Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Mass. agency awarded two national housing honors

by Andrea Nesby,
National Housing Conference

MassHousing, an NHC Leadership Circle member, was awarded two national housing awards by NHC member National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA). One honor was for their Purchase and Rehabilitation Program, which is the only formal mortgage program in Massachusetts that provides financing for both the acquisition and repair of neglected properties suffering from deferred maintenance.

MassHousing’s Purchase and Rehab program mortgages are heavily concentrated in the state’s 26 “Gateway Cities,” defined as having populations between 35,000 and 250,000 residents with both average household income and average educational attainment rate below the state average.

The MassHousing loan program is unique in that the rehabilitation work is supervised by a qualified bank loan officer or rehab specialist and rehab funds are advanced on a predetermined schedule structured to have work completed within six months of the original loan closing. Over the past six years, the program has helped nearly 350 families purchase and repair homes in at-risk neighborhoods with $60 million in overall financing. The program has succeeded with the support of local municipalities and community conscious non-profit organizations and MassHousing-approved lenders.

“The MassHousing Purchase and Rehabilitation Program not only helps qualified homebuyers buy homes in need of repair but it helps stabilize neighborhoods by reviving blighted and abandoned properties,” said MassHousing Executive Director Tim Sullivan. “This award from NCSHA also highlights the commitment of our municipal, non-profit and lending partners who work closely with us to provide homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income homebuyers who are being underserved in the traditional mortgage market.”

Through its Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force, NHC lifts up best practices for comprehensive community development like the MassHousing Purchase and Rehabilitation Program to help those neighborhoods still struggling to recover from the foreclosure crisis, the recession and for some, many years of underinvestment and neglect. For more information or to participate in the task force, contact NHC policy and research associate Kaitlyn Snyder

Zoning and land-use regulation offer potential for unlikely partnerships

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

On Nov. 29, I attended a Policy Forum at the CATO Institute exploring the question of how to keep housing affordable and if cities should grow upward or grow outward. One key takeaway for me was the broad agreement, at least at a high level, that land-use regulation increases the cost to build housing. While conservatives and progressives may disagree on the costs and benefits of specific regulations, this event highlighted that we can start from a place of agreement and find areas to explore together.

All three panelists (Randall O’Toole, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute, Emily Hamilton, Policy Research Manager, Mercatus Center and Gerritt Knaap, Professor of Urban Studies and Executive Director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education) agreed that land-use regulations increase the cost to build affordable housing, and that local jurisdictions need to consider how to lower regulatory costs. This discussion comes after the White House proposed a development toolkit and exploration of this topic by the American Enterprise Institute. All have come to some shared conclusions like reducing parking requirements for transit-oriented developments and implementing density bonuses as ways to remove barriers to affordable housing. While the panelists disagreed about specific regulations like growth management boundaries and inclusionary zoning, the need for appropriate land-use regulation where the benefits outweigh the costs, for regulation appropriate to the regional housing market, the importance of streamlined approval processes and removing barriers to developing affordable housing could be areas where unlikely partners can work together.

Removing barriers related to land-use regulation could be very helpful for affordable housing. In an era of declining federal resources, forming new partnerships and exploring opportunities at the state and local levels are two increasingly important ways we can move affordable housing forward.

Looking to the future of affordable housing and broadband

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

On Nov. 30, I attended “Transforming Communities, Broadband Goals for 2017 and Beyond” to learn about efforts to support greater broadband access and adoption. Because broadband expansion has bipartisan support and because of groups like the Senate broadband caucus and interest in infrastructure, 2017 holds potential for new policy activity in this space. NHC has been encouraging broadband in affordable housing through research, policy and our Connectivity Working Group. Our focus is to expand at home broadband access, especially for low-income households who otherwise may be left behind.

Speakers at the event discussed how the U.S. has made significant progress in improving broadband access and adoption, moving from a 68% adoption rate in 2009 to a 75% rate in 2016. Internet speed has increased 300% in the past six years, and schools connected to the internet have increased from 30% to 78%. As we’ve made these strides in broadband access, home broadband access has become increasingly important and is now a necessity. However, the digital divide in terms of geography, income, age and disability status is still significant and needs to be addressed.

While the digital divide was certainly a focus of this event, the connection to affordable housing was barely mentioned. Unless we commit to ensuring the most vulnerable residents, including those in federally assisted housing are connected to broadband, inequity will increase. Partnerships among housing providers, technology providers and digital inclusion organizations are necessary to bridge this divide. Creative thinking about how to finance broadband infrastructure and service as well as how to fund equipment and digital literacy programs will be essential. The FCC’s Lifeline Modernization can offer some new opportunities for housing providers because of the expanded individual subsidy for broadband as well as opportunities to aggregate and to become a Lifeline Broadband Provider. And housing providers could join and network with existing collaborative efforts like HUD’s ConnectHome program, Next Century Cities, Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance to find new ideas and solutions.

Home broadband is only going to become more important and NHC looks forward to further engagement in this work. Please reach out to me if you want to learn more or join NHC’s Connectivity Working Group.

Friday, December 2, 2016

How to counter community opposition in the age of Trump

by Amy Clark,
National Housing Conference 

On Nov. 8, voters across the country heard the affordable housing message loud and clear and approved numerous state and local housing funding measures that will make it possible for more of our neighbors in both “red” and “blue” states to live in safe, healthy affordable homes. This was a fantastic achievement in housing advocacy, but the work is far from over: Developers, local governments and advocates must now move to convincing the neighbors of proposed housing developments to accept more affordable homes into their communities.

The election cycle that brought over 37 affordable housing measures to the ballot in eight states also elevated toxic rhetoric about people of color and other minority populations.  The public discourse has changed, and that’s likely to affect our efforts to build support for affordable housing development and counter community opposition. Here’s what I anticipate you may hear about affordable housing in your community, and how to prepare for it:

Opposition based in racism. In the wake of the election there have been many reports of hate-based harassment and intimidation across the country. A segment of our population feels newly empowered to use racist language as a weapon. While racism and fear of difference have always been at least an undercurrent of some kinds of community opposition, in recent years it’s largely been implied, not overt. You may see an uptick in overt racism in siting conversations.

What to do? While it would be satisfying—and, arguably, right—to call out racist language directly when you hear it, research tells us that this is likely to backfire, causing the speaker to defensively double-down on the prejudiced belief. Instead, a study this year found that “a short conversation encouraging actively taking the perspective of others can markedly reduce prejudice.” This argues for holding small-group conversations, and for facilitators trained to listen and find common ground.

Misinformation about your work. You’ve likely heard much about the success of fake news on Facebook during the presidential campaign. Misinformation this election cycle may have had a distinctive rightward bent, but don’t bother patting yourself on the back if you lean left. All of us are susceptible to information that confirms what we already believe, regardless of its factual accuracy. Don’t be surprised to see an increase in the misinformation about your work being posted online and handed around in anonymous flyers around the neighborhoods where you work.

What to do? Don’t write up a “frequently asked questions” page that restates all the lies being told about your work. By emphasizing the misinformation—even when you later correct it—you’re just driving it deeper into peoples’ consciousness. Instead, use proven debunking techniques. First tell your truth (“Our apartments increase neighborhood safety.”), then signpost the misinformation and explain the motive behind it (“There is a myth circulating that affordable housing increases crime, promoted by a small new neighborhood group formed to fight our proposal.”), and finally give a brief, clear alternative explanation, repeated in graphics if possible (“In fact, by starting a neighborhood watch program and installing security cameras, we’ve helped create a 13 percent decrease in property crime in another neighborhood where we work. We want to work with you to have a similar positive impact here.”).

Opposition driven by ideological difference. Research into persistent opposition to affordable housing has shown that spatial ideology—an individual’s set of beliefs around who can live in and use a particular place, and who has the right to participate in decision-making about a place—can be predictive of opposition to, or support of, affordable housing. The recent push to disenfranchise groups of Americans through voter ID laws and other restrictions is an example of a narrow conception of spatial rights, and the electoral contest was rife with rhetoric supporting a conscribed idea of to whom America truly belongs. Opposition may now more frequently focus on delegitimizing prospective low-income residents, perhaps as “not American” or simply “not from here.”

What to do? Similar to racist language, addressing spatial ideology head-on might not be effective. But at the same time, there are likely to be people in your community who believe lower-income people have an equal right to live in a place. Find these potential supporters by emphasizing the values of diversity and inclusion, and give this group a clear way to take action to support your work.

Distrust of institutional authority. The success of populist presidential candidates from both parties points to, among other things, Americans’ growing distrust of institutions. Whether it’s in banks, the news media or government itself, people across the political spectrum have lost faith. As it happens, affordable housing development connects to all sorts of things many of our neighbors have come to doubt: taxation, finance systems and entities, and zoning, just to name a few.

What to do? First, people who have lost trust will hear a developer mention “partnering with the government” and immediately hear an attempt to paper over a profit-making arrangement. Step away from the marketing talk and use plain language to explain how your work works. Second, reframe the role of these suddenly suspect institutions. A new paper from Enterprise Community Partners and the FrameWorks Institute recommends that we help people understand the role of government in affordable housing by explaining “the role of systems in shaping outcomes for people and… communities,” and by “zooming out” to tell broader stories that explain the impact of having more affordable homes on everyone in a community. You know your work is about more than units; help others understand this, too.

Countering community opposition has never been easy, and I hope to hear from you that my predictions have not come true. Even if they do, our work has long-term impact, both for strengthening local economies and decreasing bias. There is evidence that white people living in diverse neighborhoods “endorsed fewer negative stereotypes, and [feel] closer to blacks as a group.” When we create diverse, inclusive and economically thriving communities, we help decrease prejudice and division. That’s something truly worth fighting for.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Housing policy really could get done next year

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Housing didn’t feature prominently in the 2016 campaigns.While I might wish it had gotten more attention, I’m glad it wasn’t the focus of hyperbolic campaign promises. With the campaign behind us and the work of governing ahead, we could see federal action on housing along several fronts, potentially with bipartisan cooperation. Don’t mistake this for a prediction of harmony—I expect bruising appropriations battles, chaotic tax reform debates, and many filibusters in the Senate.  The Trump Administration is also a big unknown at this point. With Dr. Ben Carson the nominee for HUD Secretary, the other top appointments at HUD and USDA will do a lot to shape the direction of housing policy.  We could see anything from a huge curtailment of housing assistance and regulation to a pro-building boom led by HUD and USDA.

That said, there are several housing issues a Republican Congress and president are well-placed to tackle with help from Democrats in the minority:

Flood insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program is due for reauthorization in 2017. It is must-do legislation because without a functioning flood insurance program, people can’t buy or sell houses in the many places where flood insurance is mandatory (among other reasons).  The last two major flood insurance laws were bipartisan, so there’s real prospect for the same happening in 2017. From a housing perspective, the key to success will be reforming the program to encourage people to build more resiliently and in less flood-prone places while keeping costs manageable, especially for low-income households.

Rural housing and revitalization. The Trump administration arrives with a mandate from rural and Rust Belt America to bring jobs and prosperity to places that have long suffered from declining population and deindustrialization. This may well be the time that the federal government pays real attention to oft-ignored places like Appalachia, the Gulf Coast, the deep South, the rural Midwest, and long-distressed areas closer to urban centers.  Housing investments are an essential part of revitalization, both as job creation directly and as housing for workers of modest income. Preserving existing rental housing, making housing healthier, repairing homes for low-income older adults, and creating new housing near emerging job centers are all part of meeting the needs our country just heard expressed.

Poverty. Speaker Paul Ryan has been beating the drum on poverty alleviation for quite some time now, gradually putting detail behind his proposals. For most families in poverty, housing is the single biggest expense, which makes housing affordability and quality central to any effort on poverty.  Bipartisan engagement on the details of poverty and housing policy will help to get those details right, so that housing can be a platform for individual and community success.

Housing finance reform. Remember that temporary housing finance system set up in 2008 in the wake of the financial crisis?  Yes, that’s what we still have.  A new Congress brings a new opportunity to find a sustainable path forward for housing finance that harnesses the creativity of the private sector to ensure reliable access to mortgage credit everywhere in America, for rented and owned housing alike.  Past efforts that progressed furthest were bipartisan, as will be any likely solution in the future.

Broadband access. Having a good internet connection at home is a gateway to education, job opportunity, small business start-ups, better health care, and reduced social isolation.  But only half of very low income renters have broadband at home.  The FCC recently opened the door to allow housing providers to bring internet connections home using the Lifeline program, and there are many steps HUD and USDA can take to build on public-private partnerships already in progress.  Bipartisan action to close the connectivity gap could be a powerful start to 2017. 

Public housing. You’d be hard-pressed to find an area of housing with worse funding cuts or more micro-managing regulation than public housing. Yet there are also great examples of public housing authorities becoming entrepreneurial, pioneering new financing models, and crafting housing solutions in education, health and economic development. 2017 presents an opportunity to recapitalize and reinvent public housing to serve the great need it faces. Indeed, that’s why we’re having a session on the future of public housing at our Solutions for Affordable Housing convening on December 14.

None of these issues are easy, and none of the solutions are free. The new Congress and administration that come in January will need to get into the details quickly to make sure that the inevitable partisan battles over budget and appointments don’t get in the way of much needed housing policy. They will also need the political will to bring stable housing within the reach of more people in this country—and that’s very much an open question.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Receiving a paycheck doesn’t always mean you can afford housing

by Andrea Nesby, National Housing Conference

Growing up in D.C.  I saw public housing developments be replaced with new luxury apartments, cafes and eateries. “Wow, it’s so vibrant now,” I would tell myself. But it wouldn’t take long before I saw someone wrapped up in ragged blankets outside of a business, and I would think: What cost, and to whom, does transforming a neighborhood come with? Maybe these changes would give vulnerable persons another chance to have a job, so that they’re not displaced. They would have a place in the neighborhood like anyone else, not be shut out.  It would be a chance for them to start over and get back on their feet. But over the years, I’ve learned having a job isn’t a single solution to prevent homelessness or for someone to end their homelessness. Instead, it starts with keeping housing affordable for individuals and families with low and moderate income levels.

While working at a homeless organization for four years in Montgomery County, Maryland, one of the most wealthiest counties in the nation, I gained insight on what it means to afford housing cost. For the first time, I learned about the average cost of housing in the D.C. area, and it was startling. The fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Montgomery County is over $1,400. How many workers could afford it?

Now a week into my new job at NHC, I’ve had the chance to look at our Paycheck to Paycheck 2016 report and view the webinar. And it really hit me. Someone doesn’t necessarily have to only make minimum wage or be extremely low income for housing to be unaffordable. Even a professional, like a school social worker, would have trouble being able to afford living near where he or she works. Out of the 210 metropolitan areas assessed in the report, only 52 percent were affordable for the average school social worker.

What if someone’s check went to cover car expenses, an unforeseen medical expense, an unexpected legal expense or a family emergency? What if their work hours decrease? What if someone is only making minimum wage? The scenarios can be endless, but the solutions aren’t— and one solution is increasing the supply of affordable housing.  I remember hearing people can be one paycheck away to being close to experiencing homelessness. And for me, “Paycheck to Paycheck” has put this in even greater perspective. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What's next for the housing community post-election

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

It has been a week since the election, and we have had some time to reflect on the outcome and how we at NHC see the landscape ahead for affordable housing and community development policy. The presidential results surprised most political and
media observers, and congressional races resulted in larger Republican majorities in Congress than many predicted. What is also unusual is how much we do not know at this point.

Regardless of election outcomes, I believe that affordable housing and community development must be a bipartisan issue to be successful.  Broad-based public support will be part of creating the political will required for adequate funding and other legislative solutions. 

Over my past four-plus years at NHC, I have focused on building a governing board balanced by members of both political parties and on being a respected source of information across partisan lines. We have also been committed to improving the communications strategies of our sector as well as making the case for the interconnectedness of the spectrum of housing and community development and the need for us to work together more effectively in our education efforts.

President-elect Trump arrives with no prior governing or military experience, but rather business experience and a mandate for change. His positions during his campaign gave us little direct evidence as to his views on housing and community development, but his campaign messaging around the need for a major investment in infrastructure suggests a way to connect housing as part of the vital infrastructure for community economic success and sustainability.

President-elect Trump also focused a lot of energy (and had success in voter support) in areas of the country that have experienced long-term economic decline or are still struggling to recover from the recession. These rural and urban areas in swing states that went majority Republican, like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio, create important coalition opportunities with other rural states, including majority Democratic states like Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine and majority Republican states in the middle and south west regions.  We believe that developing a bipartisan coalition around revitalization through housing can be a major opportunity to position affordable housing and community development work.

Housing is a bipartisan issue and the challenges in both rental affordability and access to homeownership are vital to economic sustainability and growth for the country. Affordable housing programs create vital infrastructure for vulnerable populations like persons with disabilities and seniors, as well as improve workforce sustainability and economic development. We hope the whole spectrum of affordable housing and community development organizations will come together to make this case in a united voice to the new administration and Congress.

We have followed the names put forward for HUD Secretary and are pleased that several are people with strong histories of work on and support for affordable housing. There are also other candidates we know much less about and at least one who has been very hostile to HUD efforts to deconcentrate poverty through Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. This appointment will be the first signal from the new administration of its support for housing issues. A second important appointment for housing will be Treasury Secretary. This person will play an important role in both rental and homeownership affordability, potential changes to the Dodd-Frank law and potential reform of the housing finance system.

Housing finance reform is a long-unaddressed issue NHC has focused on since the financial crisis. We plan to work in coalition in the coming year to help move housing finance reform forward along the consensus principles our task force developed two years ago. There are several other issues we think are particularly ripe for attention with the new administration and Congressional makeup. 

Reauthorization and reform of the National Flood Insurance Program is much needed to help people sustain homeownership affordably without being in harm's way. When disasters strike, the federal costs for emergency assistance quickly outstrip actual housing and community development funding. We remain hopeful that movement on this issue can be achieved that can allow for predictability and move the country towards more sustainable development in flood-prone areas while not exacerbating housing affordability challenges.

President-elect Trump has laid out some initial priorities already that may have funding implications for housing programs indirectly because of overall budget pressures. The proposal to raise the sequester cap on defense spending will put immediate pressure on non-discretionary spending (where housing programs reside) to be reduced to balance out those increases. Additional ideas like repealing or reforming parts of the Affordable Care Act could also place additional pressures on the non-defense discretionary budgets.

These pressures will be balanced against the new administration's desire to invest in areas experiencing decline and the need for large-scale infrastructure investment noted above. When we see specific proposals in Congress, we will be quick to share information on how they will impact housing funding, as well as the best strategy and framing to position housing and community development.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Affordable housing wins on the state and local level

by Kaitlyn Snyder, National Housing Conference 

On Election Day, several state and local housing measures were on the ballot across the country. Voters had an opportunity to weigh in on issues like parking requirements, eviction requirements, new taxes or dedication of existing taxes to support affordable housing and homelessness programs, and inclusionary zoning. I’m very happy to report that the vast majority of these ballot measures passed! State and local advocates were able to successfully demonstrate the need for and importance of affordable housing and perhaps more importantly, agree on practical steps to address the problems.

Below is a list of housing ballot measures and their outcome, broken down by state and community. Shout out to Michael Anderson with the Center for Community Change for compiling the list of ballot measures. If you know of any ballot measures that passed that are not included in this list, please send them to me at ksnyder@nhc.org!

  • Alameda County
    • Measure A1 is a $580 million bond for low-income people through homeowner and renter housing programs. Passed with 72 percent.
    • Berkeley 
      • Measure AA prohibits owner move-in evictions for families with children during the academic year and increases re-allocation payment requirements. Passed with 72 percent
      • Measure U1 would generate funds for new affordable homes through an increase in the business license tax for owners of larger multi-unit residential buildings. Passed with 74 percent
      • Measure JJ extends just-cause eviction requirements from units approved for occupancy before October 14, 1980, to units approved before December 31, 1995, and require landlords to request approval for non-standard rent increases. Passed with 74 percent
      • Measure KK is a $600 million bond to support street repairs, affordable homes and other essential community needs. Passed with 82 percent.
    • Albany 
      • Measure N1 allows minimum parking requirements to be lowered from 2 to 1.5 for each newly constructed residential unit when the city determines there is adequate street parking. Passed with 67 percent.
  • Los Angeles
    • Proposition HHH allows the issuance of $1.2 billion in general obligations bonds to provide safe, clean affordable housing for the homeless; facilities for mental health, drug and alcohol treatment; and facilities for housing assistance and for those in danger of becoming homeless. The initiative will raise property taxes by .01 percent as a pay-for. Passed with 76 percent.  
    • The Build Better LA Initiative Ordinance JJJ would impose affordable housing mandates and labor requirements on residential developments above ten apartments that seek zoning changes or general plan amendments; fees in lieu would go into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Passed with 63 percent.
  • San Francisco
    • Measure C changes $250 million bond loan program for seismic upgrades, including loans for affordable housing acquisition and development. Passed with 76 percent.
    • Measure J would create a Homeless Housing and Services Fund to route $1.2 billion into homeless housing and services over the next 25 years. Passed with 66 percent, but was dependent upon Proposition K passing for funding. 
    • Failed: Measure K would have increased the sales tax by .75 percentage points, a measure that would generate an additional $50 million for homeless services and transportation. 
    • Measure M would create a new Housing and Development Commission to oversee the policies and long-term planning decisions of the City's Office of Economic and Workforce Development and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. Failed with only 44 percent of the vote. 
    • Measure P would require that anytime the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) invites developers to submit proposals for an affordable housing project on city-owned property MOHCD must publish the proposed project to the public and invite the submission of proposals; receive at least three proposals for the project; accept the proposal with the “best value. Failed with only 33 percent of the vote.
    • Measure Q gives the city the power to remove sidewalk tent camps with 24 hours notice, provided residents are offered space at a shelter or a ticket out of town. Passed with 53 percent
    • Measure S directs the current 8 percent base tax on the rental of hotel rooms to provide specific funding for two different areas, arts programs and family homeless services. Passed with 62 percent.
    • Measure U would have changed inclusionary zoning requirements for market-rate developments from serving people at 55 percent of area median income to 110 percent of area median income. Failed with only 35 percent of the vote. If passed, it would have also applied retroactively to nearly 1,000 existing low-income rental units. 
  • Santa Clara County - Measure A would authorize $950 million in bond funds to support affordable housing. Passed with 67 percent.
  • San Mateo County - Measure K extends a half-cent sales tax for 20 years, providing an estimated $80 million a year, some of which will be for affordable housing. Passed with 70 percent.
  • Santa Monica
    • Measure GSH will vote on a half-cent sales tax increase to fund education and affordable housing. Passed with 63 percent
    • Measure GS requires that half of revenue from any new local transactions and use tax must help preserve and ensure housing in Santa Monica that is affordable, protect residents from displacement by rising housing costs and reduce homelessness. Passed with 70 percent
Eagle County, Colo. - Ballot issue 1A supports a sales tax increase to fund affordable housing. Failed with only 37 percent.

Baltimore, Md. - Question J amends the City Charter to create a housing trust fund that would support fair and affordable housing for low-income households. A dedicated revenue source is not part of Question J. Passed with 83 percent.

Massachusetts - Sixteen Massachusetts jurisdictions voted on levying a Community Preservation Act property tax levy, which is used for affordable housing, open spaces and historical preservation. 11 of those ballot measures passed:
  • Cities passed: Boston (74 percent), Chelsea (66 percent), Holyoke (56 percent), Pittsfield (63 percent), Springfield (62 percent), and Watertown (61 percent)
  • Towns passed: Billerica (52 percent), Hull (59 percent), Norwood (61 percent), Rockland (50.5 percent), and Wrentham (68 percent)
North Carolina: 
  • Asheville - City Council approved a general obligation bond referendum that would generate $74 million for public improvements divided into three categories, Housing Affordability (71 percent), Parks and Recreation (77 percent), and Streets, Sidewalks & Bike Lanes (76 percent). Voters voted separately on each category and all three passed
  • Greensboro - Bond for $25 million for various affordable housing programs. Passed with 68 percent.
  • Orange County - $5 million bond for affordable housing. Passed with 66 percent.
Portland, Ore. - Voters approved measure 26-179 which creates a $258.4 million bond to preserve and build affordable housing. Passed with 62 percent.

Rhode Island - Measure 7 authorizes $50 million for bonds in affordable housing, urban revitalization and blight remediation. Passed with 58 percent.

Vancouver, Wash. - Proposition 1 would approve a housing property $42 million 6-year tax levy and create an Affordable Housing Fund to serve very low-income families and individuals. Passed with 57 percent.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The future of housing counseling

by Rebekah King,
National Housing Conference

On Tuesday, Nov. 1, I attended a Housing Counseling Federal Advisory Committee meeting, where I learned about the state of the housing counseling industry. Some key takeaways for me were:  HUD is working on a large scale demonstration of first-time homebuyer counseling, and its findings could be significant in showing the value of housing counseling; as federal funding for foreclosure prevention significantly declines in the coming year, the housing counseling industry faces the challenge of sustainability; and financial coaching and technology are both important aspects of the future of housing counseling.

HUD’s first-time homebuyer demonstration:
  • HUD has enrolled over 5,500 first-time homebuyers with incomes below 120 percent of the local area median income into its randomized study to determine the effects of homebuyer counseling and education. These homebuyers represent 28 metro areas.
  • Households were enrolled in either in-person counseling, remote counseling or a control group which was not offered counseling. 
  • HUD had to adapt its study because the take-up rate for in-person counseling was too low; families were instead offered a choice of in-person or remote counseling. 
  • The scale, experimental design, elimination of selection bias, and length of follow-up will make this study’s findings significant.
  • Early findings showed improved mortgage literacy and improved underwriting qualifications of participating homebuyers.

Sustainability of housing counseling:
  • In 2010, there were 2,735 HUD approved housing counseling agencies, but only 1,960 housing counseling agencies in 2016. 
  • The number of households served between 2008 and 2016 declined by 50 percent. 
  • Neither the House nor Senate FY 2017 budget proposed any funding for the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Grant program. Hardest Hit funds will also decline over the coming years, as will funding from mortgage settlements.
  • To survive, housing counselors need to explore other funding models, like fee for service. 
  • Servicers could help pay for foreclosure prevention counseling. Lenders could help pay for homebuyer counseling, like Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Fannie Mae do. Employers could also be a source of funding for housing counseling.
  • Housing counseling needs to be integrated into the mortgage marketplace to ensure its long-term sustainability.

Financial coaching and technology:
  • There’s a deep need for financial coaching and asset building, given the wealth and homeownership gaps between white households and black households. 
  • Housing counseling needs reliable technology solutions in terms of how counselors manage client data and provide counseling services to better integrate with the mortgage process. 
  • While the housing crisis is over, the need for housing counseling in preparing families to purchase a home and to support homeowners facing financial challenges will remain. Recent studies from the Federal Reserve and the Urban Institute on financial coaching and housing counseling further affirm the value and importance of housing counseling and financial coaching. This challenge of sustainability is very real, and to ensure a future of housing counseling that is more universal and more robust, and there needs to be collaboration across sectors such as counselors, lenders and servicers.

Applying lessons from HOPE VI to public housing’s future

by Rebekah King and Kaitlyn Snyder,
National Housing Conference

On Oct. 27,we attended Urban Institute’s event, Lessons from Chicago’s Public Housing Transformation. The event opened with a reading from Susan Popkin’s new book, “No Simple Solutions: Transforming Public Housing in Chicago,” followed by a panel discussion on neighborhood revitalization. We were reminded that the experience of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and its HOPE VI redevelopment is significant because it is the only longitudinal data we have on HOPE VI. HUD did not receive enough funding to track families. CHA benefited from the MacArthur Foundation stepping up to fund Urban’s longitudinal research. 

The panel discussion on neighborhood revitalization was particularly interesting when the group discussed the pros and cons of vouchering out of public housing. With HUD’s new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule and a greater focus on mobility, this discussion was timely. Based on CHA’s experience, the panelists discussed the need for enough landlords who are willing to accept Housing Choice Vouchers as key to successfully vouchering for families. They also discussed that families need help to move to better neighborhoods; giving them a voucher and expecting them to find those neighborhoods on their own usually doesn’t work. CHA’s experience demonstrated the importance of different housing options. Some CHA families were ready and able to use a housing voucher. Other families needed the stability of public housing. Still some families would have benefited from permanent supportive housing. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. 

Panelist Mary Brown with the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative shared that “all communities have promise, and giving all communities the tools and resources they need to be communities of opportunity should be our goal. Residents should have the option to move to high opportunity communities, and they should also have the option to stay and be part of investment in their existing community.” NHC will explore this dynamic at our Solutions for Affordable Housing convening, as we discuss the future of public housing but also how placemaking and mobility strategies can connect to each other.

Speakers included: Ron Ashford, director, Public Housing Supportive Services, HUD; Mary Brown, executive director, DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative; Rolf Pendall, co-director, Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center, Urban Institute; Susan J. Popkin, senior fellow, Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center, Urban Institute; and Erika Poethig, director of urban policy initiatives, Urban Institute. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Once the election is over, it will be time for the housing community to get to work

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

Each presidential election year, national groups prepare transition memos outlining their priorities for each candidate. This happens across a wide range of policy areas, but all such memos are designed to educate the next administration, share priorities and recommendations and serve as the basis for future advocacy.

This year NHC chose not to create a transition memo. Many of our member groups will, so we felt that NHC’s best role in the transition is bring the field together around major housing policy issues in a way that could lead to more coalition-building, informed advocacy and linkages between issues and segments of the community development and affordable housing communities.

This is why we think of Solutions for Affordable Housing as our in-person transition memo. It differs from a transition memo, however, in that its audience is the field itself. We want to bring folks together around key issues, feature work at the state and local levels and have robust discussions that can lead to successful policy efforts at all levels of government. Because much of this work is informed by the intersection of housing and other issues like health, education and economic opportunity, we are excited to offer  our How Housing Matters conference and Solutions for Affordable Housing convening back-to-back on December 13 and 14 here in Washington.

While the outcomes of the presidential and congressional election seem murkier than ever, we do know that the campaigns—and the campaign ads—will be over in a week. Then the real work of understanding the dynamics of the election and what it meant for housing and community development issues will begin.

To help us launch this work, we have enlisted a tremendous set of experts for the luncheon plenary at Solutions. I am excited to moderate this discussion featuring David Gasson of Boston Capital, Christopher Ptomey of Habitat for Humanity, Cy Richardson of the National Urban League and Nan Roman of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. You will not want to miss this discussion about the election and what it means for your work.

Last week we noted that housing finance reform remains a key policy issue for NHC and highlighted the outstanding closing plenary we’ve planned for Solutions for Affordable Housing on this issue. This week we were pleased to see a white paper from two Treasury officials on the same topic, with a focus on affordability we have not seen from previous administration documents. 

No matter what happens on Nov. 8, I look forward to working with all of our members and across party lines to ensure housing and community development remain as vital to the national policy conversation as they are to the lives of our communities. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Let’s get competitive

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

Most means-tested federal housing funds flow by formula. There are practical and political reasons for relying on formula, but it’s time housing got a little more competitive. Imagine what change could occur if states or localities could receive more federal housing help if they made greater progress in reducing the cost of housing in their jurisdiction and by achieving other savings through affordable housing. Instead of only chasing rising housing costs with shrinking federal dollars, we could align efforts in the places struggling most.

The federal government distributes housing funds by formula grants for solid reasons, both political and practical ones. A formula based on objective metrics like population, number of recipients or past usage is presumptively fair. People who need help get help, even if their voices aren’t loud. Formulas that ensure every part of the country receives help garner broad-based political support, too. Examples of formula-based programs of various stripes abound in housing: the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, HOME Investment Partnerships, the Housing Choice Voucher Program, the National Housing Trust Fund, public housing capital and operating funds and more.

A competitive program, in contrast, only provides assistance to those who apply and demonstrate success or capacity for success. It encourages innovation and drives applicants to excel. Competitive allocation can’t be the only way of distributing housing help, of course, because people need help everywhere, but adding competition to the mix could stimulate successes that could then become best practices in the field.

Here’s a quick sketch of a competitive program for distributing housing help that would reward places for reducing the cost of housing. States and localities would apply for funds annually to HUD, which would award funds based on several criteria:
  • Prevalence and severity of housing cost burden. 
  • Actions by states or localities to reduce growth of housing costs. Examples include expedited zoning and permitting, inclusionary zoning with density bonuses, property tax abatements or exemptions for affordable rentals, homeownership or rental assistance using the applicant’s own resources rather than federal dollars and long-term land trusts for affordability. 
  • Savings in other areas such as education, economic development or health generated by investments in affordable housing. 
  • Demonstrated ability to spend housing resources effectively and efficiently. Applicants would document who they have helped and how, emphasizing results and cost-effectiveness. 
  • Elimination of exclusionary policies, such as low-density zoning or occupancy limits. 
  • Efficient and effective use of funds in previous rounds. 
Awardees would have maximum flexibility to use the grant funds, in recognition of their proven performance in reducing housing costs. A state could use funds as gap financing awarded alongside Low Income Housing Tax Credits, as seed capital for community land trusts, as a revolving loan fund, as homeownership assistance or many other uses. Rather than relying on rules that put strict limits on uses, HUD would use the recurring competitive nature of the program to encourage applicants to spend efficiently and effectively. Put more simply, if a winning applicant wasted funds from one round, it probably wouldn’t win funds in the next year.

Adding a little competition could encourage places of high and rising housing cost to make scarce resources stretch farther. It would also encourage housers to deploy our best creative thinking while giving us the resources to put that creativity to work.