Thursday, February 26, 2015

Appropriations subcommittee hearing on HUD budget highlights challenge of austerity

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

Yesterday, the House Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development held its first hearing on the HUD budget. HUD Secretary Julian Castro shared major points from the President’s FY2016 budget request before taking questions from committee members. Questions were primarily thoughtful and constructive, trying to understand how certain HUD programs work. The most significant comments in the hearing came from the chairman and ranking member in their opening statements.

Subcommittee Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla) reminded the subcommittee of the current budget context.
  • With Budget Control Act caps in place, no federal agency should expect an eight percent increase over FY2015, the president’s proposed funding increase for HUD.
  • HUD’s FY2016 budget, under the BCA caps, is particularly challenging because of a decline in FHA receipts and the need for additional funding this year for project based Section 8 renewals.
Subcommittee Ranking Member David Price (D-N.C.) made several counter points.
  • This proposed HUD budget is still low when compared to previous years.
  • Sequestration was never supposed to happen because of its incredibly damaging outcomes; its existence illustrates a failure to address the factors that are truly driving the federal deficit. 
  • This self-enforced austerity is a disaster and we need a comprehensive budget agreement, or at a minimum, a short-term budget agreement similar to the Murray-Ryan deal. 
  • Without a budget agreement, the burden falls on discretionary programs, making appropriations decisions very challenging.
While the discussion also included other concerns like HUD internal management and the proposed FHA administrative fee, the primary comments clearly indicated the difficult budget environment facing housing and community development programs and the important value HUD programs provide.

EAH Housing breaks ground on affordable development for homeless veterans

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



Last month, NHC member EAH Housing and Core Affordable Housing hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for Willow Housing, an $18 million community for homeless veterans. The development is located on the Menlo Park campus of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and will provide veterans with affordable housing in close proximity to VA services provided on the Menlo Park and Palo Alto campuses.

Willow Housing will feature approximately 43,000 square feet of interior footage that will house community amenities that meet the needs of veterans who will live in the community. The space will include amenities like an indoor gym, business center and community kitchen, laundry, offices for case management, leasing and maintenance and enclosed bicycle storage. Willow Housing is expected to meet guidelines for LEED silver certification and will also accommodate residents’ service animals and be fully ADA accessible.

“EAH Housing is passionate about serving those in need and Willow Housing will touch countless lives," Mary Murtagh, president and CEO of EAH Housing said in a press release. "This is more than just providing a place to live; it's about creating homes and building a community. We look forward to continue working with our partners to build both housing and hope."

Many veterans returning home must readjust or are disabled and require supportive housing programs and assistance in order to successfully return to civilian life. Ensuring access to decent, affordable housing plays a major role in helping veterans to navigate back into society. NHC is dedicated to helping the housing community to continue to effectively address veteran’s housing needs by identifying solutions through research and developing policy responses. Our Veterans Rental Housing Working Group brings together housers and veteran service practitioners to identify policy actions aimed specifically at the rental housing needs of veterans. If you’re interested in joining the working group, email Rebekah King at rking@nhc.org. Additional veterans housing resources can be found on our website

Veterans had the opportunity to give input on the building design and creative process through focus groups. Willow Housing is expected to be competed on Dec. 31.  


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Novogradac & Company accepting nominations for Community Development Individual Achievement Awards

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



Novogradac & Company is currently accepting nominations for its inaugural Community Development Individual Achievement Awards. The awards were created to recognize those who demonstrate substantial dedication to the advancement of community envelopment, policy and legislative priorities. Winners will have made a significant impact in the community development field and will be honored on June 11.

The Community Development Individual Achievement Awards join several other Novogradac awards programs that recognize demonstrated excellence in the fields of renewable energy, community development, historic preservation and affordable housing. Winners will be announced in three categories: Federal Legislator of the Year, State Legislator of the Year and Public Executive of the Year. Nominations are judged in four key areas: vision, leadership, innovation and impact.

“We’re proud to announce the inaugural round of the Novogradac Journal of Tax Credits Community Development Individual Achievements Awards,” Nicolo Pinoli, conference chairman and partner in Novogradac’s Portland, Oregon office said in a press release announcing the awards. “We look forward to recognizing the efforts of the men and women who have given families across the country the tools to take the future into their own hands.”

The deadline for nominations is March 12. Winners will be recognized at Novogradac’s New Markets Tax Credit Conference in Washington, DC and be featured in the 80-page Journal of Tax Credits, Novogradac’s monthly publication that includes features on technical tax credit issues, developments and more, written by credit industry experts.

More information about Novogradac & Company’s various awards programs can be found here. To submit a nomination for the Community Development Individual Achievement Awards click here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The federal budget and local responses to housing needs: Research on funding and flexibility

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


At NHC’s Annual Budget Forum, we heard from housing providers working across the country about the need not only for increased federal funding for housing development and services, but also for greater opportunities for flexibility. The Center for Housing Policy, NHC’s research division, strives to increase understanding about how local housing programs are related to and are supported by federal housing programs. By showcasing best practices and innovative programs, our research helps to build the evidence base around the importance of the housing programs to the individuals and families they serve, as well as to the overall well-being to the communities in which we all live.

Working with Arlington County, Va., the Center has helped develop the affordable housing element of the county’s comprehensive plan. As part of that effort, we assessed the set of local land use strategies, financing tools and services that the county provides to meet the housing needs of its residents. Critical to that assessment was an understanding of how the county’s local programs—for example, its local voucher program and its housing trust fund—are related to and supported by federal programs.

The intersection between local housing efforts and federal programs can also be keenly observed in veterans’ housing programs. In a report examining successful permanent supportive housing models that target veterans, we describe the key federal programs that allow for not only the construction of affordable rental housing for this population, but also for the provision of health care, job training and other services that help vulnerable veterans live comfortably and self-sufficiently.

Federal policies and programs have particular importance to providers seeking to combine housing and health services for our large and growing senior population. We analyzed different models of integrating housing and health services in our report, Aging in Every Place, and found that while programs need to be designed based on an assessment of particular local needs, successful approaches will require funding from both local and federal sources.

In a series of case studies prepared as part of last fall’s How Housing Matters Conference, Center researchers focused on housing programs that were successful in improving health and educational outcomes among low-income seniors and children. Through those case studies, we found partnerships and collaboration at different levels of government were important to building a successful program. So, too, was the availability of funding from federal, local and other sources.

Look out this spring as we release new reports on veterans housing and housing and health that will highlight the important linkages between federal and local housing programs, and the opportunities for positive outcomes when localities are able to make flexible use of federal resources to meet their communities’ unique needs.

Budget forum highlights the value of affordable housing investments

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

Last week, we held our Annual Budget Forum, but instead of an in-person event just for folks on Capitol Hill, this year’s forum allowed everyone to participate via webinar. With great attendance in our new format, the discussion focused on the importance and value of federal investment in affordable housing. Laura Hogshead, HUD’s deputy chief of staff for budget and policy, discussed a number of promising policy changes as well as higher funding levels within HUD’s proposed FY 2016 budget. We also had a great panel of practitioners sharing their understanding of how federal funding helps create and preserve affordable housing:


While the HUD budget request proposes welcome increases in funding levels, given the difficult budget environment with the return of sequestration and potential challenges like debt ceiling negotiations, HUD funding for FY 2016 is very uncertain. The affordable housing community needs to advocate together for greater funding at the highest step in the waterfall—the 302(a) and (b) allocations that guide the appropriations committees—as Ethan Handelman, NHC’s vice president for policy and advocacy discussed on the webinar. The need for greater affordable housing funding is especially important given the intersection of housing with other issues as described by Dr. Lisa Sturtevant, NHC’s vice president for research and director of our Center for Housing Policy. Dr. Sturtevant’s presentation highlighted research findings that stable housing leads to better education outcomes, improved health and increased economic self-sufficiency for families.

The most interactive part of the budget forum was our panelists’ discussion on the value of federal housing programs from the state, public housing, homeless and developer perspectives. They highlighted how states deploy a variety of federal programs to meet many different housing needs; how we are making progress to end homelessness largely because of federal commitment and resources made available for that purpose; how public housing serves our most vulnerable families and can improve their circumstances; and how developers leverage federal resources effectively to create affordable housing. The theme from all four panelists was that demand for affordable housing far exceeds the supply.

The continuing need for affordable housing, its positive impacts on residents and the difficult budget environment highlight the need to advocate together for sequestration relief and greater funding.  NHC is part of the early effort by the NDD United campaign to reach out to members of Congress. We are also active in the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding.  Together, housing stakeholders should seek out nontraditional allies and emphasize with members of Congress how investments in affordable housing pay incredible tangible and intangible dividends. Presentations from NHC’s 2015 Budget Forum are available here and the recording from the event is available here.

Monday, February 23, 2015

National Affordable Housing Management Association receives Friend of the Elderly Award

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



NHC member National Affordable Housing Management Association (NAHMA) was recently awarded the 2015 Friend of the Elderly Award, given by the Retirement Housing Foundation, Inc. at its annual anniversary celebration. The award recognizes organizations and individuals who have made substantial contributions to the housing, health, social, spiritual or psychological quality of life of older adults.

Past recipients of the Friend of the Elderly Award include former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, the Alzheimer’s Association, NHC member LeadingAge and Meals on Wheels. NAHMA is celebrated for advocating on behalf of and working with property managers and owners to ensure older adults and other underserved populations have access to quality, safe affordable housing.

“We are honored to be acknowledged for our work to advance the development and preservation of decent and safe affordable housing,” NAHMA Executive Director Kris Cook said in a press release.  “It is a priority for NAHMA to be a leading advocate for the property managers and owners who provide quality affordable housing to the elderly, people with disabilities or the working poor.”

Research shows that by 2030, one in five people in the United States will be 65 or older, so it is vital that housing advocates continue to ensure affordable housing options and supportive services be available to older adults. A case study NHC produced last year for the MacArthur Foundation’s How Housing Matters Conference provides an example of such service-enriched housing in a profile of the Richmond Health and Wellness Program clinic in Richmond, Virginia. The clinic, located in a Section 8 finance affordable apartment building, offers care coordination, wellness education and much more to help residents maintain their health between doctor visits. More research on housing and older adults can be found on our website.

The award was presented to NAHMA in California on Feb. 27. 


Friday, February 13, 2015

Lessons from bicycle advocacy: How Seattle learned to put people first

by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference

For years, negative rhetoric around cycling infrastructure hampered Seattle bicycle advocates’ efforts to improve safety and access for cyclists. The simple changes they made to the way they framed the issue created surprising wins—and lessons learned for affordable housing advocacy.

In a post on DC-area blog Greater Greater Washington, Michael Andersen of The Green Lane Project describes the evolution and eventual demise of the term “war on cars” in Seattle. It’s a catchy catch-all phrase meant to categorize (or demonize) efforts of planners and advocates to create more dedicated lanes and other infrastructure for cyclists. The moment influential people and media outlets started using the term, bicycle advocates took up arms, with mixed results. Advocacy group Seattle Neighborhood Greenways was one organization that decided to change the debate by changing the language.

Evidence of success: 
New bike infrastructure in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. 
Photo by the author. 
People-first language humanizes instead of “otherizing”
Are you a driver? A transit rider? A pedestrian? A cyclist? In reality, you are probably like most people and use multiple modes of transportation depending on your purpose. But those labels serve to artificially divide people into factions, pitting us against ourselves. In his post, Andersen shows that Seattle Neighborhood Greenways deliberately changed the vocabulary to change the tone. By simply adding “people who…” to each term, the listener is subconsciously encouraged to think first about what unites us—we’re all human—instead of about what divides us. Advocates for people with disabilities have made great strides in getting us to put “people” before the “disability” in our communications, and the housing community is making strides in using terms like “people experiencing homelessness.” Maybe it’s time for us to talk about “people who rent” instead of “tenants” or “renters.”

Junk the jargon
Jargon can be useful in the working world. Who hasn’t felt that particular mixture of joy and relief when speaking to someone at a meeting or event who “gets” our lingo? I’ve yet to meet a houser who could resist the tractor-beam pull of a well-used acronym. But the flipside of jargon is that it excludes, and when we bring our jargon out of the office and into the light of day, the message we are silently telegraphing is that those who don’t understand are not welcome in the conversation. Seattle Neighborhood Greenways threw out the RRFBs and the hybrid beacons and brought in “safer ways to cross busy streets.” Safe street crossings? I don’t need a flashing light to tell me that this is something that’s good for me. There’s similar thinking behind NHC’s effort to refer to the LIHTC simply as the “housing credit.” What other jargon-junking changes do you think the housing community could make?

More than words
No one would argue that simply switching up our vocabulary will get us the policy wins we need to ensure everyone in America has access to a safe, decent, affordable home. We need a bigger base of people who support this idea, and ever-closer ties to the policy makers and thought leaders who can put solutions into action. But if we want to build that base, we’re going to have to reach beyond our circle of usuals and bring in those who don’t see themselves as housing advocates. Cutting out the jargon and putting people first are two ways we can use language to create a more inclusive housing movement.

For more ideas about how to reframe the housing conversation, visit the Framing and Messaging Toolkit on the Housing Communications HUB

Thursday, February 12, 2015

House Financial Services Committee debates FHA premiums with Secretary Castro


by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

Yesterday, HUD Secretary Julian Castro testified before the House Financial Services Committee on “The Future of Housing in America: Oversight of the Federal Housing Administration.” The highly partisan hearing consisted of Republican attacks on the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the recent decision to lower premiums, a strong defense by Democrats, with Secretary Castro caught in the middle. Republicans repeatedly raised their concern about the lower premiums because of FHA’s low capital reserve ratio. Secretary Castro responded with FHA’s recent and continuing improvements: $46 billion in cash reserves, stronger underwriting standards, its most profitable years ever in 2013 and 2014, along with significant other improvements. He also discussed how FHA premiums remain above pre-crisis levels, even after the 50 basis point reduction.

None of these facts gained much traction in the hearing. The conversation focused on actions already taken and past decisions. The discussion generally did not look forward or consider other steps that could be taken to strengthen FHA. The committee also did not discuss possible policy solutions to serve moderate income renters who are able and want to become homebuyers but are locked out of the market.

Several members, including Chairman Hensarling (R-Texas) and Rep. Garrett (R-N.J.), ignored FHA’s critical role in supporting homeownership and stabilizing housing markets and instead attempted to implicate FHA lending as predatory and as contributing to the housing crash. In fact, FHA provides 30 year fixed rate mortgages, which are the safest type of mortgage lending product. It has never offered exotic or risky flavors or variations of mortgages. FHA plays a critical role of providing access to mortgage credit for responsible first-time homebuyers and households of color who cannot access a sound mortgage in the private market. Furthermore, new evidence adds to a growing body of research demonstrating that low-income homeownership lending did not cause the housing crash. While the overall number of new mortgages grew in the years leading up to the crisis, the fraction of mortgages going to different income groups did not change. Borrowers in the middle and top income brackets contributed most significantly to the increase in mortgage defaults that occurred after 2007. This fact, sadly, did not enter the conversation at the hearing.

The committee’s attention to housing’s important role is welcome, but as Secretary Castro returns in a few weeks to discuss the president’s budget request for HUD, we hope the conversation becomes more constructive and substantive. NHC is hosting a webinar discussion of the president’s budget on Feb. 19 through its Annual Budget Forum, and we encourage advocates and practitioners to participate.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Helping Honolulu understand its options for strengthening its inclusionary housing policy

by Robert Hickey, National Housing Conference

I recently had the opportunity to brief the Honolulu city council, the city’s planning staff and housing directors from across the state of Hawaii about national best practices in inclusionary housing as part of a whirlwind tour of Oahu. The trip was made possible by NHC member EAH Housing, and was a great opportunity to share what we’ve been learning of late.

With Honolulu’s housing costs soaring and a dozen new condominium projects in the pipeline, the city is considering separate proposals from Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Council Member Ron Menor to amend the city’s existing inclusionary policy to broaden its applicability, serve more lower-income households and lengthen the duration of affordability.

Testifying at a city council meeting
In my presentation (see slides here) I talked about how Honolulu’s peers are making similar moves. For example, as we learned from building a national database of policies and writing Achieving Lasting Affordability through Inclusionary Housing, more than 80 percent of inclusionary housing programs now require affordability terms of 30 years or more. Many localities are working within the confines of limited staffing to ensure ongoing affordability through a combination of strong legal mechanisms, carefully designed resale formulas, strategic monitoring and stewardship practices and third-party partnerships.

The visit gave me a chance to also talk about why inclusionary housing is becoming more popular, how the market has struggled to remedy lower-income housing needs by just building more housing and how Honolulu is the latest of several cities, including New York City, Chicago and Washington, DC, to look at how it can strengthen its policy now that the market has rebounded.

With Councilmember Ron Menor
Councilmembers were especially hungry for information about how their peers are faring, and how they’re responding to the legal, economic and administrative issues that arise. The second half of my hour-long briefing gave us a chance to discuss some of these issues in depth, such as how policies balance feasibility with the desire to meet community housing needs.

This spring we’re building an inclusive communities resource library that will make it easier for cities and towns to learn from one another to answer these kinds of questions. But as I was reminded on this trip, there’s no substitute for speaking with policymakers and program administrators face-to-face and hearing their issues and concerns directly. As the year unfolds I’m hoping there are more opportunities to make similar presentations and share national trends.  A big “mahalo” to EAH President Mary Murtagh, EAH Vice President Kevin Carney and Honolulu Housing Executive Director Jun Yang for their warm hospitality and organizing such a rewarding trip.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Housing as part of Detroit’s future

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

On Feb. 4, NHC partnered with JPMorgan Chase in a Detroit Revitalization Forum designed to share insights from elsewhere in the country with Detroit and inform national efforts from Detroit’s experience. National policy experts and practitioners gathered with Detroit-based counterparts for a wide ranging exchange of ideas led by NHC’s President and CEO, Chris Estes. Participants also had a chance to hear about some of the latest efforts by public- and private-sector organizations dedicated to reviving the city’s economy and housing market.

The day‘s conversation occurred in four parts—innovative solutions to blight, using multifamily housing to transform neighborhoods, creative homeownership strategies and the Detroit showcase—each drawing comments from most of the participants in the forum. Here are highlights from each:

1. Innovative solutions to blight in the one-to-four family property space.
2. Using multifamily housing to transform neighborhoods.
  • The Community Builders used mixed-use multifamily development to create a sense of place in communities in distress. The Boston-based nonprofit developer operating in 14 states has affordable housing properties anchored by, for instance, a grocery store, an arts and rec center and a medical center. They are currently working with Henry Ford Hospital to develop in Detroit. 
  • Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing is a nonprofit syndicator of Low Income Housing Tax Credits that reinvests its profits in neighborhoods. Recent examples of their revitalization work include the Partners Achieving Community Transformation (PACT) on the east side of Columbus. It pulled together LIHTC investment, support from Ohio State University, city resources, a federal Choice Neighborhoods grant and more to address not only housing but public safety, child care, social services and more.  
  • MassHousing, one of Massachusetts’ network of state housing agencies, has invested patient subordinate financing in down markets and down cycles. Addressing public safety is the first concern, since people won’t worry about schools and other things if they’re worried about walking outside. Not all investments have been successful, in part due to overly rosy predictions, but those that are run into the challenge of gentrification and displacement. The agency is interested in policy change, such as proposals for flexibility in LIHTC income targeting, to allow more mixed-income development. 
  • Baltimore has had to take aggressive action against a few Section 8 properties that were magnets for crime, going so far as to close down some properties. The forum had a spirited discussion of the tradeoffs involved with aggressive enforcement, focused primarily on the effects on property residents, neighbors and surrounding properties.
  • Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) sees great opportunities in Detroit, especially in the New Center, Midtown and Downtown areas. The agency uses LIHTC, HOME, Hardest Hit Funds and more for multifamily development and single-family homeownership. Several lessons from their experience: 1) A need to communicate better about what MSHDA can and can’t do, since it depends on developers to propose projects on particular sites; 2) Work better with the city of Detroit to unlock capacity; 3) Increase developer interest in Detroit outside of the handful of already committed developers; and 4) Address the stigma of low income housing that doesn’t match actual property performance and resident experience.  
  • Southwest Solutions, a Detroit CDC, emphasizes wellness of people and wellness of place in its work. They stressed that lack of subsidy resources limits development and service provision.
  • Rock Ventures is a major developer and investor in Detroit real estate. They are seeing very high occupancy rates, above 97 percent, in the highest-demand areas of the city and are adapting property developments to meet the demand. 
  • Invest Detroit, a CDFI, is getting traction in the city through a combination of leverage and leadership. They have engaged in their own mapping exercise to select sites as they seek community leadership to ensure success. 
  • The forum discussed how multifamily properties can be transformational in neighborhoods by creating the density to break through the vicious cycle of lack of amenities and investment. Participants emphasized strong property management as essential, particularly to creating decent, safe places to live that can gain community support and foster residents’ aspirations. Multifamily housing is also an essential resource for vulnerable populations that need housing and services in places that are integrated with the rest of the community.
3. Creative homeownership strategies.
  • Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago helps people and neighborhoods through housing counseling pre- and post-purchase, homeownership lending, down payment assistance and home improvement loans. They are part of a city-wide collaborative working block by block to track vacant buildings, stabilize neighborhoods and revive investment. A wide range of efforts includes a block program for fa├žade improvements to create better curb appeal, a forthcoming initiative with JPMorgan Chase to provide home improvement loans for underwater borrowers, block beautification in cooperation with residents and marketing and branding to create neighborhoods of choice. 
  • Boston Community Capital’s SUN Initiative structures short sales of distressed mortgage loans to keep people in their homes with a new 30-year fixed rate mortgage. They have already helped about 500 families with default rates that look like the national average. There are many state by state differences in statute that have made expansion difficult, but the program operates in four states and may spread to others. 
  • The National Community Land Trust Network helps its members create permanently affordable homes through inclusionary housing programs, deed restrictions, shared equity, land trusts and more. Many members also do rental housing, community gardens and commercial space, all under community control. The long-term property restrictions can adapt to stronger or weaker real estate markets and can be essential for preserving affordability before markets heat up.  
  • National Community Stabilization Trust offers a Quick Look program (a variation of First Look) to enable nonprofits to quickly secure control of distressed properties and keep the existing owner in place, either with a restructured mortgage or a rental arrangement. It’s just one of several niche programs in this space that together can make a difference in struggling neighborhoods.
  • The Skillman Foundation has begun investing in housing surrounding education and youth development centers in its six Detroit neighborhoods of focus as a way to improve educational outcomes for children.  
  • PolicyLink noted the connections between home lending and finance of small business. The Office of Management and Budget is part of a federal task force focused on Detroit. The city and the rest of the country will likely see major changes come to small business lending, making it look more like private-sector risk capital. More credit scoring and automation will change how small business capital flows. 
  • The forum discussed homeownership as an essential mechanism for wealth-building and as a validation of people’s right to belong. An extended discussion of lease-to-own strategies explored the challenges of trying to use the difference between rental and homeownership costs to create stable housing solutions. Other topics touched on include energy efficiency, green building, disaster resiliency, predatory vs. non-predatory lending and health and educational outcomes affected by housing.
4. Detroit Showcase
  • Loveland Technologies has built a regularly updated database of every parcel in the city including ownership, blight indicators and condition. Maps and data available at Detroit.whydontweownthis.com.
  • The Detroit Land Bank has ramped up quickly to many thousand parcels under its control, and it expects before year’s end to control many more. Daily property auctions are moving properties into productive use with a requirement to rehab within 6 months. See more about their efforts at www.buildingdetroit.org.
  • Liberty Bank described its Detroit Home Restoration Program to finance acquisition and rehab of single-family homes for new owner-occupants in Detroit. 
  • The Detroit Blight Task Force described their vision for the city and the results of efforts to create homebuyer and renovation requirements and training in the city.
  •  Southwest Solutions described their work connecting the wellness of people to the wellness of place in southwest Detroit and beyond, drawing on lessons from other resident-led community development initiatives.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Oakland’s International Boulevard Corridor—Igniting government + community change for development without displacement

by Margaretta Lin, Director, City of Oakland Strategic Initiatives, Department of Housing and Community Development


The birthplace of the Black Panther Party’s Community School, Oakland California’s International Boulevard Corridor is home to the nation’s most ethnically diverse population with new immigrants from Burma and Mongolia residing near third and fourth generation African-Americans and Latinos. Running 9.5 miles from Oakland’s Lake Merritt to the San Leandro border, the Corridor has witnessed both community development successes and historic disinvestment with some of Oakland’s highest rates of crime, poverty and unemployment. Innovative groups have been advancing just growth on the Corridor for decades like Allen Temple Baptist Church, East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, Eastside Arts Alliance, Unity Council, East Bay Asian Youth Center, TransForm, Causa Justa::Just Cause, LISC, East Bay Housing Organization and Enterprise Community Partners.

Today, the International Boulevard Corridor and Oakland are ground zero in the national struggle for equitable development. With its proximity to San Francisco and the wealth in tech companies, history of innovation and urban grit, Oakland is experiencing unprecedented growth and attendant displacement impacts. In addition, a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is about to break ground on the Corridor, spurring potential economic development but also stoking displacement concerns.

In this mix, a new initiative has taken off on the Corridor to find the holy grail of development without displacement. Two years ago, the city of Oakland and community partners organized over 50 community and faith-based organizations, public agencies, national CDFIs, foundations and banks[1] to harness our collective power for the Corridor’s revitalization. We recently secured over $850 million in commitments over the next 10 years for revitalization and anti-displacement priorities and are on the brink of implementation. I’m privileged to serve as the city’s director of this Initiative working with city staff, mayor and council offices and community partners. The work thus far shows that equitable development is possible if there’s genuine collaboration and shared values.

The Initiative’s structure of co-leadership and shared decision-making between city staff, community groups and residents disrupts Oakland’s traditional development model and required adjustments from everyone. We had to be willing to make changes to live our value of community driven development. For example, it wasn’t enough that we had a Community Planning Leaders program for Corridor residents, we also needed to give residents seats and votes at the decision-making tables. And in the successful pursuit of new infrastructure funds, residents’ stated priorities of street lights and sidewalk repairs won out in Collaborative decision-making over the “sexier” bike lanes that other members had advanced. The city then selected the Corridor projects as our number one projects over downtown projects that had once been city priorities. Building on these lessons, PolicyLink and Causa Justa::Just Cause are now working to develop a new community governance model on the Corridor that has the potential for citywide replication.

Our relationships were recently tested over the BRT. Some groups supported the BRT while others were concerned about its construction and operational impacts on small businesses. Through people’s willingness to engage in collective struggle, we arrived at a unified position supporting the BRT project but with an effective business mitigation plan including funds for impacted businesses as a way to prevent displacement. We had to respect the right of groups to separately advocate for what they believed, even if it sometimes went against city positions.

We are in a blessed and unique place of being able to build Dr. King’s beloved community on the International Boulevard Corridor. I believe that we have the dedication, talents and resources we need around the table that we have worked so hard to assemble. Please wish us luck and stay tuned….

Margaretta Lin directs the City of Oakland’s Strategic Initiatives in the Department of Housing &Community Development, developing local equity innovations to solve pressing housing and community development problems. She also served as the City of Oakland’s Deputy City Administrator and Senior Advisor to Mayor Ron Dellums. Prior to local government, Margaretta worked as a public interest lawyer and social enterprise innovator.  She can be reached at mlin@oaklandnet.com.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of David Glover, a visionary co-founder of the International Boulevard Corridor Initiative and long-time leader in the struggle for community justice and healing.

[1] Collaborative partners include A New America, ACCE, Alameda County Public Health & Healthy Homes Departments, AC Transit, Allen Temple Baptist Church, Bike East Bay, Causa Justa::Just Cause, Citibank Community Development, Clearinghouse CDFI, East Bay Asian Youth Center, East Bay Asian Local Development Corp, East Bay Housing Organization, Eastside Arts Alliance, East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, Enterprise Community Partners, Great Communities Collaborative, HOPE Collaborative, Inner City Advisors, Lao Family Community Development,  Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, LISC, Oakland Business Development Corp, OCO, PolicyLink, The California Endowment, TransForm, Unity Council, and Urban Strategies Council.