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.