Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ocwen, NAACP renew “Help & Hope for Homeowners” borrower outreach events for 2016

News from NHC's family of members

by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference 

NHC Leadership Circle member Ocwen Financial Corporation recently announced that it has renewed its partnership with the NAACP for its 2016 Help & Hope for Homeowners borrower outreach events. The events offer struggling borrowers the opportunity to receive in-person, individualized mortgage counseling that helps them better afford and maintain their homes. Four borrower outreach events are scheduled to be held in Florida, New Jersey, Texas and Washington.

During the events, homeowners have the opportunity to meet with Ocwen Home Retention Agents and HUD-approved financial counselors to learn about loan modification programs, including principal reductions, which can help make their homes more affordable. In the program’s first year, Ocwen and the NAACP met with approximately 800 Ocwen borrowers in four states, where many of these attendees were able to receive a loan modification.

“From an idea born during a meeting in 2013, to the success it has become today, the Help & Hope for Homeowners borrower outreach events are making a significant difference, not just for individual borrowers, but for communities throughout the country,” Jill Showell, Ocwen’s Senior Vice President of Government and Community Relations, said in a press release. “Exploring innovative methods of borrower outreach with the NAACP has yielded strong results, and we look forward to leveraging this success in 2016.”

Ocwen has completed more than 627,000 loan modifications to date, many of which included a principal reduction for borrowers whose mortgage exceeds the current value of their home. Learn more about the Help & Hope for Homeowners events here

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

SAHF joins Clean Energy for Low Income Communities Program Accelerator

News from NHC's family of members

by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced three new Better Business Accelerators and 50 new partners that will join them in improving the critical infrastructure in communities nationwide. NHC member Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF) was announced as one of the partners and will work to support clean energy adoption for low-income communities.

The Clean Energy for Low Income Communities Accelerator supports the President’s Climate Action Plan with the goal of accelerating investment in home energy efficiency improvement projects across the country. The collaboration’s focus is to lower energy bills in low-income communities through installation of energy efficient renewables. The program also encourages the development of innovative partnerships, best practices and funding models that a state-level agency, local government or utility program could deploy for communities that are most in need.

“SAHF is excited to help deliver the many benefits of clean energy to low income communities,” Rebecca Schaaf, Senior Vice President for Energy at SAHF said in a press release. “This collaboration is an opportunity to bring affordable housing to the forefront of green building practices and ensure a seat at the table for all income groups as we build our clean energy future.”

NHC is committed to work on energy efficiency in affordable housing. We are actively engaged in advocacy for the Clean Power Plan, an EPA requirement for states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we’re focused on making sure energy efficiency improvements happen in a way that benefits low-income communities and affordable housing.  View our policy brief on the subject.

Since the launch of the multifamily component of the Better Buildings Challenge in December 2013, SAHF and its eleven members have been key partners to the Department of Energy, developing and sharing a wide range of tools to help partners achieve their goals, including the EZ Retrofit Tool and an Operations and Maintenance Toolkit.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Using opportunity mapping to improve affordable housing policy

by Brian Stromberg, National Housing Conference 

The geography of housing and the well-being of communities are intrinsically linked with each other. Where we live defines so much about our lives, from our physical and emotional health to our ability to get to work, that providing access to housing in a fair and equitable manner is an essential aspect of creating a healthy and balanced society. It should be no surprise that the use of geographic data to evaluate the impacts of housing policy has become increasingly important. This evaluation often takes the form of “opportunity mapping.” Opportunity mapping uses various data sources to show segregation patterns and to help us see how these patterns affect individuals’ abilities to access amenities and services that help promote economic well-being.

The earliest well-known use of opportunity mapping was by john powell during his time at the Kirwan Institute. Powell used the technique in his testimony for the plaintiff in Thompson v. HUD in Baltimore, arguing that “[t]he segregation of African-American public housing residents isolates them from the opportunities that are critical to quality of life, health, stability and social advancement.” Powell’s use of layered geographic data to create a standard index of opportunity was an innovation that has since been used in cities and regions across the country. Our new research brief, “Opportunity Mapping,” demonstrates how housing practitioners and advocates can best use maps to increase the success of affordable housing policy.

Part of the reason that interest in opportunity mapping has grown is because of recent federal actions regarding fair housing. The Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant program required grantees to produce a Fair Housing and Equity Assessment, and the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule requires an Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) from jurisdictions that submit plans for federal funds. Neither of these requirements explicitly calls for the production of a map. However, HUD strongly encourages jurisdictions submitting AFHs to use geographical data in their assessments, and provides a tool for jurisdictions to analyze their own socioeconomic patterns.

Some issues to consider in creating opportunity maps:

  • Creating more inclusive communities through mapping. Maps can show only what you want them to show. Deciding what kind of data is represented (and what form that representation takes) determines the story that the map tells. Making the process of creating the map as transparent as possible is essential in producing an objective policy tool. Even the most well-meaning policy solutions can be damaging when the process of developing them is too opaque or oversimplified. This means the data sources should be accurately cited, the process for choosing indicators should be as inclusive as possible and the process for analyzing the data should be made available publicly.
  • Choosing the right tools to analyze your data. Desktop GIS software like Esri’s ArcGIS and the free, open-source QGIS are powerful applications that allow you to do almost any kind of geographic analysis imaginable. At the same time, many small organizations do not have the budget or technical expertise to make full use of such software. There are several online mapping services—like Mapbox, CartoDB and PolicyMap—that allow you to create your own maps using publicly available data. PolicyMap also includes some licensed data from its partners through its subscription-based accounts. ArcGIS Online has a similar service and includes the benefit of easily integrating with the ArcGIS desktop software.
  • Mapping as communication. A map is a particularly powerful tool for policymakers because it can communicate complex information in a straightforward and highly visual manner. Maps can be distributed at community meetings, featured in articles, published online or used in any other situation where complex information needs to be communicated quickly and easily. In addition, creating an opportunity map generally involves a number of datasets that are publicly available but are often not particularly accessible to the general public. Getting all the data in one place is a great chance to improve the public’s access to those data. This can be done by creating an online tool (as in Austin and Minnesota) or by simply listing the data somewhere in easy-to-use formats (like on the Opportunity Project website).

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Giving Due Credit: Balancing Priorities in State Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Allocation Policies

by Michael Spotts, Enterprise Community Partners
On June 6, the Enterprise Policy Development & Research team released its latest report on efforts to balance cost control with building quality and resident opportunity in affordable housing, Giving Due Credit: Balancing Priorities in State Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Allocation Policies.

Over the last year, Enterprise reviewed the Qualified Allocation Plans (QAPs) for the Housing Credit allocating agency in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, New York City and the U.S. territories. The research identified leading practices for the cost-effective production and preservation of affordable housing that is well-located, durable, sustainable, and connected to good schools, jobs, transit and health care. The report also addresses the impact of cost-related measures on affirmatively furthering fair housing, through efforts to both revitalize distressed communities and build affordable homes in neighborhoods of opportunity.

Giving Due Credit examines overall approaches to managing the Housing Credit program as well as specific provisions, incentives and tools. It also discusses the numerous options and trade-offs that policy makers and housing developers face, as well as examples of where specific incentives and provisions can have unintended effects on ostensibly unrelated priorities.

Based on this analysis, Giving Due Credit offers the following broad recommendations:

  • Agencies should consider the cumulative impact of QAP provisions on costs and quality.
  • Point-based incentives and weighting should be structured so that no single provision is effectively mandatory.
  • Cost and subsidy limits should reflect differences in development type and location.
  • Cost, design and construction standards should account for and encourage long-term savings.
  • Funding sources and regulatory compliance should be coordinated and streamlined.
  • Agencies should encourage innovation through the use of pilot initiatives.
  • Progress toward agency goals should be measured and the results disseminated.

Enterprise works with partners nationwide to build opportunity, creating and advocating for affordable homes in thriving communities linked to good schools, jobs, transit and health care. Enterprise lends funds, finances development and manages and builds affordable housing, while shaping new strategies, solutions and policy. Over more than 30 years, Enterprise has created nearly 358,000 homes, invested nearly $23.4 billion and improved millions of lives.

Michael is a senior analyst and project manager on Enterprise's Policy Development & Research team, where he conducts research and analysis of affordable housing and community development policies, and manages Enterprise’s federal transit-oriented development policy activities.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Inclusive Communities Working Group in Denver

by Laura Brudzynski, Office of Economic Development  for the City and County of Denver

NHC invites guest blog posters to write on important housing topics.  The views expressed by guest posters do not necessarily reflect those of NHC or its members.

Denver is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the country, with more than 60,000 new residents since 2010. To accommodate that growth, cranes dot the skyline and Denver’s building department has experienced a surge in new development permits over the last few years, with a succession of record breaking permits pulled in 2013, 2014 and 2015. But even with new investment and economic opportunities, wages are not keeping pace with rising housing costs and not all residents are benefiting from the growth Denver is experiencing. 

Understanding that diverse and inclusive neighborhoods are what make cities so unique, Denver is taking a number of steps to address our affordability crisis. On May 19, Mayor Michael B. Hancock and the city’s Office of Economic Development hosted the second annual Housing Summit to identify strategies to address Denver’s growing need for affordable housing. With sessions on gentrification, access to opportunity, small-scale affordability, mixed-income housing and housing for vulnerable populations, the Summit brought together more than 400 policy makers and housing experts from across the region.  At the center of this platform is a proposal announced in 2015 by Mayor Hancock to create a dedicated source of revenue for affordable housing, raising at least $150 million over the first 10 years to build or preserve more than 6,000 housing units.

 The dialogue  also included voices from our peer cities across the nation, bringing best practices and new ideas to help Denver address affordability.  Recognizing that many major jurisdictions share similar affordability issues, the National Housing Conference has created the Inclusive Communities Working Group (ICWG), comprised of representatives from major metropolitan cities, counties and states. The ICWG provides a platform for communities to share ideas and strategies to address the full spectrum of housing issues, from supportive services and temporary shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness to wealth building opportunities for moderate-income families seeking to own a first home.

May’s meeting of the ICWG was scheduled to overlap with the Housing Summit, allowing members to attend and participate in the discussion, bringing new perspectives and ideas to a Denver audience. The regular meeting of the ICWG, scheduled for the following day, focused on middle-income housing strategies. Denver, similar to other jurisdictions around the country, is experiencing a housing boom that threatens to push out families that earn too much to qualify for deed restricted housing but cannot afford the skyrocketing home and rent prices. With a median home price of $350K in 2016, Denver’s annual rate of home value growth is the highest in the nation at 15.7 percent.

Participating in NHC’s ICWG has provided a networking opportunity among housing leaders across the country to meet our counterparts in other high and rising cost areas as well as an opportunity to brainstorm strategies for affordable housing, neighborhood development and economic mobility.  Together we challenge each other to find creative ways to serve low and moderate-income residents and create inclusive communities. 

We look forward to future meetings and the ongoing discussion!

For more information about the Inclusive Communities Working Group please visit our Policy Working Groups webpage. Also keep an eye out for a soon to be released publication on Opportunity Mapping that was developed with guidance from members of the Inclusive Communities Working Group. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Looking to housing’s future

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

This column was adapted from Chris Estes’s remarks at NHC’s Housing Visionary Award Gala June 2, 2016.

Over June 2 and 3 we marked NHC’s 85-year history—which echoes the history of the affordable housing movement in America—and set the stage for our future. Honoring the work of Rural LISC and the Housing Assistance Council, and addressing the role of housing policy in shaping communities in transition, calls all of us to consider the role the housing movement can play in our country’s success.

As I consider NHC’s history and our role in the development of America’s housing policy, I see a history of achievement, as an organization and as a movement.

NHC endeavors to show the way to solving many of America’s housing challenges, through federal, state and local policy and practice. The future of NHC lies in being at the forefront of developing housing policy that solves these problems. That’s why we’ve focused on fair housing implementation. That’s why we’re bringing together housing leaders from high-cost cities to find ways our communities can become more inclusive. That’s why we research housing’s connection to health, education and economic development.

Housing policy can and should lead the way in creating opportunity for all people. And I’m excited to lead NHC into that future with you.

I believe NHC’s future must also include looking beyond urban and suburban communities, to rural areas that are transforming just as much as the rest of our country and deserve just as much focus. That’s what made honoring two rural housing initiatives with our Housing Visionary Award, and continuing the conversation about housing in all kinds of communities at the Policy Symposium the next day, so important. 

Your support for our work, at the Gala, Policy Symposium and throughout the year, keeps our organization strong and helps the housing movement thrive. And we work hard every day to earn that support.

Thank you for being part of our annual events, and for your support of NHC.

Monday, June 6, 2016

44th Annual NHC Gala fetes rural housing leaders in style

News from NHC
by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference

Warm June sunshine streamed through the skylights of the Great Hall at the National Building Museum as guests arrived for NHC’s 44th Annual Housing Visionary Awards Gala last Thursday evening. Early arrivals were escorted to the museum auditorium for the invitation-only Leadership Circle Reception, where a jazz combo added to the celebratory atmosphere. After a brief welcome from NHC President and CEO Chris Estes, guests heard from Ken Wade of Leadership Reception sponsor Bank of America. Mr. Wade reflected on the role NHC has played in bringing different perspectives of the housing community together to move housing policy forward.

On the main floor, guests connected over passed beverages in the West Hall as “The President’s Own” Marine Corps Orchestra played patriotic favorites. A hush fell over the crowd as the Joint Armed Forces Color Guard entered and performed the presentation of the colors. It was a fitting start to an event that celebrates the core of the American Dream: Home.

After a welcome from National Building Museum Vice President for Development Jennifer Barrett, NHC Chairman Ted S. Chandler of the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust kicked off the night’s program with a tribute to NHC’s 85-year history of advocacy for the continuum of affordable housing. Chandler recognized the many people and organizations in the audience whose efforts have contributed to the strength of the National Housing Conference. USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack appeared by video welcoming all in attendance, emphasizing the importance of rural housing and giving all assembled much to contemplate as NHC embarks on its next 85 years of work for the housing needs of all Americans.

Welcomed onstage by Chris Estes of NHC, Gala co-chairs Martin Sundquist of the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation and Michael Horn, Chair of the Council of Federal Home Loan Banks, shared their connection to the event and to NHC. Mr. Sundquist was particularly moved to be part of an event honoring rural housing organizations, having grown up in a farming family. The co-chairs spoke highly of the evening’s honorees, Rural LISC and the Housing Assistance Council. Accepting the award on behalf of Rural LISC was Suzanne Anarde, Program Vice President. Movingly, Anarde recognized departing LISC President and CEO Michael Rubinger for his support for rural housing throughout his tenure at LISC. Moises Loza, Executive Director of the Housing Assistance Council, accepted the award on behalf of his organization and the strong coalition of supporters who have driven the organization forward through its 45-year history.

Gala guests were then excused to the East Hall, where they mingled with the honorees and sponsoring organizations and enjoyed old favorites like corn pudding, and new delights like Korean barbecue beef. Many stayed late into the evening, renewing connections and enjoying the last moments of the housing event of the year.

2016 NHC Housing Visionary Award Honoree: Rural LISC

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

In 1995, a core group of 52 community development corporations from 39 states convened in Maine to launch a four-year national initiative headed by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Aimed at addressing the unique needs of rural community development corporations and strengthening rural community development by providing the capital, strategy, advocacy and network to connect rural groups to one another, that initiative has evolved into Rural LISC, one of the nation’s leading rural housing efforts dedicated to providing support to rural communities. 

The National Housing Conference is pleased to honor Rural LISC with the 2016 Housing Visionary Award for its comprehensive approach to strengthening communities throughout rural America. Through its five-point mission to expand investment in housing and other real estate, increase family income and wealth, stimulate economic development, improve access to quality education and support healthy lifestyles and environments, Rural LISC has been successful in transforming communities in over 1,400 counties across 42 states. With investments totaling over $3 billion, Rural LISC has supported the development of over 29,000 affordable homes and 550 small businesses, creating 6,250 jobs and 3.2 million square feet of commercial and community facilities. It has convened 25 national training and networking seminars for its community development corporation partners, and 24 regional workshops for nearly 1,850 participants. 

“Rural LISC values partnership and wants to be a real asset to its partners, helping with problem solving and being there to celebrate successes,” according to Rural LISC Program Vice President Suzanne Anarde. She adds that “synergy is a critical element,” and this synergy and dedication to partnership is what has elevated Rural LISC as a leading provider of services, training, technical assistance, information and financial support to rural community development corporations around the country. Rural LISC has also been successful over its 21-year history in creating a deeper understanding of rural housing needs and of rural communities as a whole – both on Capitol Hill and across the media, philanthropy and wider cultural landscape.

Dee Davis, president and founder of the Center for Rural Strategies, has worked with Rural LISC to create strategic media documenting the organization’s work to rebuild communities while capturing the aspiration and triumph of rural community development. “Rural LISC [is] very forward-thinking in the rebuilding process and is not afraid to invest in marginal communities,” he said. This dedication to capacity-building and investment in the work of community development corporations in small, rural communities has enabled organizations like the Boys, Girls, Adults Community Development Center in Marvell, Arkansas, to cater to the various needs—affordable housing, economic development, community revitalization and more—of its community.

“With the support for Rural LISC, [Boys, Girls, Adults] has been able to do a lot more work around housing. Rural LISC provides funding to us to support our efforts to increase access to affordable housing among our lowest-income residents,” said Boys, Girls, Adults Executive Director Beatrice Clark Shelby. Rural LISC has been instrumental in helping Boys, Girls, Adults cultivate its civic engagement efforts and sustain affordable housing in the community, work that has also been successful in numerous other rural communities around the country.

Anarde, Rural LISC’s leader since 2013, hopes that people will understand that whether in urban or rural communities, people—and affordable housing needs—are more alike than they are different. “This is not an urban vs. rural thing,” she says emphatically. “Rural and urban [housing] are very much alike, in terms of goals. We all want to get to the same place. The messaging and tools may be different, but we all want affordable housing for all.” It’s this spirit of unity that invigorates the affordable housing movement, no matter where we work.

NHC Policy Symposium 2016: Housing as People and Places Change

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

Last week’s Annual Policy Symposium drew together the threads of our nationwide poverty challenges and the unique aspects of rural housing. Speakers offered practical solutions, strategies for sharing our message and most of all a sense of unity. As Chris Estes put it at the event, “We have to think of ourselves as one movement trying to change the shape of housing and its impact on Americans.”

Our keynote speaker, the Honorable Lisa Mensah, Under Secretary for Rural Development at the United States Department of Agriculture, shared her perspective on rural housing challenges. She highlighted the role of homeownership as a foundation to build wealth and security in rural communities, the need for reliable broadband access everywhere to create economic opportunity and the importance of preserving rural multifamily housing as an ongoing resource for communities. She encouraged all of us to help make the case investment in rural America in the idea of place and belonging.

Amy Clark, NHC’s Director of Marketing and Communications, spoke briefly about communication strategies for building support for and overcoming opposition to affordable housing. She talked about the recent initiative by Washington, D.C., to create a network of homeless shelters across the city to illustrate the role of political leadership, message framing and ideology. Learn more about NHC’s communication efforts, including our Solutions for Housing Communications convening, to get involved.

A panel discussion on rural areas in transition brought out the challenges of affordable housing in places where green fields are changing to homes and businesses. Moderator Daryl Shore, Vice President of Global Philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase, prompted speakers to highlight housing challenges and policy solutions. Highlights from the many ideas offered:

  • Tony Hernandez, USDA Rural Housing Administrator, pointed to housing as a jobs generator and the need to engage the business community in crafting solutions.
  • Mary Tingerthal, Commissioner of Minnesota Housing, showed Minnesota solutions for matching housing resources to places of job growth and good transportation access, micro-regional planning and above all the need for more resources.
  • Chris Jones, Senior Vice President and Chief Planner for the Regional Plan Association, noted the opportunities for changing finance policy to encourage mixed use development in traditional downtowns and also uniting affordable housing advocacy with open space preservation around smarter, denser development.
  • Chris LaGrand, Senior Vice President and Corporate Counsel at the Woda Group, talked about practical development strategies for growing rural areas and highlighted policy changes to align government requirements to reduce development costs.

Our closing panel took on the connections between housing and poverty, guided ably by Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Speakers drew on the history of housing in the U.S. and examples from abroad to explore policy solutions in anticipation of the forthcoming GOP proposal to address poverty. Notable thoughts:

If you missed the Policy Symposium (or just want to relive the glory), check out the archived webcast. These conversations and more will continue at Solutions for Affordable Housing on Dec. 14 in D.C. following How Housing Matters on Dec. 13.

2016 NHC Housing Visionary Award Honoree: Housing Assistance Council

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

Since 1971, the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) has worked to help local organizations build affordable homes in rural communities. With its mission to “improve housing conditions for the rural poor, with an emphasis on the poorest of the poor in the most rural places,” HAC is one of the nation’s rural housing leaders. Through self-help programs, “sweat equity” construction and empowerment of people experiencing poverty, HAC has maintained a special focus on high-need groups and regions like Indian country, farm workers, Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta. The National Housing Conference is pleased to honor HAC with the Housing Visionary Award for its over 40 years of work to improve the housing conditions in rural America.

Highly regarded for its dependability and its culture of service, HAC’ s capacity building efforts following the housing market collapse in 2008 have helped many regional affiliates and local partners to improve the housing landscape in their respective communities. Through organizational trainings, funding, research activities and technical assistance, HAC has helped to advance rural housing efforts in some of the nation’s most overlooked areas.

“[HAC] has helped us to expand our efforts much farther than we could have gone without encouragement,” said Earl Pfeiffer, executive director of Florida Home Partnership. Funding administered by HAC has helped Florida Home Partnership to develop and provide affordable housing to migrant farm worker families.  Pfeiffer describes working with HAC as a unique and rewarding experience because HAC “looks for the various strengths of housing organizations. It seeks to bring out the best in housing partners.”

Dedicated to ensuring the success of its partners and, therefore, the success of rural America, HAC’s biannual Rural Housing Conference brings together stakeholders in the rural affordable housing field for trainings, discussions and peer-to-peer networking. Scott McReynolds of the Housing Development Alliance in Hazard, Kentucky, consistently attends the conference and says the experience has equipped him with strategies and resources to better serve the unique needs of rural communities. “The conference provides a great experience with peers to share and learn. There is real expertise,” he says.

That expertise is precisely why Dazetta Thorne of Crowley, Louisiana’s Seventh District Pavilion joined the HAC board in 2011 after years of partnership with the organization. “HAC encourages its partner organizations to do a lot that they may not think they’re ready for, but [HAC] is with you every step of the way,” she said. This unwavering support, through both funding and technical assistance is what has helped the Seventh District Pavilion to develop housing for the lowest of low-income families in Crowley. “It wasn’t until I joined the board that I realized just how much the organization is doing. They provide first-class information and pass on their knowledge.” 

This knowledge is a common theme for HAC, an organization that is regularly lauded for the quality of its information and the support of its staff. Pfeiffer, McReynolds and Thorne all agree that HAC’s passionate and well-informed employees are key to the organization’s success in improving the rural housing landscape. “HAC advances some of the most overlooked areas in the country,” Pfeiffer said. “[The staff] is focused on ensuring HAC’s partners are a huge success.” Adds Thorne, “One of HAC’s strengths is that it has the capacity to engage a lot of programs, not just one or two. It’s a conglomerate of information. But the real strength is in its staff. They genuinely want to help.” For staff and partners of the Housing Assistance Council, passion has proven to drive the organization’s achievements. That passion, knowledge and genuine desire to be of assistance to those most in need in rural America is why HAC remains at the forefront of providing safe, secure, affordable housing in rural areas.