Tuesday, May 13, 2014

FHFA director announces changes in direction for regulation of Fannie and Freddie

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Mel Watt, the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, used his first major public address since taking office to signal a change of direction in regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Overall, the changes indicate an agency focused on maintaining liquidity and stability in the mortgage markets, with far less emphasis on laying groundwork for large-scale return of private capital.In several areas, Director Watt noted concerns about rental affordability, foreclosure prevention, and neighborhood stabilization that motivated policy choices.

Highlights from Director Watt's speech (see the full prepared text):
  • Foreclosure prevention: GSEs will maintain existing efforts and refocus on "in the money" borrowers already eligible for HARP, although with no expansion of HARP eligibility. 
  • Multifamily affordable housing: Noting that affordable rental housing is an area of critical concern, FHFA will not require a reduction in multifamily production by the GSEs (a change of policy in line with comments submitted by NHC), although Director Watt expects market forces to naturally reduce that role in 2014.He signaled an expanded focus on affordable rental housing, small multifamily, and rental manufactured housing communities to address the great need for affordable housing. 
  • Neighborhood stabilization: FHFA announced a pilot Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the National Community Stabilization Trust, starting in Detroit, Mich., that will include deeper loan modifications and partnering with nonprofits earlier in the REO sales process. 
  • Reps and warrants: To encourage lenders to open up the credit box and reduce overlays, FHFA announced it will "relax the payment history requirement for granting representation and warranty relief by allowing two delinquent payments in the first 36 months after acquisition. Lenders will also get loan level confirmations when mortgages meet this performance benchmark and when they pass a quality control review. The Enterprises will also eliminate automatic repurchases when a loan's primary mortgage insurance is rescinded." 
  • Loan limits: FHFA will not reduce loan limits for single-family lending. 
  • Reduce government's credit risk exposure: FHFA will triple the amount of risk transfers that shift credit risk away from government and onto private entities from $30 billion to $90 billion in 2014. 
  • Common securitization platform: The focus will shift to building a platform designed for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities, implying less focus on building an infrastructure to serve private securitizations as well. 
Notably absent from the speech was any mention of the National Housing Trust Fund or the Capital Magnet Fund, which await funding from a fee charged to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that was suspended at the beginning of conservatorship.

Friday, May 9, 2014

House THUD bill jeopardizes core housing and community development programs

by Liza Getsinger, National Housing Conference

This week the House THUD appropriations subcommittee marked up an FY 2015 spending bill that provides $40.3 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which is $769 million below FY 2014 enacted levels and nearly $2 billion below the administration’s request. At markup both Democrats and Republicans remarked on the tough allocation for FY 2015, which clearly took a hit as a result of CBO’s most recent FHA receipts estimate showing larger than expected declines in FHA’s receipt levels. The lower CBO level leaves a large hole HUD’s proposed budget that would need to be made up by additional appropriations in order to maintain level funding. Unfortunately, appropriators did not make up the full gap, leaving HUD’s FY 2015 spending levels dangerously low.

The bill, if enacted, undermines valuable housing and community development programs. Many programs were funded at previous year levels, which translates to a decrease in funding when adjusting for inflation. Both HOME and the public housing capital fund, which are essential to help build and rehabilitate our affordable housing stock, are funded at below sequestration levels. The bill also omits the expansion of the Rental Assistance Demonstration, which enables public housing agencies to leverage private investment to help renovate public housing. The THUD subcommittee referred the bill to the full Appropriations Committee for consideration the week of May 19, but not without strong objections by THUD subcommittee Ranking Member Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.). Ranking Member of the full Appropriations Committee Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) urged her Senate colleagues to craft a bill with more reasonable funding levels for vital housing and community development programs. The Senate plans to start considering appropriations bills the week of May 22. Stay tuned to the Washington Wire and NHC’s Open House Blog for appropriations updates.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Seizing the moment: Make a significant impact for your National Housing Conference

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

We are now in full swing in our preparations for our 42nd Annual Gala on June 12th at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. This year we continue the trend started in 2012 by honoring the work of two organizations with the Housing Visionary Award, as well as honoring an individual with our Carl A.S. Coan, Sr. Award for Public Service to Affordable Housing. We also continue to feature the great work of our members and national partners to meet the nation’s housing challenges in local communities.

Our overall theme for the Gala is Moving Housing Forward because we want the Gala to feature examples of organizations, businesses or coalitions doing great work to advance or improve housing affordability and access. Each year we will have a focus to that theme. This year’s focus, Seizing the Moment, emphasizes the key opportunities groups have now to step up to make a significant impact in the housing landscape.

This year we are presenting the Housing Visionary Award to two groups that really seized the opportunities before them to have a significant impact in a particular region of the country.

We are honoring Enterprise Community Partners and its partners in the Gulf Coast region for their work in rebuilding neighborhoods after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. They have had a tremendous impact in producing high-quality, affordable housing, and have been a significant partner in stabilizing and revitalizing whole neighborhoods in that region. Their work there continues to this day and will go forward as they continue to be a major economic force for redevelopment in the Gulf Region.

We will also honor Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) of Massachusetts for its leadership on several statewide efforts to protect and expand affordable housing in their state. Most significantly, CHAPA led a broad campaign that brought the entire housing community together in support of an expansion of state funding for affordable housing development by $1.4 billion this past fall.

Finally, this year we are presenting the Coan Award to Dianne Spaulding, who has led the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California for over 20 years. NPH is the nation's largest regional housing advocacy organization and Dianne has established a national reputation for housing advocacy efforts that have led to historic legislation and funding in the Bay Area and California as a whole. Dianne also led NPH to create the Fellowship Program for People of Color in Non-Profit Housing, and designed award-winning communications tools to build community acceptance of affordable housing.

The evening promises to be inspirational, energizing and a great opportunity to be a part of the national gathering of the affordable housing community. Now is the time to step forward as a sponsor, purchase a table or secure your tickets for the event. If you contact Leah Logan at llogan@nhc.org this week to pledge your sponsorship, your organization’s name will be included in our print invitation, to be sent to 6,000 individuals across the U.S. I look forward to seeing you at the National Building Museum on June 12th.

Learning from the early steps in RAD: NHC members explore shared interests with HUD

What we're building

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

For the many NHC members following HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), we have another encouraging sign that program is evolving in a productive direction. Last week, NHC brought a few members who are deeply engaged with the program to meet with HUD about lessons learned from the early RAD closings and to explore standardizing terms that have emerged into project documents going forward. The conversation that occurred showed a real alignment of interests around sustaining these properties as affordable housing, maintaining them as desirable homes for residents, and achieving workable business terms for lenders, public agencies, investors, and developers.

Our meeting with FHA Commissioner Carol Galante, Acting Associate Deputy Assistance Secretary Margaret Salazar, and other program staff focused particularly on questions that arise only rarely, if ever, for many properties, but are essential for capital providers: how to handle foreclosure, replacement of a general partner, and similar disruptions of property control and operations. These are necessary issues to tackle as RAD moves properties from a public housing regime designed for permanent affordability commitment but with uncertain funding to the property-based rental assistance model originally developed for a defined period of affordability commitment with more reliable funding. Bridging that change requires adaptation by all without reducing the permanent commitment to affordability at the properties.

I was particularly struck by how strong the sense of shared interest was; all participants, be they lenders, public agencies, or developers, were committed to the properties operating as affordable housing, even in the event of a default. HUD, NHC, and our members are all working to define ways to minimize delays and protect properties for the benefit of residents by drawing on the early learning from the first few RAD closings. The conversation surfaced several productive avenues and HUD committed to work quickly toward that end. NHC will report more on concrete steps as we are able. To learn more or get involved, contact me at ehandelman@nhc.org

EAH Housing selected to develop Emeryville, Calif. apartments

News from NHC's family of members

by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

The city of Emeryville, Calif. is in the process of developing a mixed-use affordable apartment community and the city has chosen NHC member EAH Housing as its developer. The neighborhood will be constructed near BART rail systems, retail services and schools for the convenience of future residents. Additionally, construction will be complemented by ongoing improvements to San Pablo Avenue, site of the new community.

The five-level, 86-unit development will feature a community garden and 7,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor, a children’s play center and a rooftop sky deck. Apartments will range from one- to-four bedrooms and the development will be environmentally friendly, striving to achieve LEED Silver Certification and Build It Green statuses.

“We are honored to have the City of Emeryville select EAH as the development partner to build much needed affordable family apartment homes in Emeryville,” Mary Murtagh, president and CEO of EAH Housing said in a press release. “This new community will embody both the values of the City and the mission of EAH by melding together quality affordable homes with commercial mixed use on the ground floor, transit-oriented housing, and leading energy efficiency and environmental measures.”

EAH’s transit-oriented housing development will meet an urgent need for residents by reducing the cost of two of the largest parts of the household budget.  In 2012 we published Losing Ground, which examined the struggle of working households to afford the combined cost of housing and transportation, as costs for both have steadily increased. EAH’s work is a step in the right direction to ensuring that working families have access to affordable housing and transportation options. 

Of the nine potential developers who submitted proposals for the development, EAH Housing received the highest ranking. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2016. 

New grant helps Homeownership Preservation Fund continue aid to distressed homeowners

News from NHC's family of members

by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

NHC member Homeownership Preservation Fund (HPF) was recently awarded a grant from the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling (NFMC) Program to continue serving homeowners facing distress through it Homeowners HOPE™ Hotline. The hotline provides callers with suggestions on how to navigate financial hardship and prevent foreclosure through free, confidential foreclosure prevention counseling in over 170 languages from HUD-approved housing counselors. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The NFMC Program is administered through NHC member NeighborWorks America® and has awarded HPF funds for eight consecutive years.   
“We graciously thank the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling (NFMC) Program for this announcement and for their unwavering support for the critical work that counselors do every day for the millions of Americans still dealing with financial stress,” HPF CEO Colleen Hernandez said in a press release. “These funds are needed so that we can continue to help the thousands of homeowners that call us daily under significant financial distress, and still struggling to keep their home.”

Hernandez said that seven out of 10 people who call the hotline for counseling report they are still in their homes after a year. The financial counsel they receive through HOPE™ Hotline has assisted in preventing these potential foreclosures.

The efforts of HPF are an example of the important role foreclosure counseling plays in preventing homeowners from losing their property. Last year we awarded NeighborWorks America® at the 2013 NHC Gala for its work with their affiliates on foreclosure counseling. Their work through programs like HPF demonstrates how foreclosure education is an important factor in understanding how to prevent foreclosure.  

Since 2007, HPF has served more than five million homeowners, nearly 6,000 every day. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Sponsor or purchase your ad today for NHC's 42nd Annual Gala

News from NHC and the Center
by Leah Logan, National Housing Conference

Plan now to attend NHC’s 42nd Annual Gala, Moving Housing Forward: Seizing the Moment, June 12, 2014 at the National Building Museum. As it has for over four decades, this year’s gala will provide members and friends of the housing community a chance to connect, celebrate, and join in showcasing visionary leadership within the housing community.

Choose a sponsorship package that's right for you or choose a quarter-page, a half-page or a full page to offer recognition to the honorees, to NHC, or to colleagues at your organization on their great work promoting safe, decent, affordable housing for all.

To sponsor, complete your registration online or contact Leah Logan, NHC Senior Director of Membership, Meetings and Development, at llogan@nhc.org or (202) 466-2121 x221.

We hope you will join us as we honor our 2014 Honorees

Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) 

Enterprise Community Partners

Carl Coan, Sr. Award for Public Service to Affordable Housing
Dianne Spaulding, Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California

2014 Gala Committee Co-Chairs

Rick Lazio, Representative, New York
Linda Mandolini, President, Eden Housing

Reserve your Room

Discount hotel rooms are available at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel. Our special room rate is $229 per night for a single or double room. Make your reservations now: call (800) 228-7697 today! Use the group name National Housing Conference. Reserve by May 14th to receive the discounted rate.

The challenge of housing affordability is evident across a wide range of households

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

Housing availability and affordability is an issue that affects nearly everyone. The expression that something “hits home” suggests the fact that where we live is an integral part of our daily lives and well-being. A key element of the Center’s research is to document housing needs for all  household types, and to help local communities talk about their specific challenges. To that end, we recently weighed in on the housing affordability challenges being faced by households all along the income spectrum—from very low income to middle-class families, for both renters and owners.

·        Completing a research review of the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, Senior Research Associate Maya Brennan has demonstrated how important it is to understand the limitations that sustained poverty puts on the cognitive functioning of very low-income households. Among her recommendations is for public housing authorities to structure FSS programs that build residents’ self-efficacy, provide frequent feedback and second chances, offer intensive support, and minimize requirements that put housing assistance at risk. The report, sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, will be published next month.      
·         In response to an analysis by Zillow about rising affordability challenges for middle-class households across the U.S., Senior Research Associate Robert Hickey wrote an op-ed for CNN.com that outlines why the middle class is having a harder time finding affordable rents. In his analysis, he suggests two ways to start to fix the growing rental affordability problem: link local growth to affordability through inclusionary housing approache,s and help more qualified buyers purchase homes to release pressure on rental demand.
·         In a recent NHC Open House Blog post, Research Associate Janet Viveiros mapped housing affordability by state, which showed a grim picture for renters. As she notes, while rental affordability problems are most acute in high-cost areas like California and New York, renters across the country increasingly face a difficult time finding affordable housing. This analysis builds off the Center’s recent report, Housing Landscape.
·         Generating and preserving homes for low- and moderate-income owners is also increasingly challenging. At the end of April, Robert Hickey helped lead a workshop at the Community Land Trust conference that focused on strategies for ensuring the long-term affordability of homes generated through local inclusionary housing programs. A final research report on inclusionary housing and long-term affordability, sponsored by the National CLT Network, will be published in June.

Just as every community is different, there are different challenges for households with different incomes, and at different stages of the life cycle, to find safe, affordable housing. The Center will continue to help support local, state and federal policy responses to these challenges by highlighting the data and research that demonstrate needs for a range of household types.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

‘Use Your Voice’ advocacy video encourages audiences to join the call for adequate and affordable housing

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

NHC member Habitat for Humanity International is taking a new approach to advocate for adequate and affordable housing worldwide. The organization recently launched a video campaign, Use Your Voice, to encourage people to come together in support of the billions of people who still lack access to adequate housing in the U.S. and around the world. The video explains the difference between advocacy and raising awareness and urges viewers to use their voices to collectively break the cycle of poverty housing so that all people can have access to safe and decent housing.

The video provides a fun and innovative approach to advocacy from the perspective of Theo, a character created to urge viewers to advocate on behalf of those who do not have adequate or affordable housing. Planning for the video began in November 2013, with filming starting in January. Use Your Voice was officially launched in February at Habitat for Humanity International’s annual legislative conference, Habitat on the Hill.

“We’ve gotten positive feedback from our affiliates and national organizations as they seek to grow their advocacy activities. We have a Spanish version as well as one with Portuguese subtitles in Brazil. [The video] has also been shared in various film communities,” said Habitat for Humanity International’s Director of Advocacy Communications, Piper Hendricks.

Hendricks stresses the team effort put into ensuring the success of the video, which has over six thousand views on YouTube. To accompany its release, Habitat for Humanity International also developed an infographic about advocacy efforts that incorporates images from the video. As the organization prepares for the launch of a global advocacy campaign on access to land for shelter later this year, Habitat for Humanity International has now made the video and audio files available to its global network to customize the video into different languages for various audiences.

“We want the video to become the face of advocacy,” Hendricks said.

View the Use Your Voice Advocacy Video on the Housing Communications HUB, where you can discuss this effort and show your own housing communications work.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Are you telling the story of home?

by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference
news from NHC and the Center

Getting the message right doesn’t have to mean abandoning our mission as housing advocates. But it might
mean thinking differently.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honor of co-presenting a workshop on framing and values-based messaging at the Housing California conference in Sacramento. Karen Naungayan, Housing California’s director of marketing and development, Jessica Merrill, communications director at the Sacramento Housing Alliance, and I shared with workshop participants some key facts about how people process language, and techniques that can help all of us communicate more effectively.

We aren’t much different from our audiences
A conference attendee asks a question
about framing at Amy and Karen's
workshop at Solutions 2013 
Karen asked workshop participants to write down what “home” means to them. We heard some great responses when participants shared their answers: a safe and secure place, a place to be with your family, the place where you recharge, a place where you can be yourself. What we didn’t hear was a lot of industry jargon and acronyms; not one participant used words like “project,” “housing,” “ELI,” or “AMI.”

The values that underlie housing advocates’ passion for ensuring everyone has access to a decent, affordable home are the same values most Americans have regarding their own homes: security, family, opportunity. When we frame the work we do in terms of the values we share with our audiences, we’ll more easily connect with them.

Stories are our friends
I am always interested in seeing the latest research into public attitudes toward various issues. But I often find myself fumbling for the numbers when I try to quote the studies back to people, even when I have the gist of the findings in hand. This isn’t (just) because my brain is full. It’s because my brain—all our brains—evolved to remember stories, not numbers.

Humans are natural storytellers. When you tell the story of the personal success a client achieved due to living in a stable home, or of how a community was transformed when an affordable development replaced a vacant lot, you plant vivid images in your listeners’ minds that they can carry with them and share. There’s a reason we use visual metaphors like “paint a picture” to describe the telling of stories: a good story imprints itself on the brain the way no statistic can. We need data to back up our stories, but it's the story that will move people to act.

Being effective means working differently
The most exciting moment of the workshop for me happened when we asked participants to think about a client helped by their work, and to imagine all the organizations and people who were part of, and could speak to, that client’s success. Bringing those “supporting characters” into the story helps our audience see the big picture. When a lawmaker hears from the teacher of a child whose family was able to exit homelessness because of your work, or from a healthcare provider who saw a positive change in a patient’s health because her affordable apartment made room in her budget for her medicine, that lawmaker will more easily see the impact of affordable homes on every aspect of a person’s life.

But if you don’t know the supporting characters, you can’t tell the story. One of our workshop participants, a housing developer, realized that while they get to know their clients during lease-up, they don’t have a plan to stay connected with those residents in a way that would help them see the supporting characters and inform their ability to share their clients’ stories of success. I was thrilled to see that the exercise helped this participant see that she would have to approach her work somewhat differently if she wanted to incorporate those all-important stories into her advocacy.

It might feel foreign at first, but small changes to the way we talk about what we do can have big payoffs when it comes to bringing new allies to our work. I hope you’ll take a look at the slides from the presentation, and share your questions about communicating effectively using values and frames in the discussion forum on the Housing Communications HUB.