operating costs associated with running these affordable housing developments. Our Lifecycle Underwriting Cost Modeling Tool was created to help developers deal with funding issues using up-front financing for developments. The tool helps to assess whether or not a property is able to fund its long-term capital needs.

HPN has purchased properties in California, Illinois and Virginia. They are in active search of other potential apartment complexes and are hoping to raise an additional $250 million in investment funds. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

NHC members tackle energy efficiency in housing

News from NHC's family of members 

by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference  

Energy efficient housing is the trend right now, and NHC members Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (Housing Authority) and National Housing & Rehabilitation Association (NH&RA) are keeping up with the times. Recently, Westlawn Gardens and Olga Village, developments owned by Housing Authority, earned international recognition for energy efficiency and NH&RA is set to host its first Road Show event, “Preservation Through Energy Efficiency,” in Philadelphia on April 3.

The event will serve as the kickoff for NH&RA’s national educational program to provide resources, technical assistance and training to multifamily affordable rental units. The initiative’s goal is to improve the utility performance of multifamily rental developments. Road Show participants will receive access to the program’s Knowledge Exchange, an online collaborative workspace for networking, research and resources. It was made possible with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

On the development side of energy efficiency, Westlawn Gardens was awarded Stage 3 Silver Certification in Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND), becoming the first development in the world to achieve Stage 3 Silver status and the highest rated neighborhood among LEED standards.  Olga Village also earned silver certification and received the New Construction Award from State & Local Energy Report, as an “outstanding public energy efficiency project.”

“It is a significant honor to receive these recognitions,” Tony Perez, secretary and executive director at the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, said in a press release.  “We have prioritized energy-efficiency innovation and incorporated leading-edge design in our projects, which saves taxpayers money and gives our residents additional pride in their homes. These recognitions validate the work we do.”

Making affordable housing “green” can both be achievable and provide cost-savings for housing developers. NHC is doing its best to help the development community implement best practices and find new ways of going green. Our Feb. 24 forum, How green is my Housing Credit: Proven results from green affordable rental housing, with Enterprise Community Partners and the U.S. Green Building Council, discussed ways to promote affordable green building, rehabilitation, and retrofits using the Housing Credit. The forum featured Linda Mandolini, president of Eden Housing, Jessica Jones, real estate development associate with Community Preservation and Development Corporation and John Lederer, director of construction management at Volunteers of America. They discussed how incorporating green features in affordable housing developments saves on operating costs, improves the health of residents and protects the environment by using less energy.

LEED-ND recognizes properties that protect and enhance overall health, quality of life and environment in a neighborhood. Methods used by LEED-recognized properties include green building, smart growth and urbanism. Additional NH&RA regional forums will be hosted in Atlanta, Denver, Indianapolis and Minneapolis, following the inaugural Road Show in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Affordable housing makes the cut in tax reform proposal


by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Today, Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) of the House Ways and Means Committee released a long-awaited draft bill for tax reform. Housing stakeholders will need time to analyze the 979-page bill, but a few high points are clear immediately:
  • The Housing Credit survived. By including the Low Income Housing Tax Credit in such a large-scale reform effort, the Ways and Means Committee recognized how many people and communities across this country depend on the program to create and preserve affordable housing. More and more, other areas of affordable housing look to the Housing Credit as a critical capital source: public housing, elderly housing, veterans housing, housing for people with disabilities, and more. With a track record of more 2.6 million rental homes over more than 25 years, the Housing Credit has proven itself an essential pillar of affordable housing.
  • No new resources, and maybe some lost. It will take deeper analysis to be sure, but from the summary, it doesn’t look like the tax reform proposal would increase resources flowing to housing. On the rental side, the proposed changes to the LIHTC (see them on page 87 of the summary) could well be a net decrease, especially considering the proposed elimination of the 4% credit attached to private activity bonds. On the homeownership side, the proposed limitations on the home mortgage interest deduction have provoked strong negative reactions from the National Association of Realtors, among others. None of the resources generated by the limitations appear to flow to housing. 
NHC will stay focused on how tax reform could affect the availability of safe, decent, and affordable housing for all, with particular attention to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. Watch this blog and our Washington Wire for more.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Housing affordability improves, but many working households are still struggling

by Janet Viveiros, Center for Housing Policy

Housing Landscape 2014 is out today and examines the housing affordability challenges of low- and
moderate-income working households. In the report, co-author Dr. Lisa Sturtevant and I find that overall, there were fewer severely cost burdened low- and moderate-income working households—households that spend more than half their income on housing—in 2012 than at the end of the Great Recession in 2009. After peaking at 26.4 percent in 2011, the share of severely burdened low- and moderate-income renters fell to 25.4 percent. However, this is still above 2009 levels when 24.5 percent of low- and moderate-income renters had a severe housing cost burden.

Most of the affordability improvements since the end of the Great Recession were among low- and moderate-income owners. The share of severely cost burdened low- and moderate-income owners fell from 21.2 percent in 2009 to 18.6 percent in 2012. Low- and moderate-income owners benefited from falling housing costs as many were able to modify or refinance their mortgages at lower interest rates or buy homes at low prices.


The affordability improvements for low- and moderate-income households were driven by increases in incomes that outpaced housing cost increases. Between 2009 and 2012, the incomes of low- and moderate-income renters rose 5.1 percent, as their housing costs rose 3.9 percent. The incomes of low- and moderate-income owners rose 2 percent at the same time their housing costs actually fell 5.1 percent.

The lowest income households face the greatest housing costs burdens; 8 in 10 extremely low-income
households had severe housing cost burdens in 2012. Severely housing cost burdened households are stretched thin and many face impossible choices like cutting back on other essentials such as food and health care in order to make ends meet. While 2012 offered a better affordability picture for working households than previous years, more than one in four low- and moderate-income working renters, and nearly one in five low- and moderate-income working owners is still severely burdened by their housing costs.

For many more detailed results, download the full report (PDF).

Friday, February 14, 2014

We’re building a community of communicators on the HUB

by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference

I got my start in housing working at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance in Seattle. It’s hard to believe it from the work they’re doing now, but at that time, we were just two staff members. Even with limited resources, we understood that effective communications would be key to our success as an affordable housing and homelessness advocacy organization.

To create those effective communications, I spent a lot of time researching best practices and trying to learn from other housing organizations the messages and techniques that worked to build support for affordable housing among neighbors and lawmakers. It was fascinating work, but I couldn’t help but feel isolated; I had a sense that there were others around the country doing the same work, but there was no single place to go to meet and learn from them, or share what I’d learned. And by “go” I certainly don’t mean travel. We simply didn’t have the budget at that time to fly me to meetings or pay for conference registrations.

NHC’s Housing Communications HUB is exactly the resource I was looking for when I was in Seattle. It’s a network of peers, a resource library, a place to learn and a place to share new ideas and discoveries. We built this site with support from the Ford Foundation to help build the communications capacity of the housing community. And we made it free.

Whether you work at the local, state or national level, as long as you’re interested in communicating effectively about affordable housing, the HUB is for you. I invite you to join the HUB today. I hope you’ll also sign up for my February 26 webinar introduction to the HUB’s many features.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The affordable housing future must include manufactured housing

by Doug Ryan, CFED

NHC invites its members, partners, and other recognized housing experts to write guest blog entries on important topics. The views expressed by guest writers do not necessarily reflect those of NHC or its members or funders.


In the debate on the future of housing, one thing is clear: it’s on the nation’s agenda. In some circles,
Doug Ryan
manufactured housing is, too. On January 28, Richard Cordray, the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, appeared before the House Financial Services Committee. Manufactured home lending received a surprising amount of attention, including critical comments on the Bureau’s new rules. If nothing else, the interest of lawmakers recognizes that it is an important part of the affordable housing landscape.

Manufactured housing is the largest source of unsubsidized housing in the county, housing 20 million Americans in eight million homes. And, in an era of reduced federal support for affordable housing, we need to look at how to provide affordable housing in new and sustainable ways.

While the committee’s interest is appreciated, much of the criticisms are misguided. The rules, which took effect this month, need a chance to work. Furthermore, the manufactured housing industry has something of a reputation for high-cost loans, questionable underwriting and resistance to competition. Standardization of lending products, with additional flexibility that already applies to most loans, could help the sector enter the mainstream. The quality of the home is vastly superior to those built twenty or thirty years ago; we think the policies and lending products can be, too.

Any discussion of manufactured home lending must include the GSEs’ duty to serve home buyers. Last year in this space, Ethan Handelman wrote why this requirement is so important. Largely due to how homes are financed, manufactured homeowners are often unable to benefit from the appreciation, consumer protections and financial stability that most homeowners take for granted. A true secondary market would likely lead to improved financial products for owners by attracting lenders who know manufactured housing is vital to their communities but do not want to (or cannot) hold the loans in portfolio.

Furthermore, lenders and advocates need to help change the laws that make manufactured homes
A manufactured home community.
Photo courtesy CFED. 
fundamentally, and unnecessarily, different than site-built homes. Only about 15% of new manufactured homes are titled as real estate, even though 70% are on private land. States need to adopt titling reform, such as the Uniform Manufactured Housing Act, as it would no doubt lure lenders to the market and help deliver better loan products to consumers.

As we debate how to address housing finance, we need to be sure not to exclude how manufactured housing fits into the equation. Failure to do so closes the door on potential financial safety and security for millions.

Doug Ryan is the Director of Affordable Homeownership at CFED. CFED launched the I’M HOME (Innovations in Manufactured Homes) initiative in 2005 to promote policy, product and lending changes to transform the manufactured housing market.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Build your professional network with a YLAH mentor

by Eva Wingren, Policy Associate, Mercy Housing

NHC invites guest blog posters to write on important housing topics. The views expressed by guest posters do not necessarily reflect those of NHC or its members.

Like many a young DC wonk, I moved cross country, not knowing anyone, to take a job that would
The author with Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
Look where the YLAH Mentorship Program
can take you!
ultimately rely on who I knew. My employer is a small incarnation of a large nonprofit, with offices spread all over the country, so YLAH and the mentorship program introduced me to my DC colleagues at other organizations. I was particularly blessed to be matched with Barbara Burnham, Vice President for Federal Policy at LISC. Barbara has incredible longitudinal experience in campaigns and federal policy, and a keen sense of the political realities we are dealing with. She also knows where to push.

At my first meeting with Barbara, I remember despairing of ever accomplishing anything or even understanding the system. “Keep this in mind, Eva,” she said, “you’ve come to Washington at the worst time I can remember. Congress is the most bogged down in partisan infighting, the White House is the most distracted from domestic policy issues, HUD is the most constrained in creating new programs because almost 85% of their funding goes toward renewals of Section 8. It’s bad. If this is the only reality you know, and you jump right in regardless, you’re ahead of the rest of us.”

Of course, Barbara and I spent time discussing my professional development, but where this experience differed from other mentors I’ve had is that, being in the same field, the knowledge she shared actually helped me do my job. My employer brought its Board to DC to advocate on Capitol Hill, and the structure of this big endeavor was created based on contacts she facilitated for me. With the community development field being so interconnected, I have no doubt that other mentors inspired similar collaborations.

I’ve been in DC over two and a half years now and finally feel like I understand the system here, at least a little bit. I’m not holding my breath for the partisan-ness to decrease; rather, I’m just thankful for the wonderful support system I have developed through YLAH and the mentorship program.

Eva Wingren is a Policy Associate with Mercy Housing, Inc., responsible for public policy, advocacy, and education for one of the nation’s largest nonprofit affordable housing developers.
_____________________________________

YLAH volunteers are preparing right now for a February 2014 launch of the YLAH Mentorship Program’s third year. Apply here, to complete the short form. In addition, please submit a copy of your resume, along with a short statement summarizing your professional objectives and why you want to participate in the Mentorship Program (250-300 words) to: yleaders@nhc.org


Please submit all your materials by February 14th, 2014 to be considered.

If you would like to participate as a 2014 YLAH Mentor or Mentee, please contact Sarale Sewell at (202) 999-8892 or shsewell@gmail.com, or Eva Wingren at 360-317-5644 or eva.wingren@gmail.com.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Housing Stretches the Budgets of Lower Income Households

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

Discussion of the president’s minimum wage proposal in the State of the Union Address last week and debates over cuts to support programs like SNAP, coupled with lackluster job growth, have focused attention recently on the struggle that so many low-income families and individuals face trying to make ends meet even when they work long and hard hours. The gap between what low-income working households earn and what they must spend on basic every day needs is startling.

The National Center for Children in Poverty’s Basic Needs Budget Calculator determines the absolute minimum hourly wage and annual income a family with full-time workers would need to earn to afford day-to-day essentials like housing, food, transportation, child care, and health care in cities and counties around the country. This wage far exceeds the minimum wage in many states and the budget calculator allows you to see just how stretched thin working families are.

Oftentimes, the biggest budget item is housing. Since housing is not a discretionary budget item, many households find themselves spending unaffordable amounts of their income on their housing costs. As Lisa Sturtevant mentioned in her January blog post, in 2012, one in four low- and moderate-income renters spent at least half of their earnings on their rent and utilities. This statistic comes from the annual Housing Landscape report which evaluates housing affordability among low-income working households and set to be released later this month.

The situation is even worse for workers who are underemployed or unemployed. My analysis for the Housing Landscape report found that the number of underemployed and unemployed low- and moderate-income households actually grew from over 21 million at the end of the Great Recession in 2009, to 23 million in 2012. One way to relieve some of the pressure on the budgets of low- and moderate-income households is to ensure they have access to decent and affordable housing.

While higher wages will make it easier for low-income households to afford their housing, in this weak recovery we cannot rely on wages to steadily increase. We must focus on ways to contain housing costs through various affordable housing strategies. The Center for Housing Policy’s HousingPolicy.org website offers a road map of the steps communities should take as they consider how to build an affordable housing strategy.

To learn more about the housing affordability picture in 2012, check back at the Open House Blog in a few weeks to read about Housing Landscape when it is released.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Slavic Village Story

by Robert Klein, Chairman and Founder, Safeguard Properties Slavic Village Recovery Project

NHC invites guest blog posters to write on important housing topics. The views expressed by guest posters do not necessarily reflect those of NHC or its members.

In 2007, a small neighborhood built by immigrants caught national attention at the start of what would be the most devastating housing crisis our nation has even seen. Having the highest rate of foreclosure in America, the media quickly pegged this community, Slavic Village, as “ground zero” of the foreclosure crisis.  Fast forward to 2014 and its vacancy rate is still estimated around 30 percent.  Some might believe it is more than a little beaten and bruised, but I see a neighborhood that is in the process of coming back to life and a catalyst for community revitalization nationwide.

Two years ago I initiated the Slavic Village Recovery project to redevelop the historic neighborhood by taking a holistic approach to community revitalization.  The first of its kind, the project is a partnership of two non-profits and two private corporations, Slavic Village Development, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Forest City Enterprises and my organization, RIK Enterprises. 

North elevation, before.
Credit: Slavic Village Recovery Project
The focus of the partnership is to ultimately stabilize the larger community by creating affordable housing.  Our strategy involves acquiring vacant and abandoned homes from servicers or the local land bank for rehabilitation and resale.  We then set up the buyer with a 30 year mortgage for a modest monthly payment of around $400.   The holistic approach targeting several properties at a time, using both demolition and rehab, is being viewed nationally as a case study for the creation of an affordable housing model that can be replicated in communities around the Country.  This approach is at the core of our strategy and what makes the model highly effective.

If you want to measure the success of this project, you need to look no further than East 54th street where the first recovery home is owned by a proud family, and almost completed homes have a line of interested buyers.  Talk to the resident who has lived in the community for 50 years, and almost gave up hope on his home until he saw the marked change being made in his neighborhood.  
North elevation, after.
Credit: Slavic Village Recovery Project

I have seen places like Slavic Village time and time again. It is not unlike any other community in our country.  It is home to local businesses, schools and churches.  It is home to hardworking men and women.  Struggle and loss is not the story of Slavic Village, the story of Slavic Village is how it is overcoming a crisis.  With this approach I believe it can be the story of other communities too.  If we can bring this neighborhood back from ground zero then I know we can do the same all over America. 

Robert Klein, chairman and founder of Safeguard Properties, initiated the Slavic Village Recovery Project to revitalize the historic Cleveland neighborhood devastated by the foreclosure crisis.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Let’s separate shareholder issues from policy decisions on housing finance

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

I attended a panel of odd bedfellows this morning: Theodore Olson and Ralph Nader leading off a panel on the future of the GSEs put together by Shareholder Respect. The underlying theme I could extract from the wandering discussion was an appeal to fairness asking that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders be treated like other shareholders who received a government bailout, and therefore (here’s the most problematic part) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be recapitalized and put back in business as before. If I took anything away from this roundtable, it was a reminder to keep shareholder issues separate from the critical decisions this country needs to make on housing finance reform.

It doesn’t take many logical steps to see that conclusion:
  1. Courts will decide whether shareholders are due some compensation. That’s not for public opinion, bloggers, Congress, or public officials to decide. Since lawsuits have already been filed, the process is under way. 
  2. Damages get settled by someone writing a check, not by changing housing policy. If courts determine that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders were wronged, they can order the federal government to pay damages. Forcing the government to re-establish a particular form of housing finance in order to pay back shareholders puts the cart before the horse.
  3. Suing the federal government takes a long, long time. The government has virtually limitless ability to litigate and appeal. Suits can take decades (anyone remember ELIHPA and LIHPRHA? Some of those lawsuits from the 1980s took decades to resolve).
  4. We need housing finance reform now to create a durable housing finance system. Access to home mortgages is still too tight, multifamily production is still capital constrained, and the government is still playing an outsized role in the mortgage market. We can’t wait for these lawsuits to be resolved before moving forward, particularly when there is broad agreement among the housing community on the principles for reform.
So let the shareholders and the government litigate their claims. Just don’t let that get in the way of fixing the mortgage finance system.

The Foreclosure Crisis Is Not Yet Over for U.S. Metros

by Maya Brennan, National Housing Conference

The foreclosure crisis is past the peak but not done yet, according to the latest analysis of metropolitan serious delinquency data on Foreclosure-Response.org. Extremely high foreclosure rates remain in Florida and many Northeastern metro areas, with rates well above normal nationwide. Since the peak of the crisis nationally, serious delinquency rates have gone down only slightly in 18 metro areas and have continued rising in 9 others (largely in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions).

More updates and changes on Foreclosure-Response.org
In addition to the new foreclosure commentary, Foreclosure-Response.org has updated our data, our research resources, and our style.

Maps & Data – You can now access the following updated data sets (often connected to maps and strategic policy guidance).
Clearinghouse section – The Clearinghouse provides a window into the most policy-relevant research and resources for restoring communities affected by foreclosures. We curate Clearinghouse materials and summarize them so that you can easily find what you need and skip the information overload.

Streamlined Access to Data, Policy Guidance, and Search Tools
Regular users of Foreclosure-Response.org will notice that a lot of things look different around there. The home page has taken a few steps toward minimalism. The search tools are more obvious. The Maps and Data and the Policy Guide sections are more prominent, along with the new Clearinghouse. Less frequently used sections are still available through header tabs. You can also easily tell when sections were last updated. Tell us what you think!

What’s Next for Foreclosure-Response.org?
While the site’s users have been very clear that the data remain essential, we no longer expect to produce data updates regularly. It is clear, however, that the crisis is not over and the need for good data is still strong. If we are able to resume regular data updates, we will let you know.

Please send us your stories about how and why you use our data.

Even with a reduced data presence, our guidance about strategic data use, plus the Policy Guide and new Clearinghouse, will continue to serve your need for practical and relevant information, policy examples, guidance, and research on foreclosures and neighborhood recovery.

In addition, the three partner organizations in the team continue to offer resources targeted towards policymakers and practitioners. The National Housing Conference and LISC both report on promising practices from the field and the latest housing policy developments through their organizational websites, www.nhc.org and www.lisc.org, as well as through NHC’s HousingPolicy.org resources.  The Urban Institute’s National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership will continue to share examples of using neighborhood-level data to address housing issues and Urban Institute’s new Housing Finance Policy Center provides data and insight on broad national trends. This can all be found through www.urban.org.

Our hope is that innovative community leaders will continue to learn from each other’s efforts, build policy and practical strength from the vast existing and growing knowledge base, and use rigorous data – particularly local data – and analysis to inform their actions as they face this new era in housing policy.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Moving Housing Forward

Making strides in housing advocacy
by improving how we communicate



by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

One of the goals of the National Housing Conference is to elevate affordable housing on the national agenda. Like many housing advocates, I once lamented the low priority the public seems to place on housing relative to other issues. But instead of just throwing in the towel, the housing community at the national and state levels has addressed this issue by working to implement sophisticated, proven messaging techniques and to tie the need for affordable housing to other issues of importance to communities.

NHC’s Housing Communications HUB is one of our contributions to this effort. The HUB is a free online resource for those who want to communicate more effectively about affordable housing to learn and share communications strategies that work. After several months in beta, the HUB is now in final format, with new features and content. I hope you’ll visit, join, and contribute to the discussion.

NHC works to show the connection between housing and other issues on the policy side as well. This month I will be in Denver to host a convening in collaboration with Enterprise, the UC Berkley Center for Cities and Schools, and Reconnecting America. The event focuses on the intersection of housing, transportation and education and will touch on the issues of neighborhood development, gentrification, displacement and access to opportunity. As many of you know, NHC’s Center for Housing Policy has a long history of looking at the housing and transportation intersection and I am excited that we are expanding this lens to education and local school quality. I will be co-leading the policy implications discussion at the end of the day, which is something NHC is eager to work on going forward.

The point of improving how we communicate is, of course, to move housing policy forward.  This week, I’m in Seattle to speak to the leaders of the Federal Home Loan Banks on housing finance reform issues. I have noted in the past that this is a major NHC effort to bring together a broad spectrum of the housing community around a common set of principles to push reform forward in a way that benefits our core mission of accessible credit and affordable housing. Ethan highlights our role in developing nonpartisan, evidenced-based policy recommendations in his column below. I hope you will take time to the view the principles. If you want to have your organization listed as an endorser, please let Ethan know.

Our work to move housing policy forward extends beyond federal policy to the state and local levels. Robert Hickey, a senior research associate at the Center, has been invited to present at a forum hosted by the Seattle City Council next week on strategies to increase affordable housing for the city’s workforce. Robert is a national leader in inclusive housing policy research and led the development of the workshop track on this issue for our Solutions 2013 Conference in Atlanta this past fall. This is indicative of uniqueness of the Center as a resource on local, regional and state housing policy, and its efforts to link research to practice. See more below from Lisa on the Center’s research agenda.

This is just a small part of what we have going on this month. I hope you can see what a good investment it is to be a member of NHC. Please take time to see more information on how to join, become a member of our Leadership Circle or sponsor one of our events.


Navigating Between Extremes in Housing Finance Reform

What we're building

By Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference 


We are seeing renewed legislative interest in reforming America’s housing finance system, interest that is long overdue. That interest attracts perspectives from all over the map, from pure privatization to a focus on the past GSE goals regime. We know change is coming, so NHC is working hard to offer a nonpartisan approach that moves housing finance reform forward in a way that harnesses the energy of private enterprise to serve the full range of housing need in America.

The status quo in housing finance is neither static nor sustainable. Access to home mortgages is still extremely limited for those who do not have much accumulated wealth or pristine credit. Rents continue to rise while capital remains a constraint on new multifamily production. Years of action by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (now under new leadership with potential to change direction) has already begun scaling back the government’s involvement in housing finance without creating channels that draw private capital in. We need to move forward with reform.

The House Financial Services Committee has marked one outer boundary with its so-called PATH Act. It focused exclusively on private securitization and would have left housing markets vulnerable to the ups and downs of capital markets without any countercyclical backstop. Thus far, the bill hasn’t made it to the House floor, likely because too many legislators on both sides of the aisle know it simply wouldn’t work.

An entirely different perspective comes from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC). They have rightly championed the needs of low-income households and communities of color, both of which were hit hard by the housing crash and have been largely left behind in the recovery. But a recent NCRC policy paper gave pride of place to preserving the old affordable housing goals regime (and by implication, possibly Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac themselves). The second part of that same paper looked to develop a new means of encouraging private enterprise to create more affordable housing—a more useful avenue for policy development.

Housing finance reform must be forward-looking to succeed, both practically and politically. A reformed system has to keep what worked from the old system, like the multifamily GSE operations and the To-Be-Announced market. It also has to fix what didn’t work, and first on the list is the structure of the government guarantee. In doing both, it has to craft the right incentives to get private enterprise to serve all qualified borrowers and renters in all communities before turning to subsidy to fill the gap. Otherwise, we’re asking far too much of a limited resource.

That’s why NHC is bringing together a coalition around our housing finance principles to make the case for the right kind of change. To participate, contact me at ehandelman@nhc.org.




Monday, February 3, 2014

Linking Research to Practice

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

One of the Center for Housing Policy’s primary goals is to link research to practice. Our research helps those working on the front lines of housing—developers, advocates, governments, financial organizations—with information and analysis they can use for making housing safer, more accessible and more affordable. We want to be able to answer the questions that are most important to the housing community.

Some examples of the Center’s current “research for action:”

How Can We Increase Long-Term Affordability?
Working with the National Community Land Trust Network, the Center is developing a directory of inclusionary zoning (IZ) programs and a series of case studies of policies that have been particularly effective in promoting long-term or permanent affordability. When the project is complete, it will be a valuable resource for local practitioners who want to begin or expand an IZ program, and it will fill an important gap in our knowledge of the state of inclusionary housing programs.

How Can We Provide Opportunities for Older Adults to Age in Place?
As the population ages, there is growing interest in how housing service providers can help seniors to age in place, whether in their homes or in their communities. But older adults’ housing and service needs and opportunities vary depending on whether they live in a city, in the suburbs, or in a rural area. With support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Center is conducting a study evaluating best practices for aging in place in different geographic areas. Focusing on implementation issues, this research will be a resource for housing service providers in communities across the country.

How Can We Improve Residents’ Health through Housing?
The Center created a tutorial of housing—a sort of Housing 101—for public health professionals. The goal of this project is to help the public health community better understand how it might be able to introduce health impact assessments into housing policy decision-making. Working with the National Center for Healthy Housing, the Center will help build a bridge the housing and health communities, work that is increasingly important given changes to the U.S. health care system.