Wednesday, September 6, 2017

How the housing field can help Texas rebuild

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

Hurricane Harveys devastation has rightfully been the dominant national news story for more than a week. While other stories will eventually crowd out the recovery, Harvey will be the focus of the housing community and south Texas for the next several years.

I believe the major focus for HUD leadership and related agencies will be the housing and planning issues in Houston and surrounding communities. This will bring both challenges and opportunities. As we have seen in the past, funding for emergency relief and recovery can get attention and support from Congress, though not always easily, but this new spending will create even greater pressure to balance the budget through cuts to non-defense discretionary funding.

The recovery in south Texas and Louisiana will be years in the making and will bring many issues into the mix. With flood insurance covering only an estimated 25 percent of flooded homes, asking people to rebuild with loans alone will be politically difficult. Toxic water, mold and mildew have rendered most all of the houses touched by water in need of a complete, and costly, rebuild.

How, whether and where to rebuild will be complicated issues to manage. The Houston area has done little to regulate building codes or manage its flood plain. The National Flood Insurance Program must be renewed by the end of September. Harvey’s aftermath will necessarily inform the debate on the federal role in flood: paying to rebuild again and again after floods compared to funding mitigation and improved storm management systems and creating incentives to rebuild outside of flood plains. As I have mentioned many times, NHC has taken an active role in the SmarterSafer Coalition, and we will continue to advocate for the needs of affordable housing residents and the preservation of affordable housing in the rebuilding process.

While much attention will be on the challenge homeowners face in rebuilding, renters face significant challenges as well. It is unclear at this point how much public housing and rental housing subsidized by the Housing Credit and project-based Section 8 was damaged, how many voucher holders were displaced, or how many unassisted renters were displaced. Ample rental stock and relatively low vacancy rates, plus FEMA vouchers, will help in the short run, but it is unclear where people will live in the long run and if there will be enough vouchers to meet what is sure to be increased need. Coordinated support and case management will be essential for the many families who experienced total loss to return to economic stability.

The housing community's challenge will be to work together to protect important affordable housing programs in the budget and regulatory environments, by framing housing programs in a disaster relief context and sharing lessons learned from Hurricanes Rita and Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

NHC and our Leadership Circle members will meet with HUD Sec. Ben Carson this week to discuss how we can be helpful. I also hope we can bring the full affordable housing and community development continuum together in a coordinated and collaborative manner. It will be easy for folks to jump forward at the beginning but with a recovery that is going to take years, we need everyone at the table helping HUD, the state of Texas, the city of Houston, and other jurisdictions see the long-term issues as well.

There will no doubt be many challenges related to effective rebuilding, preservation, prevention of displacement and protection of low- and moderate-income households. With all of us working together over the long haul, we can both improve these communities and strengthen the housing field for the future.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Improving housing policy after Hurricane Harvey

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

With all eyes on Texas and Louisiana in the path of Hurricane Harvey, most of us are focused on victims’ critical need for safety, food and shelter. As housers, we should also be thinking about what comes next, building on the lessons learned in past floods. In three policy areas, we know ways to build better and prepare smarter as we rebuild homes, mitigate future damage and insurance against flood risk. NHC and our members are working in all of these areas to improve policy.

Rebuild for the future. As recovery help moves past emergency needs to rebuilding, we should make sure it goes to strengthen communities for the long term. I learned just last week about a NeighborWorks® America affiliate, The Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, which has a RAPIDO disaster recovery housing pilot that creates temporary housing designed to be more resilient to floods and able to expand as households grow. The post-Katrina recovery efforts of NHC Gold member Enterprise Community Partners, a 2014 Housing Visionary Award honoree, and many others gives us much experience to draw on in the months to come. If past federal responses are any guide, we should expect recovery funds to use proven tools like Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Community Development Block Grants, both of which are well-suited to create long-term community assets.

Mitigate future damage. Investing now to protect homes, business and communities against future floods will pay off. Mitigation can mean using natural features to absorb storm water, improving land use policy to require safer buildings or making targeted physical improvements. Communities at risk should invest in mitigation, and the federal government should help, especially in communities with many low-income individuals.

Reform flood insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) expires next month, and Congress has only started the process of reforming it. There are draft bills in both chambers, with a good bit of daylight visible between them. For the program to do what it must to manage risk and signal to property owners how to protect themselves, it needs to change, likely with more private insurance participation. More accurate maps, rates that reflect risk, incentives to mitigate risk and especially targeted help for those who need it will make us all safer. NHC and our coalition partners, at SmarterSafer, including newest member Habitat for Humanity International, have been working with members of both parties to encourage timely and effective NFIP reform and reauthorization.

Housers will play a big part in leading the rebuilding efforts after this disaster. Let’s bring our best thinking and strongest efforts, so that we are all safer when the next storms strike.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Fighting racism by fighting for affordable housing in your neighborhood

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

The overt racism and hatred on display in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month reinvigorated the national conversation about racism in America. But what is often left out of this discussion is how systematic and institutional racism is preserved every day through a multitude of indirect actions by people who would never consider themselves to be racist. Marisa Novara of the Chicago Metropolitan Planning Council explains how many people support segregation and “subjugation” of people of color by objecting to the development of affordable housing in their community and protesting other policies that would support low-income households and households of color.

As Novara explains, many Americans overlook the extent to which our neighborhoods are segregated by race and do not think about the many ways that this segregation is perpetuated by people who object to affordable housing being developed in neighborhoods of opportunity, places with quality schools, grocery stores, access to health care and more. The objections to affordable housing are often conveyed as concern about school crowding, increased traffic, and fear of crime; though evidence shows that affordable housing development does not result in these oft cited problems.

The core problem that contributes to these “not in my back yard (NIMBY)” positions is the pervasive, if not always conscious, fear of the “other,” the idea that there are inherent differences between people who look different. Few Americans accept that these common objections to affordable housing reinforce racial segregation and racism in our country. It results in children of color disproportionately attending low-performing schools, struggling to access quality healthcare, and living in environments where they are more likely to be exposed to trauma that has long-term impacts on their development and well-being.

As many people participate in conversations about racism and ask themselves “what can I do?” they should look to how they make their voice heard when a local planning board considers a new affordable housing development. Do you show up to the public meetings and proudly proclaim you support for giving low-income families and families of color a home in your neighborhood? Or do you assume that as long as you speak out against white supremacists, that you are doing enough?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

ConnectHome Nation can lead the way in getting all affordable housing residents connected

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

HUD and EveryoneOn announced the expansion of its ConnectHome program this May. I spoke at the launch event to both demonstrate NHC’s support of the ConnectHome Nation program and share our hope that this expansion will lead to new models and partnerships that will make the difference in getting all affordable housing residents connected to the internet. ConnectHome Nation plans to expand the current program from 28 communities to 100 communities by 2020, but the expansion is exciting beyond just its size. The expansion will allow the ConnectHome Nation program to go beyond just public housing agencies to include private owners of HUD-assisted multifamily housing as well. The expansion will also include a new resource platform to share best practices and details on how other communities can make progress in closing the digital divide for affordable housing residents.

By expanding the ConnectHome Nation program to more communities, we will learn more ways to tackle the challenge of how to make sure residents have the broadband infrastructure to get connected, access to a low-cost connection and access to devices and digital literacy training. Connecting low-income residents to the internet at home is essential because so many aspects of life are moving online. At least 80 percent of students need internet access to complete homework assignments and 90 percent of job applications are online. Job seekers with at-home internet find employment seven weeks faster than those without. Social workers can conduct virtual home visits for families with young children, making it possible to serve more families. The Free Application for Financial Student Aid will soon move entirely online, making home internet even more important for students applying for help with college tuition. And these are just a few examples.

NHC hopes that through the expansion, owners and developers will be able to see examples of how other properties have been able to finance the investment and maintain a broadband network. Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority in Ohio, a current ConnectHome Nation participant, used line-of-sight technology and community partnerships to provide free broadband to residents in some of its buildings. The District of Columbia Housing Authority, also a ConnectHome Nation participant, leveraged the public Wi-Fi network to serve some of its residents with free broadband. Boulder Housing Partners, while not a current participant, leveraged its participation in the Rental Assistance Demonstration program to include a community Wi-Fi network for residents. I hope examples like these will be discussed more through the new resource platform. By sharing these models and others through the ConnectHome Nation expansion, we can start to make real progress in getting affordable housing residents connected!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sometimes it takes a threat to push housing issues to the forefront

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

NHC has spent much of the past five years thinking, writing and working on ways to increase support for affordable housing and community development. Part of this work is to make clear that while affordability, housing security and community access to opportunity have worsened, we have not seen a commensurate increase in political will and funding at the federal level. For these reasons we have been emphasizing that in order to improve the situation we need change the way we have been doing our advocacy and education efforts.

This has been magnified by the Trump administration, where funding for federal housing and community development programs have come under attack. Instead of increasing support for housing programs that could create needed savings or address the growing severity of the problem, the Trump administration’s budget proposes elimination of funding for several important programs, and dramatic cuts to others.

As I have noted in previous editions of Under One Roof, we have seen a significant increase in attention to these issues over the past few years in high-cost regions where housing affordability, displacement and ending homelessness have received enough public and political attention to increase funding at the state and local levels. The question that remains is how to ensure that these issues receive bipartisan political support beyond the major high-cost metros, especially in the suburban and rural communities where affordability issues may play out differently.

It may be a small start, but it finally feels like we are beginning to seem some transfer of support to more members of Congress and an increasing level of bipartisan common support for some housing programs.

The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017, introduced by Sens. Cantwell and Hatch and supported by a bipartisan Senate coalition, would expand and improve upon the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program as recommended by the ACTION Campaign.
In his nomination hearing, Joseph Otting, the nominee for Comptroller of the Currency, voiced his support for NeighborWorks® America, despite the administration’s proposed defunding of the independent agency.
The Senate THUD subcommittee provided strong funding support for all housing and community development programs on a bipartisan basis, forging a very different path from the House committee recommendations and the Trump administration.

While this does not mean we have achieved sufficient support to meet the nation’s housing needs or even enough support to prevent program funding from being reduced in the FY 2018 budget process, there is a new sense that leaders in both parties are willing to speak up in favor of housing programs even in a difficult budget environment. Now is the time for everyone in the affordable housing and community development field to join the national efforts to increase support for this work:

The Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding, of which NHC is an active member, is working to coordinate budget advocacy among national housing and community development organizations. 
NHC launched Strong Voices for Affordable Housing this year to bring leaders from national groups together to share messaging and policy strategy on issues like tax reform, infrastructure, housing finance reform and more.
Our Homes, Our Voices is a national effort organized by the National Low Income Housing Coalition to mobilize local advocates to call for greater congressional investment in affordable homes and communities. More than 60 local events were held around the country in support of these programs during the National Housing Week of Action. 

Organizing locally, and mobilizing nationally, are the best ways for every organization, business or advocate to engage members of Congress on behalf of affordable housing and community development programs. The range of priorities across the housing and community development sector can make it difficult for us to speak consistently and coherently to national policymakers as a movement. While many organizations have specific programs or issues that matter most to our work, coordinated advocacy is vital maximizing the many different voices in our field and to preventing the programs we care about from being pitted against each other.

With all of us joining coordinated efforts to raise our issues at the federal level, we will build the movement to ensure safe, affordable homes for all. 

Thanks again for being a member of NHC and for supporting this work.

Want to grow the economy? Then shrink community opposition.

by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference 

Last week, economists at ApartmentList brought us news that in recent years, “only 10 of the nation’s 50 largest metros have produced enough new housing to keep pace with job growth.” ApartmentList also found that while job growth often happens in a region’s core city, a greater share of places to live are added to the suburbs than to the core cities. The result, of course, is that demand near job centers outpaces supply and rents increase dramatically.

While ApartmentList was crunching these numbers, the YIMBYTown conference was happening in Oakland. YIMBY stands for “yes in my backyard,” the pro-development counterpoint to community opposition. Broadly, YIMBYs support housing development—especially rental housing development— particularly near job centers, even if that makes existing residents uncomfortable. First reported as a sort of Bay Area tech economy anomaly, the YIMBY movement has taken hold in high-cost cities around the country. What’s most exciting to me about the YIMBY movement is that it didn’t start with career housing advocates like me; it started with people looking around their communities, seeing housing problems and asking themselves, What can we do?

The YIMBY movement is important because it asks leaders of high-cost cities to look at the big picture when housing developments, market-rate or affordable, are proposed. It can’t be easy for an elected official to tell her constituents that she’s supporting new development over their objections. But it won’t be any easier to look, a generation from now, at what could have been. If the development trends highlighted by ApartmentList continue, it’s not difficult to imagine a time when companies make expansion and location decisions based in part on the state of the housing market. YIMBY activists could be just the push local elected officials need to go all-in on support for housing development in neighborhoods that need it. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Innovative integration of housing and health in Portland, Oregon

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

During a recent meeting of NHC’s Housing and Health Working Group in Portland, Oregon, group members learned of the exciting work in Oregon to integrate housing into that state’s focus on health in the state Medicaid program. As described by Enterprise Community Partners, one strategy to address the health and well-being of low-income Oregonians is to use the Flexible Funds Pilot program, which authorizes Medicaid funds to be used on non-clinic services in order to address social determinants of health. The program supports the health of individuals by offering services such as short-term rental assistance and security deposits to improve the housing stability with of Medicaid enrollees.

The Center for Outcomes Research and Education (CORE) will evaluate the impact of this use of Medicaid funds on the health of enrollees. If found to be effective, the hope is that other states will work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to seek more flexibility in using Medicaid funds to address social determinants of health. Other research by CORE has found that helping Medicaid enrollees access affordable housing has a significant, positive impact on their health.

Oregon is also experimenting with the use of Medicaid funds to support the use of traditional health workers who apply a deep understanding of the culture of their community and focus on health equity to their interactions patients and help them navigate the health care system and address the social determinants of their health.

Oregon’s use of Coordinated Care Organizations, health care provider networks that offer a comprehensive approach to health care and the flexibility to address social determinants of health, are another avenue used in the state to better address the complex health needs of low-income residents with an integrated approach to well-being.

Even as efforts to repeal or change the Affordable Care Act stall in Congress, states are still focused on how to create health systems that achieve better health outcomes at lower costs. Oregon’s strategy of integrating care and seeking flexibility in the kinds of services Medicaid can fund provide an example for how other states may be able to reform their health systems to serve low-income residents more effectively. 

Let’s improve the fair housing process, not abandon it

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Recently, HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson stated his intention to reinterpret the department’s rule defining the obligation to affirmatively further fair housing. That statement rings alarm bells for many housers, in part because of his 2015 op-ed characterizing the proposal as “social engineering” likely to fail. However, there is potential to improve HUD’s fair housing rule, which would be a far better outcome than the outright repeal some congressional Republicans are calling for.

HUD’s 2015 rule implementing the Fair Housing Act of 1968 is a planning exercise, primarily. It requires states and localities receiving HUD grants to examine patterns of housing segregation, the sources of that segregation and propose improvements they will pursue. HUD provides data and a process to help by way of a creation of the assessment of fair housing (the output of the five-year review), and the department encourages states and localities to include their own data too. HUD doesn’t mandate particular actions, but rather gives states and localities the tools to improve their own housing policies in ways that work for their communities.

There are certainly legitimate complaints about HUD’s fair housing enforcement. It shouldn’t get in the way of developing new affordable housing, nor should it add significant costs to housing development or operation. The department should encourage a regulatory culture that we often find at the state level, where regulators aim to help development occur both smoothly and with the right qualities: desirable, affordable homes in places of opportunity.

HUD’s easiest path to improvement is through the rule. The department could use the federal notice and comment process to solicit suggestions based on the first cycle of assessments of fair housing and propose improvements to the regulation. It can’t simply repeal the rule without notice and comment, nor should it, especially since the Supreme Court recently opined on the importance of fair housing law. Legislative changes to the Fair Housing Act seem unwise, especially since this is an issue of calibrating regulation, not a time to change our national commitment to end discrimination and segregation in housing.

When it comes to income, lives and potential, segregated housing is costly, and not just to those who live in it, but to entire communities as well. The local, state and federal policies that led to segregated housing still exist in many places. Letting those policies go unexamined would just be bad governance, so it behooves housing stakeholders, community members and HUD to ensure there is an effective process for reviewing and changing housing policies.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Should members of Congress receive housing stipends?

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

In a recent interview with The Hill, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) advocated for a housing stipend to help members of Congress afford housing in D.C. According to Chaffetz, who retires at the end of June, the $174,000 salary for members of Congress is insufficient to allow them to pay for homes in both their home districts and in D.C.

NHC’s Paycheck to Paycheck database shows that in order to own a median-priced home in the Provo-Orem metro area, which falls within Chaffetz’s district, his household would have to earn nearly $75,000 a year. To rent a typical two-bedroom home in the Washington, D.C., metro area, Chaffetz’s household would have to earn almost $65,000. Few would dispute that residents of the D.C. metro area face high housing costs. But given the $174,000 salary of members of Congress, Chaffetz theoretically would be able to afford the combined cost of owning a home in his district and renting in the D.C. area.

Some members of Congress may find it harder to juggle the costs of two households if their home district has high and rising housing costs like that of San Francisco, where owning a median-priced home would require a family to earn over $275,000. This raises the question of how people who are essential to the running of our federal, state and local governments afford housing in costly areas on much lower salaries than congressmen and congresswomen.

Instead of pursuing housing subsidies for special groups, such as members of Congress, we should think more broadly about strategies to promote access to quality housing that is affordable to Americans at all income levels.   

Monday, July 10, 2017

Summer forecast

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

With our Housing Visionary Award Gala and Annual Policy Symposium behind us, NHC has much work planned for the last six months of the year.

NHC will continue its active participation in the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding to advocate for housing funding at HUD and USDA through the remainder of the budget process. Congress continues to work through the appropriations process in hopes of passing a budget before the September 30 end of the fiscal year, making the next few months important for budget advocacy.

To put similar focus on the housing policy discussion, NHC brought national housing and community development organizations together this spring to launch Strong Voices for Housing. We are currently working with this group of more than 35 national organizations to develop messages that all of us can use to more consistently and coherently position housing as a vital issue area for government support.

Solutions for Affordable Housing 2017, NHC’s national housing policy convening, is set for November 29 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Following up on last year’s look at what was ahead for housing in the Trump administration, this year’s convening will connect potential policy action from the agencies with solutions emerging from practice and opportunities in the legislative environment. Plenaries and breakouts will provide opportunities for engagement with the administration, policy makers and leaders in the field. This convening will be an important opportunity to learn from and connect with colleagues, and is a great opportunity to sponsor a high-profile national convening. Visit our website to sign up for updates. I hope you’ll plan to attend.

As part of our continued effort to support our members and raise the national profile of housing, NHC has joined Our Homes, Our Voices for a national week of action that anyone, anywhere can participate in. What began as a single-day event has now expanded into a National Housing Week of Action, July 22-29, calling for increased federal investments in affordable housing and community development. To date, local housing advocates have planned 29 events in communities across the U.S. Visit the website to learn about the Week of Action and the campaign.

In September, NHC will release “Paycheck to Paycheck 2017,” a report and database comparing the median wages of over 80 occupations with the housing costs in over 200 metro areas across the country. This year’s report will analyze the impact of housing costs on fast-growing occupations in the health care sector.

Change where you live

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Is ZIP code destiny? However you answer that question, the frame behind the question shapes how we think about policy. In a housing context, connecting where you live to your life outcomes can lead to a too-quick conclusion that people should just move (if they can afford to). But “change where you live” means two things: to move to a new home, and to make where you live now a better place. Too-high housing costs limit both of those options.

In the popular press and policy circles, the ZIP code-as-destiny concept is a common point of debate. Some focus on evidence that your neighborhood shapes your educational achievement, health and economic success. Others focus on your individual choices as key. President Obama used the idea as a springboard to talk about the Fair Housing Act. Still others look for ways to make place matter less, such as online work and education. Much of the discussion started with research from the Equality of Opportunity project.

I was recently at a roundtable, “Building Healthy Communities: How to Support States in the Development of Community-Based Solutions and Sustainable Infrastructure,” convened by the National Governors Association and attended by a mix of housing, environment and health experts. The ZIP code-as-destiny concept came up a few times, mostly from the health experts. Some from the health field think in detail about how to improve homes and neighborhoods, particularly experts in lead contamination. But many are quick to ask for housing policy change to help people move to better neighborhoods, as are advocates from other fields.

In America, 6.3 million poor people live in places of concentrated poverty (out of a total of 14 million people living in those places). Practically speaking, most of those people aren’t likely to move, nor should they have to. And in America, they should have a chance to better their own lives and those of their children.

But the vast majority of poor households spend far too much of their income on housing. They’re stretched just to afford where they live now, and homelessness is just one minor crisis away. People at higher incomes are stretching, too, and are finding their range of housing options shrinking.

Changing where you live has to mean giving everyone more and better choices. Making housing less expensive, helping communities thrive and ensuring some help for those who need it most are all part of changing where you live.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Making the case for connecting low-income residents to the internet

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

Recently, I moderated a panel on affordable housing and broadband at the United States of Anchors conference, hosted by the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition. At the conference, I learned even more about why getting low-income residents connected to the internet is so important. Eighty percent of students need internet access to complete homework assignments and because 90 percent of job applications are online, all low-income residents need internet access to apply for jobs. Job seekers with at-home internet find employment seven weeks faster. Social workers can conduct virtual home visits for families with young children, making it possible to serve more families. The Free Application for Financial Student Aid will soon move entirely online, making home internet even more important for students applying for help with college tuition. I also heard about unique programs and partnerships, challenges for housing providers to consider in their broadband program planning and financial benefits for housing providers in getting their residents connected.

Unique programs and partnerships:
  • Rhode Island Housing has a program with its seven public housing agencies to incorporate questions about broadband access into its recertification process. 
  • Libraries play an important role as local conveners when implementing digital inclusion.
  • In Seattle, the public housing agency is looking at how to wire buildings to allow multiple internet providers.
  • Having multilingual community-based partners is important for outreach.
  • The Alliance for Technology Refurbishing and Reuse is a helpful resource for devices.
  • In the ConnectHome expansion to 100 PHAs, EveryoneOn hopes to have a set-aside within the expansion for rural and tribal communities.
  • Boulder Valley School District is piloting an antenna on one elementary school building, giving the internet service provider antennae access in exchange for providing free home internet for students in the free and reduced lunch program. 
Challenges for housing providers:
  • How to provide tech support for devices.
  • Long-term maintenance of networks and devices.
  • How to measure impact and determine program metrics.
  • The long-term plan for connection when many low-cost offers are time-limited.
  • How to best engage with the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program.
Financial benefits of getting affordable housing residents connected:
  • Streamlined recertification process.
  • Residents can pay rent online; can be component of digital literacy.
  • Direct debit program for rent can improve accounts receivable.
  • Using mobile work orders– via app or online– can make property maintenance more efficient.
Register for NHC's 6/29 webinar with EveryoneOn to discuss its expansion of "ConnectHome Nation," a national initiative in partnership with the HUD to bridge the digital divide in low-income communities. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Affordable housing is a key support for high school graduation

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

As pictures of high school and college graduates marching across stages made the rounds of social media, I thought back to comments I heard from Jonathan Rose, of innovative affordable housing developer Jonathan Rose Companies, at a recent conference. According to Rose, “graduating high school doesn’t happen at 18, it starts when you are born.” A teenager’s ability to succeed in high school and graduate is influenced by many different factors throughout their lives that can either help or hinder their efforts to graduate high school.

One of those key influences is a child’s home. Research demonstrates that there are several pathways through which affordable, safe and quality housing can support a child’s educational progress and success. Access to affordable housing reduces the risk of homelessness and housing instability that can prevent a child from going to school or being able to focus while in school. Quality housing can reduce the risks of children being exposed to harmful toxins that may exacerbate asthma attacks and result in school absences, or lead, which can harm developmental and cognitive development in children. Affordable housing in safe neighborhoods with high-performing schools and other services can give children a solid foundation to pursue educational success.
As discussions about how to support the educational achievement of low-income children take place, it is important to not only think about how to better support teachers and schools, but also focus on how to enhance the impact of their work through better support of low-income households, so that their children are better equipped to learn in the classroom. Housers must make the effort to be at the tables where education reform discussions take place, and to take on the role of partner and stakeholder in efforts to improve educational opportunity for low-income children.

Steps states can take to create and preserve affordable housing opportunities

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Next week, after NHC’s Annual Gala and Policy Symposium are in the rearview mirror, I’ll participate in a roundtable convened by National Governors Association, “Building Healthy Communities: How to Support States in the Development of Community-Based Solutions and Sustainable Infrastructure.” Affordable housing is an essential part of healthy communities, so I thought of actions states can take to create affordable housing opportunities, which can help make residents healthier and communities stronger.

1.      Commit state resources to creation and preservation of affordable housing. Nothing speaks more clearly about a state’s priorities than the commitment of its own scarce resources. Committing funding to affordable housing draws investment from the private sector and leverages public investment from local and federal sources. States have many means by which to commit resources: property tax abatements or exemptions for affordable rental properties; direct appropriations for loans, grants or rental assistance or supportive services (as New York announced last month); state tax credits that work in concert with the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit; bond issuances (like Rhode Island did in 2016) and financial resources generated by state housing finance agencies.

2.       Empower better land use policy. States can empower localities to make zoning, permitting and other land use decisions that encourage greater density, smarter growth and greater availability of affordable housing (both subsidized and unsubsidized). In some cases, state law should be changed to remove a restriction on such inclusionary housing policies, as Oregon did last year. In other cases, state law can grant authority, provide a model or establish a baseline inclusionary standard. All of these steps are ways to help market forces generate more unsubsidized affordable housing within existing communities and make it easier to create and preserve subsidized housing.

3.      Establish strong connections between housing and other agencies in state government. Partnerships that address the linkages between housing and other issues allow housing to better meet community needs. For instance, when housing agencies and health and human services agencies work better together, it is easier to create permanent supportive housing to prevent and end homelessness (Virginia is one example among many). Energy or environmental protection agencies can encourage energy and water conservation that simultaneously make homes healthier and more affordable, but they need connections with housing agencies to do so effectively, especially for multifamily rental properties. When housing and transportation agencies cooperate, it becomes easier to create and preserve affordable housing near transit lines. Leadership at the state level can make these partnerships possible.

Committing state attention, resources and regulatory powers to affordable housing has a benefit beyond the direct housing help.  It shows policymakers in Washington that the state is serious about solving housing problems. During tough budget battles in D.C., showing that all levels of government are sharing the burden makes a much stronger case for federal help. Truly achieving our shared goal of an affordable home in a thriving community for all in America will require efforts by many, with states playing a key role.

Gala Honoree Spotlight: Shaun Donovan

by Andrea Nesby, National Housing Conference

In city and federal government and across multiple presidential administrations, Shaun Donovan has left a lasting, positive impact on housing policy that will be recognized for generations to come. 

“Shaun’s remarkable intelligence, vision with an unrelenting focus on results, combined with his political acumen and passion for public service are simply unparalleled,” says Carol Galante, a professor in affordable housing and urban policy at the University of California Berkeley (USC) and faculty director of USC’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation. “He cares deeply for the people and communities he served.”

Donovan’s career as a public servant began in 1998 as a deputy assistant secretary for multifamily housing at HUD during the Clinton administration. In this role, Donovan spearheaded the “Mark Up to Market” program, cutting project-based Section 8 opt-outs in half in just two years. Donovan also served as acting FHA commissioner during the transition from President Clinton to President George W. Bush. Following his time at FHA, Donovan took on roles in the private sector, and worked as a consultant to the Millennial Housing Commission, which was created by Congress to establish strategies to expand housing opportunities.

He returned to public service in 2004, becoming commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). Tasked by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg with rolling out an ambitious housing strategy, Donovan created and implemented the New Housing Marketplace Plan to build and preserve 165,000 affordable housing units, the largest municipal affordable housing plan in the nation's history.

John Kelly, a partner at Nixon Peabody, served as director at HPD and recalls Donovan’s drive and expertise.  

“Shaun brought his knowledge of HUD from his first term as deputy assistant secretary for multifamily housing to HPD, as he understood how federal policy affected the city’s housing programs and how to best work with HUD to accomplish the city’s goals,” shares Kelly. “He has an academic’s thoughtfulness in approach to addressing housing needs, but a pragmatist’s focus on getting the work accomplished.”

In 2009, Donovan returned to HUD under President Obama as the fifteenth Secretary of HUD, becoming the second-longest serving secretary of HUD. As secretary, he led negotiations on the $25 billion National Mortgage Settlement, co-created the National Disaster Recovery Framework to rebuild stronger and smarter after natural disasters and championed the Housing First model of supportive housing, which has been adopted by many organizations working to end homelessness.

“No one is more deserving of the Coan Award than Shaun Donovan, who throughout his career has been committed to solving what is arguably the most serious housing problem: homelessness,” says Nan Roman, executive director of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “Because of his leadership and commitment, and despite the headwinds of rising housing costs, investments increased and homelessness decreased while he was Secretary of HUD and OMB director.  And I know he will not be satisfied until everyone has a home they can afford, and no one is homeless.”

Donovan was appointed director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 2014, where he served for two-and-a-half years. At OMB, Donovan focused on using technology to produce a more effective government, modernizing citizen-facing services and leading efforts to shape the regulatory system into one that protects Americans while promoting economic growth.

For his unwavering commitment on both local and federal level to creating and preserving affordable housing, NHC is pleased to honor Shaun Donovan with the 2017 Carl Coan, Sr., Award for Public Service. We join with our members in looking forward to what is certain to be many more years of service to housing and to the nation.

NHC established the award in 1984 to honor Carl A.S. Coan, Sr., for his leadership on housing and community development legislation during his professional career. NHC continues to honor Mr. Coan’s legacy by presenting the award to those who demonstrate exceptional commitment to affordable housing. 

Gala Honoree Spotlight: Rep. Pat Tiberi

by Andrea Nesby, National Housing Conference 

Rep. Pat Tiberi of Ohio's 12th Congressional District has been a strong supporter of public-private partnerships for affordable housing and community development. The son of Italian immigrants who worked hard to provide for him and his sisters, Rep. Tiberi experienced the struggle of working-class Americans first hand, while learning the importance of education and hard work. His career in public service has been a reflection of these lessons learned, as well as his commitment to his community. 

“Pat knows working people because of his heritage and is also one of the hardest working people I have ever seen on Capitol Hill,” says Robert Moss, principal at CohnReznick LLP, who worked with Rep. Tiberi and his staff for many years.

After graduating from Ohio State University in 1985, he worked as an aide for then-congressman John Kasich and eventually was elected to the Ohio state legislature. In November 2000, Rep. Tiberi was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In this capacity, Rep. Tiberi sought learn more about housing opportunities in his district, visiting local affordable housing developments and learning the impact of affordable housing both for families and the economy. Rep. Tiberi has since introduced legislation to bring more private capital investment, through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (Housing Credit) and the New Markets Tax Credit, into struggling neighborhoods that wouldn’t see it otherwise. 

“Pat has championed the Housing Credit before [joining] the Ways and Means Committee, and all of the Republican members of the committee look to him for leadership on affordable housing issues,” shares Robert Rozen, who worked many years in the Senate and was involved in the establishment of the Housing Credit program. “He has always been there when the affordable housing community needed him.”

In 2015, NHC member Novogradac & Company LLP named Rep. Tiberi its Community Development Federal Legislator of the Year, largely for his support of the New Markets Tax Credit.

“Rep. Tiberi has been a consistent, vocal supporter of a variety of public-private partnerships to responsibly provide assistance and opportunity to our neediest citizens and communities,” says Michael Novogradac, managing partner at Novogradac & Company LLP. “He works with other elected officials on both sides of the aisle, and is often referred to as a legislator’s legislator.”

Rep. Tiberi continues to work diligently on increasing housing opportunities for low-income individuals. Most recently he, along with Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), introduced the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017. The bill would make financing affordable housing more predictable and support Housing Credit development in challenging markets like rural and Native American communities. 

“Pat Tiberi is effective in his role as a public servant because he listens, learns and recognizes that solutions can come from a variety of sources, including those with whom he may disagree on other issues. He is extraordinarily well-respected by both Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives, meaning that legislation he sponsors or backs immediately gains gravitas. When you have the opportunity to meet with Rep. Tiberi, you gain an appreciation for both his depth of understanding as well as his willingness to learn,” explains Novogradac. 

The Housing Conference is pleased to honor Rep. Tiberi with a special award for championing affordable housing through his strong support of the public-private housing and community development investments.

Gala Honoree Spotlight: Rebuilding Together

by Andrea Nesby, National Housing Conference

When it comes to transforming a community project into a national movement, Rebuilding Together provides an example we all can admire. Since 1973, Rebuilding Together has brought together volunteers to help low-income homeowners achieve the dream of living in safe, healthy homes. Rebuilding Together got its start when a group of volunteers in Midland, Texas decided to repair homes for people who could not afford to do so themselves. Today, Rebuilding Together’s local affiliates and nearly 100,000 volunteers complete about 10,000 rebuild projects nationally each year.

Carl Hammer, 92, of Sacramento, California is one of these volunteers. After retiring in 1990 from Sysco, a large food service distribution organization, Carl sought to use his handyman skills to give back to his community. Carl got his start in 1991 volunteering for Rebuilding Together Sacramento. Since then, Carl has held many volunteer roles, including overseeing housing rehabilitation projects as House Captain, coordinating an annual two-day school rehabilitation event, starting Rebuilding Together Sacramento’s Safe at Home program, where volunteers inspect homes and install safety measures such as railings for people with disabilities and elderly individuals including veterans, organizing Rebuilding Together Sacramento’s warehouse and even making his own jam to help Rebuilding bring in donations!

Carl shares that there is nothing like volunteering on-site to help rehabilitate a home.

“There is instant gratification to see immediately that you’re helping somebody,” he says. “Seeing what you accomplished.”

And out of all the volunteer projects Carl has participated in the last 26 years, one Safe at Home project particularly stands out.

“I was working on building a ramp for a woman in a wheelchair,” he shares. “And since I’m a hugger, I asked her if I could give her a hug and she agreed.  She then said ‘I haven’t had a hug in 15 years.'” Carl found out she lost her husband 15 years earlier. 

Not only have Carl and other volunteers been able to bring housing opportunities and enhancements to vulnerable individuals, they have been able to make personal connections with the very people they’re impacting. 

Since its founding as a national organization in 1988, Rebuilding Together has mobilized 3.9 million volunteers to serve over 25 million volunteer hours to rehabilitate over 190,000 homes for  homeowners in need, delivering nearly $1.86 billion in market value repairs.

Joyce Gurgol, 71, is one of these homeowners. Volunteers came to her Cleveland home last year and completed electrical work in her basement, sealed her basement walls, replaced windows, installed railing and even planted flowers. She recalls it being such an uplifting experience.
“[The volunteers] were so kind and considerate,” she says. “They were just a bunch of nice, nice people.”

During the project, she was brought to tears by the surprise sight of volunteers planting mums in her yard. This moment, and the entire experience, meant a lot to Gurgol, who became a widow in 2014 and relies on a fixed income.

As Rebuilding Together works to deepen its impact on low-income homeowners like Joyce, they recognize it takes a collaborative approach. The organization is focusing on entire communities, partnering with other groups to take a more holistic approach to their work and rebuild community centers, schools, green spaces and more.

“By aligning with the existing efforts of local municipalities, mission-driven nonprofits and corporate leaders  to create new and innovative solutions, Rebuilding Together is now, more than ever, uniquely positioned to generate transformational change for the nation’s homeowners and communities at large,” says John White, senior vice president of business strategy. “Rebuilding Together can deliver higher quality services and reach more people in need when we work in partnership with other organizations toward a shared vision of safe and healthy communities that address residents’ needs holistically.”

Gala Honoree Profile: Habitat for Humanity International

by Andrea Nesby, National Housing Conference

It may be hard to believe Habitat for Humanity International’s path to becoming a leader in the housing field began on a community farm in Georgia in 1942. When biblical scholar Clarence Jordan partnered with Habitat’s eventual founders, Millard and Linda Fuller, to develop a concept to provide adequate shelter working side-by-side with volunteers to build decent, affordable homes, no one could have anticipated it would evolve to create over 9 million housing opportunities for vulnerable individuals worldwide and a global commitment to support 200 million by 2030.  

Founded in 1976, Habitat for Humanity now engages 2 million volunteers yearly who complete projects in over 1,300 communities across the U.S. and in nearly 70 countries worldwide.

“Habitat volunteers have always been the hands, hearts and voices of Habitat– the backbone of the organization, providing their valuable time and resources to build homes and stronger communities in partnership with their neighbors,” says Christopher Ptomey, Habitat for Humanity International senior director of government relations.

In fiscal year 2016, Habitat volunteers improved the housing conditions of three million people in communities around the world. Around 30,000 of those individuals were in the U.S., where Habitat affiliates built, repaired and rehabilitated 10,292 homes. Edwina Sheppard, 72, of Omaha, Neb., has witnessed this first-hand. After spending 41 years in her home, Sheppard watched her neighborhood deteriorate. Living near abandoned homes and seeing the home next to her catch fire, she felt unsafe, but could not afford to move. But in 2014, all this changed when she connected with Habitat volunteers and staff who came into her Kountze Park neighborhood to rehabilitate homes and beautify the neighborhood.

“It’s beautiful what Habitat has done here,” says Sheppard. “My environment has changed for the better. Now I can look out the window and see children playing.”

In addition to building and rehabilitating homes, Habitat also provides resources to help families break the cycle of poverty. At Beaches Habitat for Humanity in Atlantic Beach, Fla., more than 25 volunteers, many of whom are retired teachers, provide after-school tutoring, SAT and college prep training, reading fluency assistance and more to all the children living in the neighborhood, regardless of whether or not they live in a Habitat home. “[Volunteers] should know they are helping children believe in themselves. This is something that can’t be measured,” shares Kathy Christensen, director of education at Beaches Habitat for Humanity.

“The goal is to provide educational opportunities to children, so they can improve their economic future and won’t qualify for a Habitat home,” says Christensen.

One such success story is that of a student who participated in Beaches’ education program since kindergarten. This student graduated from University of North Florida last month with a degree in criminal justice using a college scholarship that Beaches Habitat administers. Successes like this prove the impact a community can have in making a difference, and Habitat views this as part of its neighborhood revitalization strategy. Whether it’s starting a youth program, creating a community watch program or building a new park, Habitat works with residents to leverage partnerships, so a neighborhood can experience a holistic revitalization.

“Habitat looks to the residents to share their aspirations and for their input on community solutions,” explains Rebecca Hix, Habitat for Humanity International director of neighborhood revitalization. “And this all comes together when residents themselves take on volunteer roles such as taking a lead on creating a youth program or completing a community clean-up project.”

Recent expansions of the Habitat model to revitalize neighborhoods and to improve government housing policy are creating new opportunities for volunteers to support Habitat’s efforts to build strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter. And Habitat is not slowing up. One goal of Habitat’s 2020 strategic plan is to improve the housing of 25 million people globally through advocacy by 2020.

“Through efforts such as Habitat’s global Solid Ground Campaign for access to land for shelter, millions of people have already benefited from policy changes advocated by Habitat, and Habitat’s global network is well on its way to achieving its ambitious goal. More than ever, Habitat organizations understand the transformative impact that stable, high quality, low cost housing can have for lower income households and the neighborhoods and communities in which they live,” says Ptomey. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Research review on housing ex-offenders provides evidence, examples for housing providers to consider in their applicant screening

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

While it can be difficult for ex-offenders and individuals with criminal records to find housing, these individuals and communities at large benefit significantly when ex-offenders have access to affordable housing. Residential instability and frequent moves have been linked to recidivism. In their Housing Policy Debate paper, “One Strike to Second Chances: Using Criminal Backgrounds in Admission Decisions for Assisted Housing,” Rebecca J. Walter, Jill Viglion and Marie Skuback Tillyer review existing research on recidivism with the goal of helping housing providers as they make admission decisions. Their review of available research indicates that criminal history does not predict housing retention success. It also provides support for specific ways housing providers can refine their admission policies by considering age of applicant, age of criminal record and family support among other factors when reviewing an ex-offender’s application for housing.

Some key findings from this research should be helpful for housing providers. The authors’ review found:
  • No difference in an applicant’s risk of committing a crime when comparing an applicant who has never been arrested to one whose criminal history is more than seven years old. 
  • The risk of committing an offense declined with age, though drug- and alcohol-related crimes do not decline as sharply with age.
  • A short lookback period of one or two years probably does not provide enough time to determine the applicant’s post-jail behavior. 
  • Family support, employment, references and commitment to reform also reduce the risk of recidivism. 
These findings provide evidence that mitigating factors like age, lookback periods and family support do change an ex-offender’s odds of housing retention, and property owners should consider them when reviewing an ex-offender’s application for housing. Furthermore, the paper discusses the importance of evaluation plans to monitor admission policies and crime trends at properties after changes to admission policies are implemented. This evaluation and data analysis can help show the impact of a changed policy.

While addressing the housing needs of ex-offenders is incredibly challenging, recidivism and correctional costs decrease through the use of housing assistance programs (Hamilton, Kigerl, & Hays, 2015). Ensuring ex-offenders can live in safe neighborhoods also means they are less likely to reoffend, based on a 2006 study referenced in the report.

Some housing providers are already rising to meet this need. The Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) has revised its criminal background screening policy. It has a two-step process for assessing an applicant’s criminal history, and if the process does not prompt further review, the applicant is considered eligible. If further review is required, the applicant can provide mitigating documentation and attend a three-person panel to make their case. HANO has encountered a significant challenge in getting private market landlords and for-profit and nonprofit partners to adopt similar policies. The San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) is also considering how to address the needs of ex-offenders by providing public housing and services to 50 probationers through its Restorative Housing Pilot Project. SAHA is collaborating with the Bexar County Community Supervision and Corrections Department in this effort.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Trump administration releases budget proposing drastic housing cuts

by Rebekah King & Kaitlyn Snyder 

The FY 2018 budget proposal released today by the Trump administration would drastically cut the housing help that rebuilds communities, spurs economic development and protects millions of Americans.  The Trump administration’s proposed cuts to housing work supported by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Agriculture and several independent agencies would take policy in the wrong direction at a time when housing costs are an increasing burden to working families.

The president’s budget proposal would eliminate funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, HOME Investment Partnership, Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program, Section 4 Capacity Building, the National Housing Trust Fund (via a legislative proposal) and Choice Neighborhoods, among many other initiatives shown in the chart below. The proposal would also eliminate funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) rural single family housing direct loan program and the Section 504 homeownership repair program.

The chart below shows HUD and USDA funding for selected programs for the President’s FY 2018 budget request and enacted funding levels going back to FY 2014. Red numbers indicate decreases compared to FY 2017 enacted levels, green numbers indicate increases and black numbers indicate flat funding.

NHC’s full statement on the President’s budget request is available here. Also included in the proposal are provisions that:

  • For Section 8 Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA)  and Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA), public housing, Section 202 and Section 811 would:
    • require tenants to contribute 35% of their income towards rent (up from the historic norm of 30%)
    • establish mandatory minimum rents of $50
    • end utility allowance reimbursements, effectively increasing costs to tenants
  • According to the congressional justification, HUD will implement the 35% tenant rent contribution as a pilot in PBRA, 202, and 811 in 2018; it does not plan to implement this in the Public Housing or TBRA programs in 2018.
  • No longer provide higher payments for enhanced vouchers for Section 8 TBRA
  • Eliminate funding for the Capital Magnet Fund and Community Development Financial Institutions Financial Assistance program
  • Eliminate funding for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and provide $570,000 for payroll and severance
  • Eliminate federal funding for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation and provide $27.4 million to prepare for the discontinuation of federal funding
  • For FY 2018, the HUD Secretary may elect through notice not to provide rent adjustments for Section 202, Section 811, Section 236 or Section 8 PBRA properties. 
  • Eliminates the RAD cap and supports including 202 Project Rental Assistance Contract's in the RAD program
  • Gives the HUD secretary authority to transfer project-based rent assistance under specific circumstances related to housing quality and property inspections
  • Gives the HUD secretary to provide waiver authority for PHAs for statutory or regulatory provisions related to PHA administrative, planning, and reporting requirements, energy audits, income recertification, and program assessments.
  • Creates an administrative support fee, up to 4 basis points, to support modernizing Federal Housing Administration systems
  • Creates flexibility between PHA capital and operating funds
  • Allows Continuum of Care (CoC) grantees to receive one year transitional grants as they transition from one program component to another

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Solutions for Housing Communications showed the power of the housing messaging movement

On April 27-28, over 120 housers joined NHC in
Minneapolis for a range of sessions on
building support for affordable housing
by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference

Last week at Solutions for Housing Communications, NHC’s annual convening on building support for affordable housing and countering community opposition, we heard from housing communicators from around the country about ways the housing community can tackle today’s communications challenges. Solutions showed us a lot about how far we’ve come as communicators, and about the progress we can still make.

Research-backed messaging is a movement
Friday morning, Michael Anderson of the Housing Trust Fund Project at the Center for Community Change shared what he and his housing and community development colleagues in Portland, Ore., learned in the early 2000s about advocacy messaging: The typical jargon-filled advocacy message about programs simply doesn’t work. Instead, we have to talk about our work using overarching values. As Michael’s presentation showed, this approach has spread, with state and local housing coalitions and campaigns across the country doing their own messaging research and training advocates in values-based messages. The housing campaign wins on Nov. 8 are part of this movement.

There’s more work to do
In spite of the work of state and local groups, and the valuable new research into message backfires presented by Dr. Tiffany Manuel of Enterprise Community Partners, the housing community can still improve our communications practices. Change is never easy, and it’s especially difficult to focus more on values and solutions and less on problems and data when our habits are so ingrained. We also need to push ourselves to have more day-to-day conversations with people whose views differ from ours, whether that difference comes in the form of politics or simply that they do different work. Over the two days of the convening we heard examples of cross-sector conversations and discussions among people across the political spectrum that revealed areas of potential agreement and collaboration. This is an area where we can, and must, do more.

We have what we need to succeed
In her presentation, Ashley Kerr of the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama showed us the universal nature of housing values. Alabama is a conservative, religious state, but the messages that worked to win support for housing funding there were strikingly similar to the messages that worked in Portland, Ore., and other “blue” parts of the U.S. It’s not a matter of partisanship. Americans understand the value of home, and can be convinced to support systemic solutions to housing challenges. We just need to craft messages that truly account for the way people actually understand and process information.

Solutions for Housing Communications was about a lot more than messaging. I hope you get a chance to view the plenary sessions online and check out some of the slide decks we’ve shared on our website. 

A united field

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

NHC just wrapped up a very successful Solutions for Housing Communications convening in Minneapolis last week. Special thank you to our event partners, the Minnesota Housing Partnership, the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers, Minnesota Housing and the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, to our Premier National Sponsor JPMorgan Chase, mobile workshop sponsor the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families, and convening sponsors Family Housing Fund and Minnesota Housing Partnership. Slides and a link to view plenary session recordings are available on our website.

As I have noted previously, these are times of great challenge in terms of federal funding, and great opportunity when it comes to success with local funding initiatives and increased awareness of need. It is vital for the whole community development and affordable housing sector to understand how to communicate more effectively  and to avoid messages that actually backfire, working against our efforts to build more support.

One potential opportunity to communicate as a united field is an episode of PBS’s Frontline , jointly produced with NPR and airing May 9. The television and radio broadcasts will examine the significant challenges of housing affordability and the programs used to respond to those challenges. We anticipate a good opportunity to highlight the needs of working and vulnerable households across the country, paired with criticism of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and the developers that use it.

National organizations are working diligently to prepare congressional supporters and key committee members for this program, but we also know that the story could gain traction at the local level. Our position, and the message we will share, is that working people should be able to afford to rent a decent place to live in a thriving community, but in too many places across our country that’s just not possible. Quality, affordable rental homes are scarce while wages are stuck in place. We need all the tools we can to tackle this scarcity, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit has brought decent homes at reasonable costs to millions of Americans.

You know your local media and can make the best decision about how to respond, but I want to make sure you are aware and prepared. The other big news is of course the recent FY 2017 budget agreement that keeps the government fully operational through September. Kaitlyn Snyder and Rebekah King have the details of what the agreement means for housing funding.

I want to call your attention to NHC’s 45th Annual Housing Visionary Award Gala on June 8 and Annual Policy Symposium on June 9 in Washington, D.C. This year NHC will honor former HUD Sec. Shaun Donovan and Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), along with Habitat for Humanity International and Rebuilding Together. Please visit our website for tickets and sponsorship opportunities. The Gala is NHC’s single annual fundraising event and is a tremendous opportunity to honor great work while networking with friends and colleagues. I hope to see you there! 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Reinventing public housing: Once more with funding

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

I’m spending a portion of this week in Halifax, Nova Scotia, at the 49th National Congress on Housing and Homelessness convened  by the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association. Talking with housing colleagues from Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom reminds me clearly that we in the United States need to think seriously about reinventing how we own, finance and operate public housing. We also need to revisit our public funding commitment. Adjusting the balance of public and private responsibilities can help us find efficiencies, but no amount of tinkering can substitute for a sustained funding commitment.

Everywhere, publicly owned housing has its particular struggles. In the United Kingdom, production is falling behind demand even as the population is living longer. A recent change to send housing subsidy to tenants rather than directly to housing providers has, unsurprisingly, resulted in rent collection problems and potentially evictions. The nonprofits that own formerly state-owned housing (thanks to a massive transfer under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s) continue to merge in pursuit of economies of scale. Underfunding of housing is a major election issue.

In Canada, the new government is planning a national housing strategy that will “support healthier families and build stronger communities and better housing for all.” This laudable national commitment is a much-needed correction to the federal cuts of housing funding in the 1990s, and tiptoeing back in the 2000s. Issues of high need among the poorest parallel quickly rising costs in major cities, especially Toronto, which is facing criticism from community members and a capital backlog. Social housing (owned and operated by a mix of government, nonprofit and cooperative entities) is a key component of solutions but also faces expiration of long-term subsidy agreements.

Australia has a much smaller social (that is, publicly owned) housing sector: less than four percent of the housing stock. It is owned by small agencies, most with little or no net assets on their balance sheets and limited by inconsistency in government funding. The federal government is struggling to measure results from use of housing funds by states. At the same time, the private rental sector is growing rapidly with few protections for renters.

Here in the United States, innovative public housing agencies are finding ways to renovate properties and improve services to residents, often by shifting financing out of the traditional public housing model (see the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission and the San Diego Housing Commission for great examples). For many agencies, however, the public housing properties are the oldest in the country, and the local agencies who own and operate them have suffered decades of underfunding. Policy changes have shifted previously mixed-income public housing into concentrations of the neediest. The backlog of unfunded capital needs was $26 billion at last count.

The American success with public-private partnerships for affordable housing is a reminder that we have the technical capability to do the job well. The experiments abroad, however, are a reminder that there are many paths to affordable housing, each with trade-offs. Public control can bring accountability and mission focus. Private control can bring innovation and efficiency. Either can fail at the extremes, and neither does well by the residents or the real estate when funding is insufficient or inconsistent. It is surely time to revisit how we handle public housing in this country, but only if we match that spirit of innovation with a commitment to meeting the need.