Friday, February 26, 2016

NAHMA awards honor best in affordable housing industry, best multifamily affordable housing communities

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

NHC member National Affordable Housing Management Association (NAHMA) recently announced winners of its annual Communities of Quality Awards program and its Industry and Affordable Housing management Association (AHMA) Awards, the latter which will be presented during its annual meeting in Washington, D.C. March 6-8.

The Communities of Quality Awards honor the best multifamily affordable housing communities across the country, judged by how they manage physical, financial and social conditions of the property, and how well they convey successes in offering the highest quality of life for their residents. Fifty applications were submitted for consideration and ultimately, NAHMA awarded four developments: Village at Lakeview Apartments in Edgewood, Maryland for Exemplary Family Development; Rogers Hall in Lowell, Massachusetts for Exemplary Development for the Elderly; Lilburn Terrace Apartments in Lilburn, Georgia for Exemplary Development for Residents with Special Needs; and Silver Leaf Terrace in Leominster, Massachusetts for Outstanding Turnaround for a Troubled Property.

The Industry and AHMA Awards included both individual and organizational winners based on professionalism, dedication and accomplishments in assuring quality housing for low-income families helps to improve the standard of multifamily affordable housing. Winners of the 2016 awards include: Daniel Murry and Bill Wollinger for Industry Statesmen Award; Sandy Aldrich for Industry Achievement Award; Francis Thomas for Industry Partner Award; Southeastern Affordable Housing Management Association (SAHMA) (large), New Jersey Affordable Housing Management Association (medium) and Pennsylvania-Delaware Affordable Housing Management Association (small) for Affordable Housing Management Association of the Year; SAHMA, Midwest Affordable Housing Management Association and New England Affordable Housing Management Association for Affordable Housing Management Association for Innovation Award; Mansermar Inc in Duluth, Georgia, National Church Residences in Columbus, Ohio and WinnResidential in Boston for Communities of Quality Award; and Larry Sisson for Affordable Housing Advocate of the Year.

WinnResidential’s property management work will be featured at Solutions for Housing Communications 2016 in New York, April 28-29, on a panel called “Property management as perception management.” Representatives of four nonprofit and for-profit property and asset management organizations will discuss how innovative management practices can allay community concerns, build relationships and lay groundwork for the success of your future developments.

The President’s Award will be announced during the awards ceremony on March 7 in Washington, D.C. The Communities of Quality Awards program was jointly sponsored by HD Supply Multifamily Solutions and Navigate Affordable Housing Partners

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Recognizing the meaning of opportunity

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

Some of us have been fortunate to have had opportunities all through our lives to pursue our dreams.  We’ve had encouraging parents. We’ve lived in safe neighborhoods with access to good schools. We’ve been able to be in places where we’ve made contacts who have helped us along the way. This spring, I have the chance to take on a new venture, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the opportunities that I’ve been able to take advantage of over my lifetime (more on this in a bit). Opportunity is also a critical element of NHC’s work. We are dedicated to expanding opportunity by helping to ensure everyone in America has access to safe, decent and affordable housing. Several upcoming research projects highlight NHC’s commitment to better understanding the consequences of a lack of access to opportunity and solutions for creating more inclusive communities.

There is increasing understanding about the relationship between one’s prospects for economic mobility and where one lives, including both neighborhood quality and housing affordability and stability. Several rigorous research studies have been released recently that document how place matters to individual and family well-being. NHC’s research staff is working on a review of this research to summarize the key findings. The goal is to produce a syntheses of the evidence so that the broader housing community can be better positioned to educate policymakers and others about the importance of investment in housing and community development.

This growing attention to opportunity is demonstrated in HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which establishes a new process for evaluating local fair housing issues and developing strategies to meet a community’s housing needs. As part of the AFFH rule, HUD has released maps displaying local data that can help communities understand how well their residents’ housing options connect them to opportunity. More and more local governments have become interested in how to map opportunity and create their own opportunity indices.  In collaboration with members of NHC’s Inclusive Communities Working Group, research staff at NHC will produce a brief explaining what we know about opportunity mapping and profiling several communities across the country that have used local data to develop unique opportunity metrics.

One strategy for creating housing opportunity is local inclusionary housing policies.  Inclusionary zoning (IZ) ordinances, for example, typically require or incentivize the production of affordable housing as part of the process of developing market-rate housing.  These programs are becoming increasingly common across the U.S., but there remain concerns that inclusionary requirements result in slower overall housing production or increase market rate prices and rents. There is a small set of very good evaluations on the impacts of IZ programs—and several more descriptive studies—that can help shed light on the expected impacts of IZ programs.  Research staff at NHC will release a short Q&A-style brief based on these research studies to respond to lingering concerns over potential negative consequences about of an IZ program.

As NHC continues its work on opportunity, I am getting set to take advantage of an opportunity myself. I will be stepping down as Vice President of Research at NHC this month to start my own consulting business. I feel very fortunate to have been connected with NHC and all of our partners over the past two and a half years, and I look forward to staying associated with NHC going forward!    

JPMorgan Chase, LIIF pilot innovative $6 million social investment in distressed communities around the country

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

NHC Chairman’s Circle member JPMorgan Chase, in partnership with NHC member Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF), recently announced the first two investments of a new $6 million social capital projects that will accelerate revitalization efforts at large-scale public housing developments in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New Orleans. “Equity with a Twist” (EQT) provides “flexible, low-cost financing to support and incentivize integrative, outcomes-driven solutions to poverty.”

EQT will provide Bayou Development Fund and NHC member BRIDGE Housing with $2 million each in low-cost, 10-year financing for their multisector efforts to tackle poverty in California and Louisiana. Bayou Development Fund will use the financing to continue rebuilding communities ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Both organizations are undertaking large-scale community revitalization efforts that will incorporate mixed-income housing with high-quality learning programs. The EQT financing will help both BRIDGE Housing and Bayou Development Fund to tackle the housing and educational needs together.

“Neighborhoods that provide low-income families with healthy, affordable places to live, learn, work and play create opportunities for people to climb out of poverty. Transforming distressed places into opportunity-rich neighborhoods requires a silo-busting approach, long-term commitment from partners and an organization willing to be accountable for change,” Nancy O. Andrews, president and CEO of LIIF, said in a press release. “Equity with a Twist is a flexible and patient social capital tool that supports high-impact work with strong social returns, while also generating a modest financial return for investors.”

The intersection of housing and education is a locus of significant work and research in the housing community, and the focus of an upcoming NHC event. On Dec. 13, NHC will host the How Housing Matters conference, sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and in partnership with HUD PD&R, the Urban Institute and the Terwilliger Center at ULI. This day-long event in Washington, D.C. will explore ways to achieve positive outcomes for children, working families and vulnerable populations through cross-sector collaboration in health, economic opportunity, education and housing. For more information, contact Janet Viveiros at  

BRIDGE Housing’s work will impact the Potrero neighborhood in San Francisco and Jordan Downs in Los Angeles. Bayou Development Fund will support the Columbia Parc neighborhood in New Orleans.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

NHC Budget Forum emphasizes the importance of advocating now

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Last week, NHC’s Annual Budget Forum helped housing stakeholders and Hill staffers alike understand how affordable housing fits in to the FY 2017 budget cycle and where they can make a difference. The release of NHC’s “Housing Landscape 2016” framed the need for affordable housing. Then, using President Obama’s budget proposal as a jump-off point, panelists explored appropriations issues. We concluded with a discussion of the tax-side proposals and the importance of advocacy around the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and other housing and community development programs. The running theme: advocate now on both the tax and appropriations issues.

A few of the key take-away points from the forum:
  • Advocacy for housing is essential in this highly partisan and fiscally constrained budget environment.
  • More funding overall for housing and transportation is the place to start, because once funding levels are set for the appropriation subcommittees, increases for individual programs come only at the expense of other housing programs. You can still join the sign-on letter!
  • Tax reform is coming, and legislators are laying the groundwork now. Ensuring that policymakers see the benefit of affordable housing in their communities gives them the understanding they need to protect and expand the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and other housing and community development programs during tax reform.

Presentations and discussions got much deeper into individual program questions and the likely political dynamics that will play out as the appropriations process unfolds in coming months. Our presenters brought a wealth of knowledge from work in state and local government, affordable housing development and finance, federal service and advocacy:

Chris Estes, president and CEO, National Housing Conference
Lisa Sturtevant, Ph.D., vice president of research, National Housing Conference 
Ethan Handelman, vice president of policy and advocacy, National Housing Conference 
Laura Hogshead, chief operations officer, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 
Aaron Gornstein, CEO, Preservation of Affordable Housing 
Adrianne Todman, executive director, District of Columbia Housing Authority 
Susan Dewey, executive director, Virginia Housing Development Authority 
Bob Moss, principal and national director of government affairs, CohnReznick 

If you missed the webinar, you can view the recording and the slides. For a quick summary of the president’s budget proposal, see our initial blog post.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Work should continue to make greener affordable housing as courts consider the Clean Power Plan

by Ethan Handelman and Rebekah King

While the Supreme Court’s recent action may delay implementation of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), housing stakeholders should continue their efforts to create affordable housing that is healthier, more energy efficient and better for the environment. The rationale for greener affordable housing is compelling on its own merits and we should encourage it through the CPP process and elsewhere.

The stay imposed by the Supreme Court is just a pause while other legal action gets resolved. In the meantime, efforts on the Clean Power Plan will keep moving forward in states that have already started implementation planning work. The Clean Power Plan continues to present an opportunity to make greener affordable housing as a cost-effective way to meet environmental goals. Once legal issues are resolved, states that are still moving forward will likely move to implement the plan swiftly, so affordable housing stakeholders should engage now with new partners like air regulators, utilities and state energy offices. States that have not begun working on CPP may have to play catch-up, so preparatory outreach by housing stakeholders now could also pay off there.

What if the Clean Power Plan stops completely? Making a strong case for energy efficient, healthier, greener housing is still valuable. The CPP certainly provides a strong incentive for states to invest in green affordable housing to meet carbon reduction goals, but several states have already made those investments before the CPP was around. Other states may take further steps on their own, if CPP stops. In any of those eventualities, a strong voice from housing stakeholders can encourage public investments in energy efficiency to include affordable housing.

The National Housing Conference will continue work with housing stakeholders and allies to pursue more ways to invest in energy efficiency improvements in affordable housing. Creating greener affordable housing provides better outcomes for resident health, building quality and the environment, and NHC looks forward to its ongoing work to support green affordable housing. If you want to learn more about how to get involved, here are some places to start:

Housing Landscape 2016 shows more working households are renting

by Mindy Ault, National Housing Conference 

“Housing Landscape” is our annual look at housing affordability for low- to moderate-income working households nationwide. This is one of my favorite reports because it’s an “apples to apples” analysis of the affordability challenges that face working families that lets us identify and examine trends and ongoing issues, and also consider the kinds of policies that could help to mitigate some of these challenges.

In our newest report, released today, we use American Community Survey data from 2014 to show that housing costs are continuing to rise, as they have done for the past several years. This is particularly true for working renters, for whom median housing costs have grown by more than six percent from 2011 to 2014. And for the first time since 2011, housing costs also increased for working owners, marking the end of a three-year downward trajectory.

As housing costs rise, we can also see that more working households are renting as opposed to buying their homes. The increase in working renter households impacts rental markets, pushing rents ever higher in response to higher demand. And the effect of this higher demand in the rental market is clear—for the first time since 2011, the share of working renters paying more than half their income for housing costs has started to increase.

We also examine affordability issues for working households by race and ethnicity, and the data indicate that non-white households are more likely to be paying a disproportionate share of their income for housing costs than their white counterparts. And finally, looking at working households by income category (as grouped by percentage of area median income), we found that the lowest income households—those with incomes at 30 percent or less of area median income—continue to face the greatest housing cost burdens.

One of the most useful aspects of “Housing Landscape,” in my opinion, is the examination of affordability at the state and metro levels. Our report includes a map that illustrates the shares of working households paying more than half their income for housing costs state by state and in the 50 largest U.S. metros. Generally speaking, housing affordability challenges have been greatest on the coasts and in metros with strong economic growth, and this continues to be the case.

Please take a look at our 2016 report for more details on housing affordability for working households, data on affordability in the 50 states and largest U.S. metros and our take on the policy implications of the current findings.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A primer on permanent affordability

by Charlie Wilkins, The Compass Group

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

Permanent affordability for affordable rental housing requires two things: a permanent commitment to affordability and permanent viability at affordable rents. Commitment without viability leads either to the eventual failure of the property or to the sacrifice of affordability. Viability without commitment runs the risk that affordability may be sacrificed in the future, when different decision-makers are in charge.

I’ll talk about the permanent commitment first. But I think that permanent viability is even more important.

Permanent commitment to affordability
Some think that ownership by a nonprofit constitutes a permanent commitment to affordability, but I’ve seen that approach fail when the nonprofit runs into financial trouble (and sells the property or raises the rents to provide more cash flow). Some think that a project-based Section 8 contract constitutes a permanent commitment to affordability, but clearly that commitment is only for the life of the Section 8 contract. And surely none of us thinks that a 30-year Low Income Housing Tax Credit is a permanent commitment to affordability.

Don’t get me wrong. Any commitment to affordability is a good thing, and it’s an even better thing when the commitment is long-term or when it takes a particularly strong form.

I think the best answer, for a permanent commitment to affordability, is a foreclosure-proof use agreement and that runs for a very long period of time.

“Foreclosure-proof” means that the use agreement is binding on all future owners, including on a lender that takes title as a result of a foreclosure. The usual approach is to record the use agreement in the local land records before recording any mortgages or deeds of trust, and to require that all lenders acknowledge the superiority of the use agreement. I also recommend telling all potential lenders about this requirement from the very beginning, so that there are no misunderstandings later.
The “very long period of time” part is important. “Permanent” is not an absolutely precise term, but I think we can all agree that it means some very long time, say, fifty years or more. So I don’t think we can use the word “permanent,” in good conscience, in the context of a twenty-, thirty- or forty-year commitment.

Two reasons why I like use agreements: (1) We have to be precise about the level of affordability because we’re creating a written document that’s going to last a long time and that’s going to have to be understood by lots of people; and (2) The use agreement doesn’t allow future decision-makers, such as a lender that takes title to the property via foreclosure, to trade away affordability.

(PS: if a lender tells you they won’t lend if there is a foreclosure-proof use agreement, they haven’t thought it through. All of the big lenders have accepted this approach.)

Should the use agreement be absolutely permanent? Fifty or sixty years from now, perhaps the best thing may be to tear down the buildings and reconstruct, or to serve a different resident population. If a permanent use agreement is too rigid, it could later become a mission problem instead of a mission asset. On the other hand, if the use agreement completely expires after fifty or sixty years, that may not be the right approach either. This is a good area for thoughtful innovation.

Permanent viability at affordable rents
Most of today’s affordable rental housing will fail unless it receives more public subsidies after ten, fifteen or twenty years. This is unfortunate. It’s also 100 percent preventable.

There are two big obstacles to long-term viability.

The largest one is long-term capital needs (expensive but very predictable replacements of long-life building systems such as appliances, flooring, heating, air conditioning, roofs, parking lots, windows and siding). The solution is to obtain a relatively inexpensive and quite reliable study called a capital needs assessment, and to use the study’s findings to structure the property’s financing so that the long-term capital needs can be funded without the need for new public subsidies later on.

The second obstacle is that, over a long period of time, bad things can (and often do) happen. Markets may change, tenant incomes may grow slower than expected, expenses may increase faster than expected and new, unanticipated expenses may become necessary. The solution is to build in margins of safety (basically, higher cash flow, higher reserves or both) so that the property can survive most adverse surprises without needing new public subsidies.

Structuring properties financially for long-term viability is called lifecycle underwriting; you can learn more here.

When the goal is permanent affordability, we need two things: a permanent commitment to affordability and the long-term ability to provide affordability without relying on future public subsidies. Both components are essential.

After a long career operating affordable rental housing, Charlie Wilkins became a consultant in 1997, founding The Compass Group, LLC with business partner Anker Heegaard. Compass has helped HUD implement the Mark-to-Market, Green Retrofit, Neighborhood Stabilization and RAD programs; has helped USDA implement the Multifamily Portfolio Revitalization initiative; and has helped the state of Louisiana finance mixed-income apartment communities to replace housing lost to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A first look at the president's proposed FY 2017 budget request for housing and community development

by Kaitlyn Snyder, National Housing Conference

Under President Obama’s proposed FY 2017 budget, HUD would receive $48.9 billion in gross discretionary funding and $11.3 billion in new mandatory spending over 10 years. Emphasis is placed on supporting 4.5 million households through rental assistance, increasing homeless assistance, supporting tribal communities and providing opportunities to Native American youth and making targeted investments in communities to help revitalize high-poverty neighborhoods and improve housing affordability. The FY 2017 budget shows a historic investment in homelessness with the goal of ending family and youth homelessness by 2020 as laid out in “Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.”

After the Supreme Court’s decision in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. and HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing proposed rule, HUD is placing an emphasis on ways to connect housing and opportunity. It would support mobility strategies with its new proposal for $15 million for a new mobility counseling demonstration. For place-based efforts, the $300 million proposal for local community efforts to reduce barriers to housing development and increase housing affordability would support the important role states and local communities play in ensuring affordable housing for all. Click the following links to view HUD’s budget announcementsummary and congressional justifications. The detailed HUD budget is available here

Important funding and policy proposals for rural housing under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are also included in President Obama’s budget request. Rural multifamily rental programs see funding increases under the president’s request, which would support more preservation and potentially even new construction.

The president’s request also provides support for community development programs within the Treasury Department budget. The budget proposes:
  • $300 million one-time mandatory appropriation for a new Pay for Success (PFS) program.
  • $245,923,000 for the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund Program.

Additionally, the Treasury Department lays out the following changes to the Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) in their green book of revenue proposals for FY 2017:
  • Allow conversion of private activity bond volume cap into LIHTCs.
  • Encourage mixed-income occupancy by allowing LIHTC-supported projects to elect a criterion.
  • Employing a restriction on average income.
  • Add furthering fair housing and preservation of publicly assisted affordable housing to allocation criteria.
  • Remove the QCT population cap.
  • Implement a requirement that LIHTC-supported housing protect victims of domestic abuse.

The Capital Magnet Fund (CMF), which was established by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) and received a one-time discretionary appropriation of $80 million in 2010, should begin receiving assessments for the first time in 2016 from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. HERA directs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to set aside in each fiscal year 4.2 basis points of each dollar of the unpaid principal balance of new business purchases to be allocated to the CMF and the Housing Trust Fund.

Below are highlights from the president’s budget and a chart showing funding for selected HUD and USDA programs.

Highlights of the funding proposals:
  • $5 million for the ConnectHome initiative.
  • $200 million for the Choice Neighborhoods Program.
  • Fully funds public housing authorities’ administrative fees at $2.1 billion.
  • $50 million to support public housing conversions to project-based rental assistance through the Rental Assistance Demonstration, with a targeted expansion to include certain properties that provide housing for the elderly.
  • $35 million for the Jobs Plus program and $85 million for the Family Self-Sufficiency program.
  • The budget projection includes in its calculation additional revenue of approximately 9.5 billion dollars from 2017 FHA loan business. 

Policy Proposals
  • Enhances local decision making, improves program accountability and provides more options for regional coordination and planning through a series of reforms to the Community Development Block Grant program.
  • Updates the formula of the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program by using HIV incidence rates and adjusting for fair market rents and poverty rates to better reflect the current nature and distribution of the epidemic.
  • Under the HOME Investment Partnership Program the budget proposes statutory changes that would eliminate the 24-month commitment requirement, eliminate the 15 percent Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) set-aside, establish a single qualification threshold of $500,000 irrespective of the appropriation amount, revise the current "grandfathering" provision so that participating jurisdictions that fall below the threshold three years out of a five-year period are ineligible for direct formula funds and allow recaptured HOME CHDO technical assistance funds be reallocated as HOME technical assistance funds. When implemented, these changes will improve the targeting focus and effectiveness of the overall administration of the program.

The budget also proposes new initiatives:
  • $10.967 billion in mandatory spending to house homeless families over the next 10 years for:
  • 10,000 new housing vouchers for families with children experiencing homelessness.
  • 25,500 new units of permanent supportive housing to end chronic homelessness.
  • 8,000 new units of rapid rehousing.
  • $25 million to test innovative projects for youth experiencing homelessness.
  • $300 million for local community efforts to reduce barriers to housing development and increase housing affordability.
  • $15 million for a new mobility counseling demonstration that is designed to help HUD-assisted families move and stay in higher-opportunity neighborhoods.
  • Upward Mobility Project would allow 10 localities to combine funding from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Social Services Block Grant and Community Services Block Grant and HUD’s Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership Program. Participating communities will also be eligible to receive HHS funding up to $300 million per year ($1.5 billion in new funding over five years), to combine with the added flexibility with currently provided resources.

For a more detailed analysis of President Obama’s budget request, please join NHC for our Annual Budget Forum on Thursday, Feb. 18 from 2-4 p.m. Register now for this free webinar.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens who changed housing

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference 

In the first issue of Under One Roof of 2016 I noted that the National Housing Conference is celebrating its 85th anniversary as an organization this year. In each issue of Under One Roof, I will highlight a little bit about the amazing people and policy success NHC has had in its 85-year history. This month, I honor Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch, a social worker who started the movement that we are all a part of today!

In 1931, the Great Depression was in full effect, exacerbating the filthy, overcrowded conditions of the poor in cities across the country and wiping out family farms and small towns across the south and midwest. In New York City, Mrs. Simkhovitch prodded civic leaders into action. A reformer and social worker, she believed that imaginative programs could replace unhealthy and crime-ridden slums with decent housing and a new spirit of community.

That year she formed the National Public Housing Conference, a pioneering advocacy coalition made up of other women reformers along with bankers, builders, realtors, labor leaders, architects and residents. New York City began an effort to produce new housing and to educate and build public support for this work by highlighting the consequences that slum conditions had on the general welfare, crime, health and the local economy.

Recognizing the national scope of these issues and the important role the federal government must play in solving housing challenges, this group would soon move to Washington, D.C. and rename itself the National Housing Conference. It is noteworthy that NHC’s first policy success was the passage of the Federal Home Loan Bank Act that established the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and 12 regional banks.

I look forward to sharing more NHC stories with you in the coming months. If you have your own stories to share, I hope you’ll do so through our website.

One of NHC’s annual traditions is our Budget Forum. Set after the anticipated release of the president’s budget, this event gives our members insight into both the proposed budget for housing programs and the likely budget process for the coming year.

To make this event accessible to all parts of the country we moved it from being an in person event at the Capitol Visitors Center to an online webinar that is free to all. Ethan and Kaitlyn have lined up a diverse and knowledgeable group of speakers for the webinar who you will not want to miss. In addition to the budget discussion, we will also host a conversation with Bob Moss of CohnReznick on legislative prospects for tax reform and what members of the affordable housing community should focus on in that area for the coming year.

In order to make sure this event is as engaging as possible for our attendees, we are offering registrants the opportunity to submit questions for our speakers in advance, as well as during the webinar. You can find more information on all of this below from Kaitlyn and on our website.

As always, thank you for being a member of NHC. 

Can a 1952 speech provide a window on the present?

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

It would probably have been difficult for the men and women who founded NHC to imagine that an organization begun in 1931 to address slum housing in urban communities following the Great Depression would still be going strong in 2016. As the oldest affordable housing advocacy group in the country, NHC has been a vital voice in everything from passing of the National Housing Act of 1934 to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit to the ongoing push for housing finance reform. Today, 85 years later, we continue to tackle some of the nation's greatest housing challenges as we work to ensure that everyone has access to safe, decent and affordable housing. 

Draft text from Sen. Humphrey's speech
In 1952, then-senator Hubert H. Humphrey gave a speech to a National Housing Conference convening. National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) founder and 1995 NHC Housing Person of the Year Award honoree Cushing Dolbeare, then in one of her first jobs as speechwriter for Sen. Humphrey, drafted the senator’s remarks. At the time, future Vice President Humphrey was still a Minnesota lawmaker and public housing was still a relatively new program. The focus of federal housing policy was the elimination of substandard housing for the nation’s poorest citizens and clearing communities plagued by blight.

It is interesting to read Sen. Humphrey’s remarks, passed on to us from NLIHC’s archives, as they provide insight into what the housing landscape was like in the 1950s and help us see how much—and how little—has changed. He vividly describes the impact of the Housing Act of 1937, where the federal government funded new local public housing agencies to improve substandard housing for low-income families.  As Sen. Humphrey describes, the act, through public-private partnership, succeeded in providing nearly 192,000 affordable homes in 278 localities, thus turning a “housing problem” into a “housing opportunity.” The Housing Act of 1937 “scratched the surface,” as Sen. Humphrey says, but it was only the beginning.

Sen. Humphrey goes on to describe several factors stunting the progress of affordable housing development at that time. While the Housing Act of 1949 was passed “largely thanks to [NHC’s] efforts in rousing people to the need… for action,” appropriations cuts, a shortage of key building materials and pockets of opposition to public housing all slowed construction and rehabilitation of housing affordable to America’s growing population. Short the needed affordable housing, Sen. Humphrey says, the only affordable housing option available to many Americans was the housing built for the top third of the market that, with age, would eventually “filter down” to those with lower incomes.

We can see some parallels between what Sen. Humphrey describes and our housing landscape today. As we work to ensure affordable housing is a reality for all Americans, obstacles like limited (or reduced) funding often make this reality difficult to achieve. While it’s still true that market-rate housing does not “filter” all the way down to the lowest income people, local programs like inclusionary zoning are now in place in many cities, making neighborhoods of opportunity more affordable to lower-income people. The public housing program created by the 1949 act “only takes care of a small part of the bottom part of our population [and] does not begin to fill the tremendous need of middle income groups for rental housing,” according to the senator. LIHTC, HOME and the countless local housing programs have made great strides in filling that gap, though as our “Paycheck to Paycheck” continues to show, there is often a mismatch between the incomes of working people and the cost of housing in their communities. And public-private partnerships are still vitally important across the continuum of housing. As NHC makes clear in our principles for housing finance reform, restoring the balance between private risk-bearing capital and the government guarantee is essential to serving the housing needs of all in America.

The purpose of Sen. Humphrey’s speech to the NHC gathering was in part to rally support for public housing appropriations, saying that “only overwhelming public pressure can save” public housing. We still have far to go before we can truly say we’ve achieved the goal of the 1949 Housing Act of “a decent home in a suitable living environment for all Americans.” Decent, affordable housing in communities of opportunity remains out of reach for many Americans. As long as this remains true, there is a need for NHC and our colleagues in advocacy in D.C. and across the country. So while we joyfully celebrate our 85th anniversary and all that we’ve accomplished together, we must continue to focus on strengthening the movement for affordable housing

Monday, February 1, 2016

How is a budget forum like your car's GPS?

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

You have probably gotten an email about NHC’s upcoming Budget Forum, and assuredly you will get more before February 18 at 2 p.m.  We’re persistent not because we’re trying to sell tickets (you can register for free, after all) but because there should be new ideas and information for anyone in housing. So what can you learn?

  • How critical federal funding is to affordable housing. This may seem obvious, but the last few years of appropriations certainly don’t reflect it. Learn where the current trajectory for federal funding is heading and what that could mean for different types of affordable housing work.
  • How the pieces fit together. Many of us in housing work with just parts of the puzzle, but creating and preserving affordable housing takes a combination of federal, state and local resources. Those resources come from appropriations and tax programs alike. And a mix of private sector companies, nonprofit entities and public sector agencies come together to bring housing about. Learn how other housing stakeholders are making best use of the resources available.
  • How the process will look this year. Appropriations and tax reform are moving on separate tracks, each with their own momentum. The national election overshadows all. Learn how you can get involved to help make affordable housing a federal priority.

When the president’s budget proposal comes out next week, many of us will immediately dive deep into the many pages of supporting materials, looking for the key details we hope (or fear) will be in there (or missing). That analysis will take weeks, so we don’t expect to have all the answers for you at the Budget Forum. Rather, we hope to point you in a direction, remind you how exciting affordable housing really can be and help surface the questions we will collectively need to answer this year and beyond. Please join us.

Oh, and the riddle in the title? The answer is manifold. Your car’s GPS points you where you want to go, but you need to know your objective to begin with. You are the one driving; the GPS just gives advice. And it only works if you pay attention. Just like the NHC Budget Forum.

The landscape of income and wealth inequality and housing affordability

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

The National Housing Conference is getting set to release the 2016 edition of “Housing Landscape.” For years, NHC’s Center for Housing Policy has released this analysis of the housing affordability challenges among the nation’s low- and moderate-income working households. Consistently, over the past several years, more than a quarter of all low- and moderate-income working renters have been severely cost burdened—that is, paying half or more of their income in rent. Millions of Americans go out to work each day, serving local communities and businesses, but earn too little to find housing they can afford in the communities in which they work.

NHC’s analysis of the incomes and housing costs of working households in the U.S. is particularly germane as the conversation around income and wealth inequality intensifies during this election year. Even working a full-time job, many workers continue to see stagnant wage growth and find it increasingly difficult to find affordable housing. According to our Paycheck to Paycheck tool, most moderate-wage workers in metro areas across the country cannot afford to rent the typical one-bedroom apartment. A mid-level graphic designer or urban planner in the San Francisco metro area doesn’t earn enough to afford a median-priced one-bedroom apartment. A one-bedroom apartment is too expensive for the typical e-commerce customer service representative or security guard in the Austin, Texas metro area. In the Raleigh area, school bus drivers and nursing aids must spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent to afford the typical one-bedroom home in the region. Unable to save for a down payment, homeownership likely feels out of the question for many of these working households.

Across the country, local jurisdictions are looking for ways to increase the supply of rental housing that is affordable to the workers who serve important roles in their communities. From inclusionary zoning policies to public land programs to regional housing trust funds, there is a tremendous amount of innovation happening at the local level designed to produce and preserve affordable rental housing.

But will it be enough to meet the needs of the workforce? And what happens when lower-income workers continue to spend a disproportionate amount of their incomes on housing and fall further behind on opportunities to gain wealth through homeownership?

Over the course of the year, research from NHC’s Center for Housing Policy will continue to analyze the relationships between income and wealth inequality and the availability and affordability of housing. Look for the release of this year’s “Housing Landscape” at the end of February.