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. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Home and neighborhood are key ingredients for economic opportunity

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

In reading “As D.C. families get richer, staggering disparities persist, report finds” in the Washington Post last month, I found myself thinking about the role that a home and neighborhood plays in an individual’s access to opportunity. As stated in the article, as the overall incomes of households have risen recently, low-income households have been displaced from neighborhoods undergoing rapid increases in rent and home prices to neighborhoods in the city with less opportunity.

This is a serious problem because displacement of low-income households to neighborhoods with higher crime rates, less access to services, weaker educational options and lower-quality housing can not only have immediate negative impacts on individuals, but also limit their chances for economic mobility in the future.

Research has demonstrated that constant, toxic stress created by “persistent poverty, trauma  and social bias—stresses commonly faced by low-income households” can change the way that people make decisions. It alters a person’s focus to be reactive and deal with constant crisis. In addition to the importance of living in a safe neighborhood with quality schools, access to transportation and services, access to affordable, safe and decent housing is also critical for its myriad positive impacts on a person’s life. One of those is providing a platform for economic opportunity.

Living in a quality home in a safe, connected neighborhood can reduce some of those toxic stressors for low-income households. It also can free up time and energy to focus on pursuing jobs, education or training to enhance their economic opportunities because they do not have to worry about the condition or cost of their housing.

In our recent webinar, “Affordable Housing: A Key Platform for Economic Mobility,” we discussed ways affordable housing can help contribute to financial stability and serve as a vehicle for delivering financial education or housing counseling services to help individuals pursue their financial and economic goals. In particular, this webinar addressed how to continue this work in a way that would elicit bipartisan support. You can view the webinar recording and access resources here

Congress reaches agreement on omnibus appropriations bill for FY 2017

by Kaitlyn Snyder and Rebekah King

Last night, the House Rules Committee dropped the omnibus spending bill that would fund the federal government for the remainder of FY 2017, through September 30, 2017. Many programs saw slight increases in funding compared to last year, but overall funding is essentially flat, especially when considered relative to rising housing costs. Notably, this budget does not include requests by President Trump to zero out Choice Neighborhoods and SHOP and to fund CDBG at $1.5 billion.

The chart below shows HUD and USDA funding for selected programs for the newly released FY 2017 omnibus, President Obama’s FY 2017 budget request and enacted funding levels going back to FY 2014. Red numbers indicate decreases compared to FY 2016 enacted levels, green numbers indicate increases, blue numbers indicate increases from FY 2016 but lower-than-historical levels and black numbers indicate flat funding.

Also included in the bill are provisions that:
  • Extend the sunset provision for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness to Oct. 1, 2018 (p.1631);
  • Raise the Rental Assistance Demonstration cap to 225,000 units (p. 1624);
  • Appropriate $15 million for  the Jobs Plus program within the public housing funding (p.1562); and 
  • Continue allowing private owners of Section 8 properties to make Family Self-Sufficiency programs (already available in participating public housing properties) available to residents. (p.1567)

The bill does not include the expansion of RAD to Section 202 Project Rental Assistance contracts.

Congress needs to vote on the package by Friday, May 5, when the short-term continuing resolution expires.