Wednesday, April 27, 2016

How do we address housing needs of ex-offenders?

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

This week is National Re-entry Week, making it a good time to focus on the important role housing plays for people exiting the criminal justice system. For an individual leaving prison or jail, access to safe and affordable housing is vital to their successful re-entry into the community. Without access to affordable housing, ex-offenders are at great risk of homelessness and recidivism. Individuals with criminal histories face many challenges to access affordable housing, from the insufficient supply to exclusion by landlords and federal programs.

In thinking about this issue, it’s helpful to remind ourselves of the magnitude of the ex-offender population and trends: 
  • Between 70 million and 100 million Americans have a criminal record.
  • Over 1.5 million Americans are incarcerated in state and federal prisons; approximately 700,000 individuals are in jail. 
  • Over 600,000 Americans exit federal and state prison annually; over 11 million individuals cycle through local jails each year. 
  • Nearly 50,000 people a year enter homeless shelters immediately upon release from correctional facilities. 
  • Risk of recidivism greatly declines after an individual with a nonviolent conviction has remained crime free for 3-4 years; their risk of recidivism becomes equal to the general population’s risk of arrest.
Some housing providers have been thinking about how we can serve this large population with criminal histories effectively. Given recent public housing and fair housing guidance from HUD and Congress’ efforts to tackle criminal justice reform, understanding how to serve this population is particularly relevant. It is also challenging because understanding how to evaluate a person’s criminal history is complex.

A person develops a criminal record upon being arrested, even if not criminally charged. This arrest record can then become a barrier to federally assisted or privately owned housing. Arrests, criminal charges, convictions, misdemeanors, felonies, violent versus non-violent offenses -- all of these factors illustrate why treating every individual with a criminal history the same is problematic. It also illustrates the complexity of criminal histories and the challenge in providing housing to serve this population. Here are four examples of possible approaches:
  • CSH has been developing the FUSE model in a number of jurisdictions. This program, the Frequent User Service Enhancement (FUSE) program began in New York City, providing supportive housing to people with higher use of the shelter and criminal justice systems. After 12 months, 91 percent of FUSE participants were still housed, compared to 28 percent of the comparison group. They also spent 19 fewer days incarcerated, a 40 percent reduction over the comparison group.
  • Salt Lake County Utah and its Public Housing Authority created a program to help people with special needs secure housing using HOME funds. This Homeless Assistance Rental Project provides housing placement services and rental assistance to individuals with a criminal history and people waiting for release from mental health or substance abuse treatment centers. The program also ensures landlords against damages or eviction proceedings. Salt Lake County expanded the program after its first year because of its success. 
  • New York City Housing Authority is piloting a family reunification program. This two year pilot will work with 150 former inmates that have been released from prison in the last 3 years. These inmates will receive supportive reentry services while living with their family in a public housing unit; upon successful completion of the program, they will be added to their family’s lease and permanently allowed to remain with their family. 
  • Communities are also exploring landlord risk mitigation funds to help encourage private landlords to rent to tenants with criminal histories.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Beginning the implementation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

In July 2015, HUD published the final rule to affirmatively further fair housing. This rule clarifies the fair housing responsibilities of jurisdictions receiving HUD funds. Jurisdictions will now adopt Assessments of Fair Housing (AFH), using an Assessment Tool and relevant data provided by HUD, instead of the previous Analysis of Impediments (AI). While the implementation is being phased in over the coming years under the standard schedule for completing these analyses, local and state governments are already beginning to think about how to complete their AFHs.

With that in mind, on March 31, the National Housing Conference, Enterprise Community Partners and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments sponsored an event, “Partners on Preparing for the Assessment of Fair Housing: Exploring Local Data Needs.” The goal of the event was to provide tools and more clarity on drafting an AFH. It included presentations by Katherine O’Regan, HUD assistant secretary of policy, development & research and Dan Pontius, Baltimore Metropolitan Council, as well as an overview of the assessment tool by HUD staff, a discussion of various national sources and presentations on how to approach data from local perspectives in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

The event provided some helpful reminders and new information for me when thinking about completing an AFH:
  • The new rule and accompanying AFH is both a process and a promise. The goal, as Dr. O’Regan stated it, is for communities to go through a process that leads to a plan and actions that change the level of segregation in this country. 
  •  Doing an AFH is not a new requirement because communities have been required to do fair housing planning all along. The information to be included is very similar to the inputs for an Analysis of Impediments but now the required inputs are clearer, and the AFH is clearly tied to a planning process, where the AI was not. 
  • HUD asks jurisdictions to include local data but data that is available at little or no cost and is relevant. Jurisdictions do not need to provide an exhaustive list of local data. 
  • AFHs need to address the data that HUD provides but jurisdictions can use more complex or nuanced local data in their analysis instead of HUD data. 
  • AFHs will include public housing authorities in local planning in a new way. 
  • HUD is continually working on the Assessment Tool to address bugs and add functionality where needed. 
  • HUD has made a number of helpful resources available, including a guidebook with examples to help jurisdictions as they start working on their AFHs.
We are only at the beginning of this process and have a lot to learn and work out, but AFHs can offer communities a significant opportunity to think through their approaches to affordable housing in new ways.

Why the recent Lifeline decision matters to housing providers

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

On March 31, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 in favor of modernizing the Lifeline program, expanding it for the first time to cover broadband Internet service. Bringing greater in-home access to low-income households, including those in affordable housing, can be a powerful tool to improve student success in school, health outcomes, economic growth and more. The FCC decision comes after advocacy by NHC and many allies supporting broadband access in affordable housing, work that will continue on policy and practical steps.

Having in-home access to the Internet is increasingly important for families to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency, as NHC reported in its research on broadband in affordable housing. Dr. Lisa Sturtevant, in NHC’s “Connectivity Gap” brief, describes how “the availability of Internet access is associated with greater student achievement, improved health outcomes and less social isolation, as well as with more robust economic growth.” However, NHC’s research found that low-income households, especially very low-income renters, are much less likely to have Internet access at home. Fifty-four percent of extremely low-income renters (with incomes below 30 percent of area median income) do not have home Internet access, compared to only 26 percent of US households that do not have home Internet access.

The vote by the Federal Communications Commission on March 31 was 3-2 in favor of modernizing the Lifeline program. Previously, Lifeline provided affordable telephone service for low-income Americans. The FCC has now expanded Lifeline to include support for broadband Internet. Eligible households will be able to use the $9.25 per month subsidy for broadband, voice or bundled voice and broadband. The FCC set minimum standards for fixed broadband at 10 Mbps downloads/one Mbps uploads, which is what the majority of consumers currently receive. The order also creates a third-party national verification process, removing the burden from providers. This modernization also refines the list of federal programs that can validate Lifeline eligibility to include HUD public housing, hopefully making it easier for public housing residents to participate in the Lifeline program.

This recent decision by the FCC is one step towards addressing the digital divide and ensuring that low-income renters are not left behind. NHC is glad to see the FCC make these changes to the Lifeline program. With this policy change at the FCC and HUD’s ConnectHome initiative, housing providers now have more resources to help with implementing broadband in affordable housing. One place to start when considering how you might pursue broadband in your development is to review NHC’s case studies on how Eden Housing and the Housing Authority of the City of Austin were able to do so. Additionally, NHC will be holding a webinar to discuss the Housing Authority of the City of Austin case study in depth on May 3 at 2 p.m. EDT. You can register here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A call to action on "Eviction"

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

One of the biggest changes in coming to work for a national organization like NHC is that it is harder to stay connected to the issues and stories of people struggling with affordable housing and poverty.  This is one reason why NHC focuses half of our work at the regional, state and local levels. This is also why we are pleased to join the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Coalition on Human Needs to sponsor a discussion of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” with author Matthew Desmond on April 28 in Washington, D.C. If you are not heading to New York for our Solutions for Housing Communications convening and you are in the D.C. region you should register for this free event.

This book is a must-read for anyone who works in the affordable housing and community development fields. It is a riveting and haunting collection of the stories of several families and individuals struggling to find housing beneath the crushing weight of poverty. The theme of how an eviction can lock a family out of decent housing going forward is one we all need to confront. The connection of services and supports is essential so that housing resources can stabilize and support families and individuals. It is stunning to note how few housing resources, supportive services or case management exist in the lives of those in Desmond’s stories. I see it as a call to action for all of us to educate the public and policymakers on the need and costs of not adequately funding housing and services.

This issue was highlighted yesterday when HUD Secretary Juli├ín Castro announced a new effort to prevent ex-offenders from experiencing housing discrimination in subsidized developments. I hope that this book will lead to both discussion and action on race, poverty, discrimination and housing. Its themes are ones NHC plans to continue addressing in many of our working groups. 

Finally, we are excited to kick off the sale of tickets and sponsorships for NHC’s 44th Annual Housing Visionary Award Gala later this week. This year we are excited to honor Rural LISC and the Housing Assistance Council for their long history of work in the area of rural housing. The event will be co-chaired this year by Michael M. Horn, Chairman of the Council of Federal Home Loan Banks and Martin Sundquist, Senior Vice President at Wells Fargo. Now is the time to secure your sponsorship and tickets to this annual must-attend event on June 2 at the National Building Museum. Don’t forget that the following day, June 3, NHC will host its Annual Policy Symposium, “Housing as Places and People Change.” Featuring two panel discussions on rural communities in transition and housing’s place in solving poverty, this promises again to be a great opportunity for thought-provoking discussion.

Monday, April 4, 2016

New Mortgage Bankers Association survey shows mortgage foreclosures, delinquencies dropping

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

A recent National Delinquency Survey conducted by NHC member Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) finds that mortgage foreclosures and delinquencies are on a downward trajectory, with one-to-four unit residential properties decreased to a rate of 4.77 percent of all outstanding loans in the fourth quarter of 2015. This rate is at its lowest level since the third quarter of 2006 and includes loans that are at least one payment past due and not loans that are in the process of foreclosure.

The survey also found that the percentage of foreclosures started in the fourth quarter of 2015 was at 0.36, a decrease from the previous quarter and a significant drop of 10 points from the same time in 2014. The foreclosure start rate of 0.36 percent is at its lowest level since the second quarter of 2003. Additionally, the survey found that the percentage of loans in the process of foreclosure at the end of the third quarter was 1.77 percent, down 50 points from the same time in 2014.

“As the job market has improved and national home prices have rebounded, fewer borrowers were becoming seriously delinquent, while borrowers previously behind on their payments were in a better position to pursue alternative options to resolve delinquent loans,” MBA’s Vice President of Industry Analysis, Marina Walsh, said in a press release.  "Mortgage performance is closely connected to job market health and most states saw employment growth continue over the past year.”

With communities across the country left blighted as a result of the foreclosure crisis, data to show its decline in the last year speaks to the progress made as the result of various neighborhood revitalization efforts. Our Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force uses research, policy and best practices for comprehensive community development to assist neighborhoods that are still recovering from the foreclosure crisis, the recession or underinvestment and neglect. Find recordings of past meetings on our website and email Policy Associate Kaitlyn Snyder at to learn more and to join. 

To view the survey results in their entirety, email

Saturday, April 2, 2016

NHC’s policy priorities for 2016

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

Imagine a train travelling through open country.  In front of it, teams of people are rapidly laying down new track. Behind it, yet more people are rapidly pulling up the old track to supply materials for the new even as the train keeps moving. (If you’re having trouble imagining it, read China Mieville’s “Iron Council). NHC’s policy agenda works that way—leading us in new directions by gradually replacing pieces of itself in a continual process of reexamination. 

At our March 30 Board of Governors meeting, NHC approved new policy priorities to guide our work based on careful discussions in our Policy Committee. The new policy agenda includes much continuity with the past, as there are still major areas of policy unresolved, most notably housing finance reform and the ongoing challenge of insufficient federal funding for housing. But there are some exciting new elements, too:

  • Protecting and expanding resources for affordable housing and community development during tax and budgetary reform, which aligns with the new push to expand the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.
  • Highlighting how several areas of NHC’s work are about connecting people to opportunity through housing, in single-family and multifamily, in places of rapid growth and places struggling to grow, all of which should become more inclusive.
  • Bringing our ongoing work on broadband Internet access in affordable housing into the policy agenda explicitly.
  • Connecting housing to health, education, transportation, energy and technology policy.

      I hope every NHC member can see some of their own policy priorities reflected here. We are always looking for ways to work with members on policy development. There’s room for everyone to help lay new track.

Affordable housing supports health of vulnerable infants

Solutions through research
by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

New research by Children’s HealthWatch adds new evidence to our understanding that affordable and stable housing has an important and positive impact on the health of children, and can lead to better health outcomes and lower health care spending. The new research is explained in Housing as a Health Care Investment: Affordable Housing Supports Children’s Health, a brief co-authored by the researchers at Children’s HealthWatch and the National Housing Conference (NHC). This brief follows up on a previous brief by NHC and Children’s HealthWatch, Compounding Stress: The Timing and Duration Effects of Homelessness on Children’s Health, which shows that homelessness is associated with poor health outcomes in children.

In addition to expanding the evidence base exploring how affordable and stable housing impacts children’s health, working with the Children’s HealthWatch researchers on the brief also provides an example of the different lenses and perspectives that practioners and researchers in the housing and health fields use. Initially, I was curious about the decision by Children’s HealthWatch researchers to look specifically at low-income families who are food-insecure, meaning they cannot consistently access enough or adequate food. The Children’s HealthWatch researchers explained that food-insecurity is an important indicator of vulnerability among low-income families. Upon further research, I began to better understand why health professionals would use food insecurity as an indicator that families have various complex needs in addition to their low income.

One recent study by the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California Berkeley found that food-insecurity among children, after controlling for income, is related to several factors. Children from families headed by women or individuals with a disability are more likely to be food-insecure than children in families with similar incomes. The likelihood that a low-income child will be food-insecure is also associated with their family head being a recent immigrant or a renter versus a homeowner. These research findings point to the fact that income is not the sole factor in food insecurity or vulnerability among children. Children are more likely to be food-insecure if their families face additional challenges associated that present barriers to stability, employment or achieving other family goals. These families have serious and complex needs that make them vulnerable.

This all ties back to the importance of this new research by Children’s HealthWatch. It is very difficult to resolve or overcome the many challenges and barriers that vulnerable families face. However, it is striking that living in stable and affordable housing can have such a positive impact on the health of children. This points to the need for more access to affordable and stable housing for vulnerable families as a way to effectively support positive health outcomes. Affordable and stable housing can provide a first step to vulnerable families working to address their complex needs. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Housing Assistance Council examines rural homelessness

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

In the March edition of Rural Voices magazine NHC member and 2016 Housing Visionary Award honoree Housing Assistance Council (HAC)  focuses on the unique challenges of homelessness in rural areas and the communities around the country working to address them.

This special edition of Rural Voices examines homelessness in rural communities through varying scenarios including what homelessness is like for veterans in rural areas, how vulnerable populations like farm workers experience homelessness, how communities can provide supportive services as part of its affordable housing plan and what schools in rural communities know about children experiencing homelessness. These articles reveal that people experiencing homelessness in rural communities are often under-represented in homelessness counts due to increased difficulty in tracking those experiencing homelessness in rural areas versus urban areas. And while broad factors like lack of affordable housing and adequate employment options impact homelessness rates in both urban and rural communities, this edition of Rural Voices points out that rural areas are also impacted by several unique issues like more substandard housing; lack of mental health, child care and other services that would help people maintain stability; and higher poverty rates resulting from slower recovery from the Great Recession.

People in rural communities have a long tradition of supporting each other when times are bad, which means you often see crowded housing rather than people living on the street,” Moises Loza, executive director of HAC explained in a press release. “When we are able to understand how different homelessness can be in rural areas, we can design innovative solutions to address those differences. We hope this issue of Rural Voices helps continue the conversation.”

HAC will receive NHC’s Housing Visionary Award at our 44th Annual Gala on June 2 in Washington, DC. We are pleased to honor HAC for its over 40 years of work to improve the housing conditions of the poorest of the rural poor, advocating sound policy on rural housing programs and being a critical source of capacity building and information for rural housing in America. Join us in celebrating HAC by submitting a tribute ad for our program book.

Download the March edition of Rural Voices here.