Monday, October 27, 2014

Key takeaways from the Regional Housing Forum

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference
Last week NHC hosted a regional housing forum in Chicago, in partnership with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago. The day-long event had four great sessions, and I’ve shared a few highlights below. In summary, I was reminded that we need a long-term strategy to address the historically underserved populations in this country, which requires some action at the federal level. In the meantime, communities are innovatively responding to the needs they face and deploying creative programs and strategies in the Illinois and Wisconsin region and across the country. They are effectively utilizing available resources and also pursuing new strategies; the diversity of partnerships showcased between nonprofits, lenders, foundations, local and state governments and CDFIs was amazing. You can view the recorded event here.

Housing’s Past

  • It’s important to understand how we got here and apply lessons learned as we move forward from the housing crisis.
  • The demographics of this country are changing rapidly and our housing finance system needs to recognize that reality; seven out of 10 new households formed will be households of color.
  • We don’t need to loosen underwriting; we need to refine it. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are using credit score models that are 10 years old.

Housing’s Future
  • Our current challenge is the left behind markets and navigating neighborhood changes, like foreclosed homes becoming rental properties and the role of large investors in those shifts.
  • Importance of programs like FHA Section 542 Risk Share to help finance small rental projects and the Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative (begun in Detroit and coming to Chicago next) to address hardest hit areas.

Return on Investment
  • Organizations are exploring how to measure impact as well as how to include social return in investments. 
    • Forward Community Investments focuses on projects that increase equity.
    •  The Housing Partnership Network’s (HPN) has created a Real Estate Investment Trust to create a way to assemble capital early so it can act quickly to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing.
  • At a project level, given limited resources, this means choosing strategic properties that are critical to their community.
  • Important to recognize the potential funding options of impact philanthropy and mission related investing.

Service Enriched Housing
  • Service enriched housing covers a continuum of need, from lighter touch to wrap-around services aimed at ending chronic homelessness.
  • States can use traditional affordable housing tools like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, HOME and property-based rental assistance to create service enriched housing, as well as specialized tools like cooperative agreements with local public housing authorities.
  • Limitations we face in more supportive and service enriched housing are the lack of existing relationships with healthcare providers and the lack of funding for resident service coordination.
  • Creative programs are proving effective like CSH’s pilot, Keeping Families Together, working with vulnerable families in the welfare system.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

HousingWorks RI leverages affordability data for housing advocacy

by Nicole Lagace, HousingWorks RI

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. 

Much of the campaign season in Rhode Island has been focused on the state’s lagging economy and need for more jobs, and rightfully so. In a state with the third highest unemployment rate in the country, jobs certainly need to be a priority for the next governor of Rhode Island. But missing from the conversation has been the connection between housing and jobs. It’s good to target and grow certain industries, but we must also consider if workers employed in those industries will be able to affordably live here. A newly elected governor could bring a new vision for Rhode Island and HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University (HWRI) wants to ensure that vision includes housing affordability as a public policy priority.

Early this summer we recognized the unique opportunity our annual Housing Fact Book Luncheon provided to insert housing into the hectic election season conversation. Each year HousingWorks RI puts out a Housing Fact Book looking at housing affordability in Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns. The book is released in the fall at a luncheon typically attended by about 200 business and community leaders along with elected officials and policy makers.

Knowing our strategy, we started working with all six gubernatorial campaigns back in July to help ensure their participation in the Oct. 3 event.

The candidates discuss housing affordability.
Photo by Julie Brigidi
Rhode Island’s primary was held on Sept. 9. Cranston Mayor Allan Fung won the Republican nomination and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo won the Democratic nod. We were thrilled that local housing expert Barbara Fields agreed to host the conversation with the candidates. The former Regional Administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Fields asked a range of questions from implementation of the state’s plan to end chronic homelessness to reducing barriers to improve affordability of market rate homes.

The candidates each had 20 minutes for their own conversation with Fields. General Treasurer Raimondo spoke first and encouraged Rhode Island to have “big audacious goals” when it comes to housing. In particular, she said she would like Rhode Island to be the first state to end homelessness. Mayor Fung cited the lack of public investment as a barrier to more affordable housing and called for more Community Development Block Grant dollars to help Rhode Island’s cities and towns.

We were thrilled to have had the candidates on hand to speak about the future of housing and the economy in Rhode Island. Whatever the outcome for November’s election, we are hopeful that our next governor will have an integrated approach to improving housing affordability in our state to ensure a wide range of housing options that support the well-being and prosperity of Rhode Islanders. In turn, we’re confident this will lead to a brighter economic future for all of Rhode Island.

HousingWorks RI is a program in the Division of University Outreach and Engagement at Roger Williams University. HousingWorks RI at RWU is an authoritative source of information about housing in Rhode Island that conducts research analyzes data to inform public policy, and develops communications strategies and promote dialogue about the relationship between housing and the state’s economic future.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Disaster resilience and affordable housing

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

As a speaker and participant at the Northeast Risk and Resilience Leadership Forum, I learned a lot about how communities can mitigate the risks of storms, flooding, and other disasters by becoming more resilient. As one of just a few attendees with an affordable housing perspective, I described some of the ways lack of wealth in communities and households complicates planning for disasters:
  •  Weaker physical infrastructure to start makes communities more vulnerable.
  • More rental housing often means greater density of residents with fewer household resources to draw on in the event of disaster.
  • Affordable rental properties have tight capital budgets and even tighter operating budgets, which makes it hard to include resiliency features without dedicated funding.
  • Language barriers can complicate efforts to distribute warnings, engage community support for disaster preparedness and recruit participants into programs.
  • Under-resourced local governments will be less able to request disaster aid or resilience funding than wealthier communities.
  • Human need in poorer areas may be under-counted in data used to distribute aid.
Wealth is a barrier to resiliency at a household level, too. The fixed costs of mitigation, be they minor updates like storm shutters or major ones like elevation, loom larger for a household in a $60,000 home than for one in a $600,000 home. I urged the audience of environmentalists, policy makers, scientists, insurance industry experts and others to evaluate any proposed resiliency policy from the perspective of their child’s elementary school teacher, the janitor in their office building or the cashier at their grocery store. If one of the 18 million families paying more than half their income for housing has to choose between buying school clothes for their kids or installing storm shutters, we can predict their choice.

There are certainly reasons to be optimistic for improved resiliency. HUD’s new National Disaster Resilience Competition will put $1 billion to work in communities around the country planning and implementing innovative resilience work to help communities protect themselves from future disasters even as they recover from recent damage. And there is growing awareness that more resilient communities can save the federal government money in the long term while improving quality of life for residents. We just need to be sure that people of all incomes can be a part of these resilient communities. Based on the supportive reaction I received from so many participants at the forum, we’re on the right track.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Twin Cities taking promising steps to ensure housing near transit is affordable

by Robert Hickey, National Housing Conference 

Promising work continues in Minneapolis/St. Paul to ensure growth in the region’s transit system lifts all boats. I had two separate opportunities to see this for myself a couple weeks ago.

On Sept. 25, I presented the keynote address to a gathering of county officials, community advocates, neighborhood support institutions and local developers interested in how affordable homes and other community assets can be preserved near transit as the region adds two new transit lines to the southwest and northwest of Minneapolis. The full-day event drew a mix of stakeholders and public sector decision makers with a growing commitment to ensuring transit in the region is broadly accessible and beneficial to existing communities over the long term.

The next day I spoke at length with a group of city councilmembers, developers and county housing and transportation planners who are taking a serious look at how inclusionary housing can be adapted to local circumstances to enlist the help of private developers in creating affordably priced homes in booming downtowns and new transit communities. The opportunity to think with local council members about creative policy options and national best practices for inclusionary housing was especially gratifying. The meeting clarified just how much the Center’s research on inclusionary housing fills a real need. Local staff and elected officials are hungry for information about how inclusionary housing might fit within their specific market and legal context. And they’re especially curious about how their peers are addressing common challenges. We’ve placed ourselves in a great position to help.

It was a wonderful culmination to a week during which I was struck by just how much our definition of “successful transit development” has changed over the past seven years. Back in 2007 when I co-authored a report exploring the case for mixed-income, transit-oriented development in the Denver region, few planners and officials were asking, “Will transit and transit-oriented development be accessible to low-and high-income households alike?” Since then, strong advocacy by coalitions such as those that won a more equitable Green Line in the Twin Cities, along with smart research, sustained investment from forward-thinking foundations and inspired leadership at the local, regional, state and federal levels, have changed the questions we ask. There is now much broader recognition that a “successful” transit expansion: 

  • Engages a diversity of communities upfront in the planning and decision-making process.
  • Lifts up rather than sweeps aside existing neighborhoods and businesses.
  • Includes supportive housing policies and investments to ensure transit is accessible to – and expands job accessibility for – people up and down the income spectrum.

Recognizing this, various institutions in the Twin Cities are starting to take proactive steps to preserve and create affordable housing before the region’s transit system is built out. Other regions are farther ahead, but it was hard not to be inspired by the positive conversations I saw happening in the metro area.

Inspired by this work, NHC’s Center for Housing Policy is doubling down this fall and winter on expanding our toolkit on inclusive housing policy, and making more of it easily accessible in one place. As our nation’s transit boom continues, and with your help, we’re excited to keep moving the conversation forward on what’s needed to create successful, resilient, mixed-income communities near transit.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Get affordable housing connected

What we're building

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

A broadband connection can touch so many parts of our lives: kids connect for schoolwork; parents connect to find work or train for new work; seniors connect for social interaction and health care; and all of us connect to manage the myriad details of daily life. But many residents of affordable housing lack meaningful broadband access at home. The affordable housing community can help to bring residents of affordable housing into the economic mainstream.

NHC, with support from the California Emerging Technologies Fund and NeighborWorks America, is convening our Connectivity Working Group next week, and we invite all NHC members to join us. The group’s work is twofold:

  1. Make the case for how and why to provide broadband access in affordable housing. NHC’s Center for Housing Policy will draw on working group members to document the extent of the digital divide in affordable and highlight best practices for bringing affordable rates, reliable equipment, and necessary technical support to residents.
  2. Move policy toward greater broadband access. The working group will develop and present recommendations for federal policy to expand broadband access that can happen in the near term through actions by HUD, the FCC, and other agencies, as well as through legislation.

We expect a receptive audience in the federal government, particularly from HUD Secretary Juli├ín Castro, who highlighted closing the digital divide in his remarks at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Housing Summit last month. If we want affordable housing to be a platform for people to succeed, it can’t be on the wrong side of the digital divide. I hope you will join us in this effort led by Linda Mandolini of Eden Housing, who will chair the working group.

The first meeting of NHC’s Connectivity Working Group is October 14 at 2 p.m., in person and via conference call. To join us, please contact Rebekah King,

Monday, October 6, 2014

Rhode Island tackling housing affordability and healthy housing

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

September was a busy month for housing in Rhode Island as two NHC members worked to maintain healthy and affordable housing for residents. NHC member, Green & Health Homes Initiative (GHHI) announced the launch of Rhode Island Alliance for Healthy Homes (RIAHH), while member HousingWorks RI hosted its 10th annual Housing Fact Book Luncheon.

RIAHH is the newest of GHHI’s 17 sites nationwide and its first expansion to a statewide model. RIAHH’s goal is to improve healthy housing standards by keeping Rhode Island residents and housing developers aware of the negative impacts unhealthy housing can have by providing a coordination of services, resources and education through its alliance of state, local and community-based organizations.

“Through this collaboration, we will significantly increase the stock of healthy, safe and energy efficient homes for families across Rhode Island and ensure far better outcomes for its children and families,” GHHI President & CEO Ruth Ann Norton said in a press release.

Formation of RIAHH began in 2013 and is made possible by grants from GHHI and the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office.

Meanwhile, HousingWorks RI’s luncheon marked the unveiling of the year’s Housing Fact Book, which looks back on affordable housing trends in Rhode Island over the last decade. The luncheon was hosted by former HUD Regional Administrator Barbara Fields and featured conversations with two Rhode Island gubernatorial candidates, Mayor Allan Fung and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, on solutions the state’s next governor can use to address housing affordability.

With nearly 90 percent of the state’s working households severely cost burdened, RIAHH and HousingWorks RI, through advocacy, coordination and promotion of housing services, will help make available affordable, healthy homes to the families that need them most. These efforts will help to assist the 23 percent of low- and moderate-income households in Rhode Island that spend at least half of their income on housing needs.

Housing Works RI’s Director, Nicole Lagace, will chronicle the luncheon in more detail in an upcoming guest post on our Open House Blog.

Friday, October 3, 2014

BRIDGE Housing celebrates completion of MacArthur Station Garage

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

Sept. 8 was a day of celebration for affordable housing developers as they joined NHC member BRIDGE Housing Corporation to celebrate the completion of MacArthur Station Garage at a ribbon cutting ceremony in Oakland, CA.  The parking garage for MacArthur Station BART customers opened a week later on Sept. 15.  

The new garage is a major component of the seven-acre development that will eventually include over 620 multifamily homes, including over 100 below market priced units and nearly 43,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. Financing for the MacArthur development was provided by several financers, including the California Department of Housing and Community Development and the Oakland Redevelopment Successor Agency. The space was developed by the MacArthur Transit Community Partners, LLC, an affiliate of BRIDGE Housing.

“Community development near transit makes sense for people, neighborhoods and the environment,” Cynthia Parker, president and CEO of BRIDGE Housing said in a press release announcing the ribbon cutting. “We envision MacArthur Station as a vibrant, pedestrian- and bike-friendly hub with enhanced public transit access to jobs, services and amenities.”

Construction of the garage and residential housing options on the MacArthur site will provide Oakland residents with affordable, transit-accessible, mixed-use communities that add to the ethnic and economic diversity the city is already known for. This diversity and Oakland’s emergence as a city that leads the push for affordable housing in the Bay Area are just a few reasons why we chose to host our Solutions 2014 Conference there next month. As the city continues to adopt policies and foster new commercial and residential development, it is the perfect place to discover how housing practitioners, policymakers, advocates and researchers are working together to ensure decent, affordable housing is accessible to more people. Visit our website to learn more about the Solutions Conference and register.

The first residential building on the MacArthur site, Mural, is expected to be completed by spring 2015 and will include 90 units for residents with incomes between 30 and 50 percent of the area median income. 

New report connects climate change to New York City’s housing affordability crisis

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

A new report released last month by NHC member Center for New York City Neighborhoods examines how increased flood risks and rising flood insurance premiums threaten housing affordability for over 400,000 people living in neighborhoods along the city’s coastline and in neighborhoods that have a high risk for flooding. The report was unveiled Sept. 18 at the Center’s event, Equitable Resiliency in New York City: How Rising Flood Insurance Costs are Threatening Housing Affordability in NYC’s Flood-prone Neighborhoods.

Rising Tides, Rising Costs, reveals the increasing intersection of climate change and housing affordability in New York by detailing how increasing costs for flood insurance will threaten the stability of many homes and the financial security of residents living in them. Many flood-prone areas are still recovering from damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2008 and as the risk of flooding increases, so does the need for and price of insurance coverage, leaving costs unaffordable for many long-time residents.

“Rising sea levels and rising flood insurance rates put the safety, stability, and financial security of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers in peril,” Center for New York City Neighborhood’s Executive Director Christie Peale said in a press release. “New York has more residents living in high risk flood zones than any other city in the United States. The report we released today is only the beginning of our work as we engage with government at all levels to create a more resilient home for all New Yorkers.”

Heightened costs for homeowners’ flood insurance is one concern expressed by the SmarterSafer Coalition, of which NHC is a member, earlier this year when Congress proposed to delay insurance reform. The coalition sent a letter to Speaker Boehner in January recommending changes to the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, adopted by Congress in 2012 to resolve the $24 billion debt of the National Flood Insurance Program. In the letter, SmarterSafer advocated for reforming Biggert-Waters to address increasing concerns about flood insurance affordability by targeting subsidies in the National Flood Insurance Program to those who truly need it.

Rising Tides, Rising Costs offers several policy recommendations to combat rising costs including community planning for long-term resiliency, funding for buy-out options and new programs to help elevate homes in neighborhoods where flooding is high risk. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Leckey Forum shines light on need for affordable senior housing

News from NHC
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

Affordable housing remains a topic at the forefront of housing policy and more often the focus is placed on special populations like veterans and older adults. By 2050, the population of individuals aged 65 or older will be more than 88 million, meaning one in every five Americans will be 65 or older. The reality of these statistics has pushed housing organizations, advocates and policymakers alike to ensure that older adults have access to safe, decent and affordable housing in communities across the nation. This is why it’s no coincidence that affordable housing for older adults was the topic of the 12th Annual Leckey Affordable Housing Forum in Arlington, VA on Sept. 19.

Hosted by The Alliance for Housing Solutions, the forum, titled, “Aging in Our Neighborhoods: Options for Low-and Moderate-Income Seniors,” highlighted Arlington County’s need for more affordable housing options for older adults in the area. The event featured four unique panels, each addressing the topic from a different angle to demonstrate the need for affordable senior housing in the Arlington and across the United States, programs and pilots that have been enacted to provide affordable housing options, housing options that have already been successful so far and suggestions for policy implementation changes.

NHC’s Janet Viveiros gave the first presentation, emphasizing national data on older adults’ desire to age in place. Using statistics from two NHC’s reports; Aging in Every Place: Supportive Service Programs for High and Low Density Communities and Housing an Aging Population: Are We Prepared?, Janet showed that many older adults have low or moderate incomes, which can significantly limit affordable housing options and force many older adults to leave the homes and communities where they have lived for years. With research showing that nearly 90 percent of adults over age 45 want to remain in their homes “for as long as possible,” and nearly half of lower-income older adults spending over half of their income on housing costs, the panel emphasized Arlington’s (and a nationwide) need for supportive home services that can assist seniors as they age.

Janet’s presentation was followed by Elizabeth Rodgers of the Arlington Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development, whose report on Arlington senior demographics showed that of annual retirees, over 20 percent move into the Arlington area, clearly demonstrating the appeal of Arlington to older adults and county’s need for supportive programs and affordable housing options that will help current residents and those migrating in to age in place.

The next panel emphasized programs and pilots that have already launched in Arlington, particularly highlighting the success of the Village Model, membership-driven grassroots organizations that coordinate specialized supportive services for older adults based on community need. Panelists from Harkins Builders, MTFA Architecture and Arlington’s Center for Urban Design then shared images and demographics of various affordable senior housing developments around the country. The forum concluded with a word from Mary Rouleau, executive director of the Alliance for Housing Solutions, who reminded the audience to continue pushing affordable housing policies in Arlington and across the nation.

The forum is named for the late Thomas P. Leckey, a noted affordable housing advocate and cofounder of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Putting values first at the BPC Housing Summit

News from NHC
by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference

Values-based messaging isn’t a new concept. But for many of us in the housing community, putting it into practice can sometimes feel a little like a child’s shaky ride on his first bicycle: very unfamiliar and a bit risky.

On Sept. 15, I had the pleasure of welcoming a small group of housers from across the country to the Bipartisan Policy Commission 2014 Housing Summit with a crash course on messaging for affordable housing. After a brief presentation on the importance of putting values first, I challenged those in attendance to work with facilitators in small groups to build an audience-targeted, values-based message about the need for affordable housing and the solutions available to meet that need.

Giving the group their marching orders.
All of that first thing on a Monday morning.

But, with a little gentle guidance from our facilitators (aka NHC and BPC staff), the groups created some fantastic messages. 
Here’s what I took away from the session:

  • We’re great with problems and solutions. The first tasks the groups were asked to tackle were thinking through what their target audiences cared about, considering the reasons they care about housing themselves, and putting those two sets of ideas together into a value statement. As I circulated the room, I heard group after group struggle to focus on the values, yearning to leap over values to talk about problems and solutions. This revealed some well-worn ruts in our communication patterns as a community. 
  • Values ground our work. As housers, we find data on housing need compelling, and imagine others will as well. But is that because numbers change minds, or because we’ve already bought in? Cognitive science shows us that confirmation bias drives all of us to view new information through a lens that confirms what we already believe. We already believe affordable housing is essential, and for us, the data just backs that up—even if those cost-burden numbers could be interpreted entirely differently by someone with another worldview. On the positive side, since our work is so rooted in deeply held beliefs, once the groups got used to this new way of thinking, they came up with some very strong value statements. 
  • Simple statements are powerful. Sure, none of the messages the groups came up with went into copious detail about affordable housing program design. No one mentioned a bill number. But every statement was compelling because the first thing we heard when participants read them back was why we should care. If we help our audiences see how affordable housing aligns with their values, they’re much more likely to listen and to want to learn more.

Creating values-based messages can be a challenge for many of us. Even I sometimes find myself reaching for data first when trying to make an argument! But the fact that we care deeply about the work we do gives us everything we need to improve the way we communicate. With enough practice, using values-based messages will become second nature… just like riding a bike.

For more resources on values-based messaging and some exercises to help you rethink your housing communications, check out the Messaging and Framing Toolkit on the Housing Communications HUB