Friday, June 26, 2015

Supreme Court upholds disparate impact standard for housing discrimination

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

On Thursday, in a dramatic decision, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act are within courts’ jurisdiction (the legal term is “cognizable”). The decision upholds many years of HUD practice in fair housing enforcement as articulated in a recent HUD regulation that interpreted the Fair Housing Act to include disparate impact (measured by observable outcomes), not just disparate treatment (measured by intent to discriminate). It also reinforces the need for all of us in the affordable housing and community development movement, public sector and private sector alike, to think carefully about how our policies affect people’s ability to choose where they live. Both the majority opinion and the dissents offer reminders of perhaps the key lesson in fair housing, that we must balance revitalization of distressed neighborhoods with creating options in high-opportunity places.

The case in question, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs et al v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., et al, was a suit against the Texas state agency that allocates Low Income Housing Tax Credits. The plaintiff, Inclusive Communities Project, argued that the concentration of affordable housing investments in low-income, primarily minority neighborhoods violated the Fair Housing Act. The Court’s ruling does not say whether or not there was a violation. It simply rules that lower courts can evaluate a claim based on disparate impact, which they must now do.

Communities across this country have had long-standing patterns of segregation by race, income, ethnicity, disability status and other characteristics. Unfortunately, these patterns have emerged from and been reinforced by government policy at local, state and federal levels, even as they played out in a multitude of individual household and business decisions. We know these patterns are as difficult to change as they are detrimental to the people living in these distressed neighborhoods and are costly to all of us both locally and at the state and federal levels. The Court’s decision reminds us that we cannot assume that segregation and its costs are behind us just because we do not see expressed discrimination.

NHC considers the issues of fair housing, community redevelopment, preservation to prevent displacement and the reframing of affordable housing as comprehensive community development to be central tenets of our work. It is integrated into our convenings, local, regional and federal policy work, research and communications efforts. The ruling will not end the discussion but further inform the work on community development and affordable housing going forward.

Part of the ruling’s effect will fall on private sector businesses: lenders, developers, real estate professionals and others. The work of addressing business practices and unexamined assumptions in housing is necessary but also costly. As all of the opinions of the case cautioned, we should not take fair housing law so far as to prevent the creation of the very shelter we hope all in America can enjoy.

On the practical level of creating and sustaining housing, stakeholders should draw a lesson expressed in both the majority opinion and the dissents, albeit in different language. Affordable housing must balance investment in distressed neighborhoods with creation of affordable housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods. That’s hard to do in practice, and it’s messy to measure. But it’s the only way with limited public resources that we can hope to make positive change.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

NHC Board elections, Annual Gala and Policy Symposium

News from NHC
by Amy Clark and Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

Many of our members and friends are familiar with our Annual Gala. But June 11 and 12 were about more than just a celebratory gathering of the housing community.

We started the day Thursday morning with our Board of Governors meeting. We said thank you to John Kelly for his three years of leadership as chair, and welcomed Ted Chandler to his new role. While we are sad to see some of our board members step down, they will be ably replaced by the new slate of board members elected by the membership.

Thursday nights Gala kicked off with a rousing performance from "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Corps Band. Gala co-chairs Senator Mel Martinez and Nancy O. Andrews of LIIF shared what this year's theme, creating community, means to them and their work. Audience members were touched by the moving stories shared by this year's Housing Visionary Award honorees, Piece by Piece Regional Foreclosure response Initiative led by Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership and The Community Properties Initiative led by Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing. Following the program, our guests enjoyed conversation, corn pudding and the sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing that they contributed to the Gala, exceeding NHC's fundraising goal.

The events of Friday opened early for Young Leaders in Affordable Housing members with a breakfast meeting on the future of the affordable housing field and the role young leaders can play. Kris Siglin of the Housing Partnership Network and Ali Solis of Enterprise Community Partners spoke at the session moderated by YLAH president Eva Wingren.

As Ethan said in our blog last week, the Policy Symposium "showed [the] many ways that housing can be a solution, and it drew together housing stakeholders to learn from each other." The keynote and research presentation helped us think about the importance of quality affordable housing at every stage of life, and the panels helped us think about the different ways homeownership and supportive rental housing create opportunity for people and communities.

We couldn’t close this reflection in good conscience without expressing the deeply felt gratitude of NHC’s staff and leadership for our sponsors, especially JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. They and all of our Gala and Policy Symposium sponsors make our work possible all year round. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bipartisanship no match for caps in Senate THUD bill

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

On June 23, the Senate Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) subcommittee held its mark-up hearing on the FY 2016 THUD appropriations bill. Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-Maine) opened the hearing with a summary of the challenges facing the subcommittee and the “tyranny of the math.” Two key facts led to a troubling conclusion:
  1. Federal Housing Administration (FHA) receipts are estimated to be $1.1 billion below FY2015 levels.
  2. The cost of renewing rent assistance programs will be $2.3 billion more than current funding levels.
Therefore, despite the $55.6 billion allocated to HUD, this amount is not sufficient to keep all programs at their current FY 2015 funding levels.

Subcommittee Chair Collins also expressed her support for maintaining housing assistance for the 4.5 million families and individuals currently served as well as efforts to reduce and end homelessness. While the bill has not been released yet, Chair Collins announced a few specific provisions in the bill: 10,000 HUD-VASH vouchers, an additional $20 million for family unification vouchers and additional funding to test programs focused on youth homelessness. The bill would fund the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program at $2.9 billion. In the hearing, Chair Collins also explained why the subcommittee chose to make a deep cut to the HOME program: to avoid severe cuts to other programs, avoid eliminating programs and dealing with a HUD budget where 83 percent has to fund existing rental assistance needs. The amount of the cut was not announced in the hearing, but Ranking Member Reed’s (D-R.I.) statement clarified that the HOME program would be cut to $66 million, or only seven percent of its current $900 million level. At such a low level, the HOME program could not effectively function as designed.

Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) praised the subcommittee for its bipartisan and transparent efforts but said despite its “great will, we need a new wallet.” Ranking Member Mikulski called for a budget agreement and an end to sequestration. Under the budget caps, any THUD budget will be insufficient because it will not be able to even maintain FY 2015 funding levels, which are already insufficient for the great housing need in this country.

The subcommittee favorably reported the bill to the full committee with no objections or additional amendments.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

New research supports place-based equity in affordable housing

by Mindy Ault, National Housing Conference

Professor Raj Chetty of Harvard University presented his recent research on place and economic mobility on June 1 at the Brookings Institution. His work utilizes de-identified tax records from more than five million children whose families relocated across counties between 1996 and 2012. The findings support existing research on the importance of place: chances for upward mobility vary not only among nations, but also within the United States. Further, Chetty’s study indicates that when households move from a place that offers low odds for economic mobility to a place where mobility is more likely, children who are younger than 13 at the time of the move fare better than those who are older.

This work, which also finds effects on mobility from racial segregation, income inequality, family structure, social capital and school quality, presents a number of policy options to consider. Some examples from Chetty’s presentation and panel discussion include:

  • Constructing public housing in lower-poverty areas instead of where poverty is highly concentrated.
  • Investing in areas where economic mobility is currently low with the goal of replicating areas where mobility is higher.
  • Making school choice a priority so that children in families unable to move to areas of more opportunity are not forced to attend poor-quality schools.
  • Targeting housing vouchers so that families with the youngest children are prioritized since young children stand to benefit the most from moving to an area of opportunity.

Certainly these policy recommendations have been made before, but Chetty’s work utilizes a very large data set to lend heft to the rationale behind them. 

How are you incorporating some of these ideas into your work? 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

NHC’s Policy Symposium highlights: Solutions from the field

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Last Friday’s Policy Symposium showed many ways that housing can be a solution, and it drew together housing stakeholders to learn from each other. If you missed the event and the live webcast, here are just a few of the highlights:
  • Older adults need housing help to meet basic needs, protect saved assets, improve health and more. Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of the AARP Foundation, shared that AARP began with Ethel Percy Andrus’ discovery of a retired teacher living in deplorable housing conditions. Today, AARP’s housing agenda encompasses affordability, housing counseling, fraud prevention, multi-generational communities, aging in place and other areas of work.
  • Homeownership can position individuals and families for success, but a lot of policy work is still needed. Panelists compared structural barriers to low-income homeownership, such as the persistent racial gap, to cyclical barriers that may ease as the economic recovery grows. Julia Gordon pointed to the coming expiration of Making Home Affordable, which will present renewed challenges for clearing up the end of the foreclosure wave. Paul Weech noted the central role of nonprofits as trusted advisors, financial coaches and housing counselors for low-income households working toward homeownership. Phil Bracken pointed to the need for long-term, fixed-rate, low-cost financing, especially in communities of color (see his slides). Ron Haynie described the challenges lenders face in meeting a host of new regulatory requirements. 
  • Nonprofits are combining rental housing with services to create new solutions. Panelists explored many avenues of cutting-edge housing and service combinations. Patricia Belden offered lessons for deploying mental health services and retraining service coordinators. Steve PonTell described two new pilot programs taking different approaches to moving families up and out of subsidized housing. Frances Ferguson raised several models of housing and education linkages, as well as the efforts of NHC’s Connectivity Working Group to support deployment of broadband in affordable housing. Michelle Norris presented examples of assisted living options for seniors that provide more independence and cost-savings at the same time by enriching housing with services.
NHC and our members are active in all of the policy areas touched on in the Policy Symposium. Join us, and get involved!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Moving housing forward

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

This week NHC holds its two biggest events, the 43rd Annual Gala and Annual Policy Symposium. The Gala offers us a chance to connect with members and public officials and to highlight and honor the great work of our members to move housing forward in a significant way.

When you attend the Gala, you’ll hear a lot about the comprehensive community development NHC believes should be the focus of affordable housing work. This brings affordable housing efforts out of isolation and connects us and our work to other community efforts like public safety, education, public health, transportation, economic development and others.

The two collaborations we are honoring at this year’s Gala are great examples of community development with affordable housing at the center of success. I wrote about the Community Properties Initiative in Columbus, Ohio in last month’s Under One Roof. This month I want to share some of my thoughts with you about our other Housing Visionary Award honoree, Atlanta’s Piece by Piece Regional Foreclosure Response Initiative.

I got to learn about this work up close during our Solutions 2013 Conference in Atlanta where we featured multiple presentations and mobile workshops on the neighborhoods where this effort is having a significant impact.

Piece by Piece involves foreclosure prevention, development of multifamily and single-family homes, housing counseling and other programs. Similar to the Ohio effort, central to the work is stabilizing communities and stimulating market-rate investment. In thinking about all the factors that make communities successful, Piece by Piece provides a powerful example of comprehensive community development in action.

Both these multi-year efforts have done a great job of both tracking their successes and continuing to think comprehensively about the services and supports needed for community residents to be successful beyond just having stable homes.

The Policy Symposium is also an opportunity for NHC to share with the field what we see as the “issues of the moment” and our areas of focus over the next few years. For some time now we have featured issues and constituencies that intersect with affordable housing and we are very pleased to have two of those represented in our opening keynote and research presentation.

Lisa Marsh Ryerson, President of the AARP Foundation, will open the Symposium by sharing the foundation’s vision of how housing intersects with other focus issues like hunger, isolation and income within the framework of overall community well-being. Following will be a research presentation from Dr. Megan Sandel, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center and Principal Investigator at Children’s HealthWatch. Dr. Sandel will discuss the research brief on child homelessness she co-authored with Richard Sheward and Dr. Lisa Sturtevant, NHC’s Vice President of Research and Director of NHC’s Center for Housing Policy.

Our Annual Policy Symposium will represent major themes for NHC’s work both now and in the future. Access to credit, the future of the housing finance system, buyer preparedness and credit scoring changes will all be critical to the stability and success of the overall housing market. Additionally, the ability to expand funding and support for quality affordable rental housing depends on how we communicate the connection between these developments and impacts on resident well-being in areas of health, education and economic success.

Policy Symposium panels on the future of low-income homeownership  and affordable rental housing as a platform for success will give audience members a chance to think more deeply about these themes and discuss ways communities can work together to support better housing policy outcomes. 

We look forward to seeing many of our members this Thursday and Friday, and to tackling these issues with you together over the next year.

NHC members LINC Housing and The Community Development Trust celebrate completed renovations at Pleasant View Apartments

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

Last month the Fresno, Ca. Pleasant View Apartments received $1.6 million in renovations thanks to NHC’s members LINC Housing and The Community Development Trust (CDT). The organizations partnered to acquire the 60-unit building in 2012. The nearly three years since the partnership began has afforded the development several upgrades and renovations.

The first wave of renovations saw a community center and playground added to the community in 2013. Kitchen renovations followed, with all apartments receiving new cabinets, flooring and new paint. Additional upgrades included energy efficient windows, deck repairs and new roofs. Three apartments also received upgrades that met federal Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.

“Our investment in Pleasant View apartments will ensure that families and seniors in the Fresno community will continue to have access to quality, safe and affordable housing,” CDT president and CEO, Joseph Reilly, said in a press release. “We are grateful to LINC Housing, our partners in this project and we look forward to the opportunity to work together again on our shared mission to preserve and expand the supply of affordable housing.”

Access to quality affordable housing is an important factor in the success of individuals and families. Our Annual Policy Symposium on June 12 at the Washington Marriott Metro Center will include a panel discussion on how affordable rental housing can provide the opportunity for people to improve their lives or live with greater dignity. If you’re in the area, you can register for the event here.

Funding and support for the renovation of Pleasant View Apartments was provided by several partners, including The California Endowment, the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, and NHC member Low Income Investment Fund. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Getting to the table early for green

What we're building
by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference and the Center for Housing Policy

Green means dollars and green means environmentally friendly.  Affordable housing stakeholders in every state can pursue both goals by getting involved with state clean power plans.  Energy policy may seem far afield; goodness knows there are plenty of battles to fight on housing policy. But getting involved early can help states meet their carbon reduction targets by funding energy efficiency for multifamily housing.

Here’s how carbon reduction connects to dollars for affordable housing:

  • States have to cut carbon emissions. Later this year, the Environmental Protection Agency will finalize its proposed rule mandating that every state come up with a clean power plan to reduce carbon emissions. States that do this have a lot of freedom to find the ways that work best locally. Among the cheapest and best ways is to make homes more energy efficient.
  • Investment in energy efficient affordable housing works. Multifamily housing offers lots of opportunity to reduce energy use. A recent study found that states could reduce 15 to 26 percent of electricity usage over 20 years in multifamily properties by implementing cost-effective efficiency measures. Cost effective means exactly that: the return on investment would be $2.90 to $3.50 per dollar invested.
  • State plans can provide financing. When states create their clean power plans, they can create financing programs for energy efficiency that can help affordable properties make the upgrades they need to cut utility bills for owners and residents. Some of these programs, like utility ratepayer-funding, can only happen through state action, so the clean power plan is a rare opportunity to make change.
  • Energy efficient affordable housing helps everyone. Residents spend less on utilities, leaving more in the household budget for basics like food, health and child care. Properties save on operating costs and make long-lasting renovations. States cut emissions. The federal government saves money through reduced utility costs.

NHC has been working with many partners to get the word out. The National Housing Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy, National Association of State Energy Officials and more are providing research and advocacy tools to help affordable housing stakeholders get involved at the state level. If you missed last month’s webinar, you can watch the video.

The most important thing is to get involved early. If affordable housing stakeholders are at the table early in the process for creating state clean power plans, we have a much better chance of making energy efficient affordable housing part of the solution.

New resources on housing policies that connect children to opportunity

Solutions through research
by Robert Hickey, National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy

As previously reported in Under One Roof and in the press, researchers Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren and Lawrence Katz released groundbreaking research last month showing that when low-income kids are able to move to high-opportunity neighborhoods, they earn significantly more as adults. Housing’s effect on neighborhood options, and kids’ earning potential, is not the only way in which housing matters for children. (See our recent reviews of health and education impacts, or check out Dr. Lisa Sturtevant’s fuller discussion in this space last month.) But the role of neighborhood is even more important than we knew.

Related research studies have found that inclusionary housing is a tool without peer for improving the location options of lower-income families. But ultimately it takes a multi-pronged strategy to connect a significant share of lower-income families to housing opportunities in better neighborhoods. We are readying our new Inclusive Communities Policy Toolkit, an online resource which describes the multiple “prongs” in greater detail, and all in one place. The forthcoming site marshals a breadth of case studies, research, policy descriptions and other resources to detail promising options available to local governments for improving income and housing diversity. Designing zoning codes for greater inclusivity, being more creative and deliberate with assets like public land and preserving existing, well located, affordable rental homes are just three of the policy approaches described in depth.

Interest in inclusionary housing in particular has been growing noticeably this year, especially in cities where rents are rising faster than incomes and the affordability crunch is impacting the middle class. A new crop of policies is under consideration in not just New York City, but also areas of the country where inclusionary housing has been historically rare, such as Nashville, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Portland, Me. Here in Washington, D.C., the city council passed a resolution last week emphasizing the importance of the city’s existing inclusionary zoning program and suggesting ways to make it more effective.

This month we are looking at how cities new to inclusionary housing can achieve both inclusion and flexibility with their policies, so that requirements are economically feasible for developers and don’t dampen housing production. Many localities design flexibility into their inclusionary housing policies by allowing a menu of compliance options that include off-site affordable development, but local context greatly affects which compliance will make the most sense for each community.

A relatively new option is the practice of allowing developers to meet their affordability obligations by preserving existing, at-risk, low-cost housing. Places such as New York City, Boulder, and Davis, Ca. already offer this preservation option, but it’s untested. Cities are still working out questions such as “What should be the minimum threshold for rehabilitation?” and “What happens to existing residents in ‘market-affordable’ buildings?”

Stay tuned later this month for our upcoming policy brief on new ways to make inclusionary housing flexible. As localities consider a new crop of inclusionary housing policies this year, we’re looking forward to helping them build on past lessons and innovations to do more to improve neighborhood options for low-income families and children.

What housers need to know about Medicaid reform and the ACA

News from NHC and the Center
by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy

Housing is an important influence on, and a social determinant, of health. The new paper from NHC’s Center for Housing Policy, Affordable Housing’s Place in Health Care: Opportunities Created by the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid Reform explains how Medicaid reform initiatives and changes made to Medicaid by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have led the health care sector to focus more on prevention, care coordination and the social needs of Medicaid beneficiaries. Some of the changes to Medicaid by the ACA and other reforms have created openings and incentives for health care organizations to collaborate with affordable housing providers to address the impact of housing on the health of low-income individuals.

The ACA and other Medicaid reforms have created greater flexibility for health care providers and in some cases incentivized investment in social services for patients in order to reduce the use and cost of emergency department care and other acute medical interventions. As health care organizations focus on the comprehensive needs of low-income individuals, there are opportunities for affordable housing organizations to work with, or receive funding from, some health care organizations to provide housing and supportive services to Medicaid beneficiaries. 

The report identifies these opportunities and describes promising programs and developments in different parts of the country. It offers an overview of areas where the health and housing sectors overlap where affordable housing providers, healthy housing organizations and advocates can pursue collaborations with health care organizations.

EPA Awards Green & Healthy Homes Initiative the 2015 National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management

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

NHC member Green and Health Homes Initiative was recently recognized as a national model for asthma care by the Environmental Protection Agency.  GHHI was presented with the National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management, recognizing its work to improve the lives of people with asthma in underserved communities.

In Baltimore City, the rates of residents diagnosed with asthma are higher than average, as lower-income communities tend to have a higher percentage of home in deteriorating condition. The Baltimore division of GHHI serves low-income families using asthma management models that combine in-home asthma education with remediation. It also assesses homes for common environmental hazards like vermin, lead paint, dust and mold.

“We are honored by the EPA’s recognition of our work and will continue adapting to serve families in Baltimore and across the country,” GHHI President & CEO Ruth Ann Norton said in a press release. “Strong collaboration is key to our program’s success in Baltimore [and] GHHI emphasizes collaboration across the public, private and philanthropic sectors to have real and lasting health impacts, as well as improve school and work attendance and reduce monthly energy bills.”

Affordable housing is a strong social determinant of one’s physical, mental and emotional health. Our new research summary, The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health, reveals that access to stable, affordable housing can be key to improving health and wellbeing for children, adults and older adults.

The ceremony took place on May 7 at the Newseum in Washington, DC. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Community Builders celebrates grand opening of mixed-income development

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

NHC member The Community Builders recently celebrated the grand opening of The Lofts at Noda Mills, a mixed-income development in Charlotte, N.C. The Lofts were approved for a Community Development Block Grant in 2012. The project incorporates affordable housing into a restoration of the historic Mecklenburg Mill, built in 1903.

The newly renovated apartments boast Energy Star appliances, washers and dryers in every unit and high ceilings. The community also features a fitness center, a business center, a library, a sunroom and two community rooms. Another fun and added bonus is the community’s art loft, where residents can enjoy displayed artwork.  Studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments at the Lofts have monthly rents ranging from $500 to $775. 

“The Community Builders is tremendously proud of the redevelopment of this historic building,” Rob Fossi, who oversees the Mid-Atlantic region for The Community Builders, said in a press release. “The Lofts at NoDa Mills gave us the opportunity to partner with an extraordinary neighborhood in a flourishing city to bring a cherished community asset back to life, all while delivering quality housing at an affordable price in a vital, transit-oriented-development.”

When affordable housing is at the center of community revitalization, low-and moderate-income families can afford quality housing in amenity-rich communities. NHC’s 43rdAnnual Gala this Thursday at the National Building Museum honors two comprehensive community development initiatives that have helped low-income residents afford an improved quality of life, much like the Lofts at NoDa Mills will do for residents in Charlotte.

The 48-unit building, considered one of Charlotte’s most well preserved early textile mills, is now fully leased.