Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What’s in the omnibus spending and tax extenders bill for housing

by Kaitlyn Snyder and Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

This morning the omnibus spending bill text for FY 2016 was released after weeks of negotiations. Many programs saw slight increases in funding compared to last year, but overall funding is essentially flat, especially when considered relative to rising housing costs. Of note, the HOME program, which the Senate proposed cutting from $900 million to $66 million, was restored and increased to $950 million. The chart below shows HUD and USDA funding for selected programs for FY 2015, proposed FY 2016 and actual FY 2016. Red numbers indicate decreases compared to FY 2015 enacted levels, green numbers indicate increases, blue numbers indicate increases from FY 2015 but lower than historical levels and black numbers indicate flat funding.

Also included in the bill are provisions that:
  • Allow private owners of Section 8 properties to make Family Self-Sufficiency programs (already available in participating public housing properties) available to residents. (p. 1575)
  • Allow community land trusts to use HOME funds to secure site control for development of permanently affordable housing. (p. 1583)
  • Keep the Self Help and Assisted Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) funding separate from the HOME program. (p. 1584)
  • Change the definition of “youth” for homelessness programs to now mean age 24 and under. (p. 1588-9)
  • Increase Moving to Work by 100 agencies (down from the proposed 300) and provide for program evaluation. (p. 1631)
  • Limit sale of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shares.  Section 702 would prevent the Treasury Secretary from selling or otherwise disposing of the senior preferred shares in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that the federal government acquired during the bailout. The provision requires legislative action by Congress and the president to dispose of the shares and expresses the sense of the Congress that there should be legislation determining the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (p. 1968)
Property-based Section 8 contract renewal funding appears slightly lower than the president’s proposed budget, but the lower number may reflect revisions by HUD to the amount needed or greater carryover from last year and do not appear to be a short-funding of contracts.

Early this morning the House also released the tax extenders bill. It appears that the tax extenders bill will be voted on separately by the House and the omnibus and tax extenders bill will be combined when sent to the Senate. Housing highlights from the bill include:
  • Permanent minimum nine percent  credit rate for LIHTC
  • Five-year extension for New Markets
  • One-year extension for Mortgage Debt Relief Act
The House is expected to vote on both bills on Friday, Dec. 18, before holiday recess. The House will need to pass a stopgap funding measure on Wednesday to prevent a government shutdown. The short-term continuing resolution will most likely run through Dec. 22 to give the Senate enough time to pass both the tax and spending bills.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Building opportunities for runaway teens and at-risk youth: Safe housing is part of the solution

by Christy Eaton, HomeAid Northern Virginia 

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.

The National Runaway Switchboard estimates that on any given night there are approximately 1.3 million homeless youth living unsupervised on the streets, in abandoned buildings, with friends or with strangers. Homeless youth are at a higher risk for physical abuse, sexual exploitation, substance abuse and death. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, approximately 46 percent of runaway and homeless youth report being physically abused, 38 percent report being emotionally abused and 17 percent report being forced into unwanted sexual activity. Seventy-five percent of homeless or runaway youth have dropped out or will drop out of school.

Addressing teen homelessness by providing at-risk youth with secure housing, combined with supportive counseling and educational services, is key. Supportive housing programs offer a chance for at-risk and runaway youth to gain stability, build skills and realize their potential. Through collaborative projects led by HomeAid, lives are being rebuilt and doorways to positive change constructed with the help of the home building industry.

Providing secure housing for pregnant teens, survivors of sex trafficking

This December, HomeAid Northern Virginia completed the construction of a brand new 5,000-square- foot residential facility on the Youth for Tomorrow (YFT) campus about 40 miles outside Washington, D.C. in Bristow, Va., to provide a safe and secure residence for teen runaways and at-risk youth. YFT was started 29 years ago by former Washington Redskins Head Coach Joe Gibbs to provide housing, education and clinical services to children and teens. The organization is unique in that it not only provides a full continuum of residential and outpatient services, but also offers its own school for the at-risk youth it serves.

Approximately 75 percent of runaways in the U.S. are female, so the new home was specifically constructed to serve as a girls’ residence, enabling YFT to expand its residential services to up to 36 more girls aged 11 to 17 each year – girls who are pregnant, young mothers, homeless, runaways or survivors of sex trafficking.

HomeAid Northern Virginia’s construction of the YFT residence is an $800,000 investment in the community, with nearly 75 percent  of the costs donated by the HomeAid “Builder Captain” for this project, Stanley Martin Homes and its 90+ trade partners (suppliers, electricians, plumbers, etc.) who collaborated on the project. As you can see, there is power in collaborative partnership; the expertise of the home building industry matched with the supportive YTF programs and educational services translate into a significantly brighter future for at-risk girls.

HomeAid projects provide a pathway for homebuilders to give back to the communities in which they work via the area they know best: construction and renovation. Importantly, the cost efficiencies and savings achieved via HomeAid projects, where much of the expertise and materials are donated or provided at a significantly reduced cost, allow the beneficiary nonprofit organizations like YFT to invest a greater allocation of budget dollars towards care and services rather than towards construction expenses.

Building value: Care, construction, community investment and donor engagement

The benefits to the girls who will be assisted by the YFT program are clear: the comfortable, stable living space that the local home builder community has provided coupled with the supportive programs and school that YFT offers can together help to build a brighter future for girls facing serious life challenges. Research shows that a safe, stable place to call home is important for a child’s physical and mental health today, as well as their growth and learning abilities tomorrow.

The new residence is an important asset to the YFT organization overall, to the entire local community it serves and to the community at large, who may not ever use YFT programs but who benefit indirectly from the availability of comprehensive services for youth and families in the local area. As we all know, communities are stronger when the needs of its most vulnerable are met.

New and renovated facilities also translate into tremendous value for the nonprofit housing organizations. New and renovated buildings enable organizations to expand services. New and renovated buildings create enhanced community visibility, which can then lead to enhanced donor support and bolstered fundraising. At the YFT building dedication in December, for example, YFT brought together local politicians, community advocates and sports personalities – driving media attention to its programs and services, and showcasing to its donor base its growth and standing in the community.

Many organizations are able to leverage the involvement of HomeAid and the many companies that participate in project construction to solidify new funding partners in the community. When people see tangible results that make a difference in a person’s life, like a new home equipped with supportive services, they are more likely to want to get more involved and help be a part of that solution. HomeAid helps organizations reach beyond its existing supporter base and introduces it to a whole new stratum of potential donors and supporters. Part of HomeAid’s role on any project is to bring visibility to the work that’s being done– not only to the physical construction but also to impact of the project and to what the organization will achieve for its clients through the construction project. This is the essence of how HomeAid goes beyond just construction to make a long-lasting difference for its shelter partners and the community at-large.

Convening and collaboration

Like the National Housing Conference, HomeAid Northern Virginia is committed to providing secure housing to the most vulnerable in our communities. We, too, assume a role as conveners: connecting the unique know-how of the home building industry with the housing needs of homelessness-focused nonprofits. Through convening and collaboration, there is a role we can all play to help organizations that address homelessness to grow their assets, enhance their value, expand their services and ultimately provide well-built, well-appointed supportive housing to the at-risk and vulnerable communities they serve.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Addressing community opposition to affordable housing

by Mindy Ault, National Housing Conference 

Our new report, “Building Support for Affordable Housing: Perspectives from the Field,” offers valuable tips for addressing community opposition to affordable housing development from veteran developer and regional housing program manager Arthur Sullivan. We spoke with Sullivan during a round-table discussion on community opposition (?)at our Solutions for Housing Communications convening in Seattle earlier this year and were impressed by his insights on how to confront community resistance in productive, effective ways. His ideas made sense in a very intuitive way, and it occurred to us that they could be useful to other affordable housing developers and advocates who were not in attendance at the Seattle convening.

In speaking with Sullivan for this report, I was struck by his common-sense solutions (e.g., listen to your opposition, and involve them in the planning process, for starters) and how much sense they made when I considered them. I think that often when confronted with community opposition to affordable housing development, our initial reaction is to go into “battle mode,” which can yield mixed results. Maybe the project gets completed, but we may never have the support of neighboring community members. Sullivan’s proven tactics offer an alternative way of negotiating possible objections, forging a way to work with community members instead of against them and thus creating further support for the project.

Sullivan shared tactics that have proven effective in his experience in helping developers and advocates to navigate the sometimes contentious process of gaining community support. One key point Sullivan addressed is the necessity of involving community members very early in the planning process.  Rather than going to the community after the plan has been fully developed, Sullivan pointed out that consulting with community members before project plans are solidified enables community members to feel valued and included and also allows the developer to incorporate community members’ ideas, where appropriate. Enlisting community engagement early in the process also ensures that any opposition presented by community members can be aired and addressed at the small-group level instead of in a larger public forum before local decision makers, who are unlikely to go against their constituents’ preferences.

This report discusses seven key strategies altogether and provides what we hope will be valuable guidelines for developers of and advocates for affordable housing in addressing community opposition to proposed projects.

Housing provisions in the highway transportation funding bill

by Kaitlyn Snyder, NHC

Despite its name, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 22) includes much more than just transportation funding. The 490-page bill includes several provisions that were originally in the Housing Opportunity through Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 3700), including policy changes to help preserve older privately owned rental housing, streamlining of tenant income verification and authorization of a pay-for-success demonstration for utility-saving retrofits.  Details on each provision are below.

Title LXXVII: Preservation Enhancement and Savings Opportunity
This measure was originally a stand-alone bill (H.R. 2482) introduced by Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-N.M.) in May. The bill passed in the House on July 14, 2015, by a voice vote. The text was then added to H.R. 3700 and subsequently added to H.R. 22, passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 4, 2015.

The provision amends the Low-Income Housing Preservation and Resident Homeownership Act of 1990 (LIHPRHA) to allow owners of HUD federally subsidized multifamily developments access to remaining profits after all operating expenses and maintenance costs. The bill also makes it easier to recapitalize LIHPRHA properties and strengthens several protections for tenants and the long-term viability of the housing:
  • Owners must be in compliance with the LIHPRHA use agreement;
  • Rent increases for unassisted tenants may not exceed 10 percent per year;
  • The owner must continue to operate the property in accordance with the affordability provisions for the remaining useful life of the property; and
  • The owner must set aside adequate funding for rehabilitation and capital needs.

Title LXXVIII: Tenant Income Verification Relief
This provision permits households with fixed monthly incomes (e.g. Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance) to go through the recertification process every three years instead of annually. The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development has the authority to define what qualifies as a fixed income. This provision would reduce administrative burden for PHAs as they go through the recertification process each year. PHAs have the flexibility to stagger renewal times for individuals with fixed incomes so that agencies are only recertifying one-third of all households with fixed incomes during one year.

Title LXXXI: Private Investment in Housing
This measure was originally a stand-alone bill (H.R. 2997) introduced by Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) in July. The measure passed the House with a vote of 395-28 on July 14, 2015. The text was then added to H.R. 3700 and subsequently added to H.R. 22, passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 4, 2015. The provision authorizes the HUD secretary to create a pay-for-success (PFS) demonstration program between 2016 and 2019. The demonstration allows for private funding for retrofits of up to 20,000 residential units to achieve savings in energy or water costs.

NHC will continue to track H.R. 3700 as it continues to evolve, since it includes many provisions beyond the three that were added to the transportation bill. The House Financial Services Committee has scheduled a mark-up of H.R. 3700 for Dec. 8 at 2 P.M. EST. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

NHC’s housing communications: Building on success, growing our work

News from NHC
by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference 

In 2015, NHC worked to expand its communications offerings and provide more resources to meet your needs. Looking ahead, we want your input on what to tackle next.

Convening on communications solutions
Our Solutions for Housing Communications 2015 Convening in Seattle focused on the many ways we can build support for affordable housing in our communities, and NHC followed up on that convening with a brief on proven techniques to engage community members and counter opposition. Our members have made clear that building support for affordable housing continues to be a key challenge, so we’re sticking with the theme for next year. The 2016 Solutions for Housing Communications Convening will travel to New York City in April to build on what we’ve learned and add a northeastern perspective to the issue. Good news—registration is now open! This convening is sure to sell out, so register now to guarantee your spot.

Building a housing communications agenda
As we’ve worked to build our communications work into a full-fledged program, we’ve realized the need for a clear agenda that will drive our work, much the way NHC has developed policy and research agendas. Our new housing communications agenda calls on us to focus on three work areas: values-based messaging and other science-backed communications techniques; building support for affordable housing and countering community opposition (a.k.a. the “NIMBY” problem); and monitoring public opinion of housing and related issues.

This year, I’ve had the opportunity to give presentations on values-based messaging and train housers to develop these high-impact messages on their own, and developed a communications toolkit specifically focused on veterans’ housing. Look out for more trainings from me in 2016, as well as some deeper dives into topics like storytelling, building support for supportive housing and a review of major national public opinion findings. 

New resources, with your input
Looking forward to 2016, NHC aims to grow our housing communications resources in ways that truly meet your needs. Does that mean strengthening the Housing Communications HUB, our online community? Does that mean more in-person networking and education events for housing communicators? Does that mean providing resources on topics beyond our housing communications agenda? You can help us answer these questions and shape our work going forward by participating in our Housing Communications Survey. Answer the seven questions in the survey and be entered to win a free registration at Solutions for Housing Communications 2016.

NHC is committed to providing the resources you need to move housing forward and to help increase the housing communications capacity of the field. We hear from housers across the country that effective communication is important to you, no matter what policy issue you care about or your role in the work. Take our survey, share your communications questions and successes on the Housing Communications HUB and get ready for another year of meeting housing communications challenges together. 

Across the continuum and across the country

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference 

It is difficult to believe that we are already entering the final month of 2015. As you will note from reading the columns from Amy, Ethan and Lisa, NHC has undertaken a tremendous amount of work across the country and on a range of affordable housing issues this year.

We continued to make engagement at the regional, state and local levels an important part of our work, holding a Solutions convening in Seattle on Housing Communications and in New Orleans on Restoring Neighborhoods. We also held a Fair Housing Forum and Annual Housing Awards Luncheon in partnership with the New York Housing Conference in New York City. NHC staff traveled to 21 states to present our research and resources, provide policy updates and give keynote addresses. This includes states such as Washington, California and Colorado in the west to Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia in the south and Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire in the northeast. To reach even further, we also conducted eight national webinars on a range of policy and research issues that each drew hundreds of participants from across the country.

NHC also maintained a high profile in Washington, D.C. as part of working groups and coalitions on issues such as the federal budget, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and housing finance reform, and through making multiple presentations at conferences held by other national organizations such as the National Association of Realtors, Habitat for Humanity International, the National League of Cities and the Council of Federal Home Loan Banks. Of course, we also held our own signature event, our Annual Gala and Policy Symposium, honoring two great multi-organization collaborations from Columbus and Atlanta and sharing insights into how affordable housing can be a platform for individual and community success.

As Ethan notes in his column, NHC continued its long history of direct involvement in both legislative and regulatory efforts at the national level on issues such as funding for housing programs, the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule and making it easier to provide broadband access to federally subsidized rental housing.

All of that with just 12 (very talented) staff members plus several excellent interns made 2015 a very productive year.

There is much more in store for 2016. We will recognize NHC’s 85th anniversary throughout the year,  and while we will celebrate our past and all of the wonderful people who have shaped affordable housing as part of NHC’s work, we will also look to the challenges of today and the near future that will come with a new presidential administration and Congress.

In an effort to improve the way you access our resources, we’ve just kicked off the second phase of our effort to develop a more user-friendly and dynamic website that will wrap up in the early summer. We have also started planning our next Solutions for Housing Communications Convening April 28-29 in New York City, our Annual Housing Gala and Policy Symposium June 2-3 in Washington, D.C. and the biennial How Housing Matters Conference we will host in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation and several other national organizations in September.

Most importantly, we hope to continue to expand our reach, our impact and our usefulness as a resource to the affordable housing community. To do this we need your support and involvement as a member. I believe NHC plays a unique role at the national, state and local levels in bringing the full spectrum of the affordable housing community together on policy efforts and on research and best practices that move the field forward.

I hope you and many others will join us as supporters and active members in our work in 2016 as we look forward to another exciting year ahead.

Housing policy will actually happen in 2016, if quietly

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

“Where did you go to, if I may ask?' said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along.
To look ahead,' said he.
And what brought you back in the nick of time?'
Looking behind,' said he.”  

                 -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Despite the confounding influence of the upcoming election, a few areas of housing policy might see concrete action next year. As Gandalf, perhaps too cleverly, reminds us in the quote above, we need to look both backward and forward for a full understanding. Furthermore, we shouldn’t be distracted by looking forward from the essential work of today. Several issue areas look ripe for policymaking and implementation in 2016.

Mortgage finance. Although I can confidently predict that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will still be in conservatorship on Jan. 1, policy changes are still likely as the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) continues its work. We already saw one major course correction in how FHFA will evaluate multifamily housing production, and there will likely be other changes when the agency releases its long-awaited duty to serve rule. Fannie Mae updated its single-family affordable housing lending with HomeReady this year, and I expect both Fannie and Freddie to continue innovating affordable housing offerings in the coming year. And even if Congress is pretty far from legislating a much-needed renovation of the housing finance system, NHC’s principles for housing finance reform serve as a broad-based, nonpartisan anchor for policy development.

Restoring neighborhoods. Next year will see continuation of efforts to create opportunity in places that have struggled through the foreclosure crisis and sometimes for decades before. FHFA recently broadened its Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative to many more cities, one of many topics covered at our recent Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods convening. Our ongoing Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force helps our members engage with housing as part of comprehensive community development that connects education, public safety, economic development, health and much more. Next year may see policy work on housing counseling, affordable homeownership, distressed loan sales, single-family rentals and vacant properties, among others.

Housing and health. NHC’s research team has been hard at work showing how housing and health intersect. Changes in health care policy have refocused efforts to bring health care anchor institutions more directly into housing and to help government policy better recognize health care savings from housing investments. Next year may be a key time for these technical but nonetheless essential efforts with federal agencies like HUD, HHS and OMB as well as pioneering state and local efforts.

Broadband connectivity. NHC members participating in our Connectivity Working Group since its kickoff in 2014 have been part of shaping important first steps toward getting everyone in affordable housing connected to the Internet. We will pursue our policy recommendations in 2016 as HUD implements its ConnectHome initiative, the FCC decides the future of the Lifeline program and new opportunities for public-private partnerships emerge.

Fair housing. Next year will see the first communities engaging in Assessments of Fair Housing under HUD’s new fair housing rule. NHC has supported HUD’s efforts to encourage communities to create housing opportunities for everyone while changing long-standing patterns of residential segregation that are still with us from past policy failures. We have also offered constructive suggestions to guide HUD and the field in reaching shared goals. Our Inclusive Communities Working Group will be hard at work in 2016 developing practical solutions, and fair housing will be a focus of policy work to come.

Energy efficiency in affordable housing. Affordable housing stakeholders should move swiftly in 2016 to make sure that the federal Clean Power Plan creates new funding opportunities for affordable housing. With many members of our Green Affordable Housing Coalition, NHC has been focusing efforts at the state level to ensure that energy efficiency investments in affordable housing are a part of state plans. 2016 will be a critical year for this work.

We probably won’t see action on major tax reform or appropriations beyond stopgaps, as Congress will leave those until after the election. But as the campaigns crash into each other with thunderous noise, some real housing policy work will get done, albeit quietly. Make sure you’re plugged in to NHC in 2016.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Research review and opportunities in 2016

Solutions through research 
by Lisa Sturtevant, Ph.D. 

This has been an incredibly productive year for NHC’s Center for Housing Policy! I hope you had a chance to see our reports as they were released this year, but if you didn’t, here is a review of some of our key work.

In our continuing commitment to describing housing affordability across the U.S. and to offer new ways to talk about affordability challenges, we released Housing Landscape, our annual summary of the severe housing cost burdens of low- and moderate-income working households, and Paycheck to Paycheck, our interactive tool that allows you to explore housing affordability for a range of occupations.

Research and best practices around building inclusive communities is a key part of the Center’s work. This year, we released reports on strategies for developing flexible inclusionary zoning programs and issues and opportunities around using public land to help subsidize affordable housing development. We also released an online Inclusive Communities Toolkit that includes case studies and resources on local land use, zoning, financial and other tools for creating inclusive communities.

The Center has a long history of examining issues related to the intersection of housing and other issues, such as health, education and economic well-being. This year, in response to new health care legislation and growing recognition of housing’s role as a social determinant of health, the Center has produced a number of reports on housing and health, including a review of the research on the impacts of stable and affordable housing on health outcomes, a summary of the Affordable Care Act and new opportunities for the housing and health communities to work together, a brief summarizing new research on the effect of homelessness on children’s health and case studies of programs that have combined housing and health services.          

With our re-energized focus on local housing issues, we have expanded our analyses of local housing needs through housing needs assessments in the Roanoke, Va. metro area and in Arlington County, Va. These projects allowed us to work directly with local jurisdictions that are examining their housing needs and developing housing plans, allowing us to contribute our expertise and learn from an on-the-ground planning process. We continue to analyze key trends affecting housing demand nationally, including our analysis of the housing needs of the changing veteran population.

We continue to explore forward-looking ideas around local and regional affordable housing issues. We have done this in 2015 with Matters@HAND, a series of monthly articles for a local association of nonprofit developers.

As we look ahead to 2016, we have taken some time to plan our research agenda so that we are able to not only pursue interesting projects but also do research that serves those working to expand housing opportunities. In fact, “opportunity” is the theme for our work in the year ahead. Some of the projects we have planned include a review of recent research on economic mobility, an assessment of opportunity mapping and indices, more best practices and resources around state and local policies that are effective at promoting fair and inclusive housing and opportunities for connecting housing and health organizations. Stay tuned – and stay connected to NHC’s research!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Boston Housing Authority launches mentoring program for residents of its Gallivan Housing development

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

NHC member Boston Housing Authority recently announced the launch of a new campus-based mentoring program for residents in its Gallivan Housing development. The program was launched in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay, Babson College and the Olin College of Engineering.

The program was developed as a unique version of Big Brothers Big Sister and will give children living in Gallivan the opportunity to experience college life first-hand through one-on-one mentoring with a current Babson or Olin College student. The 18 student-mentor pairs will meet twice a month at the Babson College campus. The program’s goal is to inspire mentored students to become entrepreneurial leaders and service leaders in their communities.

“Our partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay and now Babson College and Olin College, helps to provide our public housing youth with the tools they need to succeed,” Boston Housing Authority Administrator, Bill McGonagle, said in a press release. “For some of these young people, this will be their first time on a college campus, a crucial step towards furthering their educational potential.”

The opportunity Gallivan children receive through this mentoring partnership is one that is not often afforded to residents in affordable housing developments. Many of the children living in the Gallivan Housing development are from low-income, single-parent households, a population shown to benefit greatly from mentoring relationships that promote positive educational outcomes. Our recent literature review, The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Education, examines key links between housing and education and how students achieve greater educational outcomes when they have access to affordable housing.

The partnership was developed by Babson alumnus Rich Greif, who now works as Big Brothers Big Sisters Massachusetts Bay’s marketing and community relations vice president. 

Affordable housing development expands with The Community Builders

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

NHC member The Community Builders, Inc. (TCB) continues its legacy of affordable housing preservation and development with a ribbon-cutting celebration in Yonkers, N.Y. for Schoolhouse Terrace Apartments, the first completed development in a planned six-phase neighborhood revitalization project. Additionally, TCB received $16.4 million in financing from NHC member MassHousing for renovations to its Chauncy House development in Boston.

The Chauncy House Apartments contain 22 studios and 66 one-bedroom apartments, all available for lower-income families though HUD Section 8 vouchers. The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and will see a number of improvements happen, including kitchen and bathroom upgrades, improved ventilation, elevator upgrades and replacement windows. The fa├žade will also be power washed, patched and repaired.

"We are excited to be able to preserve quality affordable housing in Chinatown, a dynamic neighborhood which is under significant development pressure. Now, with financing from MassHousing, the 88 families that call Chauncy House home will have an even better place to live," TCB President and CEO Bart Mitchell said in a press release. In a separate press release he also expressed excitement about the completion of the Schoolhouse Terrace development.

“The Community Builders is proud of the transformation of the old Public School 6 site into beautiful mixed-income housing, which 120 Yonkers families can now call home. Beautiful housing, new educational opportunities and spending the construction dollars on jobs for local people all contribute to making Southwest Yonkers a fabulous place to live and work,” he said.

Schoolhouse Terrace features 50 units for low-income older adults and an additional 70 units for low-income families. The development is seeking LEED-Silver certification for its energy efficient design elements, which include green roofing and low-flow plumbing.

Phase II of the six-phase project, a 51-complex development is scheduled to be completed in spring 2016. The third development will feature 70 affordable units for low-income families in Yonkers. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

ConnectHome initiative brings broadband internet access to low-income D.C. families

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

Last month, NHC member District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) partnered with HUD and Everyone On to host a brainstorming workshop to promote the extension of affordable broadband Internet access to low-income families in the Washington, D.C. metro area. The session brought together public and private sector partners to discuss ways to enhance D.C.’s ConnectHome program, which increases educational and economic outcomes through connectivity for families living in HUD-assisted housing.

ConnectHome works with Internet service providers, nonprofits and the private sector to provide affordable broadband access, technical training and digital literacy programs, with the hope of eventually providing devices for Internet access to DCHA residents. Workshop participants discussed ways to overcome barriers faced by nearly 4,000 school-aged children living in DCHA properties and ways to finance the program to further decrease the costs.

“Fifty-four percent is… how many of our folks who do not have access to broadband,” DCHA Executive Director Adrianne Todman said during the workshop.  “To be successful, every single one of our youth must have access.”

NHC has been heavily involved in work around ensuring lower-income residents in affordable housing have access to broadband Internet. We’ve published several research case studies which show how housing providers can incorporate in-home Internet access, an important utility many low-income families cannot afford. Earlier this year, we also published a set of policy recommendations that could expand connectivity in affordable housing. If you’d like to learn more about how housing advocates, developers, lenders, public housing authorities, investors and others can work together to close the broadband connectivity gap, consider joining our Connectivity Working Group. Email Policy Associate Kaitlyn Snyder for more information.

DCHA’s goal is to connect 1,500 households to broadband Internet by July 2016. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Eight actions to help end homelessness among veterans

by Michael Taylor, Director, VA Homeless Veterans Outreach & Strategic Communications 

Nearly every member of the National Housing Conference (NHC) would agree that no one who served this country should be without a place to call home—period. Yet we can always use a reminder about the progress being made to end Veteran homelessness and about the ways we can join with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to support this cause.

As you likely know, the nation’s leaders set an ambitious goal a few years back to end Veteran homelessness by making sure every Veteran has access to permanent housing. Led by VA, tremendous progress is being made. Community by community, localities across the country are announcing an end to homelessness among Veterans.

These successes show that it’s possible to not only end homelessness among Veterans but to end it among all Americans.

NHC members are integral to the national effort to make sure every Veteran is stably housed or on the pathway to permanent housing. NHC members are advocating for more affordable housing, broadening access to low-cost loans and financing and raising awareness about ways that state and local governments can boost the stock of low-cost housing for Veterans.

Yet there is always more to do and new ways to reach and serve Veterans who are homeless. VA recently shared eight ways that organizations not already involved in this fight can lend support, resources and voices to this cause:

  1. Connect Veterans to VA. VA can help Veterans who are homeless. If you encounter Veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless, encourage them to call or visit their local VA Medical Center, where VA staff are ready to assist. Veterans and their families can also access VA services by calling 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838).
  2. Make a commitment. If you’re not already doing so, set aside housing units each year for Veterans who are homeless. Agree to house Veterans both eligible and ineligible for Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers and supportive services.
  3. Help with Veterans’ security deposits and move-in costs. Even though many Veteran clients have a HUD-VASH voucher, NHC members know it can be hard for them to come up with the money to move in and buy furniture. There are ways to help. Join with community partners like Veterans Matter that raise funds to help Veterans secure first and last months’ rent, security deposits and move-in essentials so they can exit homelessness quickly and make their house a home.
  4. Work with the VA Voluntary Service office at your local VA Medical Center. Find or enlist other organizations in your area to provide security deposits, furniture, cookware and other move-in essentials for Veterans exiting homelessness. Check with VA Voluntary Service (VAVS) to see if there are ways to help.
  5. Participate in a Stand Down. Stand Downs connect Veterans in need with supplies and services that often lead to permanent housing. Chances are one is happening in your community. Consider contacting your area organizer to find out how to volunteer.
  6. Work with VA to recruit and hire Veterans exiting homelessness. Veterans have diverse experience, knowledge and abilities that are applicable to many different fields and levels of employment. Contact your local community employment coordinator at to find out if job-ready Veterans exiting homelessness in your area have skills that fit your job openings. 
  7. Start a conversation. Keep the issue of ending Veteran homelessness front and center. Every post, tweet or conversation about the issue builds to promote change. Discuss your organization’s work in ending Veteran homelessness on social media and encourage your members to share their many stories of success in housing Veterans who are homeless. Follow VA on social media.
  8. Get involved in other ways. Explore VA’s Ending Veteran Homelessness website to learn about VA programs for Veterans who are homeless. You can also visit VA’s “Get Involved” page to download outreach toolkits and information and share them with others. And be sure to check out the NHC Center for Housing Policy’s June 2015 report on tailoring housing services for a diverse Veteran population.

No Veteran who wore the uniform should be without a safe, stable home. By taking action in ways large and small, NHC members are helping end homelessness among Veterans, once and for all. If you have specific questions about how to get involved in these or other efforts to end homelessness among Veterans, email VA’s homeless Veterans’ outreach team.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A legacy of leadership

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference 

We are excited to be heading to New Orleans this week for our Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods 2015 Convening.  I want to thank our two local partners who organized mobile workshop tours, Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Orleans and the Gulf Coast office of Enterprise Community Partners. I also want to thank all our speakers, particularly our plenary speakers: Sandra Henriquez of Building Together, HUD Deputy Secretary Nani Coloretti, Lindene Patton of CoreLogic and Carol Naughton of Purpose Built Communities. If you are not able to attend the convening you can view the plenary sessions via webcast on this page (free registration required). We hope you will tune in to hear the great discussions these speakers will participate in.

As we sift through the recently achieved agreement that lifted the debt ceiling and set the framework for the budget appropriations process for the next two years, three important points jump out. First, lifting the budget caps is a major victory for those who care about the federal government’s role in responding to the nation’s challenges. The caps were designed to be so egregious that members of Congress would find a budget solution rather than allow them to be implemented. It is a victory for good government that Congress can now make some better decisions about what to cut and what to increase. However, it is doubtful that Congress will get to a real examination of programs or major reforms in the tax code until at least 2017.

Second, strong advocacy and education are necessary to ensure funding for housing is better than a cut, or even a continuing resolution. As much as those of us in Washington are often preoccupied by the process, the most important point for the affordable housing community and ultimately for everyone in the U.S. without adequate housing is that there is a wide range of funding possibilities for housing programs. We must take the lead on advocating for them.

Finally, our advocacy cannot be limited to just the budget appropriations process.  Currently there is a bipartisan effort coming together to finally pass a long-overdue federal highway bill.  While there is strong political motivation to pass such a bill approaching an election year, there is less political will to raise the gas tax to pay for it.  Congress is currently looking to the fees charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as an alternative funding source.  This obviously makes housing financing more expensive, with little to no benefit to housing itself.  National organizations are working to bring their members together to oppose this, and I urge you to contact your members of Congress on this issue as well.

NHC has had so many in its leadership whose work has been vital to advancing the affordable housing movement. In leading an organization that has been around for almost 85 years, I want to make sure we recognize as many of those “housing heroes” as we can. Eugene F. “Gene” Ford, Sr., who passed away a few weeks ago, was one of those heroes. Gene was an affordable housing champion for the country and Washington, D.C. He began his active career in housing and real estate with The Carey Winston Company in the early 1950s. In 1966, he founded Mid-City Developers, Inc. which evolved into the current Mid-City Financial Corporation. The firm has developed, financed or facilitated the creation of over 40,000 units of affordable multifamily rental housing in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metropolitan areas. Gene received NHC’s Housing Person of the Year award in 1989 and was founder and chairman of the Community Preservation and Development Corporation, an NHC member, as well as chair and board member of the Institute for Responsible Housing Preservation. 

I find the life and career of someone like Gene incredibly inspiring, calling on us to reflect on how much can be done with the right combination of leadership, political will and expertise in the field.

Monday, November 2, 2015

BRIDGE Housing’s St. Joseph’s Campus wins 2015 ULI Global Award of Excellence

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

Last month the Urban Land Institute awarded 10 Global Awards of Excellence and NHC member BRIDGE Housing was among the recipients of one of the most prestigious honors in the land use industry. BRIDGE received the award for its St. Joseph’s Campus, comprised of the St. Joseph’s Senior Apartments and Terraza Palmera at St. Joseph’s.

The mixed-use community is located in Oakland’s Fruitvale District and provides 84 affordable apartments for low-income older adults and 62 affordable family rental homes. The community also features over 3,000 square feet of commercial space. From 1912, the campus was previously an underused historical landmark in Oakland that went through several phases of redevelopment to become what is today known as the St. Joseph’s Campus.

“We are incredibly honored to receive this prestigious award,” Cynthia A. Parker, president and CEO of BRIDGE said in a press release. “St. Joseph’s was a labor of love that took many years and 21 sources of financing across both phases. More importantly, the development preserved an important historic landmark in Oakland and provides multigenerational homes as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization.”

Representatives from BRIDGE Housing will be on hand in New Orleans later this week for our Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods Convening, where they will share how HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration program can reshape communities and transform public housing. If you’re unable to attend in person, all convening plenary sessions will be webcast live. Registration is required to gain free access and you can sign up here.

The Global Award of Excellence recognizes real estate projects that achieve a high standard if excellence in construction, design, planning, economics and management.  

Friday, October 30, 2015

Two new online tools from NHC’s Center for Housing Policy

Solutions through research
by Lisa Sturtevant, Ph.D., National Housing Conference 

NHC’s Center for Housing Policy has recently released two online tools to help you analyze local housing affordability challenges and develop local policy solutions.

Our 2015 Paycheck to Paycheck online database and report examines housing affordability for workers in 80 occupations across more than 200 metro areas. This year we focus on housing affordability for millennials, who currently make up about one-third of the U.S. workforce, and will constitute a growing share as older workers retire and younger millennials finish their education and enter the labor market. We examined five occupations in which millennial workers are heavily represented: administrative assistant, retail cashier, e-commerce customer service representative, food service manager and cardiac technician. Administrative assistants earning the median income for their occupation can afford to rent a typical two-bedroom home in 82 percent of the 208 metro areas covered by the report, but can only afford to buy a median-priced home in 43 percent of these areas. Retail cashiers, earning the lowest median wage of the highlighted occupations, cannot afford to rent a two-bedroom unit or to buy a median-priced home in any of the 208 metro areas in the report. The report discusses the implications of unaffordable housing for millennial workers and the economy overall and offers potential policy solutions to address housing unaffordability for both renters and homeowners.

For the first time, the Center has developed a Paycheck to Paycheck supplement that examines the other household expenditures that often stretch the paychecks of millennials and other low- and moderate-wage workers. The costs of other household necessities—including transportation, child care, health care and education—have been rising faster than the wages of many workers. As a result, the burden of unaffordable housing is intensified by the stresses of budgeting for other necessities. Over the coming months, we plan on doing more analysis of household budgets and the role housing costs play.

The nation’s affordability challenges have been well-documented, and there has been increasing attention on the causes and consequences of concentrated poverty and the important role affordable housing plays in addressing economic inequality. In July, HUD’s new affirmatively furthering fair housing (AFFH) rule clarified the obligation of local HUD grant recipients to proactively counteract patterns of segregation and connect households of all backgrounds to greater opportunity. The release of the final AFFH rule comes on the heels of the Supreme Court decision earlier this year that affirmed a lower court decision that local data on race and income can be used to show that housing and land use policies have had discriminatory effects, even if the policies were not intentionally discriminatory.

While there’s growing consensus that we need to do more as a country to provide greater opportunities, it’s been less clear how we do it. NHC’s new Inclusive Communities Toolkit helps to provide guidance for how localities can build and preserve affordable housing to create more inclusive communities.

The toolkit outlines various strategies for expanding housing opportunities at the local and regional levels, with examples of actual policies and programs that can help places meet their fair housing obligations, counteract segregation and connect lower-income households and children to neighborhoods with good schools, good job access and healthy living environments.

NHC created this toolkit to meet the growing demand from housing administrators, elected officials, local advocates and others for more accessible information on local housing policies and programs that help make communities more inclusive.

NHC continues to find ways to disseminate actionable research and best practices to our members and the larger housing community. If there is data, research or other tools that you need to help you serve your residents or your community, please let us know!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

How you give housing a voice through NHC

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

Last month, NHC sent two different letters to leaders on Capitol Hill.  That’s hardly uncommon for us, but the two very different letters reminded me why NHC’s role is unique. Because you, our members, constitute us with a voice for affordable housing independent of any particular economic agenda, we can speak to lawmakers with a voice that stands apart.

One letter was very simple. We reminded leaders of both parties in both Houses of Congress that a failure to protect our nation’s credit rating by raising the debt limit would have direct negative consequences for housing and all the people that depend on it. Our statement, as always, was specifically nonpartisan and urged lawmakers to reach across the aisle to compromise. Chris and I are under no illusion, of course, that an NHC letter will transform what is likely to be a bruising political battle. We do hope, however, that a rational voice grounded in economic reality but not any particular economic interest can help avoid a truly negative outcome.

The second letter was more complex because it dealt with a long history and an unclear future for housing policy. The House Financial Services Committee publicly requested ideas on how to transform housing assistance as part of their recognition of HUD’s 50th anniversary. Although the request was laden with partisan rhetoric and some unfair historical comparisons, we took it seriously and offered a perspective informed by the work of our many members. The letter highlighted how a lack of housing opportunity, tied as it is to long-standing patterns of residential segregation, limits people’s ability to become self-sufficient and take on the responsibility of a home. We highlighted just a few of many successes of both national- and local-level policy, and we offered policy recommendations drawn from the work of many NHC members on our task forces and working groups. We hope that the committee will take up ours and others’ recommendations in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation to address pressing housing need.

NHC has unique credibility on these issues because of the support of our members who see the big picture of housing policy. NHC can speak to housing policy with the credibility that comes from practitioner experience but without the disadvantage of a narrow or self-interested economic agenda. That’s only possible because our members empower us to speak. We did so on the debt limit and on the future of housing, and with your support this work will continue.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

HousingWorks RI releases 2015 Housing Fact Book

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

NHC member HousingWorks RI (HWRI) released its 2015 Housing Fact Book last month at its annual Housing Fact Book luncheon.  The book looks at several housing indicators to determine what the housing climate is like in Rhode Island.

The 2015 fact book shows that there is a persistent housing cost burden for homeowners and renters in the state, especially for low-to-middle income households. A household is considered cost burdened when it spends more than 30 percent of its income on housing. In Rhode Island, half of the state’s renters and one-third of its homeowners experience housing cost burden.

“Our analysis of additional indicators found that the state’s low vacancy rate, low rates of new housing authorized by building permits and high costs of construction have resulted in housing costs that are high relative to incomes in Rhode Island,” Nicole Lagace, HWRI’s executive director said in a press release. “For the past decade, the housing costs have outpaced the income for Rhode Islanders at all income levels.”

State data from our 2015 installment of Housing Landscape finds that 18 percent of households in Rhode Island spend at least half their income on housing costs, compared to the nationwide average of 15 percent. Renters and low-to-moderate income working households are also more likely to experience housing cost burden. Housing Fact Book researchers also found that, on average, the lowest income households spend close to $7,000 more annually that what is considered affordable in the state, which demonstrates the vast need for more affordable housing options across Rhode Island.

Close to 200 housing leaders were on hand to join the HWRI staff at the annual luncheon, which also featured a panel on housing challenges faced by the state’s millennials. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

House Financial Services Committee hearing discusses the “Future of Housing in America: Federal Housing Reforms that Create Housing Opportunity”

by Ethan Handelman and Kaitlyn Snyder, National Housing Conference

Old debates and familiar themes dominated the discussion at last week’s housing hearing in the House Financial Services Committee.  In a hearing occasioned by HUD’s 50th anniversary, the committee convened for “The Future of Housing in America: Federal Housing Reforms that Create Housing Opportunity.” Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) opened the hearing by saying that our collective goal cannot be limited to helping people tolerate poverty, it must be to help them escape poverty. Hensarling argued that HUD has failed to measurably meet the goal of eradicating poverty set out by Lyndon B. Johnson 50 years ago at the inception of the department. Witnesses and others members of the committee argued that his view misses the accomplishments of HUD in a period with many countervailing forces; housing is a crucial element to exiting poverty, but it is not the sole element.

The witnesses for the majority were Mr. Orlando J. Cabrera, of counsel at Squire Paton Boggs; Ms. Renee Glover, founder and managing member at The Catalyst Group, LLC; and Mr. Howard Husock, vice president of research and publications at the Manhattan Institute. The witness for the minority was Dr. Xavier Briggs, vice president of economic opportunity and assets at The Ford Foundation. Mr. Cabrera’s testimony called for the enhanced use of information technology to measure results from HUD. Ms. Glover argued that poverty is not static, but rather a function of what happens in the larger economy, especially the negative impact of the Great Recession. Mr. Husock argued that HUD disincentivizes work by tying rent to income, such that if one’s income goes up, one’s rent goes up; Husock proposed implementing income tiers for more gradual rent increases. Finally, Dr. Briggs outlined the history of HUD’s changing goals and how those goals have failed to address the structural gap between incomes and housing costs. The witnesses’ full testimony and a recording of the hearing are available here.

Perhaps the least useful portion of the hearing and the most returned-to theme was work requirements for recipients of housing assistance.  Discussion on both sides of the aisle often missed the basic point that housing assistance addresses a wide variety of need, and it does so in different ways.  Housing assistance provides:
  • Temporary help to households suffering job loss, medical emergency, natural disaster or other disruption.
  •  Long-term assistance to elderly or disabled recipients.
  • Offset to housing costs in places where demand far outstrips supply.
  •  A platform for counseling, job training, medical assistance, financial empowerment and other services aimed toward empowering people through greater self-sufficiency and dignity.

Work requirements interact very differently with these different aspects of housing assistance, often in counter-productive ways, such as deterring needy households from seeking assistance or creating additional administrative burdens. 
The discussion in the hearing centered on the topic of the Moving to Work program and work requirements more generally, Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) pointedly asked the panel: “Are the poor lazy?” He then presented the following chart from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Most Rental Assistance Recipients Work Are Elderly, or Have Disabilities report arguing that a work requirement is not necessary.  

The report highlights that nearly three quarters of HUD-assisted, non-elderly or –disabled people worked or participated in another program with a work requirement.  For the remainder, barriers to work such as lack of child care and education loom large. 

When Congressmen Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Andy Barr (R-Ky.) asked the panel if they would support mandatory work requirements, not one panel member said they would unconditionally support it. Dr. Briggs pointed out that the U.S. has a history of imposing requirements without the necessary supports to achieve the stated goal. Dr. Briggs said he might support a work requirement only if the program came with childcare, intensive work training and education investments. Mr. Husock said that he believes that employment should not be a precondition to someone being housed.

In the end, very little of the debate in the hearing fulfilled the promise of looking to the future. Rather, it was a rehash of very old themes that missed vital innovations happening in community development, family self-sufficiency assistance, ending homelessness and creating inclusive communities where everyone can afford to live near where they work, study and build their lives.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Bank of America funds metro-DC affordable housing initiative, launches second Habitat Global Build

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

NHC Chairman’s Circle member Bank of America Merrill Lynch is doing a lot on the affordable housing front, with other NHC members are also in the mix. In September, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation awarded NHC member Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC) a grant for $50,000 to support its affordable housing work in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Additionally, Bank of America has teamed with another NHC member, Habitat for Humanity International, for its second Global Build, which will take place in eight countries.

The Global Build aims to address affordable housing challenges, revitalize communities and help families improve their living conditions, eventually leading to homeownership. During the week-long build, an estimated 2,000 Bank of America staff members will volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in cities all around the world, including Hong Kong, Sydney, Manila, London and Toronto.

“Through our longstanding relationship with Habitat for Humanity, we have been able to partner on efforts like the Global Build and bring our international scale to help more people achieve homeownership and put them on the path to a stronger financial future,” said Andrew Plepler, a global corporate social responsibility executive with Bank of America in a press release. 

Jeff Wood, the Greater Washington market president of Bank of America, spoke about the organization’s grant to CPDC, saying in a press release, “Although the economy has improved, affordable housing is still hard to find for low-and-moderate income families. This support will allow CPDC to extend its efforts across the region, reaching more families and building the essential partnerships needed to help break the cycles of homelessness and hopelessness.”CPDC will use funds from this grant to expand properties in Silver Spring, Md. and southeast Washington, D.C.

The support Bank of America is providing to both Habitat for Humanity International and CPDC will enhance community revitalization efforts taken up by both organizations. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Senate subcommittee hearing reviews USDA rural development programs

By Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

On Oct. 21, the Senate Appropriations Agriculture subcommittee held a hearing on a Review of Rural Development in 21st Century America. The hearing discussed the infrastructure, economic and housing needs of rural America and how the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development (RD) programs respond to those needs. Two themes came up throughout the hearing: the need for high-speed Internet in rural America and the shortfall in FY 2015 funding for USDA multifamily rental assistance.

Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-KS) discussed how broadband is not where it needs to be in rural America and how rural communities benefit from having access to high speed Internet. He also expressed concern about the rental assistance shortfall for FY 2015 and his belief that FY 2016 funding will also be inadequate. Subcommittee Ranking Member Merkley (D-OR) focused all of his comments throughout the hearing on the rental assistance shortfall and his concern about the negative impacts on private sector owners and tenants. Senator Merkley also expressed concern that USDA had yet to implement a plan to address the shortfall despite language in the Continuing Resolution (CR) that Congress intended to resolve the FY 2015 funding issue, which Senator Moran reiterated.

Rural development (RD) staff at the hearing provided information about their broadband funding programs and how they work in communities, with loan and grant programs available though often oversubscribed. They also discussed multifamily housing, explaining that the CR authority was unclear in terms of being able to use FY 2016 funds to address the FY 2015 shortfall, but they were exploring ways to address the shortfall. RD staff also agreed they would likely need more funding than requested for FY 2016. USDA RD staff at the hearing included Lisa Mensah, undersecretary for Rural Development; Tony Hernandez, administrator for the Rural Housing; Samuel Rikkers, acting administrator for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service and Brandon McBride, administrator for the Rural Utilities Service.

Senators Daines (R-MT), Blunt (R-MO) and Udall (D-NM) all discussed that high speed Internet is a necessity and asked about USDA programs that help rural communities implement high-speed Internet. None of the Senators at the hearing discussed how USDA’s broadband programs could intersect with other programs, like housing, to address Internet needs, which was a missed opportunity to explore opportunities to leverage federal programs. NHC’s Connectivity Working Group has drafted a set of policy recommendations on how to increase broadband in affordable housing, including recommendations directed at federal agencies.

On the second panel, Tony Chrisman of Chrisman Development discussed his experiences as a developer and property manager for affordable rural multifamily housing. His testimony and discussion with subcommittee members highlighted the vital role of USDA multifamily rent assistance in rural communities. For Chrisman Development, at least a quarter of their tenants have disabilities, and average tenant income is just $10,000 a year. Without the affordable housing provided through the USDA program, tenants would not have an affordable housing option. Mr. Chrisman’s testimony also highlighted areas where RD still has room for improvement including communication with properties and owners about the shortfall and guidance on how to proceed.