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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Interesting highlights from 2014 HMDA data

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

Recently, the Urban Institute held a discussion on 2014 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data. Neil Bhutta shared findings from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors’ analysis of the data; Core Logic provided a review of 2015 data they have been collecting, and Bing Bai shared the Urban Institute’s new interactive map of HMDA data. The presentations highlighted a number of interesting developments in mortgage lending and showed that while the crisis is over, mortgage lending remains in flux, adjusting to the post-crisis landscape. Purchase lending, while increasing, is still relatively low. The mix of entities providing mortgage lending is different, and as the Urban Institute’s maps indicate, minority households are struggling to access mortgage credit and join the housing recovery.
  • According to the Federal Reserve analysis, 2014 HMDA shows that non depository institutions or independent mortgage companies (IMCs) are doing more mortgage lending, at 40 percent of total mortgage lending, a historically high level. Western states are relying most heavily on IMCs, anywhere from 59-75 percent of mortgage lending in those states. Large banks were 36 percent of mortgage lending activity; small banks and credit unions were each nine percent of mortgage lending in 2014.
    • Bhutta raised this point and discussed how the housing finance system may be becoming more reliant on less regulated and potentially less financially robust institutions. 
  • Independent mortgage companies are not covered by the Community Reinvestment Act. This lack of coverage may be significant when we’re concerned about outcomes for low and moderate income borrowers. Federal Reserve research has found that CRA related loans to low and moderate income borrowers outperform non-CRA loans. 
  • Bhutta also discussed how mortgage loans from IMCs may be more expensive for consumers than getting a mortgage loan from other types of providers, but that 2014 data did not clearly establish this idea. 
  • Urban Institute has released an interactive map which visualizes 14 years of HMDA data throughout the country. The map provides striking illustrations of mortgage lending trends pre and post crisis in metropolitan areas. 
  • While still high, minority homebuyers’ use of Federal Housing Administration (FHA) lending products continued to decline in 2014. However, overall minority shares of purchase loans started to slightly trend upward for the first time in a number of years. 
  • The ability to repay (ATR) and qualified mortgage (QM) rules went into effect in 2014, but the Federal Reserve’s analysis did not find a disproportionate impact of those rules on lending activity.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Bridging the Digital Divide

by Kaitlyn Snyder, National Housing Conference 

Last week I attended the Bridging the Digital Divide forum hosted by the Washington Post. The forum brought together lawmakers, city leaders, technology experts and entrepreneurs to examine obstacles to broadband adoption and highlight efforts across the country to close the digital divide. Attendees of note include HUD Secretary Juli├ín Castro, Mayor Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh, Pa., Mayor Ivy Taylor of San Antonio, Texas and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Ill. This forum had two main takeaways regarding broadband adoption: the necessity of adopting a holistic approach and the power of collaboration. Programs like Comcast’s Internet Essentials and Google Fiber’s partnership with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin illustrate this holistic approach; Pittsburgh’s collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University is giving the city access to innovative uses for basic infrastructure, like streetlights.

What is the digital divide? Ninety-five percent of households with annual incomes above $150,000 subscribe to high speed internet while only 47 percent of households below the poverty line subscribe. This nearly 50 percent difference is the digital divide. This divide becomes even more pronounced when controlling for race/ethnicity, age and disability. NHC research demonstrates the need among extremely low income renters and the value, that “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.”

As policymakers and communities work on strategies to solve this digital divide, the forum highlighted that our approach cannot focus only on price; to be successful at closing the digital divide, our approach has to be holistic and include help accessing equipment and teaching digital literacy; otherwise, people will have access to something that they don’t know how to use or understand its potential benefit. As one example, Comcast’s Internet Essentials programs offers discounted Internet access program to low-income eligible families and also offers options to purchase a computer for less than $150 and digital literacy training. NHC has highlighted a similar partnership between the Housing Authority of the City of Austin and Google Fiber to connect residents in public housing to the Internet and also provide residents with digital literacy training and access to discounted equipment.

Efforts to close the digital divide can help build inclusive communities and achieve ‘tech-equity.’ One example is making government services easier to access and using data to track locations of snow plows and trash trucks so all residents can view levels of service. Mayor Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh, Pa. gave an example of street lights that not only provide lighting but also act as a cellular tower that can be rented to make local revenue; that acts as a Wi-Fi connection to build a mesh net; as shot spotters where the lights will turn up and radio the police regarding shots fired. All of these advancements have been made possible through the city’s partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, and this partnership is allowing Pittsburgh to use technology to build safer, more accessible and more equitable communities.  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Equitable transit-oriented development: Public benefit disguised as sticks and bricks

by Walker Wells, Global Green; Cady Seabaugh, McCormack Baron Salazar; and John Hersey, Enterprise Community Partners

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.

Housing and transportation are the two largest costs for the typical American household. Those concerned with reducing the cost of living for low- and moderate-income earners often focus on affordable housing: increasing funding; aligning resources; coordinating priorities; strengthening regulations; etc. While this work is invaluable, the effort could go farther by considering access to affordable transportation. 

Source: Federal Highway Administration
Equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD) promotes inclusive, transit-rich neighborhoods that accommodate a mix of incomes, land uses and modes of travel. It argues that young professionals, working families, fixed-income seniors and others should benefit from the variety of commercial and cultural amenities that robust and reliable transit often attracts. Ultimately, eTOD intends to leverage public investment in transit for greater public benefit.

Enterprise Community Partners’ research on eTOD highlights myriad benefits of the development model for low- and moderate-income residents and regions as a whole.
  • Low- and moderate-income people use transit more than higher-income earners, so eTOD not only helps residents get around; it may increase “fare box revenue,” too.
  • With 75 percent of all jobs in the nation’s 100 largest metro regions accessible by transit, greater access to transit reduces low-wage workers’ periods of unemployment.
  • By promoting walking and transit use, eTOD helps to address chronic health issues typical of low-income communities and to encourage seniors to receive medical care.
  • By addressing the “drive ‘til you qualify” mantra that pushes low-income families to ostensibly more affordable exurbs, eTOD reduces roadway congestion for drivers while promoting density and greater return on investment than suburban sprawl.

The desire to maximize transit investments has driven communities like Lakewood, Colorado to partner with Global Green’s Sustainable Neighborhood Assessment Program. In part based on Global Green’s recommendations, the city improved the pedestrian streetscape around a neighborhood-scale light-rail station while the area’s housing authority, MetroWest Housing Solutions, constructed a mixed-income apartment building, Lamar Station Crossing, to ensure equitable development only 15 minutes from rapidly gentrifying downtown Denver.

Developed by McCormack Baron Salazar in partnership with Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, MacArthur Park Metro Apartments in Los Angeles exemplifies mixed-use eTOD, with 90 affordable apartments, retail space and a shared-parking structure for commuters, residents, customers and bicyclists. Enhancing the development’s connection with transit, each low-income family receives one complimentary transit pass and may purchase additional transit passes at a discount.

Affordable-housing advocates, local and state housing staff, elected representatives and developers should take the next step and partner with peers in transit to promote eTOD as a fundamental attribute essential to producing and sustaining a vital economy, a diverse housing market, access to economic advancement and increased equity. The 2015 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria aims to bridge that divide, rewarding developers whose projects sit near high-frequency transit or include transportation-demand management strategies like discounted transit passes and bike-share.

If these stakeholders better understood the deep advantages of eTOD to families of all incomes, the development model would serve to anchor a regional mosaic of socially inclusive, economically vibrant and resource efficient neighborhoods to the benefit of all.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Making neighborhoods great

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference 

We are excited to announce more details about our Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods 2015 Convening, Nov. 5-6 in New Orleans. By holding our convenings beyond D.C. in different parts of the country each year, we bring a regional flavor to national events and make these networking and learning opportunities more accessible to folks in different parts of the country. This year we are excited to highlight the tremendous redevelopment work that has happened in New Orleans in the 10 years after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. This opportunity to tour revitalized neighborhoods as well as learn from a very diverse group of participants is a unique one for those in the affordable housing community.

On the opening day of Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods we will offer two mobile workshop tours of this work. These tours focus not on disaster recovery but on comprehensive redevelopment, as much of the city’s housing stock needed to be redesigned and redeveloped prior to those catastrophic events.

Habitat for Humanity New Orleans is offering a mobile workshop in the Ninth Ward. This holistic examination will include urban gardens, Habitat model homes, Musicians Village, green building, Make It Right home and much more. Enterprise Community Partners will host a workshop in the famous Treme neighborhood that is now poised for a major revival. This tour will look at housing efforts along with other investments in education, greenspace, healthcare, arts and infrastructure, providing a model for comprehensive community development.

You won’t want to miss this unique opportunity to network with other attendees from local government, development, lending, service provision, syndication, state government and other fields as well as see this work in person on these two tour options. Visit our website for more details on the workshop offerings as well as registration and discounted hotel rooms (which are filling up fast).

The subject matter of Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods is part of NHC’s year-round work. This week senior research associate Janet Viveiros and I are in Portland, Maine for a meeting with the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition. Janet is presenting some of her work to help those in housing understand more about the changes in healthcare and how housing groups and health agencies can be successful partners. This is especially important for Maine, which has significant housing issues for its older adult population as well as an upcoming referendum on bonds to fund housing efforts for seniors to reduce their health care costs. There will be more discussion on these issues at Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods with Janet moderating a workshop on collaboration and innovation in affordable housing and health.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Kicking off the Inclusive Communities Working Group

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

State and local leaders gathered in DC last week for the first meeting of our Inclusive Communities Working Group. What struck me most about this group wasn’t its commitment to the mission of affordable housing—I knew all were committed to that going in. Nor was it how smart and knowledgeable all the participants were—housing has a wealth of talent, and we were privileged to attract so much to this endeavor. 

Rather, I was struck by how the participants saw housing challenges in a broad and comprehensive way.  They saw how land use connects to affordability, how affordability connects to homelessness, how public resources and policy choices intersects racial and ethnic divisions, how public policy too often ignores the needs of people with disabilities and much more. Too often, one can predict that people’s perception of a policy issue derives directly from what they know well and see every day.  Builders want to build, lenders want to lend, service providers want to reach clients, etc. That’s not necessarily bad, but it is somewhat limited. There is a growing recognition that housing connects to transportation, education, employment, the environment and other issues in ways that demand creative solutions that break out of narrow silos. 

The initial discussions of this invitation-only working group are confidential, to promote the free exchange of ideas that we need. But a goal of the group is to produce new resources to share with everyone committed to the goal of inclusive communities. So, in coming months, look for webinars, research papers, conference sessions and more that draw on the insights from this group. Indeed, the very first one will be a roundtable discussion at the upcoming Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods convening this November in New Orleans. The meeting will bring members of the working group together with other stakeholders to further explore ideas presented in the first meeting.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Rebuilding Together awarded grant to continue post-Katrina community revitalization efforts

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

Lowe’s recently awarded $150,000 to NHC member Rebuilding Together to finance community revitalization efforts in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. The grant allowed Rebuilding Together to partner with Lowe’s for two days of service. Gentilly suffered some of Hurricane Katrina’s worst flooding and the revitalization effort celebrates the perseverance and recovery of this community.

In the 10 years since Katrina, Lowe’s and Rebuilding Together have partnered on several home repair projects to assist those who were impacted by the storm. This time around, the organizations will perform repairs for three longtime homeowners in Gentilly, and upgrade and improve the community’s Fire Station 27, which suffered extensive flooding damage as a result of the hurricane. Volunteers will also distribute hurricane preparedness kits to low-income homeowners in the area.

“Ten years after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, there is still some work to be done. Together, with the support of Lowe’s and the Lowe’s Heroes, we are transforming communities in New Orleans and moving closer to our vision of safe and healthy for every person,” Sandra Henriquez, interim president and CEO of Rebuilding Together said in a press release.

NHC will be in New Orleans next month for our second Solutions convening of 2015, Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods. The convening will explore solutions for creating affordable housing and revitalizing neighborhoods while looking at housing as a nexus connected to education, transportation, health, public safety and other social issues. Attendees will also get to see housing policy on the ground in two mobile workshops tours exploring revitalized New Orleans communities. Learn more about the convening and register here.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Lowe’s contributed $650,000 to help restore 10 of the 20 fire houses in the New Orleans Fire Department that suffered damages as a result of the storm. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

What I learned from a local affordable housing planning process

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

On Saturday, Sept.19 I attended the meeting of the Arlington County (Virginia) Board when the five-member body unanimously approved an affordable housing plan and the associated implementation framework that will add thousands of new rental homes affordable to low-income individuals and families. This approval marks the culmination of a three -year community planning process, but also signals the beginning of the next phase, which includes the hard work of implementing the plan and measuring outcomes. The National Housing Conference, along with George Mason University, was part of the study team that conducted the housing needs analysis, collected data through surveys and focus groups, helped to develop policy options, coordinated community meetings and developed communications materials. At the end of the seven hour (!) board meeting—after testimony from more than 50 community members—I cheered along with the rest of the audience as five “ayes” from the dais set the path forward for affordable housing in Arlington.

Over the course of the 18 months that NHC was involved in the affordable housing planning process in Arlington, I learned a lot about how to draft and build consensus around an affordable housing plan. These are lessons, I think, that are valuable to other communities developing their own plans.
First, its important to have a common understanding of both current and future housing needs, and forecasts of need should be based on clear demographic and economic assumptions. One of the key elements of Arlingtons affordable housing plan is a goal of having 17.7 percent of all housing units (22,800 units) in the county be rental units affordable to households at or below 60 percent of area median income (AMI) by 2040. This specific number helped to focus efforts on households with the greatest needs. We developed these need forecasts based on clearly stated assumptions about demographic and economic trends in the region, and generated the forecasts independently and outside of a political process.

Second, data is very helpful to the process, and it is particularly important to have local data to help clarify the issues and respond to opposition. One of the biggest issues during the Arlington process was the geographic distribution of affordable housing in the county. The county was able to use its own data to display the distribution of affordable units in the past and where units would be in the future, given current land use plans and forecasts. These data and maps revealed that affordable housing in the county was, in fact, becoming more and not less dispersed. In addition, there were concerns raised about the impact on schools of concentrating affordable housing, with critics citing research on the benefits of deconcentrating poverty on school performance. The county made available data from Arlington Public Schools that showed that schools in neighborhoods with a lot of affordable rental housing performed better than many other schools across the county.

Third, community outreach that happens early, often and at key decision making points is important for having community consensus at the point of the final vote. At the final board meeting, there were more than 50 people who spoke about the plan. Of the 50 speakers, there were only two with very modest objections. Nearly every speaker praised the plan and the process, and the surge of community support made it easy for the board to vote yes, even the two members who had had reservations early on. Small group meetings, large group meetings, online participation—these were all important to bringing the community into the process. But even more important was the opportunity for public input to actually have an impact on the planning document. County staff made it clear that they were listening to community members and not talking at them.

And fourth, the impact of storytelling cannot be overstated. If you have a chance, its well worth your time to watch just a part of the nearly two hours of public testimony at the board meeting in support of the affordable housing plan. Two main types of stories were told. The first was the “Mi Voz Cuenta (My Voice Counts)” storyline. Concerns had been raised during the process that the plan concentrated affordable housing and that would be a negative for the affordable housing residents themselves. But many residents stood to talk about the benefits they received from having lived in a subsidized home in the county, and rejected the concerns others had for them. The other set of comments during the board meeting had the theme of “I am your neighbor.” School teachers, college graduates and millennials with children all stood to talk about how they have benefited from a county housing program and to show that residents of affordable housing were good neighbors. Im not ashamed to say that I teared up more than once during the impassioned speeches.

Of course these werent the only things that made the plan and process successful. Arlington has among the most dedicated and hardest working local government staff Ive ever met. They have elected officials with a long-held commitment to affordable housing. And they are a community that has as its vision that the county will be “a diverse and inclusive world-class urban community with secure, attractive residential and commercial neighborhoods where people unite to form a caring, learning, participating, sustainable community in which each person is important.” Arlington Countys affordable housing plan and implementation framework—and its process for making it a reality—can serve as a model for other local jurisdictions around the U.S.