Friday, January 29, 2016

Minnesota Housing Partnership awarded Wells Fargo grant to leverage community-driven investment in rural communities, American Indian reservations

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

Last month NHC member Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP) was awarded a grant from NHC Chairman’s Circle member Wells Fargo Housing Foundation to expand its support to rural communities and American Indian reservations. The Community Resilience Initiative will connect rural and tribal communities to financial resources and technical skills they need to launch new projects, invest in economic vitality and build local collaborations.

Minnesota Housing Partnership has worked for many years to help rural and tribal communities achieve their goals of stable economies, sustainable housing and cultural autonomy. The $300,000 commitment from Wells Fargo to MHP is expected to attract more than $3 million in new development investment over the next five to ten years, from private and public sources, in more than a dozen rural and American Indian communities and regions across the country.

“Wells Fargo is committed to supporting the efforts of Minnesota Housing Partnership's community development team and we're proud to be a part of this effort to further strengthen our rural and Native American communities," Wells Fargo Senior Vice President and Community Relations Manager Muffie Gabler said in a press release. "Resilient, sustainable communities are critical to a healthy economy," she added.

Though founded with a focus on housing conditions in urban areas, in recent years NHC has expanded its focus to include rural communities in our work to move affordable housing forward. We’ve advocated for policy that would provide funding for the preservation of affordable housing in rural communities. As we look ahead into 2016, we’ll continue working to ensure that rural communities are not forgotten in the midst of the affordable housing movement.  

Minnesota Housing Partnership’s director of strategy and partnerships, Sarah Berke, added that “each dollar of investment from Wells Fargo will be matched directly by federal capacity-building dollars to attract ten to twenty times that amount in new investment over the longer term, as our partners launch their development projects."

San Diego Housing Commission Housing Development Partners, LISC preserve affordable housing for low-income seniors

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

NHC member San Diego Housing Commission’s nonprofit affiliate, Housing Development Partners (HDP), and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) recently purchased the New Palace Hotel in Banker’s Hill, San Diego to preserve as affordable housing for low-income seniors at risk of homelessness. The development will provide 79 affordable efficiency units for seniors aged 62 and older.

The former hotel will be renovated into studio apartments with kitchenettes ranging in size from 157 to 320 square feet. The development will remain affordable for the next 55 years to tenants with incomes up to 60 percent of San Diego’s area median income, which is about $34,000 a year for single individuals. LISC provided a loan of $5.8 million to fund HDP’s purchase of the hotel and closing costs. 

“The units at New Palace Hotel will remain affordable for 55 years, providing much-needed affordable housing for vulnerable seniors in San Diego,” San Diego Housing Commission President Richard Gentry said in a press release. “The San Diego Housing Commission is pleased to partner with Housing Development Partners and LISC for this purchase.”

The need for affordable housing in high-cost metro areas like San Diego is evidenced in our housing affordability research report, “Housing Landscape 2015.” The research shows that 20 percent of households in the area spend at least half of their income on housing costs, compared to a nationwide average of 15 percent. The 2016 edition of “Housing Landscape” will be released later this month.

New Palace Hotel first opened in 1913. It was destroyed by a fire in 1989 but rebuilt two years later to provide affordable housing. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

LIIF launches Social Impact Calculator 2.0

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

NHC member Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) revealed last month an update to its Social Impact Calculator tool, Social Impact Calculator 2.0. The tool is designed to allow community developers to measure the impact of affordable housing and other community investments by determining what works to improve the lives of people in those communities.

The first iteration of the calculator was launched last year. New features include the ability to calculate an internal rate of social return, select from different social discount rates, assess cumulative impact across several development projects and analyze multiple areas of impact for a single project. By estimating a development’s overall social impact, the calculator helps to show what, in addition to shelter, affordable housing developments provide to communities.

“LIIF created the Social Impact Calculator last year to share our approach to measuring social impact and provide an open-source resource for the field. The new features reflect our evolving thinking and our efforts to better measure our work,” LIIF President and CEO Nancy O. Andrews told Affordable Housing Finance in a statement. “We have appreciated the positive response to the calculator’s release and the conversations and feedback it has created. We look forward to continuing to engage with others who are seeking to measure, accelerate and communicate the social impact of community development projects.”

Ensuring communities have adequate affordable having available to meet the need is an essential part to revitalization and development. Our 2015 Annual Gala, co-chaired by Andrews, honored organizations working to sustain communities post-foreclosure and strengthen comprehensive community development through health, education, public safety and much more.

The Social Impact Calculator is available here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Having access to stable, affordable housing can improve health. Should we put a dollar value on it?

by Lisa Sturtevant, Ph.D., National Housing Conference 

For several years, I taught a program evaluation class at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy. Each time, the class session that generated the most interesting discussion was the one on cost-benefit analysis, specifically on how to measure benefits associated with health and well-being. My friend Kelly Maguire is an economist at the EPA, and she would come into class to talk about the agency’s approach to measuring the potential benefits associated with proposed environmental regulations. The students hotly debated the EPA’s value for a “statistical life” ($7.4 million in 2006 dollars) and how to value potential health benefits or reduced risk of bodily harm that might result because of a new regulation.

Putting a dollar value on good health is a tricky business. We have an abundance of evidence on the association between safe, stable and affordable housing and good health outcomes. But housing researchers tend to avoid monetizing those health benefits. There are good reasons for this. It can be really difficult to establish definitively that receipt of housing assistance causes improvements in health.  Even if it does, the benefits might be a long time coming and it can be hard to measure health changes. And some housing advocates balk at putting a dollar value on the benefits of housing, arguing that housing is a right and the economic benefits need not be part of the discussion.

Janet Viveiros and I recently completed a review of the research evaluating the cost effectiveness of housing programs by monetizing the health care savings that result when people are stably housed.  We found a number of rigorous studies that have demonstrated the health care cost savings associated with providing permanent supportive housing to homeless individuals.  But for other housing interventions, there appears to be no good research that has attempted to value what we could save on public health care spending if we invested in programs like Housing Choice Vouchers or the Rental Assistance Demonstration.

There is a lot of potential for quantifying health benefits and comparing health care cost savings to the costs of housing programs. Even as we realize that a cost-benefit analysis should not be the sole driver of housing policy, it can be a useful part of the discussion.  Environmental science researchers have developed methodologies for assigning values to health improvements and perhaps housing and community development researchers can use some of those approaches to make an economic case for investing in housing to save money on health care.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A year of moving forward

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

Though it wasn’t always clear at the time, 2015 delivered on the hope that the year prior to the election would see some improvement in budgeting and legislative activity. It came down to the wire, but both parties and both houses of Congress agreed to lift the arbitrarily punitive budget caps that forced across-the-board funding cuts, replacing them with greater budget flexibility and higher funding targets. This was especially important for housing programs as the HOME program could have been effectively eliminated in order to the meet the budget required under the caps. This was a major victory for all interested in affordable housing and community development, and NHC is proud to have been an outspoken coalition member.

Moving forward, in Washington 2016 will be defined by the November election that will bring us a new president and new (though likely only slightly changed) Congress. Much of the analysis of housing-related legislation and budget activity will be couched in terms of what is possible in a presidential election year. Regardless, important policy debate and regulatory work will occur that we should all follow and engage in.

Many important issues, like tax reform and reform of the safety net, will be discussed in ways that will lay out the starting point for work in the new presidential administration. There are also important rules, like the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, the implementation of which could have major long-term impacts on the development of affordable housing and the redevelopment of areas of concentrated poverty.

In 2016, NHC celebrates 85 years as an organization. Throughout the year, we will highlight those involved in our founding in 1931 as well as the many important leaders and legislative accomplishments that are a part of NHC’s long history. If you have a history of involvement with NHC and want to share some your favorite memories, please contact me so we can get them documented!

One of NHC’s longstanding traditions, our annual Budget Forum, will be held on Feb. 18. This will again be presented as a free webinar to make it accessible for all our members and friends across the country. It will feature housing practitioners sharing what the proposed budget means for their work and analysis of the implications of tax reform. The Budget Forum will also include a presentation on Housing Landscape 2016, our annual report on housing need and affordability across the country.

A newer tradition for NHC is holding events in different regions of the country. One example of this is our Solutions for Housing Communications 2016 Convening in New York City, April 28-29. This event is a unique opportunity to learn about the psychology behind community opposition to affordable housing and learn effective strategies for building long-term support for affordable housing efforts. Thanks to the generous sponsorship of JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, registration is only $100 for NHC members and $150 for non-members. Visit our website for workshop descriptions and to register. We expect demand to exceed capacity, so don’t miss this opportunity—register today.

We look forward to engaging with our members at these and many other opportunities in the coming year. 

Let’s work together to make Duty to Serve a success

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

The proposed Duty to Serve rule holds a lot of promise for expanding Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s financing of affordable housing. But how the rule proposes to get to the expansion is as important as the extent of the affordable housing work. By pushing Fannie and Freddie to make their own plans, set goals and measure the results, the rule has a chance at stimulating real innovation to reach places currently lacking good access to capital for affordable housing. For Duty to Serve to succeed, people inside and outside of government need to take up the affordable housing mission along with their day-to-day responsibilities.

Duty to Serve would direct Fannie and Freddie to look for specific ways to reach underserved markets, set their own goals and then measure their performance with an eye toward improvement over time.  (Barry Zigas, a member of NHC’s Board of Governors, has a great summary with more detail.) Congress specifically directed that the rule not set numerical goals, exerting not-so-gentle pressure toward a qualitative approach. 

That could make a big difference. Purely numerical goals can result in “pay the piper” behavior that doesn’t create new ways to finance affordable housing. Meeting the numerical goals becomes just a cost of doing business. A qualitative approach, however, has at least the potential to identify new ways to finance affordable housing that other entities could replicate without the urging of regulators. Fruitless wheel-spinning is certainly possible, too, but the upside of success is worth aiming for, and if we work together, we have a chance of realizing it.

For Duty to Serve to succeed, it will take dedicated people working at Fannie and Freddie, at FHFA and at the affordable housing lenders and developers who use the financing tools, to innovate successfully. Each of them must take up the affordable housing mission along with their day-to-day responsibilities.  We cannot focus only on how to close the next loan or start the next concrete pour.  We must also think about how to make loans and pour concrete in places we aren’t reaching now. The work of NHC and its members offer clear precedent for this approach. In NHC’s 85 years of history, blending mission and innovation with public-private partnership has been a theme from the very beginning. The theme starts in the 1930s with the deliberations that gave rise to the Federal Home Loan Bank System, Fannie Mae, public housing and the Federal Housing Administration. It continues to today’s policy debates on housing policy to empower community revitalization, create healthier living spaces and build household wealth.  

NHC will certainly have comments on how to improve the proposed Duty to Serve rule, and we welcome your input. If you want to get involved, reach out to me at Policy innovation happens through all sorts of conversations, and NHC aims to create space for the constructive engagement affordable housing needs.

Through partnership and innovation, NHC broadens perspectives

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

This year NHC is celebrating 85 years of moving housing forward. To mark the occasion, we’re sharing some of our greatest memories and biggest successes, from the perspectives of those who help us to do what we do—our members.

As NHC celebrates 85 years of moving housing forward, our members are also taking a walk down memory lane in remembrance of how they first became involved with NHC and how that relationship has evolved over the years. Brian Tracey currently serves on NHC’s Board of Governors as chair of the audit committee. He’s been involved with NHC for 15 years, a relationship that stems from his attendance at the Annual Gala, sponsored by Bank of America that year.

“At that time, NHC, through Conrad Egan, was working with the Millennial Housing Commission and I participated in an event discussing the work of the commission,” Brian said of his first encounters with NHC.

NHC has maintained a unique space in the affordable housing movement, providing organizations with practical tools and resources for advancing affordable housing efforts in communities nationwide.  For example, NHC was instrumental in introducing Bank of America to HUD’s RAD initiative and then, four years later, working with HUD to facilitate meetings with lenders and investors. This work resulted in Bank of America closing more than $750 million in financing for RAD projects during 2015. For example, in San Francisco—one of the nation’s most expensive metro areas-- alone, RAD financing from Bank of America will help to rehabilitate more than 1,400 affordable apartments.

Brian credits his work and involvement with NHC with helping him to obtain a broader perspective on various affordable housing issues. “At Bank of America, the group I manage provides debt and equity financing to developers of affordable housing.  While the work of our clients – both for-profit and not-for-profit developers – is critical in solving the crisis of affordable housing, the different viewpoints of NHC’s members are equally important to our institution’s understanding of this issue.  That’s part of the value NHC provides to Bank of America,” he said.

He acknowledges that NHC’s effective combination of research and policy and its practical application, coupled with willingness and a desire to be open to all points of view is what has contributed to NHC’s longevity. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

85 years later, NHC still consistently moving housing forward

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

This year NHC is celebrating 85 years of moving housing forward. To mark the occasion, we’re sharing some of our greatest memories and biggest successes, from the perspectives of those who help us to do what we do: our members.

Barbara Burnham is currently Managing Partner at Seasoned Partners and former Vice President for Federal Policy at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Barbara served on NHC’s Board of Governors from 2009 to 2014 and has much experience and insight about NHC’s success over the years. When I was tasked with finding someone who could speak about the history and success of NHC over the years, it was agreed that Barbara is a great person to talk to.. She so willingly shared some of her fondest memories of NHC and what she believes has kept the organization strong throughout its 85 years of moving housing forward.

She believes that much of NHC’s success is attributed to NHC’s role as a “national clearinghouse” for federal policy reform, critical and timely housing research and guidance from Board of Governors member who have the experience to provide leadership and guidance on an array of housing issues.

“NHC stands out to me as the one membership organization in the country that consistently stays grounded through its involvement in regional, state and local affordable housing coalitions to ensure that NHC's agenda truly represents ground-level affordable housing issues,” Barbara said. 

Some of Barbara’s fondest memories include HUD budget briefings where she acknowledges that NHC members tended to ask some of the most on-target questions, providing unique insight and invaluable opportunities for learning experiences. And of course our Annual Gala—or the Housing Prom, as Barbara and so many others refer to it—is a major highlight. “As far as I am concerned the knowledge and experience represented at the Gala and the policy conference that follows, if harnessed, could solve most of the housing problems our county faces.”

Founded in 1931 during the Great Depression when families’ livelihoods disappeared and housing in many communities meant substandard living, NHC remains a consistent force in helping communities to move through housing crises across the country. Barbara believes longevity, consistency and sound leadership are three adjectives that are synonymous with the National Housing Conference’s continued efforts to move housing forward.  

The place for research in housing policy: The Center looks back and ahead

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

Through the years, research has helped frame housing issues and has provided evidence to support—or refute—the effectiveness of particular policies.  From the earliest photo essays of housing quality in the late 1800s to the establishment of HUD PD&R and the first American Housing Survey in the early 1970s to the sophisticated statistical analyses of the impacts of housing and neighborhood being conducted today, research helps illuminate once unseen problems and lifts up effective solutions for meeting housing needs. As we have seen, housing and community development policy decisions are not always guided by research. Sometimes there is an intentional looking away from evidence; often the impacts of a program or policy can only be measured long after implementation. Despite the limitations inherent in research, independent and rigorous analysis must continue to help inform policy debate and guide program design.

NHC’s Center for Housing Policy is an important part of ensuring research has a place in policy discussions. The Center staff are committed to increasing awareness of housing needs and identifying effective and promising policy solutions to housing challenges. Since its establishment in 1992, the Center has been at the forefront of new ideas in housing policy and research. We were part of early efforts to highlight the importance of combined housing and transportation costs to housing affordability. Our report on the housing needs of the U.S.’s aging population preceded more recent research on the Baby Boom population. We worked with the Furman Center and others on some of the first research on the impacts of inclusionary zoning programs on local housing markets.

Key to the work of the Center—and a characteristic that differentiates NHC’s research work from that of other housing research organizations—is providing a bridge between research and practice through accessible and relevant research and outreach to practitioners and policymakers. Our research syntheses on the intersections of housing and health, housing and education and housing and economic development summarize the most current knowledge from housing researchers in a way that developers, planners, advocates and policymakers can use in their work to expand access to affordable housing. And now, as a fully integrated program of NHC, the Center is even better positioned to connect research to federal policy and to effective communications techniques. 

As we look ahead, the Center remains committed to making sure high-quality, independent research helps guide the conversation around affordable housing needs and solutions. In 2016, we will continue our work on the important connections between stable and affordable housing and good health outcomes for individuals and families. We will do more research around inclusionary housing and local land use and zoning tools that can help expand affordable housing options. Our synthesis of the most recent research on the importance of place to economic mobility and well-being is planned for early in the year. And we are looking forward to expanding both Housing Landscape and Paycheck to Paycheck to provide a more comprehensive look at housing affordability and the household budgets of low- and moderate-income households. We look forward to being a resource for research and analysis to you and your organization in the year to come!