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.