Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Appropriations outlook for housing, FY 2017 and 2018

by Kaitlyn Snyder

As NHC's Ethan Handelman predicted in an earlier appropriations discussion, appropriations for both Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 and 2018 are indeed messy, again. Funding for the federal government for FY 2017 is set to expire on April 28. Senators return from a two-week recess on Monday, April 24 and representatives return on Tuesday, April 25, leaving just a few days to pass a bill. Of the 12 spending bills, 1 (military construction and veterans affairs) has already passed both chambers of Congress and become law, another (defense) was passed by the House and now awaits passage by the Senate. We expect to see the remaining 10 bills attached to the defense bill, pass the Senate, and then go back over to the House for a final vote. To achieve this, we expect Congress to pass a short-term Continuing Resolution that will fund the federal government for a week or so, and then pass a larger bill that will fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, till September 30th, 2017.

However, complicating matters is President Trump’s request to cut $18 billion from discretionary spending programs for the remainder of FY 2017. Cutting $18 billion over the remaining 5 months of the fiscal year would amount to zeroing out entire programs. HUD alone would face about $1.7 billion in cuts coming from the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (-$125 million), the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) (-$1,494 million), and the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) ($56 million). Congressional leaders from both parties have largely dismissed the cuts and are hoping to stick to the agreed upon funding in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 which raised the sequester caps. Should Congress pass a spending bill that largely ignores the president's proposed cuts, President Trump could decide to veto the bill. It is unlikely that the bill will have a veto-proof majority, leaving an alternative path uncertain. With the uncertainty around FY 2017 funding, public housing agencies have been administering fewer vouchers in case the program does get cut when Congress addresses FY 2017 spending. No cuts to housing programs have gone into effect yet. However, a full-term continuing resolution for FY 2017 would essentially be a cut to housing programs, discussed below.

Once the federal government is funded for the remainder of FY 2017, appropriators will immediately focus on funding for FY 2018. President Trump released his skinny budget in March and we expect to see a full budget in mid-May.  The skinny budget would keep the overall FY 2018 spending cap of $1.065 trillion set in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011, but increase the defense side of the budget by $54 billion and decrease the non-defense side by $54 billion. Under President Trump’s skinny budget, HUD faces a $6.2 billion or 13% cut for FY 2018. While the skinny budget did not provide much detail, it did propose eliminating CDBG, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, SHOP, Choice Neighborhoods and Section 4. Altogether, eliminating those 5 programs would cut about $4.45 billion, meaning an additional $1.75 billion needs to be cut from the HUD budget to reach $6.2 billion. And that’s just within HUD; many housing programs that aren’t based within HUD would face similar cuts.

Appropriations for FY 2018 were already going to be messy because sequestration would take full effect in FY 2018. Notably, the full impact of the sequestration law has never taken place because Congress has found alternatives. The caps only applied to 6 of 12 months in FY 2013. FY 2014 and FY 2015 caps were raised by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, otherwise known as the Murray-Ryan deal. FY 2016 and FY 2017 caps were raised by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. Absent another bipartisan deal to raise the caps, non-defense discretionary funding would be cut by $3 billion from sequestration alone, only to be cut by an additional $54 billion from President Trump’s budget.

While congressional appropriators may not fully support President Trump’s request for $54 billion in cuts, the request alone has changed the discussion and made smaller, but still harmful, cuts seem reasonable. The HUD budget requires a 3-4% increase every year just to keep up with inflation and rising housing costs. So even keeping funding levels at current levels effectively amounts to a cut for HUD. The housing community must come together to stave off these proposed cuts. This is why the National Housing Conference has teamed up with groups like NDD United and the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding to support efforts for robust federal funding of affordable housing and other domestic programs that help lift families out of poverty and enable them to reach better outcomes.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Changing the trajectory by changing the message

by Chris Estes

Uncertainty and change. These have been the watchwords in Washington, D.C. since the November election and somewhat naturally go together. Change typically brings some degree of uncertainty. A new presidential administration and a new one-party majority in the White House and Congress are always going to bring change. This administration’s nontraditional background brought more than the usual uncertainty to who would be appointed and how affordable housing and community development policy would be perceived.

Some things are certain, however. We know that the Trump administration has proposed deep cuts to housing programs that would reduce the number of people receiving housing assistance, increase homelessness and worsen the shortage of affordable rental housing that is still mostly silent in terms of political prioritization. While these proposed cuts have served to rally the field across the spectrum of homelessness, multifamily housing, homeownership and community development broadly, we expect that President Trump’s budget will not be implemented as proposed.

What I am less certain about is whether we all recognize how our advocacy and education efforts must change if we are to position housing as a politically popular bipartisan issue at the federal level. While I have been really pleased with the efforts by many groups and campaigns to talk about the whole housing continuum rather than just a specific priority, I don’t think we have really moved beyond a “program and problem focus” for our advocacy. Our advocacy often still centers on the magnitude of the problems our communities face, versus conveying more of the value, success and impact of housing solutions for people and places.

One area of hope and guidance is the success of many communities across the country in adopting new funding for affordable housing development locally. As someone who worked at the local and state levels for 20 years before coming to D.C., I know that state and local organizations have long been investing in new messaging and framing around values and impact. It has been interesting to watch some of this trickle up to national-level discussions, where the concepts feel new, and to see folks struggle with how to incorporate new messaging practices into advocacy and education efforts without falling back on old strategies.

At NHC we’ve worked for more than five years on identifying, distilling and creating resources on how the housing community can improve our efforts to more effectively build support at all levels of government. This is why our Annual Budget Forum focused on how folks are making the case for housing programs in this new political and budgetary environment, rather than focusing on the proposed budget cuts themselves.

This is also why we convene Solutions for Housing Communications each year. This annual event is targeted directly at how to overcome local opposition to affordable housing development in your community. We know that neighborhoods are where housing is built and where it visibly impacts lives. While Solutions provides practical tools for overcoming local opposition, it also provides guidance for how we can adapt these strategies to our state legislative and congressional educations efforts.

If you missed our Annual Budget Forum, I hope you’ll take time to view the recording. I also hope you’ll register for our Solutions for Housing Communications convening in Minneapolis April 27-28. You can get a 10 percent discount on registration using code “save10” now through April 7.

NHC will continue to work to be a resource for the field on messaging and on improved coordination and collaboration among national organizations, networks and campaigns. There is still much we must do together to change the trajectory of political support for our work over the long run as we stave off harmful reductions to vital resources today.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What is the “wrong pocket” problem and why is it important?

by Janet Viveiros

Often during discussions about the connection between housing and health, education and employment, housers will reference the “wrong pocket” problem, the concept that investments in affordable housing development and preservation have benefits that yield savings in sectors outside of housing. This makes it difficult to create a measure for the return on investment in affordable housing, which can help make a strong business case for public investment in affordable housing. Yet return on investment is something that influences policymakers’ decisions on how to spend public funds in efficient ways.

In the current political climate, affordable housing developers and providers will have to do more to serve low-income households with fewer resources. This makes it even more important that they understand what kinds of affordable housing investments may yield the greatest benefits for the people they serve. It also means that they will have to create effective arguments for allocating public resources to affordable housing because of its many benefits.

The good news is that in the area of health, in particular, there is evidence of a return on investment for affordable housing. There has been significant research into how permanent supportive housing, which serves some of the most vulnerable Americans, can lead to better health outcomes and healthcare savings. The research, summarized in NHC’s report “How Investing in Housing Can Save on Health Care,” makes a strong case that increasing the number of permanent supportive homes can lead to improvements in the health and well-being of individuals who were formerly homeless and reduce health care spending for this population. In addition, recent research from the Center for Outcomes Research and Education has demonstrated that providing affordable housing of various kinds to low-income Medicaid enrollees leads to better health outcomes and lower health care costs. 

There is not an equivalent body of evidence to measure the return on investment in other sectors such as education or economic opportunity. However, there is research to demonstrate many of the benefits.

It is important for housers to educate policymakers and the public about the full return on investment for affordable housing. Affordable housing for low-income Americans not only puts a roof over their head, but also helps them be healthier, perform better in school and be more productive because living in a stable and affordable home provides an opportunity to focus on pursuing financial and employment goals. This all can contribute to significant economic gains.

As affordable housing advocates, we must continue to add to our understanding of how affordable housing creates benefits and savings in health, education and economic opportunity. We must also share this information with the public to help improve understanding of affordable housing as a key platform for American’s success. 

The good housing stuff ain’t all in HUD, but it is at risk

by Ethan Handelman

Housing stakeholders nationwide were alarmed by President Trump’s proposed budget cut of $6.2 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Such deep cuts would prevent meaningful investment in the future while endangering much existing affordable housing supported by Housing Choice Vouchers, public housing, Section 8, HOME and CDBG block grants and other well-known housing programs. But the proposed budget would also cut many other, lesser-known programs with proven success in creating economic opportunity, drawing in private investment and reaching people and communities often left behind in times of prosperity.

When affordable housing is mentioned, most people’s minds jump right to HUD. But affordable housing support has a place in several agencies, many of which the president’s budget targets for elimination. Here are a few successful housing programs you may not have heard about, each targeted for cuts or elimination:

·         U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Housing Service creates and preserves affordable housing in rural America, but the budget proposes cutting the state office staff who implements this work.
·         Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) focuses on regional economic development, with natural connections to housing, in a region that has struggled with declining employment and population for years. Congress established the ARC in 1965.

·         Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund) capitalizes mission-driven lenders who leverage private capital for community development and affordable housing. The CDFI Fund is part of the Department of the Treasury. 
·         Neighborworks® America, aka Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, empowers a network of locally based nonprofits who strengthen communities through affordable housing and community development work. It is a nonprofit chartered by Congress in 1978.
·         Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing Program (Section 4) is in HUD; Congress authorized it in 1993 to help nonprofits build their capacity for affordable housing and community development work. It currently goes to Enterprise Community Partners, Habitat for Humanity International and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation.
·         Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) is another little-known HUD program. Nonprofits use SHOP funds, authorized by Congress in 1996, to create affordable homeownership using sweat equity from the new homeowners themselves. The Housing Assistance Council has one example among many SHOP programs.

·         Weatherization Assistance Program is in the Department of Energy, and it does just what it sounds like. Federal funds go through states and localities to help make homes more energy efficient, which saves money, keeps families healthier and sustains homeownership for low-income households. 
·         Hazard Mitigation Grant Program in the Department of Homeland Security (via FEMA) helps communities mitigate the risks of natural disasters by making homes and other buildings more resilient. It turns out that preventing damage from hazards like floods is also a great way to save money
·         United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) coordinates the efforts of 19 federal agencies to end and prevent homelessness. USICH is an “independent establishment” within the executive branch that was originally authorized by Congress in the 1987 Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. Lawmakers recently introduced bipartisan legislation to make USICH permanent
·         The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program is a competitive program that supports innovative transportation projects, including multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional projects, which are difficult to fund through traditional programs. The Capital Investment Grants program is the only federal program dedicated to supporting new public transportation lines. Both of these Department of Transportation programs affect the creation and preservation of affordable housing near the transportation investments.
What these examples of effective housing programs targeted for cuts have in common is that they are long-term investments in America’s people and communities. They are in many different agencies because housing connects to many different parts of our lives: our health, our economic future, our connections to our neighbors and more.

As we discussed last week at NHC’s Annual Budget Forum, our advocacy for housing funding should build on the intersections between housing and the values each of us hold dear. If you missed the live broadcast, I encourage you to view the recording for ideas and strategies that can strengthen the message of support for affordable housing.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Housers can continue progress on green affordable housing, even with Clean Power Plan facing review

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

This post originally appeared on Sept. 30, 2016 and has been updated to reflect new developments.
On March 28, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency to review and then revise or rescind the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The order also rescinds other prior federal actions on climate change. Regardless of the final outcome for CPP, housing stakeholders should continue their efforts to create affordable housing that is healthier, more energy efficient and better for the environment. While the CPP certainly provides a strong incentive for states to invest in green affordable housing to meet carbon reduction goals, several states have already made those investments before the CPP was around. Other states have pledged to take further steps on their own. The rationale for greener affordable housing is compelling on its own merits and a strong voice from housing stakeholders can encourage public investments in energy efficiency to include affordable housing. Affordable housing stakeholders can also explore partnerships with state energy offices and utilities to explore how to work together and support healthy and energy efficient housing.

Earlier post:
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:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Solutions helps Suzanne transform her work

by Andrea Nesby and Amy Clark

Suzanne (second from right) is joined with
 NACEDA staffers at the Solutions 2016 convening 
As a communications director at the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA), Suzanne Gunther is responsible for the whole spectrum of communications work: event promotion, media relations, brand management and more. NACEDA is an alliance of 45 state and regional community development associations in 28 states and D.C.

On top of all that, Suzanne’s role includes helping the communications staff of NACEDA member associations keep up to date with the latest communications best practices. She organizes training opportunities and recommends resources and trainings by experts in the field.

When Suzanne learned about NHC’s Solutions for Housing Communications convening, she knew it would be the place to see great examples from other housing communicators and connect with her peers in the field. In just two days, she could learn, network and bring back fresh examples and information she could use all year long. She registered herself and recommended the convening to communications staffers at community development associations around the country. Seven communications professionals from the NACEDA network attended.

Suzanne started her Solutions for Housing Communications 2016 experience in New York City with the mobile workshop touring supportive housing developments in the Bronx.

“The tour reminded me why I do this work,” she says. “I was truly inspired by the local stories.”

She says the marketing and public relations workshop taught her new approaches for framing messages, and provided her with real-life examples of how to use communications techniques like pivoting.  

Solutions for Housing Communications gave Suzanne the opportunity to connect with people she would have otherwise never met, gave her new communications approaches she and her members could use and inspired her to keep up the hard work of housing communications.

If you’re looking for two days of inspiration and practical advice, then #Solutions2017 is where you want to be! 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Digging deep into who struggles to afford housing in your region

by Janet Viveiros

Most Americans know that there are serious gaps between what housing costs and what people can afford in many communities across the country. Many know this first hand from their struggles to make their rent or mortgage payment each month, others know it secondhand from watching friends and families struggle and others simply hear the periodic news stories about how housing costs in New York City or San Francisco have reached new highs.

Despite a general and widespread acknowledgement that affordable housing challenges exist for some, most policymakers and members of the public are not aware of how dramatic the gaps are between what people earn and what they’re able to afford, particularly outside of high-cost regions. NHC’s recent webinar,“Paycheck to Paycheck: More than Housing,” explored these housing affordability gaps. Few people think about low-cost Midwestern metro areas like Gary, Indiana, or Detroit, Michigan, as being places where workers face serious housing affordability challenges, yet for many, they are.

The webinar also shared these key findings from NHC’s recent supplement to the data tool, More than Housing:”
  • Housing costs comprise a significantly higher percentage of income for lower-income households compared to higher-income households.
  • Low-income renters spend relatively more of their income on housing than low-income homeowners.
  •  Both renters and owners are more likely to encounter major housing affordability challenges in and around major cities along the East and West Coasts.

As discussed during the webinar, the housing affordability picture changes when you look at typical earnings and housing costs in the context of other household costs. Many working households are not able to make ends meet when you add up all their expenses.  For example, a Colorado family of four with a combined monthly income of $4,749 could fall short of paying for necessary household expenses by $1,032 each month.

The Paycheck to Paycheck data tool and the “More than Housing” supplement are important tools to help policy makers and the public visualize how incomes often fall well short of what households need in order to afford their rent or mortgage, along with food, transportation, health care and more. I hope this knowledge can spur more thinking about the role communities should play in ensuring there is affordable housing for workers across a spectrum of incomes.   

Thursday, March 16, 2017

NHC's statement to media on Trump Administration's proposed housing cuts

Earlier this morning, NHC sent the following statement below to the media regarding President Trump's FY 2018 budget proposal. Given the threats this budget poses, housers must come together as an interconnected and interdependent housing and community development continuum to make a compelling case for housing funding. Please join us for our March 30 Budget Forum webinar to discuss advocacy and communications strategies to help us connect with lawmakers from both parties.

Today the Trump administration released a budget proposal for FY 2018 that includes a $6.2 billion cut to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The proposal would also cut additional housing and community development funds from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Treasury. If enacted by Congress, these cuts would devastate the housing and community development efforts that are building new infrastructure, revitalizing neighborhoods, spurring economic development and ensuring access to safe, decent affordable homes for millions of Americans.

"President Trump's budget for HUD would severely limit the ability of state and local governments to meet their communities' housing and infrastructure needs," said Chris Estes, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference, a nonpartisan affordable housing advocacy organization. "The president's proposed budget sacrifices the security of older adults and people with disabilities, and will actually make it harder for President Trump to bring opportunity to urban and rural America as promised."

The proposal from the Trump administration includes elimination of aid to communities large and small through the HOME Investment Partnerships and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG); painful limitations on public housing and rental assistance despite rising need;  elimination of capacity-building programs for nonprofits doing affordable housing and community development; elimination of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund which supports community development and affordable housing lending; elimination of regional initiatives to address rural poverty; elimination of homeownership help beyond FHA lending; cuts to staffing in USDA Rural Development offices that support rural housing; and many other cuts.

HUD and USDA assistance provide access to affordable homes in urban, rural and suburban communities and are a key part of the solution to the shortage of affordable rental homes currently experienced in communities across America. Essential workers are often shut out of the rental and homeownership markets in the communities where they work. For example, NHC research finds that school bus drivers are unable to afford to rent or own a home in any of 210 metropolitan areas in the U.S. The tradeoff for many Americans is long, stressful commutes, substandard housing or difficult choices between paying the rent and paying for other essentials like medical care.

"Programs like rental assistance and CDBG are about more than just development. Living in an affordable, healthy home directly affects the ability of children to succeed in school and the health of older adults and people with disabilities," said Estes."Access to quality stable homes is a key component of reducing health care costs, especially in Medicare and Medicaid. We look forward to joining our colleagues in housing and community development to work with members of Congress to ensure the final HUD and Agriculture budgets better meet the needs of our communities."

The budget release is short on detail, leaving most of the work in Congress' hands to put together a FY 2018 budget that meets the pressing needs of people and communities in America.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Lifeline program continues to offer opportunities to housing providers under new FCC leadership

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

The announcement by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai on changing the status of nine newly designated Lifeline Broadband Providers (LBP) last month raised concerns among many who are focused on increasing broadband access, including NHC.  Our understanding after meeting with the FCC is that expansion of broadband and opportunities for housing providers remain, although the new FCC chairman has signaled some revisiting of specific aspects of the Lifeline program, including designation of LBPs. NHC continues to see the Lifeline program as a significant opportunity to get more affordable housing residents connected.

Since 2014, the National Housing Conference has encouraged expansion of broadband in affordable housing to close the digital divide for low-income families. One tool in this effort is the FCC’s Lifeline program. In 2016, the FCC changed the program to allow the Lifeline subsidy to be used for broadband service in addition to phone service. For housing providers, these changes created an opportunity to aggregate Lifeline subsidy among many residents to create a funding source for property-level broadband.

In addition to allowing the Lifeline subsidy to be used for broadband, the Lifeline Modernization Order also created a way for new internet service providers to participate in Lifeline as Lifeline Broadband Providers (LBPs). On February 3, 2017, FCC Chairman Pai revoked the status of nine new LBPs because of concerns about the legality of the LBP status. NHC reached out with our concerns about the future of the Lifeline program, and last week we met with Chairman Pai’s staff.

At the meeting, we learned that Chairman Pai wants to work on closing the digital divide. We determined that housing providers should still pursue broadband solutions using Lifeline, and we discovered that providers can still pursue becoming an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier at the state level. Under the modernization order, aggregation projects are possible wherein nonprofits or housing providers can negotiate with internet service providers (ISPs) to do the program qualification and sign-up paperwork for a fee. This financial support could enable housing providers to pursue broadband solutions at the property level as explore local partnerships around digital literacy and equipment. The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) is exploring how the aggregation process could work. NHC is engaged with USAC and hopes to share ideas from NHC members about how to best structure this option. Additionally, for housing providers interested in serving as their own ISP, organizations can still apply for eligibility to participate in Lifeline through their state public utility commissions, while the LBP status is being reconsidered.

NHC hopes housing providers will fully explore how they can best utilize the Lifeline program to benefit their residents. We are a resource and can provide guidance. To learn more about NHC’s Connectivity Working Group and work on broadband in affordable housing, please email me

Innovation in ballot campaigns and rental development at NHC’s Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

Every month, NHC brings speakers to our Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force who discuss innovative strategies to empower comprehensive community development. I’m always excited to learn about what practitioners are exploring on the ground, and March brought two opportunities. Michael Bodaken, president of the National Housing Trust (NHT), shared information on their High Opportunity Pilot, where NHT is taking a market-oriented approach to give voucher holders access to high-opportunity neighborhoods. And Rhode Island Housing and the United Way of Rhode Island shared their success in a state ballot measure to create a $50 million state bond for affordable housing. Both initiatives required thinking about and messaging about affordable housing differently in order to make progress.

NHT’s High Opportunity Pilot acquires market-rate multifamily housing. The goal is to create a mixed-income community by opening up a portion of the market-rate units to Housing Choice Voucher holders over time, as opposed to trying to construct an affordable housing development in a high-opportunity neighborhood. This approach focuses on conversion of existing privately owned market-rate housing stock. On the surface, this may sound rather simple. However, this model requires partnership with public housing authorities, as well as with nonprofits who can help counsel voucher holders and certify their eligibility. It also requires access to equity and conventional financing that can be deployed quickly, and the ability to compete in a fast moving process. The affordable housing development process is not a quick one, so this model requires a different kind of engagement in the market.

Rhode Island Housing and the United Way of Rhode Island led an effort in 2016 to pass a statewide ballot measure that would create a $50 million state bond for affordable housing. The “Yes on 7” campaign focused its messaging on “housing opportunity,” a term that advocates felt did not invoke a negative frame among the public. The campaign also focused on highlighting beneficiaries of development; not just residents but also employers and businesses. The campaign took a strategic approach, recognizing the value of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as the importance of events like groundbreakings to build public support and engage community partners.

In an uncertain federal environment, seeing examples of new strategies being used to fund and market affordable housing confirms how housers can continue to be successful on the state and local level. Join us April 27-28 in Minneapolis for Solutions for Housing Communications to see many similar examples of successful approaches to building support for housing at the state and local level.

You can view both presentations from the March 2017 Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force meeting here. If you’re interested in learning more about the task force, please email me.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A message from Chris Estes on the budget outlook for housing

By now, many of you will have seen the leaked budget documents referencing a potential $6 billion cut to HUD. Such a cut would be devastating to housing and community development efforts: elimination of HOME and CDBG, deep cuts to public housing and rental assistance, and near elimination of now-smaller programs like housing for the elderly and people with disabilities.

What this means right now: The leaked documents are not a formal statement from the administration, so President Trump's budget proposal could be different when it arrives. This is also a negotiating process between the White House and Congress on top-line budget numbers and program priorities. Major budget changes like these will require deal making both within and between the two political parties and the House and Senate.

All signals thus far, however, suggest President Trump's budget will propose major cuts to non-defense domestic spending, including housing. We don't know if this year may be similar to past years in that Congress will set the budget timeline and decide funding levels with little reference to the president's proposal or if Congressional leaders give the president more deference in his first proposed budget. We do know that the baseline spending levels Congress is starting with under the sequester and the Budget Control Act also require cuts to spending.

What you should do: Prepare for ongoing, coordinated advocacy for housing and community development. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Most important is to advocate for housing and community development funding overall, rather than defending particular programs in isolation. If legislators hear from each housing advocate, "Cut some other housing program to pay for mine," or, "This program or group is more vital than others," they will know that housing as a field lacks organization, will be fragmented in its defense and is ripe for cuts.

Our strength lies in unity.

Watch the Washington Wire from us for more news and opportunities to advocate.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

NHC’s Gala honorees are moving housing forward

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

I hope you’ll join NHC for our 45th Annual Housing Visionary Award Gala and 2017 Annual Policy Symposium on June 8 and 9 in Washington, D.C.!

The Housing Visionary Awards Gala honors great examples of collaborative, comprehensive community development work. This year NHC is proud to honor Habitat for Humanity International and Rebuilding Together.

Both organizations are well-known for the mobilization of thousands of volunteers to build and repair homes for low-income households. They continue to innovate beyond their founding models and have evolved in initiatives that improve outcomes and maximize the community development impacts of their work.

Habitat has moved away from single green field developments to more infill partnerships with other housing and community development efforts. Their builds often are part of larger development strategies that include Low Income Housing Tax Credit developments, rehab and repair of existing homes with partners like Rebuilding Together, and school and small business development with partners utilizing the New Markets Tax Credit.

Similarly, Rebuilding Together has progressed from their all-volunteer “Christmas in July” home repair origins to using sophisticated evaluation of air quality, energy efficiency and overall healthy home metrics to drive their work. Rebuilding Together also partners with groups like Habitat, community development organizations like NeighborWorks® America and for-profit developers doing new single-family and multifamily development in the same neighborhood.

At the Gala, we’ll also honor former HUD secretary Shaun Donovan, and Rep. Pat Tiberi of Ohio's 12th District for his long support for affordable housing.

Rep. Tiberi has been a tireless champion of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and New Markets Tax Credit programs, the nation’s most productive public-private affordable housing and economic development partnerships. Former Sec. Donovan led HUD through the nation’s most severe housing crisis and made important new advancements in combating homelessness and the redevelopment of public housing through the RAD program.

I hope you’ll join me at this important gathering to honor these great organizations and policy leaders, and attend our Annual Policy Symposium the next day. Visit our website for more information on how to purchase tickets and tables, become a sponsor or register for the PolicySymposium.

NHC member places youth at the affordable housing forefront

photo by: HACM/Paul Williams
by Andrea Nesby, National Housing Conference

NHC member Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM)’s YouthBuild program aims to help teens and young adults develop building skills while rehabilitating homes for low-income or homeless families. Through this program, participants are developing construction skills to create a path for employment and giving back to their community.

YouthBuild USA, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, first formed the program in 1990. Today, the program is sub-contracted to multiple agencies nationwide, including HACM, to provide job training and educational opportunities for at-risk youth ages 16-24. The U.S. Department of Labor is now a primary funder. 

Since its launch in 2015, participants have successfully completed rehabilitation of one home for a family. Starting out, participants built two dog houses to develop their professional roofing, framing and siding skills. When it comes to personal development, participants express gaining a sense of pride in their work, with one participant saying, “We want to make sure everything’s nice and neat when the new family moves in.” A total of 20 participants have completed HACM’s YouthBuild program, and recruitment for the 2017 cohort is currently under way.

Milwaukee’s YouthBuild program is one example of how a community can be innovative in adopting solutions to neighborhood restoration. NHC’s Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force (RNTF) convenes members from communities nationwide to develop solutions to restore neighborhoods that are still struggling to recover from underinvestment and neglect. We encourage representatives from communities, who are engaged in programs like YouthBuild, to join RNTF. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Kaitlyn Snyder at ksnyder@nhc.org

Friday, March 3, 2017

Flood insurance offers opportunities for positive housing policy

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Affordable housing stakeholders should pay attention to flood insurance, because it offers one of the few areas for imminent, positive policy change. Lawmakers are planning to start soon on reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Reauthorization offers a chance to improve the program in ways that get people out of harm's way while directing help with costs to those in need. NHC along with our partners in the SmarterSafer Coalition briefed Senate staff last week, and we will keep focus on the flood insurance issue.

In the last two major NFIP reauthorizations, affordability has been at the center of the policy debate, but without much input from the affordable housing community. Both the 2012 Biggert-Waters law and the 2014 Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act struggled with the tradeoff between 1) making flood insurance rates reflect real risk and 2) raising the cost of flood insurance, which can be required for a mortgage. Affordability loomed large in feedback legislators received from constituents, whether they were homeowners on the margin for whom any increased cost could be unaffordable or wealthier homeowners surprised and upset by the prospect of much higher than anticipated insurance bills.

The NFIP expires in September, and Congress is preparing to act. Chairman Hensarling of the House Financial Services Committee has said reforming NFIP will be a major focus this year. Senators on the Banking Committee are also looking at the issue and invited SmarterSafer to brief them last week. Flood insurance is a rare area that offers possibility for bipartisan action with direct benefit to people nationwide.

So what needs to change in NFIP? The cost of flood insurance should send true signals about risk; it doesn't now. Indeed, the program effectively subsidizes homes at high risk. We need to improve the mapping of risk, create more private options for better insurance coverage and encourage homeowners and communities to mitigate the risks they face. These are essential changes for a program nearly $24 billion in the hole.

Affordability help is key to this change. They only way these program changes can happen is if we ensure that no one is displaced because of the cost of flood insurance and that homeowners and communities get the help they need to mitigate risk. The SmarterSafer proposal sketches out ways to help, including means-tested assistance for homeowners that can convert to up-front mitigation help that is implemented through private loans. We also propose community-level mitigation help using natural features to buffer against hazards whenever possible.

We're still a long way from NFIP reauthorization, but with the right efforts from the affordable housing community, we may very well see real, positive change this year.

It’s time to get serious about aging in place

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

As my affordable housing colleagues work toward achieving positive outcomes when it comes to the  future of affordable housing, and as talk swirls around the nation around potential changes or replacement of the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as “Obamacare,” I think about older adults. Many of them have intertwined housing and health needs, as both their incomes and health will decline with age. Now, more than ever, is the time to seriously engage in developing strategies to increase the amount of housing that is affordable, accessible and that meets the diverse safety and service needs of the rapidly growing number of older adults.

As reports from NHC and other organizations like Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies have shown, the affordable and accessible housing needs of the growing older adult population are far from met. By 2030, 132 million Americans will be 65 or older. Many of these older adults will pay more than what is affordable on rent, mortgage, property taxes or utilities. Furthermore, many may be at great risk of injury through falls and other mobility related challenges and many may not be able to complete basic daily activities without some help. Currently, there is just not enough housing available to meet the varied needs of these older adults. 

As the country grapples with these issues, it is important to remember that not only do most older adults want to age in their home or their community instead of in a nursing home, it is also much less costly. At our December How Housing Matters Conference, Catherine Anderson, vice president of state programs at UnitedHealthcare Community & State, explained that managed care organizations estimate that providing health services to older adults at home amounts to approximately a third of the cost of caring for them in a nursing home. The combination of significant savings and the strong preference for aging at home means that we must scale up and build upon existing efforts to help older adults age in place. This fits squarely at the intersection of housing and health, since the housing needs of older adults are affected in great part by their health.

I recently discussed with Justin Worland of TIME Magazine how the unsettled questions currently surrounding the future of healthcare and housing in America means we are not addressing the needs of older adults. As the country thinks about the future of both housing and health, we must also consider how to better coordinate work at the intersection of housing and health to better meet the needs of all Americans, and in particular, the complex and diverse needs of older adults.

Opening a path to meaningful dialogue

by Andrea Nesby, National Housing Conference

When it comes to bringing affordable housing options to a community, fear of the unknown can be the biggest catalyst of opposition. That is why proactively educating a community on affordable housing is crucial. NHC previously conducted an informal survey of our Restoring Neighborhoods Working Group members to better understand the types of community opposition they face, and a majority of respondents indicated the most commonly encountered opposition centered on who the residents will be.

This made me think about the severe opposition my former employer faced when opening a housing program for homeless veterans in a wealthy area. Residents had concerns about potential impacts on their property values, crime and safety. When the organization held open houses for community members to tour their other housing programs, it illuminated for me how important face-to-face interaction is to changing community members’ perceptions. When one single mom, who escaped an abusive relationship, welcomed community members into her home, she was eagerly trying to make sure everything was in its place, since her unit was in the process of being renovated. The visitors assured her everything looked fine. She joked about how it would all be messy again anyway when her two kids returned from school, and one community member laughed and said, “I can definitely relate.” This brief interaction demonstrated how few differences there are between people and humanized the housing program participants for community members.

In a 2015 report, NHC outlined seven effective strategies for countering community opposition. The report makes clear that face-to-face interaction is key. Two of the strategies touched on understanding the community’s values and addressing them and inviting community members to the discussion before decisions are made. Holding community meetings and open houses can provide an opportunity to do just this.

Part of the planning process often includes inviting community members to a public meeting to discuss the projected plan. This is where we as housers can address concerns and educate the community about why affordable housing is important and to whom. Consider coming prepared with a story or inviting a resident, who is already housed in one of your programs, to share their story. This can help put a face to the housing development and can help community members feel connected with future residents. After the planning process has passed and you’ve broken ground, an open house can provide the opportunity to share how the community’s input and needs have been incorporated into the design or program structure. For example, if a community expressed concerns about safety, you can discuss plans for residents to participate in a Community Watch program and point out security features in the development.

Practicing these strategies will prove how face-to-face interaction can go a long way, but of course it won’t always be a walk in the park. This is why we hold our Solutions for Housing Communications convening to help you think of creative solutions, so you can advance your work.  

We hope you will join us for this year’s convening on April 27-28 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where we will discuss best practices for countering community opposition and tour local examples of housing developments who are innovating in their approach to countering community opposition.

If you have a strategy you’ve put in action and learned from, please comment below!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Housing advocacy needs a coordinated approach

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

The affordable housing community must address the question of how we navigate federal housing policy when so many issues are in play: funding for HUD and USDA Rural Development programs; the impact of tax reform, particularly on the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and New Markets Tax Credit; reform of the flood insurance program with major implications for affordability and potential changes to regulations on lending rules, CRA, broadband and fair housing, just to name a few. Given this, NHC is working proactively to build relationships with the new administration, advocate for housing in the federal budget and provide resources members like you can use as you engage in this work yourself.

Having been approved by the Senate Banking Committee, we now await the final vote to confirm Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. This will allow appointments of the HUD senior leadership team to begin, giving the housing community a better sense of the direction of the agency under the new administration. A similar process is also in play at USDA as we wait to learn who will lead the Rural Development division.

As NHC and the rest of the housing community establish relationships at HUD and USDA and learns more about agendas and priorities, we will also move into education and advocacy on the budget process itself. Coordinating our efforts will be key, as no single organization has the capacity work across all issues simultaneously. We believe the budget and in particular the budget caps for non-defense discretionary programs are the first place for us to focus.

Right now the assumption is that the budget for non-defense discretionary programs (which include housing and other non-entitlement programs that support low and moderate income households) will face pressure if defense spending is increased. Previous bipartisan budget agreements held that if non-defense spending was cut, defense would be cut also and the same was true if one category was increased, based in part on insistence from the White House. How this plays out with a new White House and its impact on the overall budget category numbers will be the first real opportunity for education and advocacy by the affordable housing and community development fields.

Given the efforts of many to connect with members of Congress, White House and agency staff, the full spectrum of the affordable housing community will need to come together to advocate using consistent messages that encompass the continuum of housing and community development programs. Consistent communications is essential in the crowded media and advocacy landscape.

Messages framing housing as infrastructure tie directly to one of the administration’s priorities, and have long-term narrative change benefits as well. We hope that groups will find ways to weave this frame into their education efforts so that we can build a collective case for how our work positively impacts local communities.

This is why NHC has focused so much energy-- and why I have focused much of the last 25 years of my career-- on the importance of messaging and framing. We still too often attempt to educate and build support with messages tested only on ourselves, or assume that if we just show how bad the need is everyone will become a supporter. These assumptions have not been borne out by results, so it is time to change our approach. To that end we have a couple of resources for you to consider.

NHC hosted a webinar last week, “Why Housing Messages Backfire and What We Can Do.” Thanks to our partners at the FrameWorks Institute and Enterprise Community Partners for speaking on this webinar, which attracted over 1,100 registrants. If you missed this webinar, you can view it and the slides on our website.

Another opportunity for you to consider is NHC’s Solutions for Housing Communications 2017 Convening, April 27-28 in Minneapolis. This event focuses on how overcoming community opposition is central to changing the narrative on affordable housing and community development locally, to ultimately create political will nationally. Early bird registration is still available for this event, and members receive a significant discount. I hope to see you there. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Reducing the impact of trauma on vulnerable individuals and communities

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

A story in the Hechinger Report last month shows how schools in New Orleans have incorporated trauma-informed teaching methods and treat students as “sad, not bad.” I was struck by the parallels between this story and a previous NHC report, “Strengthening Economic Self-Sufficiency Programs,” which describes how constant exposure to high levels of toxic stress changes the way individuals’ brains process information and the way people will handle challenging situations. 

This means that traditional program designs or policies for affordable housing and other social programs may be in direct contrast to the needs of the population they serve. Strict rules and zero tolerance standards can be triggers for additional stress and trauma. Programs that are guided by this understanding are often referred to as “trauma-informed.” Trauma-informed policies and teaching strategies are flexible and empower individuals to guide their process and be reflective and are critical to effectively serving individuals who are exposed to constant toxic stresses such as violence, poverty and marginalization.

It can be particularly challenging for children who have experienced trauma to follow strict school behavioral rules and this often leads to suspensions causing them to miss days of learning, which can further add to a child’s stress if they fall behind their peers. The schools described in the Hechinger Report have shifted away from zero-tolerance behavioral policies that result in suspension and expulsion, and instead work one-on-one with students to work through the challenges the student faces while offering them support to sort through their feelings in a safe environment. 

In the housing sphere, organizations like BRIDGE Housing have taken a trauma-informed approach to community building by working to “de-escalate chaos and stress” for residents and focus on building stronger interpersonal connections and empowering them to take leadership in building community.  

As the national discussion on how to support the well-being of marginalized groups and individuals continues, it is important to develop trauma-informed strategies that reflect the complex experiences and needs of individuals who have experienced serious trauma. If your organization uses trauma-informed strategies in its work, I’d like to hear from you. Please share them in the comments or contact me.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Appropriations will be messy, again

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Legislative battles over federal spending decisions are gearing up again, both for the already delayed FY 2017 appropriations and the upcoming FY 2018 budget. Affordable housing should be a priority, but with the many downward pressures on non-defense discretionary spending, only a very strong united push from housing stakeholders can be effective.

First, consider what most is in jeopardy. Politically, the last thing any elected official wants to cut is something that displaces or evicts people. Within HUD, 80 percent to 85 percent of the annual budget simply keeps people housed: project-based rental assistance, Housing Choice Vouchers, public housing and homeless assistance programs. The remainder is mostly HOME and CDBG, the block grant programs that go to help create housing, preserve housing and help people who haven’t yet been helped.

For FY 2017 spending, which Congress must address in April when the current continuing resolution (CR) expires, Congress will be seeking the path of least pain. Just extending the CR won’t entirely work for affordable housing, because program costs rise with rents, and as we all know, rents are going up. But to create what’s called an anomaly in the CR to pay rising rental cost, Congress needs to find money from elsewhere to stay under the budget caps. Often, this money comes from within the same appropriations bill, but that is more a custom than a requirement. As we are all seeing, past performance is not necessarily a predictor of future results.

The picture for FY 2018 looks similar, in that the underlying tension between rising costs and the limited reach of existing assistance remains. The budget cap under current law is even tighter for FY 2018 because sequestration caps are back in force, unless Congress changes it. Furthermore, decisions on several other fronts will affect how much money there is to spend. A new infrastructure spending bill seems likely soon, although funding sources are unclear. The Trump Administration has promised a border wall, and House Speaker Paul Ryan has discussed a supplemental appropriations bill to pay for it. Tax reform is in the works, too, and the Trump Administration has expressed a desire to increase military spending. Factor in the surprises that always seem to complicate federal policy, and the competition for scarce federal dollars looks to be intense.

Unity is our best strategy in this environment. Strong, coordinated voices calling for investment in affordable housing as part of economicinfrastructure, as a basic part of the safety net and as a key to revitalizing communities can make a difference. If, however, we choose what NHC President Chris Estes calls “siloed defense” that supports one housing program by cutting down others, we will ultimately lose. A variety of voices making the case for housing in different ways will be most effective with some baseline coordination as we all communicate our messages.

NHC is working to bring national organizations with voices on housing together and to be a resource for all housing stakeholders in their advocacy. We aim to coordinate more than lead, because we want to make your voices stronger. Existing campaigns like CHCDF, NDD United, the ACTION Campaign, United for Homes, Home Matters and others are making a difference thanks to the many voices that support them.

It’s going to be a challenging season, during which we need champions on both sides of the aisle who understand the value of investing in housing. And if you think appropriations are messy, just wait for tax reform.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Housing is infrastructure

by Kaitlyn Snyder & Rebekah King, National Housing Conference 

Housing provides infrastructure our neighborhoods and cities need to thrive; it provides a home to the workers who are keeping local businesses running. Having affordable housing near jobs helps connect people to economic activity, just in a slightly different way than roads, bridges and airports do. At the National Housing Conference, we’re concerned that our country’s affordable housing infrastructure is not meeting our nation’s needs, and we hope to see affordable housing included in any major infrastructure legislation.

Much like bridges or roads, housing infrastructure lasts a long time and can be an asset or an eyesore in communities, depending on how well we maintain it. Some parts of our nation’s transportation and housing infrastructure is aging and chronic disinvestment has left some of it unable to meet growing demand. A prime example is some of our public housing stock, the oldest of which dates back to the 1930s, and which has seen many years of inadequate capital funding. Other privately owned affordable housing properties also need preservation, as affordability covenants expire and structures age. Fortunately, we have proven solutions for recapitalizing existing affordable housing, usually relying on the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit in combination with other public and private resources. Public housing in particular has made great use of the Rental Assistance Demonstration to preserve affordability and invest for the long term. To make sure public-private partnership approaches can reach all of the communities with preservation needs, affordable housing infrastructure needs more investment to meet growing demand.

In places that are thriving we need more affordable housing, just like we need more transportation options, water connections, roads and schools to address growing populations. Building housing, especially affordable housing, near job centers ensures that the workforce has a place to sleep at night and would help to ease congestion on transportation infrastructure – be it roads or mass transit. In places that are seeing population declines, we need to revitalize the existing infrastructure to make it attractive to potential new residents and to assure businesses that their investment can attract workers.

In addition to the need to meet growing demand, we’ve made technological advancements that should be standard in any new housing. Housing, as is true with all infrastructure, can serve as a skeleton that is continually improved upon as new technology becomes available. Despite our lead reduction efforts, too many of our nation’s homes still have lead in them and pose serious threats to our children. We know the power of improvements like energy efficiency, access to broadband and strong air filtration systems to reduce energy bills, improve educational and economic outcomes and improve health. These cost-effective improvements should be more widely available.

Any infrastructure package put forth by President Trump and Congress should include funding to improve access to affordable housing and ensure that it is a long-lasting community asset. We encourage others to think about infrastructure in this holistic way to address our nation’s structural needs. This post is the first in a series from members of the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding tying housing to infrastructure. Look for the next blog post from the Housing Assistance Council on February 8.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Placing housing costs in context

by Brian Stromberg,
National Housing Conference

National data on an issue like housing affordability is important to informing the creation of good federal policy. However, as with most things, the national perspective can miss the multitudes of experiences for different communities. Part of this comes from the relationship between housing costs and the other costs that households have to negotiate. Taking the time to examine the impact of these various expenditures on the ground for different households in different parts of the country is just as important as presenting a broad national picture. 

"More than Housing," a supplement to the 2016 version of our annual report, "Paycheck to Paycheck," describes how housing affordability can vary from household to household, depending on how much money they make, whether they rent or own and what part of the country they live in. One characteristic that is nearly universal across the United States is that households spend more on housing costs than on any other expense, whether renting or owning, low-income or high-income. However, housing costs vary significantly between certain demographic groups. 

Take, for example, the difference that income makes in what percentage of a household’s earnings go toward housing costs. For households in the top 20 percent of earners (the highest quintile), housing costs take up just under 30 percent of total household expenditures. For households in the bottom 20 percent (the lowest quintile), housing costs are significantly higher at 40 percent.

Looking even more closely at this bottom 20 percent, the disparity increases more when tenure is taken into account. Housing costs take up nearly 50 percent of household expenditures for renters in the bottom 20 percent, while owners’ share of expenditures on housing is around 38 percent.

Income is just one of the socioeconomic factors under consideration in the supplement. The others, which include tenure and geography, provide even more context for understanding how housing affordability plays out for individual households. You can find the supplemental report here, and make sure to check out the main "Paycheck to Paycheck" report, as well. While you’re at it, also try out the data tool to learn more about affordability in your community.