Monday, August 31, 2015

Making connections: Research on and about the Internet

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

Having access to a computer and the Internet at home is something that most of us take for granted.  But a new research brief published by NHC’s Center for Housing Policy shows that low-income renters are much less likely to have home computer or Internet access compared to other households. About 37 percent of extremely low-income renters do not have a home computer and more than half do not have home Internet access. By contrast, only 16 percent of all U.S. households do not have a home computer and 26 percent are not able to access the Internet at home.

Having a home computer and Internet access is increasingly important for individual and family well-being and self-sufficiency. The availability of Internet access is associated with greater student achievement, improved health outcomes and less social isolation, as well as with more robust economic growth. Connecting to the Internet is increasingly the way people learn, get health care information, share news, pay bills and interact with government. The Center will release two case studies of programs that have brought home computer and Internet access to residents of subsidized housing, the Housing Authority of the City of Austin’s Unlocking the Connection Program in Texas, and Eden Housing’s Cottonwood Place residence in Fremont, California.

The Center has several other projects underway designed to connect the affordable housing community to research and resources online. Building on our site and our work on inclusive communities, we soon launch an online portal that highlights key strategies and policies for expanding affordable housing options in areas of opportunity. And our interactive Paycheck to Paycheck tool will be updated to allow exploration of housing affordability for 80 occupations across 208 metropolitan areas. This year’s Paycheck will focus on millennial workers and the particular challenges they face in finding affordable housing options and stretching their paychecks to meet all of their household expenses. Both of these online resources will be completed in September. Look for announcements from NHC on their release and plan on exploring these online tools.

Finally, the Center continues to think about ways to present information in a compelling and interactive way through NHC’s website. We would love to hear your ideas for interesting and innovative ways we can use the Internet to connect housing practitioners with research and data. Thoughts and suggestions about expanding and enhancing our online presence would be greatly appreciated. You can email me at

Friday, August 28, 2015

LISC-DC rolls out new website

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

In celebration of the new online resources NHC is developing, we're featuring stories about the tools and resources of some of our members.  
The Washington, D.C. regional offices of NHC member Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) recently launched a new website. The site is designed to be agile and user-friendly, and has functionality responsive on desktop, tablet and smart phone platforms. 

LISC-DC Program Officer Adiyah Ali says that the site will act as “a place for people to be updated about our partnersongoing community development work in Washington, D.C. and how we are supporting them in making the District – its housing, early learning and education centers, arts programs, health centers, shopping, and retail plazas – truly affordable, accessible and inclusive to all residents.” Adding that social media will play a significant role in LISC-DCs advocacy efforts, Ali says further expansion of the site is planned and will be announced on LISC-DCs various social media platforms. 

The “Oral Histories” feature allows site visitors learn about seven DC neighborhoods through storytelling from neighborhood residents. This feature allows residents and housing stakeholders to speak for themselves, a feature of LISC-DCs advocacy approach. 

Additionally, the sites unique search functionality allows visitors to choose their path of navigation (either LISC projects or neighborhoods) to see how many DC neighborhoods have gone through extensive redevelopment and transformation. Visitors can also share homepage stories on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn with just the click of a button. 

Perhaps the most exciting feature is an interactive map found on the sites "Our Impact’ page, which allows site users to see examples of LISC-DCs investments throughout the city. This feature is helpful to those who may want to speak to representatives about the existing LISC-supported projects in their communities and places where more resources are needed. 

Learn more about LISC-DC and get acclimated to the new website here.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Habitat for Humanity International August Recess Toolkit to encourage support of HOME

News from NHC"s family of members

by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference 

In celebration of the new online resources NHC is developing, we're featuring stories about the tools and resources of some of our members.  

NHC member Habitat for Humanity International ensured the congressional August recess wasnt a lag on the advocacy front with the release of its August Recess Advocacy toolkit, which focused on the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME). As NHC has previously reported in the Washington Wire, funding for the HOME program has been at risk of major cuts in the FY 2016 appropriations process. 

The toolkit includes an overview of focus issues and ways housing advocates can target their state lawmakers to ensure a better understanding of how HOME helps developers and organizations like Habitat for Humanity to meet the affordable housing needs of low-income families. The Senate appropriations subcommittee has proposed to cut HOME by 93 percent for FY 2016, taking its current funding level of $850 million down to only $66 million. Habitat for Humanity International is asking that Congress restore HOME funding to no less than $1.06 billion. 

Habitats toolkit encourages its affiliates and other advocates to host meetings with members of Congress to explain the significance of HOME in helping affordable housing developers to provide safe, healthy and adequate housing. The HOME online action alert petition also sends emails directly to members of Congress about the importance of maintaining funding for the HOME program. 

NHC actively supports maintaining funding for HOME and in July signed on to a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and other congressional leadership about the importance of HOME, urging them to lift the budget caps and continue to fully fund the program. Chris Estes, NHC president and CEO, wrote recently that "This is a moment in time where all organizations involved in the provision of affordable housing need to add their voices to the advocacy on this issue."

Housing advocates interested in receiving a copy of the toolkit or learning more about Habitat for Humanitys advocacy work should email 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A.C.T.I.O.N Campaign advocates for LIHTC

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

In celebration of the new online resources NHC is developing, we're featuring stories about the tools and resources of some of our members. 

NHC member Enterprise Community Partners recently updated a set of advocacy fact sheets for the ACTION (A Call to Invest in Our Neighborhoods) Campaign. The campaign is a national, grassroots coalition of over 1,000 national, state and local organizations including NHC focused on ensuring that low-income working families throughout the nation have access to decent, safe and affordable rental housing. The mission of the ACTION Campaign is to protect, strengthen and expand the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and preserve Tax-Exempt Multifamily Housing Bonds. 

The fact sheets were updated in August with the most recent available research from 2013, which demonstrates the positive impact LIHTC funds have had on producing and preserving affordable housing, economic impacts and job creation. Housing advocates can download fact sheets by state or get information on all of the 435 congressional districts; and, for the first time ever, data on the number of cost-burdened renters by state is included. 

Based on an analysis of the 2013 American Community Survey, the factsheets show that there are over 26 million renters in the country who pay more than half of their income on housing related costs. 

“These data help make the case for how much affordable housing is still needed, and why we must protect, strengthen and expand the Housing Credit and preserve Housing Bonds,” said Emily Cadick, senior analyst project director at Enterprise Community Partners. “Without these tools, it is uneconomic for the private sector to build affordable homes for the families that need them most.”
Insert paragraph about NHC involvement in campaign. 

Since 1986, LIHTC funds have financed nearly 2.8 million affordable rental homes and leveraged nearly $100 billion in private equity capital. Tax-Exempt Multifamily Housing Bonds have been used in more than 40 percent of these homes and are vital to the success of the LIHTC.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why health matters

by Ellen Tohn, Tohn Environmental Strategies; Rupal Sanghvi, HealthxDesign; Cheryl Gladstone, Enterprise Community Partners; Matthew Trowbridge, MD, MPH, University of Virginia School of Medicine; Megan Sandel, MD, MPH, Children’s Health Watch, Boston University School of Medicine

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

Health and wellness are largely driven by activities outside of the doctor’s office. Where we live, work and play all have a tremendous impact on our health. That’s why housing developers can play a pivotal role in improving health. 

For over a decade, the housing community has embraced the creation of affordable, healthy buildings. We have linked housing finance to green building standards in 36 states. As a result, more than 38,000 families live-in homes with lower energy and water bills, better air quality and fewer asthma triggers. 

To date, our focus on health has revolved around housing quality at the building-level. However, the housing development process represents an opportunity to address health outcomes at a population level. We can expand our application of the health lens, engage community in neighborhood improvements and leverage housing as an entry-point for improving health, including and extending beyond health services.

To support housing providers in their quest to link housing to health, the 2015 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria introduces two new, bold plans. It requires housing developers to: 1) understand community health conditions and position buildings to be responsive; and 2) create opportunities for active living through an emphasis on “active design” and “transit-oriented development.” 

The first new component of the criteria requires housing providers to integrate public health data into the pre-development process. This helps demonstrate where need concentrates by geography, and thereby enables “smarter” development decisions that can address persistent health inequities. The criteria provides developers with a framework for engaging the health sector and building support for health-oriented projects. Advancing “outcomes-based design” can also establish metrics that demonstrate the impact of housing on population health. For example, the Denver Housing Authority used a health impact assessment to inform a recent redevelopment project. Data from a food pricing survey, combined with information from community residents, identified a need for healthy food retailers within safe walking distance. As a result, the housing authority’s master plan included a community garden, space for a farmers’ market and pedestrian improvements. 

A second new component of the criteria focuses on obesity prevention by incentivizing active design and increasing physical activity in and around housing developments. A staggering one-third of American adults and children are obese and two-thirds are overweight. Living in buildings and neighborhoods that encourage walking and provide access to healthy foods can help address the obesity epidemic.  
The community development field is poised to make powerful decisions that can stem the tide of chronic disease, often at no additional cost, simply through more informed decision-making. Several jurisdictions provide readily-available public health data that can help developers incorporate health into their project planning, and numerous resources exist to support the inclusion of active design. Additionally, we can identify health practitioners—staff from health departments and schools of public health—who are working to link health and community development. Finally, we can engage community residents to identify their priority health concerns and ensure accountability to these priorities.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

An internship that connects research and practice, local and national

by Emma Tinsley, National Housing Conference 

As my internship at NHC’s Center for Housing Policy comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting on my original skepticism about working in housing policy in Washington, D.C. My decision to get a master’s degree in urban planning was rooted in my love for local policy and the role lower-level policy decisions play in our everyday lives, and I was worried all D.C. policy work would be centered on federal politics. To my pleasant surprise, NHC and its Center for Housing Policy successfully engage all policy levels and acknowledge the diversity of place.

During my internship, I conducted research for a website on inclusionary housing policies that will launch later this year. I’ve always had a strong interest in issues of segregation and access to opportunity, and working on the site gave me the chance to research several policies that address these challenges. Through my research for the site, I was able to explore innovative ideas, from manufactured housing to demolition taxes, that promote inclusive, diverse communities that are accessible to all people, not just the most well-off.

I quickly found that, even in the nation’s capital, I was able to engage with localized policies which respond to the unique set of problems of each place. Local policy is compelling to me because it is where innovation takes place– a traditionally suburban town in Washington state can experiment with zoning code regulations to promote new and unexpected housing types, a city in Illinois can effectively use never-before-seen strategies to fund affordable housing development and a regional collaboration in metro Chicago has the chance to change the way the federal government approaches housing mobility challenges. Local policy can simultaneously touch the individual while making a national impact,  an extremely intriguing quality.

Aside from learning about a plethora of local policies, I was able to further grapple with the intersection of research and practical, on-the-ground work. The Center for Housing Policy is a wonderful place to explore this intersection as the Center strives to inform practice, as well as allow practice to inform its work. Like much of NHC’s other research work, the inclusionary housing policy site is a mosaic of best practices, informed by academic study as well as real-life experiences.

I also discovered that D.C. is a wonderful place to be an intern. Before this opportunity, I would not have imagined myself in this city, but I have found that the benefits of being in the capital far outweigh the costs (looking at you, D.C. rents). Not only are you amongst some extremely motivated and innovative people, but you’ve got access to great (and free!) museums, amazing food, AN ADULT BALL PIT, and maybe some of the best happy hours on the planet. There is no shortage of thought-provoking events and beautiful row houses, and while the Metro isn’t always the most reliable, it’s always worth the trip.

This glimpse into the “housing community” has solidified my interest in the housing field and I know that, whether I work in research, policy or programming, I will be part of an impressively collaborative and dedicated community. This graduate research internship has opened my eyes to a number of opportunities, as it allowed me to explore innovative policies in some unexpected places. Although I would like to someday make my way back to the Mitten (Michigan), I can now see myself engaging with people and places all over the country. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My summer in D.C.

by Emily Brown, National Housing Conference 

During my first year in the Community and Regional Planning program at the University of Oregon, I ran across NHC’s website while working on a housing project for a class. I had entered graduate school after working in environmental justice and community organizing with the intention of pursuing a career in affordable housing, and was on the hunt for a housing-related summer internship. I was excited to learn about NHC’s policy intern position which would give me the opportunity to learn about housing policy and community development. I definitely picked the right internship. Over the past two months I have learned an unbelievable amount about affordable housing and housing policy. One of my main responsibilities is to work with the Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force, which highlights strategies that are helping communities recover from the foreclosure crisis and stabilize neighborhoods. I am learning about community development best practices from across the country and innovative ways that communities are combining affordable housing with revitalization efforts.

Along with supporting the Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force I am involved with the Connectivity Working Group, which promotes the provision of broadband internet to families living in affordable housing, as well as the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding. I have learned about the Clean Power Plan, ConnectHome and other programs. I follow and write about policy updates that impact funding for local or state housing programs and attend and report on relevant House and Senate hearings. I also attend a variety of educational events at HUD, the Center for American Progress, the Urban Institute and the U.S. Capitol.

While working for NHC I have enjoyed learning about housing and meeting other affordable housing advocates. I have also been able to begin my research on tiny houses for my master’s thesis, tour the Capitol and set a date to visit the White House. This has been a productive and exciting summer!

I have also found Washington, D.C., to be a fun city full of young people, free activities and delicious food. Public transit is convenient, and it is easy to travel to different neighborhoods or visit cities in Maryland and Virginia. One thing I especially love about living in D.C. (aside from the free zoo!) is how many parks are scattered throughout the city. There are beautiful places to run, watch live music, escape the heat or have a picnic. I don’t know exactly where I want to work after I finish school next June, but after spending the summer in this part of the country I know I would enjoy living here again. Overall, working as the summer policy intern for NHC has been an educational and exciting experience that I recommend to anyone pursuing a career in affordable housing or housing policy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Every neighborhood can be a good neighborhood

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference 

In a media environment where affordable housing often takes a back seat to other pressing issues, it’s gratifying to see coverage of housing segregation in a national outlet like the New York Times. But it’s clear that while its news reporting on housing can be excellent, the Times editorial board has some way to go before it truly understands the challenges and opportunities in affordable housing development today. It’s incumbent on the housing community to educate the media in all parts of the country, so that the true affordable housing story can be accurately told.

In his recent online opinion column, Thomas B. Edsall writes about longstanding issues regarding housing mobility. While he is correct that place has an indelible influence on the life trajectories of all people, rich, poor and in the middle, he blames something he calls the “poverty housing industry” for the disparities experienced by people with low incomes and people of color. Edsall’s views on this matter are simply out of step with the realities on the ground. We need both mobility strategies and investment in struggling neighborhoods to achieve housing opportunity for all.

We can’t abandon struggling neighborhoods
The concentration of people with low incomes in distressed neighborhoods is largely the result of more than a century of federal, state and local housing, transportation and employment policies (just to name a few). As Sunday’s article on housing segregation in Ferguson, Mo., demonstrates, a Housing Choice Voucher isn’t going to help you move out of a distressed neighborhood if it won’t cover the rent in a higher-opportunity place, or if landlords in those places refuse to rent to voucher holders. On the other side, land is costly in more desirable neighborhoods, which puts affordable housing developers in the position of building fewer homes, and helping fewer people, when they build in higher-opportunity communities.

Moving every single American to a “good” ZIP code simply isn’t feasible. It wouldn’t be just to uproot entire communities, and even if we tried, the necessary financial capital and political and neighborhood good will would be in short supply. So what happens to the families left behind? Abandoning those neighborhoods, those people, is not an option. To end housing segregation and ensure all people have access to opportunity, we need a multifaceted approach: creating opportunities to move to higher-opportunity neighborhoods, and revitalizing neighborhoods in need. That’s why so many nonprofit housing efforts across the country—like those we honored at this year’s Gala—focus on comprehensive community development with housing at the center of success. Good schools, safe neighborhoods, access to health care and to job opportunities anchored by housing people with low incomes can afford are the work of the nonprofit housing community, and it’s work we need more of.

Market forces drive affordable housing development
You wouldn’t know it from Edsall’s focus on large nonprofit developers, but more than two-thirds of subsidized housing development is done by for-profits. In fact, the ability for private developers to turn a profit on affordable housing development is a key part of the success of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, a public-private partnership that has created nearly 3 million affordable rental homes. Of course, that one program is not enough to meet the entirety of the need, which is why states and localities have developed their own funding sources and why advocacy for the National Housing Trust Fund continues to be important. But slamming a market-based system for operating in a market-driven way simply doesn’t make sense.

Subsidized housing is a small part of housing for low-income households overall, but it usually provides higher-quality housing. Edsall singles out the two largest and most successful nonprofit community development intermediaries while ignoring the private, unsubsidized slumlords that own the vast majority of the housing in areas of concentrated poverty. Some of the most successful community development investments replace dilapidated, neglected housing with high-quality housing coupled with social services.

What’s in play, and what’s at stake
It’s fine for well-intentioned people to speak and write critically about aspects of the way we make affordable housing happen in this country. In fact, it’s that critical thinking that will help us improve our work and be of even greater service to our communities. We need to have this conversation and we need leading members of the media to bring attention to it in a constructive and accurate way. But criticism in the absence of other alternatives can come at a steep price. When the Washington Post published a scathing but inaccurate series on the HOME program, it gave cover to those in Congress who were looking to slash housing funding. Four years later, HOME is at risk of total elimination. It’s low-income families and distressed communities that will suffer if columns like Edsall’s kick up a groundswell of support for the idea that nonprofit affordable housing developers are nothing more than another part of the problem.

The ball is in our court
In the end, all of us in the housing community have responsibility for educating the media, policy makers and other thought leaders about our work to help people and communities thrive. Affordable housing development and finance are complicated, and there are many parts of it that operate just like any other business. But that doesn’t mean we can’t come together as a purpose-driven movement. This is also why the language we use to describe our work is so important. We all must tell the affordable housing and community development story, one that accounts for the environment we work in, the challenges we face and the mission and passion we bring to the work. By building positive relationships with local media, being a resource and keeping them informed about the big picture, we will increase support for our work and help more people understand why affordable housing is the foundation of success for people and communities.