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.

Rural LISC partners with USDA to bridge critical service gaps

News from NHC's family of members
by Sarah Bond-Yancey, National Housing Conference

NHC Leadership Circle member Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation (Rural LISC) was recently awarded 20 million dollars from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help build vital services, capacity and infrastructure in rural communities across the U.S.

The $20 million award will be distributed in the form of low-interest loans to rural community development organizations, nonprofits, service providers and municipal agencies in communities with less than 20,000 residents. The loans can be used for construction costs, equipment purchases and related project expenses for health care centers, clinics, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, child care centers, community centers, schools, museums, libraries, colleges and other public buildings.

“Too many rural communities struggle to attract the basic services that urban residents are long-accustomed to having in their cities and towns,” said Rural LISC program vice president Suzanne Anarde in a press release. “[Rural LISC has] invested in these types of facilities for decades, and we know how to help get promising projects off the ground, even in our country’s most troubled communities.”

Rural LISC received the Housing Visionary Award at NHC’s 2016 Annual Housing Gala for its comprehensive approach to strengthening rural America. Just over four months later, it’s great to see Rural LISC rapidly expanding this approach in partnership with the USDA.

Learn more about holistic development solutions at NHC’s Solutions for Affordable Housing Conference this December. LISC’s Celia Smoot will join us for a session on Housing and Opportunity – Mobility as one of three speakers discussing the importance of housing choice and pathways to opportunities for all residents. Learn more about Solutions for Affordable Housing or register here.

MBA launches networking platform for women in real-estate finance

News from NHC's family of members
by Sarah Bond-Yancey, National Housing Conference

NHC Leadership Circle member The Mortgage Bankers Association recently launched the MBA Promoting Opportunities for Women to Extend their Reach (mPower) networking platform, to help women in the real-estate finance industry network, achieve professional growth and share industry information and ideas.

The mPower platform includes an online networking group, informational resources and a members-only online community. It also provides notices about MBA’s in-person and online women’s events such as the Women in Mortgage Banking Networking Event Featuring MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski, a networking opportunity at MBA's Annual Convention, which focused on empowering women to express their professional worth.

“mPower is designed to recognize and promote the rise of women in the real estate finance industry, as well as the overall workforce," said Chief Operating Officer of the Mortgage Bankers Association, Marcia Davies, in a press release. "Our goal is to provide information, events and a networking platform to help women maximize their overall potential."

While women remain underrepresented in many industries, programs like MBA’s mPower platform help create spaces and provide resources for women to succeed.

NHC has collaborated with MBA on several occasions, including advocating for employer-assisted housing and researching options for a durable housing finance system through NHC’s Housing Mortgage Working Group. At NHC’s upcoming Solutions for Affordable Housing conference, MBA’s Steve O’Connor will be joining us for a closing plenary on housing finance reform. Learn more about Solutions for Affordable Housing or register here.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Exploring the connection between housing and health

Solutions through research
by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

“In tackling serious health disparities, we need to confront their contributing causes, such as how much a person earns, the community she lives in and her housing situation. Housing is an important social determinant of health. Social determinants of health are economic and social factors that influence a person’s physical and mental health. There is a limit to how much health care providers can impact the health and wellbeing of patients from inside the walls of doctors’ offices and hospitals, which is why the health care sector is increasingly focusing on addressing social determinants of health. On Oct. 20 I had the privilege to speak on a panel on the intersection of public housing and public health at the George Washington University Rodham Institute Summit. The Rodham Institute is dedicated to promoting health equity in Washington, D.C., and the panel’s focus on the intersection of housing and health fits well with the institute’s mission. The panel was composed of other affordable housing and public health researchers and practitioners and provided an opportunity to inform attendees about how our work is intertwined.

During the panel discussion, we explored how housing influences the physical and mental health of households in various ways. If households are spending more than they can afford on housing, they are less likely to buy healthy food, access health care and fill prescriptions. If a household can’t afford its housing, it may move frequently or become homeless, which exposes family members’ physical and mental health to serious harm. Poor-quality housing can actually make people sick from exposure to lead and other environmental hazards like mold and pest infestation. The neighborhood where a person lives is also important. Living in a place that is not safe for kids to play outside, not walkable and lacking grocery stores can make it difficult to be physically active and create severe stress.

It is important for this conversation to continue and for housing and health practitioners and advocates to come together at events like the Rodham Institute Summit, learn more about their overlapping interests and begin to work together to address inequities. On December 13, NHC will host the How Housing Matters Conference, an event focused on how housing is an element of cross-sector efforts to improve health, education and economic outcomes for low-income households. At How Housing Matters, we will resume the conversation about how health and housing practitioners can collaborate to promote health equity.

In 2017, to build upon our previous work, NHC looks forward to exploring the connection between housing and health with practitioners and thought leaders from both sectors through a new Housing and Health Working Group. This working group will examine issues of common interest for the housing and health sectors and develop and share ideas for cross-collaboration to meet key challenges in our communities. We also plan to lift up innovative work at the intersection of housing and health in order to support continued efforts to use housing to support health and wellbeing.

I hope to see you at How Housing Matters on Dec. 14 and to further connect with NHC members on work that moves housing and health forward together.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

How Housing Matters sparks community program for seniors

by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference

When the sectors come together, change happens. That was certainly the case for Debora Keller of Bath Housing near Portland, Maine. As a new housing director, Keller sought innovative ways to serve senior citizens in her community.

As the Urban Institute’s Maya Brennan shares at, Deborah Keller needed to connect the dots between the housing and health sectors and seniors' well-being. When she heard about the How Housing Matters Conference, she knew she had to attend.

The one-day conference featured a packed agenda and diverse topics, including senior housing. It opened her eyes to the possibilities of collaboration to leverage Bath Housing's strengths and change more lives.

On the plane home, Keller drafted a plan and a list of partners. Within one year, a new program was off the ground: Community Aging in Place (CAP). As an alternative to elderly disabled housing, CAP provides home maintenance and accessibility modifications so seniors can age in place in their own homes.

Gain tools and partners to impact your own community with successful cross-sector initiatives. Register and attend How Housing Matters Conference 2016 to connect, collaborate and make change happen!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Addressing historical inequities through preference policies in Portland

by Kaitlyn Snyder, National Housing Conference 

Last Thursday, NHC hosted a webinar on Portland’s restorative justice and preference policy which we learned about through NHC’s Inclusive Communities Working Group. The panelists (Dr. Lisa Bates, Portland State University; Kurt Creager, Portland Housing Bureau; Bishop Steven Holt, Kingdom Nation Church; Victoria James, Portland Housing Bureau; and Matthew Tschabold, Portland Housing Bureau) provided historical context for the City of Portland and the North/Northeast neighborhood and walked through the development, outreach and ongoing implementation of the policy.

During the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, the city of Portland used condemnation and eminent domain to acquire land for the construction of Emanuel Hospital and Memorial Coliseum. As a part of the Albina Community Plan of the 1990s, the city marginalized and displaced vulnerable households by not implementing the actions identified to mitigate the negative impacts of the plan.
From the early 2000s to present day, the city has been involved in urban renewal through the development of a light rail line into North/Northeast Portland. While the light rail line brought significant public investment to North/Northeast Portland, it was also a factor in driving gentrification and new private investments in the area, which caused long-time residents to face rising rents and displacement.

As seen in the image below, residents impacted by one of these events receive one preference point, residents impacted by two of these events receive two preference points and residents impacted by all three of these events receive 3 preference points. The points are then applied to the waitlist for 65 new home ownership opportunities and 12 micro-condominiums.

Portland was able to move past the all-too-common argument of whether or not gentrification is good and to acknowledge that most people want revitalization, investment and improvements made, especially in low-income neighborhoods. But gentrification often comes with the negative effects of rising rents and displacement pressures for long-term residents who should also be able to benefit from community improvements. The preference policy is able to address some of these concerns by giving preference to families based on the amount of urban renewal activity that occurred where they lived (as described above), addressing generational displacement of families by urban renewal, giving preference to families regardless of where they currently live and giving top priority to families whose property was taken by the city. 

Historically, preference policies have been used as an exclusionary tool to keep people out of places. Portland was able to flip the old model on its head and use a preference policy as a tool for inclusion and bulwark against gentrification. Doing so requires a certain amount of nuance and can be difficult for localities to navigate.  The Portland Housing Bureau worked with local community members, academics, members of the business community and members of the local faith community to form a community oversight committee. The oversight committee is tasked with the “responsibility of reviewing and monitoring the development and implementation of policies and programming associated with the North/Northeast Neighborhoods Housing Strategy and the accompanying $20 million”

In the words of local resident, oversight committee chair and webinar panelist Bishop Steven Holt, “It’s about time that the amount of energy and effort to address those who have been historically wronged be equal to the amount of energy and effort to wrong them. It wasn’t accidental. It was very methodical. It was strategic. It was intentional and throughout the history of our nation, not just in this city but in every major city, all of the people who are… under-served or who are oppressed in one way or another are usually targeted and impacted by most actions. It would be great that the amount of scrutiny and effort that’s used to make sure that we’re not doing things to violate would be equaled by the amount of scrutiny and effort, or I should say the amount of intention, that went into creating the problem.” 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Exploring HUD’s proposal on energy benchmarking

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

To help reduce energy costs in affordable housing, HUD has issued a proposal for “spot check” utility benchmarking in HUD-assisted multifamily housing and to require benchmarking in public housing. Last week, I attended an information session hosted by HUD on benchmarking for multifamily housing to enhance my understanding as NHC drafts its comments on the proposal. As many NHC members may be reviewing the proposal, I wanted to share some highlights and resources from the event. For members interested in working with NHC on a comment letter, please email me.

Energy benchmarking tracks the utility consumption of a multifamily development, calculating the energy and water efficiency of the development and comparing it to that of similar developments. It can help owners understand their buildings’ energy performance, detect malfunctioning equipment and billing errors, prioritize capital improvements and plan for future budget needs. Under the proposal, HUD will require multifamily building owners to use the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Portfolio Manager, ideally using whole-building data to create each building’s energy baseline. If whole-building data is not available, HUD will accept a sample of tenant utility data combined with owner utility data.

At the information session, HUD staff gave an overview of the proposal and EPA reviewed the Portfolio Manager tool. Presenters also shared their expertise on the value of benchmarking and the perspective of utilities. Studies have shown the benefits of benchmarking in terms of reduced energy and water use as well as providing an important baseline for exploring energy retrofits. NHC appreciates HUD’s leadership in this area to move the portfolio further towards energy and water efficiency. One primary concern with the proposal is the ability of owners to access utility data, especially at the tenant level. Some utilities are reluctant to provide this data, even if aggregated and anonymized to address privacy concerns. Many utilities also do not have the systems in place to provide this data. Getting the data necessary for benchmarking from utilities could be a time- and labor-intensive process which is an important factor to consider when analyzing the proposal.

HUD has resources available to owners to help with the benchmarking process, and HUD reviewed the many resources available on utility benchmarking at the event. These resources include case studies on benchmarking from participants in the Better Building Challenge as well as instructions on how to collect utility data. HUD has also provided information on how to use Portfolio Manager. HUD has created a database to look up how to request tenant utility data for the 40 largest utility companies in the U.S., and HUD will expand this database to the 100 largest utility companies. In November 2016, HUD will open an application process for 12 Environmental Defense Fund Climate Core Fellows who will help owners set up benchmarking in the summer of 2017. HUD will host webinars to train housing providers and hopes to build additional functionality around Portfolio Manager to make the process more valuable for owners. HUD will also issue a housing notice with operational guidance to help with implementation of the proposal.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Enrich your community with solutions to educational disparity

by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference

Thinking of attending How Housing Matters on December 13? Don't miss Building Bridges between Education and Housing Stakeholders, a community conversation on cross-sector approaches to education reform.

This important session will shed light on housing-based educational enrichment with input from these experts:

  • Hedy Nai-Lin Chang, executive director of Attendance Works, will address education sector pain points with a focus on reducing school absenteeism.
  • Christi Huck, executive director of City Garden Montessori School, will discuss creating high-quality, diverse schools in low-income neighborhoods that serve students and neighbors alike. 
  • Vanessa Hernandez, resident services manager of Eden Housing, will share innovations in afterschool programming and resident engagement that support educational outcomes. 
This panel will take on the tough issues: educational inequity, school segregation and cross-sector approaches to education reform. You'll leave with enhanced perspective on how education and housing are connected as well as best practices you can apply in your own community.

This is just one session of How Housing Matters Conference 2016 that will explore the possibilities of cross-sector collaboration. Register for free today to join the full conversation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Explore placemaking and mobility at a special Solutions for Affordable Housing double session

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

High-opportunity places, especially newly energized communities, need inbound pathways for new
residents. Outbound pathways to places of higher opportunity need landing spots. Housing strategies succeed most when they align with people's choices for schools, employment and community life.

In a two-panel double session at Solutions for Affordable Housing, NHC’s 2016 national policy convening, speakers will discuss new ideas in placemaking and explore emerging best practices in mobility strategies that connect the two approaches.

A combined approach
Solving our communities' housing challenges requires bringing all our resources to bear. Focusing solely on community revitalization, or on mobility and choice alone, would necessarily leave some families and neighborhoods behind.

On December 14, I’ll moderate a panel that will strive to move housing forward with a combine mobility and placemaking approach, with the help of these experts:
  • Ted Chandler, AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust
  • David Cristeal, Arlington County
  • Chrystal Kornegay, Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development
  • Carol Naughton, Purpose Built Communities
  • Marisa Novara, Metropolitan Planning Council
  • Barbara Sard, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
  • Celia Smoot, LISC
Join the conversation
Solutions for Affordable Housing is where the housing community will convene to chart the course for federal housing policy after the November election. Register now to be part of it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Broadening the picture of housing need

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

I have written previously about NHC’s years of research at the intersection of affordable housing and education, health, transportation and economic opportunity. As part of that economic opportunity lens, NHC for many years has produced our annual report, “Paycheck to Paycheck,” contrasting the median wages of over 80 occupations with average rental and homeownership costs in the largest 210 metro areas. Each year this report also features a set of occupations from one sector to highlight the different housing challenges of that sector. Past reports have included healthcare and tourism, while this year’s report focuses on education. You can print the report from our website that details the education occupations featured as well as see how those salaries meet rental and ownership costs in the top 50 metro areas.

The Paycheck to Paycheck data tool allows you to produce custom charts of the housing costs and occupations most relevant for your metro area and use them as educational resources on the affordability challenges of your region’s workforce. This feature allows you to highlight your metro area’s full range of wages and further enforce the message that many occupations do not earn a wage that meets the cost of housing in your community. While past housing advocacy efforts have often referred to households in the 80-120 percent AMI range as in need of “workforce housing,” we know that many people at much lower incomes still work, and still need help with housing. By broadening the picture of housing need using tools like Paycheck, we can increase understanding of affordable housing need without unhelpfully categorizing lower-income working people as outside the workforce.

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the 15th anniversary celebration of Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH). Headquartered in Boston, POAH has an impressive track record of impact in their region as well as more recent expansion to other parts of the country like Chicago and Washington, D.C. Opened with an interesting keynote from Urban Institute CEO Sarah Wartell, it was a great evening of celebration and discussion about what was next for the field as well as the opportunities in front of us to change our current narrative and strategies in order to build more public and political will. Congratulations to CEO Aaron Gornstein as well as the POAH staff and board on a great event and a tremendous first 15 years of work!

U.S. incomes increasing, but school workers still struggle to afford housing

Solutions through research
by Brian Stromberg and Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference 

Paycheck to Paycheck 2016: A Snapshot of Housing Affordability for School Workers” focuses on five school-related occupations: bus drivers, social workers, daycare teachers, groundskeepers and high school teachers. These workers and other members of a school’s staff collaborate to create a safe and nurturing environment for students. Through this work, these individuals become part of the fabric of the community, whether they are bus drivers, groundskeepers or teachers. However, in many metropolitan areas across the country, the salaries of these workers do not allow them to live in the communities that they serve.

Our analysis comes at a time when the economy is giving strong indications of recovery. Most telling are the data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau. They show that median household incomes grew 5.2 percent between 2014 and 2015. While this recovery is something to celebrate, housing costs are still unmanageable for many households. This includes many of those described in the “Paycheck to Paycheck” report. Housing costs can force difficult choices on households when they begin to encroach on other elements of a household’s budget like food and healthcare. Can a child care teacher move to a more affordable neighborhood and spend more time and money on transportation? Should a groundskeeper absorb the higher housing costs required to live near work and spend less on other items, like healthcare and food? The ability to live affordably near work is a key element in retaining workers. Unaffordable housing can drive away skilled workers, or cause them emotional and physical stress.

The data in the 2016 analysis suggest that housing affordability is a struggle for workers across the income range. None of the occupations highlighted in this report earned salaries that were high enough to guarantee either renting or owning in all 210 metropolitan areas, and the discrepancies between the earnings of several occupations and the housing costs in certain metropolitan areas were massive.

For example, in the super-heated real estate market of California’s Bay Area, the typical rent for a two-bedroom home would consume almost 75 percent of a child care teacher’s median income. Even more striking is the qualifying income for ownership in the San Francisco metropolitan area, which is $298,238. This is over eight times more than the median income for a child care teacher. The disparity between salary and housing costs is certainly extreme in such a high-cost market, but child care teachers can only afford to rent in five percent and own in six percent of the 210 metropolitan areas included in the report.

The implications of the data in the 2016 report go beyond the education sector, as many of the occupations in the full Paycheck to Paycheck data earn salaries that are comparable to the ones highlighted in the report. They were chosen to represent the broad range of both teachers and non-instructional school workers, as well as the diversity of occupations across the country. With this in mind, the report also discusses the range of policies and programs that are designed to improve access to affordable housing. Expanding support for these would benefit not just education workers but workers in every sector in communities across the country.

The full report, a database of wages and housing costs for 81 occupations in 210 metro areas, an explanation of our methodology and a supplemental research brief are available here.  

Since the September 14th release of “Paycheck to Paycheck” and the online tool, NHC has discovered that final checks of the data were insufficient to detect miscalculations. Upon review of the analysis, NHC discovered errors in the graphs in the online tool and incorrect data in “Paycheck to Paycheck.” 

As a result of the errors in “Paycheck to Paycheck”, we underestimated the magnitude of the housing affordability challenges facing school bus drivers and child care workers in Greenville, S.C., as well as the housing affordability challenges of households across the country earning the area median incomes who want to purchase a home. We have corrected these issues, recommend you review the updated report if you used this information and re-run any data you may have previously obtained from the online Paycheck database. If you have any questions regarding the changes to “Paycheck to Paycheck” or the online tool, please contact Janet Viveiros at

Corrections: What we got wrong in “Paycheck to Paycheck 2016” and how we made it right

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

Since the September 14th release of “Paycheck to Paycheck 2016” and the online data tool, NHC has discovered that final checks of the data were insufficient to detect several errors. Upon further review of the analysis, NHC discovered miscalculations in the online tool and report.

NHC has since corrected the data in both the report and online tool. The miscalculations in “Paycheck to Paycheck” included an error in the fair market rent for the Greenville, S.C., metro area, the home price for the Charlotte, N.C., metro area and the number of metro areas with home prices that are unaffordable to households earning the area median income.

The data corrections revealed that NHC had underestimated the housing affordability challenges of households across the country who earn the area median income and what to purchase a home. For households earning the area median income, 92 metro areas have home prices they cannot afford instead of the 73 originally discovered. The changes also showed that fewer metro areas (9 instead of 10) have rents affordable to child care teachers. In addition, the original report also undervalued the share of a bus driver’s paycheck that is consumed by fair market rent for a two bedroom home in Greenville, S.C. (39 percent instead of 32 percent). “Paycheck to Paycheck 2016” now lists the corrected information.

In the online Paycheck to Paycheck data tool, the data errors resulted in some metro areas and occupations not being expressed in graphs or containing incorrect data. The online tool has been modified and all the graphs are now available and show correct calculations. If you have previously used the online data tool, please re-run the graphs as some of have changed since the data were corrected. If you have questions regarding the changes to “Paycheck to Paycheck” and the online tool, please contact Janet Viveiros at

Hardest Hit Funds: Partnerships and hard work worth replicating

News from NHC
by Kaitlyn Snyder, National Housing Conference

In social work school my professors really emphasized the importance of building coalitions and partnerships to effect change. They also made clear that this work is messy: it requires negotiations, a dedication to a cause, a willingness to put aside differences and perhaps most importantly, persistence. In my experience, partnerships are often easier said than done and good examples are hard to come by. One of the most powerful examples of a partnership between government (at different levels), the private sector and philanthropy is the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s (Treasury) Hardest Hit Fund (HHF).

In 2010, Treasury started HHF to address the growing foreclosure crisis. To date, HHF has helped 263,002 homeowners avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes. As HHF begins to wind down towards its end date in 2020, we at NHC thought it apt to preserve some the “greatest hits” from the program.

Our new report examines best practices, innovations and obstacles of Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund. I hope that the lessons learned from the experiences of housing finance agencies and Treasury in administering the HHF program can guide policy decisions in the event of another wave of foreclosures, either nationally or regionally.

For me the biggest take-away from the report is the power of partnerships. Treasury, state housing finance agencies, local counseling networks, servicers and leaders at the state and local level all worked together to help homeowners stay in their homes. They were able to work through obstacles to create a successful model for quickly building state and federal partnerships to stabilize both homeowners and communities during the midst of a foreclosure crisis. A partnership like this is never easy, but in the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort.”

Could “just the facts” be just a failure?

News from NHC
by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference

In briefs published last month in partnership with Enterprise Community Partners, the FrameWorks Institute investigates public perception of healthy housing issues and examines media and organizational narratives about affordable housing. The briefs reinforce much of what we already know about public perception of housing and related issues, highlight important gaps in understanding for further investigation and ask the affordable housing community to reconsider some of our core approaches to educating the public.

First, it won’t come as a surprise that those of us in the housing field perceive housing affordability issues very differently than most of the general public. Housers are focused on public-private partnerships, the role of policy, and structural impacts on communities and individuals. The general public, on the other hand, has little trust in or respect for government, understands housing issues as being about individual choice (if your apartment is unhealthy, then you should move elsewhere) and individual action (if you can’t afford a good place to live, work harder to earn it), and sees housing as a consumer good, which inhabits an economy we can control about as well as we can the weather.

Second, it’s not all bleak. There are promising areas for additional research. FrameWorks identifies several models and narratives which are understood by the public and useful to the housing community. Integration of social services, government as protector and the impact of place on wellbeing seem to have particularly great potential and are all things we can start doing today to communicate more effectively. I recommend taking a look at NHC’s Framing and Messaging Toolkit, particularly the guides “Aspirations and Solutions” and “The Role of Government” while you wait for the coming round of recommendations from FrameWorks.

Finally, FrameWorks gives those of us in the advocacy side of housing some particularly toothsome food for thought. The researchers note that housing organizations have a tendency to present research on housing affordability decontextualized; that is, we often share data on the scarcity of affordable housing without explaining how things got this way, why it matters and what can be done to change it.

I think many organizations take this approach because we believe it gives the numbers more legitimacy. After all, we’re not trying to score points, we’re just telling it like it is. But according to cognitive and social scientific research, what FrameWorks calls the “just the facts” approach is likely to backfire with the very people we aim to convince through our research. Science tells us that when any of us encounter new evidence, if we are not cued by the information source to interpret the evidence in a particular way, we will automatically interpret it using our pre-existing dominant frames of thinking.

Knowing that the general public believes housing quality issues are the fault of individuals, that we’re helpless to manage affordability in our communities and that government is at best bumbling and at worst corrupt, I don’t think we want to leave our research up for interpretation. While it may seem counterintuitive to those of us who are invested in the idea that the evidence speaks for itself, we need to let go of our “just the facts” approach. Let’s give our research, and our proven solutions, a real chance by framing them in a way that helps them be understood, accepted and put to work.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Will post-election federal appropriations be better for housing?

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

Congress granted itself a brief reprieve on federal appropriations by passing a continuing resolution but come December 9, FY 2017 appropriations will demand Congress’ attention again. Will a lame duck Congress return and finish the work of year-long appropriations? If the lame duck Congress uses another short-term continuing resolution to punt the question to the new Congress, will funding for housing look any better?

No and no. [considers mic-drop and exit stage left; thinks better of it]

Post-election, the party that gains seats will have every incentive to push decisions off into the new Congress. The Republicans have limited control over both Houses right now but delays in the Senate and the threat of a presidential veto mean either party can prevent action. The resulting continuing resolution would likely mean net reduction in the number of households helped.

Absent a windfall of federal funds that no one sees on the horizon, federal housing funding will only change with a renewed political will to make housing affordable to all.

And no mistake about it, making housing affordable for the roughly 75 percent of eligible households who receive no housing help would mean major new resources. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Housing Commission estimated the cost at roughly $32 billion annually. A big federal commitment like that would likely generate lots of off-budget benefits in terms of better health, shorter commutes, less traffic, less pollution and more housing-related jobs, but the price tag is still there.

Housing is largely a nonpartisan issue, for good or ill. Democrats may focus a bit more on urban housing issues and Republicans a little more on rural areas, but neither party looks at committing major new resources to housing as a way to distinguish itself from the other party. When a member of either party takes on housing issues, it tends to be in ways that address particular concerns in that member’s state or district. Recent examples include Senator Wyden’s new proposal for middle-income rental housing (a major issue in Portland) or Rep. Ross’ and Rep. Murphy’s private flood insurance bill (a major issue in Florida).

So the elections results, in terms of which party controls each house of Congress, are not likely to change housing funding in a major way. What could change it? More widespread understanding that helping people live closer to where they work, study and build their lives benefits everyone. A consensus among housers (who inform legislators) on a collection of needed policy actions. And a shared understanding that housing can create opportunity if we work together to give people more choices.

Volunteers of America and NAHT close financing for senior special care community

News from NHC's family of members
by Sarah Bond-Yancey, National Housing Conference 

NHC Leadership Circle member Volunteers of America in partnership with the National Affordable Housing Trust (NAHT), recently closed on 4.7 million dollars in Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) equity financing for the development of Manzanita Place, a group of 62 affordable rental homes in Roseville, Calif.

Manzanita Place will provide 47 one-bedroom and 15 studio apartment rental homes to low-income seniors and people with special needs such as mobility impairments. Facilities include a recreation room, a senior nutrition program and community programs such as bingo, card game clubs and religious services. By rehabilitating an existing Volunteers of America affordable housing development, the new development will remain strategically located near local services, grocery stores and public transportation access.

“We’re proud to have played role in rehabilitating Volunteers of America’s affordable housing project in the Sacramento metro area and participating in their national affordable housing mission,” Director of Acquisitions at NAHT, Marcus Vivona, said in a press release. “It has been a pleasure to collaborate with VOA and the LIHTC investors to close on the financing for this deal.”

Partnerships like these are critical for local residents. Data from our annual report, “Housing Landscape 2016,” shows that, in California, 28 percent of renters and 30 percent of low- and moderate-income working households spend at least half their income on housing-related costs. Manzanita place will help increase access to affordable housing in California and give low-income renters greater financial freedom, as well as bring housing choice and stability to some of our most vulnerable populations.