Thursday, August 3, 2017

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

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

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


by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to grow the economy? Then shrink community opposition.

by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference 

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

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

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