Friday, September 30, 2016

NeighborWorks(R) America’s report outlines human impacts of foreclosure mitigation counseling

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

On September 23, NHC Leadership Circle member NeighborWorks(R) America released its latest National Foreclosure Counseling Mitigation (NFMC) program report. The NFMC program was launched in December 2007, as part of a federal response to dramatically increase the availability of foreclosure counseling nationwide. The report outlines the NFMC program and demonstrates the real human impacts of foreclosure mitigation through over 50 case studies across all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The report outlines the NFMC program results as of May 2016, including:

  • Foreclosure counseling services provided to more than two million homeowners.
  • More than $802 million in grants awarded to 204 housing counseling, state housing finance and NeighborWorks(R) organizations across the U.S.
  • 15,227 scholarships provided for housing counselor and foreclosure mitigation training.

In just over eight and a half years, NeighborWorks America and the NFMC program have helped to keep thousands of homeowners in their homes, reducing foreclosures nationwide and helping to shepherd in a sustainable homeownership market. But there is still much to be done to ensure equitable recovery and drive policy changes to prevent future housing crises.

“A lot has improved since the foreclosure crisis spiked a decade ago,” foreclosure mitigation vice president at NeighborWorks(R) America, Nicole Harmon, said in a press release. “Servicers are more responsive, but can do more.”

Like NeighborWorks(R) America, NHC has been actively involved in foreclosure recovery since the collapse of the housing finance market and advent of the foreclosure crisis in 2008. Our Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force lifts up research, policy changes and best practices for comprehensive community development to help neighborhoods still struggling to recover, while our Housing Mortgage Working Group focuses specifically on policy recommendations for rejuvenating the housing financial market and encouraging sustainable homeownership. Watch task force meeting recordings and read working group reports on our website, or email Policy and Research Associate Kaitlyn Snyder at to get involved.

To learn more about the human impact of foreclosure mitigation counseling, read the full National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Program report by NeighborWorks(R) America.

Legal battle over Clean Power Plan continues, but green affordable housing work moves forward

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference
On Sept. 27, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments supporting and opposing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. The Supreme Court issued a stay on the Clean Power Plan (CPP) in February while legal action was ongoing, which leaves the status of the CPP unknown. A decision could come in early 2017. 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 Clean Power Plan continues to present an opportunity to make affordable housing greener as a cost-effective way to meet environmental goals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 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 with new partners like air regulators, utilities and state energy offices. Preparatory outreach and education by housing stakeholders in states that have not begun working on CPP is also valuable, so that housing solutions are part of the menu of options states will consider using.

Regardless of the outcome of the legal challenges, housing stakeholders should seek out state partners in the energy and clean air sectors and engage in discussions about the importance of energy efficient, healthier and greener affordable housing. Affordable multifamily housing is a sector that has been overlooked in many places, but the benefit to low-income residents and the sustainability of the affordable housing properties would be significant. 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 to work with housing stakeholders and allies to pursue more ways to invest in energy efficiency improvements in affordable housing. As part of this work, NHC has submitted a comment letter with partners on the Clean Power Plan’s Clean Energy Incentive Program, which gives states a head start on meeting standards under the Clean Power Plan. This proposed rule is open for comment until Nov. 2, 2016. NHC will continue to follow the legal actions on the Clean Power Plan to keep our membership informed. 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:

Thursday, September 29, 2016

JPMorgan Chase & Co. sponsors new Placemakers podcast

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

This August, NHC Leadership Circle member JPMorgan Chase & Co. partnered with Slate/Panoply to produce a new community-centered podcast, Placemakers.

Over 18 editorial episodes (20-30 minutes in length), Placemakers delves into real stories of community change across America. From the legacy of Jane Jacobs and the history of Atlanta’s public housing developments, to creating space for refugees in Montana and developing affordable housing options for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors, the series brings to light the rich diversity of voices in today’s community development arena.

“All communities face certain challenges. But some people see challenges as opportunities,” said podcast host, Rebecca Sheir, in a Placemakers advertising announcement. “On Placemakers, we bring you stories about… real people in real communities—people who make a difference in how we travel, work, and live.”

In addition to the community-based programming, three custom episodes (five-10 minutes in length) will be devoted to discussing JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s community commitments. Highlighting firm-funded initiatives in Detroit, New Orleans and Seattle, the custom episodes discuss in detail how JPMorgan Chase & Co. employees leverage corporate resources and expertise to create positive change in the communities in which they live and work.

“Our own experts have been interviewed and the content dives into these three places [Detroit, New Orleans and Seattle] where we have significant depth in our involvement with the community,” said head of corporate marketing, Laura Rossi, in a press release. “Podcasts are quickly growing in popularity, and we wanted to be one of the first companies to test the platform.”

In 2015, NHC partnered with JPMorgan Chase & Co. to host a revitalization forum in Detroit to discuss homeownership strategies in the region and using multifamily housing to transform blighted neighborhoods. Our partnership continues through support from Chase for our Restoring Neighborhoods Working Group and associated policy briefs.

Episodes are posted every Monday and will run through December 2016. Archived episodes, transcripts and downloads can be found on Slate magazine’s Placemakers webpage

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

House and Senate hearings highlight the need for both placemaking and mobility strategies

by Rebekah King and Kaitlyn Snyder, National Housing Conference

On Sept. 21, House and Senate subcommittees engaged in discussions about how to make federal affordable housing programs work better to meet growing housing need and ensure these programs help families achieve upward economic mobility. NHC welcomes this congressional interest. We are hopeful that this is the start of a more substantive discussion about how the affordable housing community can improve and innovate to serve more families as well as some recognition of the need for more federal resources to meet these challenges. The House Financial Services, Housing and Insurances subcommittee hearing was titled, “The Future of Housing In America: A Better Way to Increase Efficiencies For Housing Vouchers and Create Upward Economic Mobility,” and the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development subcommittee hearing was titled, “Housing Vulnerable Families and Individuals: Is There a Better Way?

Similar themes emerged in the two hearings. Vouchers offer families the ability to move into neighborhoods of their choice and are a cost-effective housing solution. Public housing is not adequately funded and has not been for years, putting stress on residents, properties, and housing authorities alike. Given that reality, many housing authorities have become more efficient and innovative, but structural challenges remain. Both vouchers and public housing are important components of federally assisted housing and could be improved to run more efficiently. At times, the discussion in the hearings veered into whether vouchers should become the primary housing program. This idea that one strategy is sufficient is illogical as it will do nothing to increase the supply of units affordable to voucherholders. As Ms. Deborah Thrope of the National Housing Law Project noted in her testimony before House Financial Services, vouchers should be part of a national approach to address housing stability that also includes preservation and community revitalization. A proposal to both expand the housing voucher program and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program is a much more realistic and effective place to focus as it both increases renter incomes and the number of units and locations they can choose from.

This discussion highlights key issues that NHC has been exploring: placemaking, mobility and the future of public housing. As OMB Director Shaun Donovan discussed at the Urban Institute’s recent event on Promoting Economic Mobility: Putting Evidence to Action for Communities, “we’ve got to get past this old, tired [question of whether] people or place matter more. Should we be helping folks move out of places that don’t have opportunity or should we be fixing those places? YES! The answer is yes! Both! And let’s go do it and stop arguing about it.” Mobility through housing choice vouchers is an important strategy to addressing housing insecurity. Investing in neighborhoods and communities so that residents can remain and have access to opportunity is also vital.

At our Solutions for Affordable Housing convening on Dec. 14 we’ll tackle placemaking and mobility in a special double session. NHC’s Ethan Handelman will moderate two back-to-back panels focused on creating housing and opportunity. During the first panel on placemaking speakers will discuss new ideas in placemaking and explore how emerging best practices connect with pathways for new residents.

  • 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
During the second panel on mobility speakers will discuss successful strategies and lessons learned along the way, especially how place-based approaches complemented mobility strategies.

  • Marisa Novara, Metropolitan Planning Council
  • Barbara Sard, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 
  • Celia Smoot, LISC
Later in the day we have a panel on the future of public housing. America’s public housing provides essential housing for the poorest residents in communities large and small. As mentioned in both hearings, public housing is suffering from the squeeze of tight federal funding, rising operating costs, and a massive backlog of needed repairs. Hear from housing authorities, nonprofit housing providers, policy experts, and residents about what the future could hold for public housing.

Moderator: Kristin Siglin, Housing Partnership Network

  • Orlando Cabrera, Squire Patton Boggs
  • Michael Liu, Miami-Dade County DHCD 
  • David Smith, Recap Advisors and Affordable Housing Institute 
  • Shauna Sorrells, Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission
​Register here (and we recommend doing so by October 7 to lock in the lowest available rate).

We hope you’ll join us for these important and timely discussions.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

True solutions require cross-sector collaboration-- and funding

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

Congress is back in session this week after the long summer recess, with little time left to pass a continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded. This situation was created by both Houses of Congress' continued inability to move the appropriations process through regular” order. I use quotes here ironically as in recent years neither party has been able to achieve this when they have been in leadership. This process makes funding decisions based on needs, best practices or outcome measurements virtually impossible.  It also limits the ability of authorizing committees to craft new legislation, because funding fights consume energy while magnifying uncertainty.

At NHC we have spent nearly a decade thinking about how to change the political prioritization of affordable housing and community development. One of the common mistakes of this work is to assume that focus group-tested messaging will solve all of our problems. While this kind of research can be effective at helping us understand negative frames, we have to recognize that without both education and reform many communities will continue to be frustrated by our solutions.

Recently I had a chance to speak at a gathering of state community development associations, hosted by the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations in Cleveland. While I was there to talk about NHC’s communications work, the conversation spurred comments from audience members that while the public is very concerned about housing affordability and wants the government to do more, they also do not like or trust our solutions. One of the comments that struck me as a real and vital concern for the housing and community development field to address was, What if we designed affordable housing and community development delivery systems that could respond nimbly to the needs of our communities?”

What would this mean? For starters, in small and rural and communities, programmatic changes are needed to offer smaller multifamily development options in places where some residents feel 40-45 unit developments are too big for the scale of their neighborhoods.

HUD has done a lot of great work over the past eight years to connect its work to that of other federal agencies. How can that be expanded more significantly? It is still not easy to respond to community development needs from a single- or multifamily housing and services perspective, much less from a more comprehensive lens that includes housing, health, transportation and education.

In addition to our communications work, NHC has also spent time over the past decade researching best practices at the intersection of these cross-sector issues. We know that access to quality affordable housing is a key determinant of health, has a big impact on education performance and is made even more valuable when connected by public transportation modes to employment centers. 

How can housing, education, health and transportation funding streams and planning requirements be better linked and integrated?

There is obviously some logic to separate federal departments that allow expertise to coalesce, but agencies should still be incentivized to work together much more seamlessly. Past efforts on housing and transportation, veterans homelessness, and more show that this can work. Communities don’t and can’t benefit from to single-issue solutions whether they are recovering from disinvestment and population loss or from rapid growth, price escalation and displacement.

Congress needs to find a way to budget based on facts about community needs and the benefits of comprehensive development strategies. There is no doubt in my mind that while efficiency can be improved, at the end of the day, only with more funding can this country’s affordable housing and community development sectors turn the tide on community needs.

That being said, we will also never get where we need to be if we cannot improve the way different federal programs can be combined and designed to meet the needs of different communities across the country. If we are to build any momentum with the new Congress and presidential administration, our sectors must come together on comprehensive solutions while also making the case for more investment.

A very special session on housing and opportunity

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

We created an unusual breakout session on housing and opportunity for the upcoming Solutions for Affordable Housing national policy convening in December.  It’s something of an experiment. We hope to contribute to the conversation about how housing connects to opportunity by bridging divisions within the housing community, so that we can move past the too-simple distinction between mobility and place-based policies.

There is widespread agreement that where someone lives profoundly shapes the opportunities available to them: jobs, schools, transportation, health, and more. Too often, though, our debates on how to improve those opportunities devolve into proposals either to give people more choices about where to live or to make the places people already live better. Many in the housing community support doing both, but we still tend to group policy options into distinct buckets.

At NHC, we want to explore ways of linking place with choice. We know desirable neighborhoods because they are places that people can and do choose to move to. We make choices about where to live based on the investments a community has already made: school quality, ease of commute, neighborhood beauty, public safety, retail options, etc. So we created a Solutions session to link the conversations about mobility and investment in a constructive way..

I’ll be moderating a double session, which means there will be two panels, back-to-back. (Don’t worry, we planned a break in between.) The first panel will look at how place-based investments can create opportunity in communities, and the discussion will focus on the role of choice. How can place-making stimulate people to choose a community, either to move into or to stay? The second panel will look at mobility strategies, and the discussion will focus on the role of place-based investments in empowering choice. How can investments ease the path or create landing spots for people wishing to move? 

As with all NHC Solutions sessions, we’re aiming to make this both practical and interactive. Your questions, your stories and your ideas will be part of the session—but only if you’re there. Want to see who the speakers are and what the other sessions at the conference will be? Visit the agenda, and sign up for updates. I hope to see you in D.C. in December.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Criminal justice reform has housing impacts

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

Given the potential for Congress to pass criminal justice reform and release a large number of individuals from prison, housing providers should be thinking through how to respond to this population. Evidence shows that effective planning, services and housing can significantly reduce recidivism for ex-offenders, significantly reduce costs to the justice system and improve outcomes for these individuals. To serve ex-offenders, nonprofits, public housing agencies and landlords need an approach that isn’t overly burdensome or costly, protects existing residents and meets the goal of helping ex-offenders integrate back into society. Quite a tall order, but pilot programs and other strategies being tried could offer helpful models.
  • The Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) board has approved significant changes to its admission rules for ex-offenders. The pending revisions would establish a review panel to assess each application for public housing and Section 8 vouchers individually, weighing each applicant’s background, severity of conviction, rehabilitation efforts since incarcerations and current circumstance. Depending upon the nature of the conviction, officials will either admit the applicant or send their application to a three-member panel for closer review. The policy is pending HUD approval and would also apply to private entities that manage HANO’s housing stock unless they can prove they are not legally obligated to do so.
  • The Oakland Housing Authority has implemented a policy allowing ex-offenders who apply and are rejected to appeal if they can show mitigating circumstances. Applicants can provide updated drug-screening and job-performance reports, recommendations from parole or probation officers and references from family members or clergy. Two-thirds of the applicants who appealed their initial rejections saw those decisions overturned.
These are two examples of programs being implemented, and we hope to share more we learn about other programs.

Given research showing that criminal history does not provide good predictive information about housing success, and the possibility for significant criminal justice reform, exploring how to provide housing to ex-offenders is becoming increasingly important. Because of the negative stereotypes that affordable housing can face in general, serving this specific population can present even greater challenges. However, it also presents an opportunity to explore new ways to build community support and craft positive messages about affordable housing. Please email me with any best practices or models so we can learn more about housing ex-offenders and help inform practitioners.

It’s so hard to say goodbye

News from NHC
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

Since I was a senior at Howard University, NHC has been my home. I began here as a communications intern, with a strong passion for social justice issues but very little knowledge of affordable housing.  In the last two and a half years I’ve attended events, had long discussions with experts, spoken to the media, read research reports, sifted through numerous housing-related Google Alerts and did whatever I could do to gain an immense knowledge of this very necessary movement. In addition to that, I’ve sharpened my skills as a communicator—through writing, design, media relations and social media marketing. I’ve woken up happy to come to work every day because not only do I enjoy the work that I’ve done at NHC, but it’s mission driven work; work that will create positive change.

It’s hard to believe that this Friday, Sept. 9, will be the end. In bittersweet fashion, I announced my resignation in June as I go on to pursue graduate studies at the University of Chicago. I’m still in shock that in less than a week I’ll move to the country’s third largest city to take on a new, exciting challenge. But the sweet side to the sadness is that I can take all of the things I’ve learned here at NHC and apply them to my endeavors as a graduate student.

I’ll be pursuing a degree in social service administration and I’ve chosen the poverty and inequality program of study, with a social administration concentration. This program will prepare me to be on the front line of efforts associated with disadvantaged populations and marginalized people. I feel like I have a great head start through NHC. My goal is to move into community and economic development and other services and supports that can help disadvantaged communities. The advocacy for Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing that NHC participated in last year was a great starting point for me. Our annual Solutions for Housing Communications convening also gave me great insight on how to speak about and build support for affordable housing development. Research about the implications of access to safe, affordable housing for health and education were eye opening. I’m still fascinated by the numerous intersections housing has with other areas, and I’m excited to bring this perspective to class discussions and, if possible, incorporate it into some research.

So while it’s hard to say goodbye, I know that my time at NHC has equipped me for future success. I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned through my work in affordable housing to my future career in social service administration and community development.

Additionally, my departure also leaves an opening for a senior marketing and communications associate, a position NHC is currently hiring for. I encourage you to share the position with your networks and apply. You definitely won’t regret it.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

SKA Marin’s The Gilbert on First moves into phase II

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

NHC member SKA Marin recently began the second phase of development for The Gilbert on First, an affordable apartment development featuring studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom units designed for low-, moderate- and middle-income families. The development will provide affordable housing in conjunction with New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Developments mixed-income program.

The Gilbert forms an integral part of SKA Marin’s East Harlem community development, which includes Metro East 99, The Draper Apartments and Draper Hall. The Gilbert anchors the Draper Apartments and the two building share open space that includes a large garden and a shared rooftop terrace. Building amenities include security-activated entrances and additional garden space for children’s play.  Located within a flood zone, the first floors of both Draper and the Gilbert comply with the most current NYC and FEMA flood requirements. Both projects will be built in compliance with Green Communities Sustainability Requirements and are conveniently well served by public transportation.

Mixed-income development could soon have an even greater role in affordable housing development. The Affordable Housing Improvement Act of 2016, introduce in May, would establish an income averaging provision allowing the Low Income Housing Tax Credit to better serve households across the low-income spectrum in developments with mixed-incomes. NHC partnered with the New York Housing Conference to produce a fact sheet on income averaging in mixed-income developments to aid in education and advocacy efforts around the proposed legislation.

The Gilbert is one of five projects nationwide awarded a 2016 Enterprise Green Communities Health Action Pilot Grant for its goal of promoting health through housing.