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.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Housers must unite to face the challenges of 2017

by Chris Estes, 
National Housing Conference

I hope you had a safe enjoyable holiday season! All of us here at NHC wish you a happy and successful 2017.

With the new year comes the launch of our new logo, which you may have noticed in the banner of this email. After NHC and its research affiliate, the Center for Housing Policy were combined in 2013, we undertook a strategic planning effort to renew the organization’s work and strategies. Coming out of this effort, NHC launched a rebranding process to ensure that how we talk about ourselves matches our work plan and role in the affordable housing and community development sector.

What you’ll notice first, along with our updated logo, is that all of our future research publications will be published exclusively by NHC. This streamlined approach will help our relatively small organization stand out in a crowded D.C. advocacy landscape.

This positioning comes at a time in which a broad-based coalition of affordable housing organizations is needed more than ever. USDA and HUD housing programs will face pressure from both deficit reduction and other spending and tax cuts. Adding to that uncertainty will be tax reform efforts impacting the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program.

It will be critical for our community to have a national voice and coalition-building organization that can advocate for bipartisan solutions. There are will be many opportunities for reform and needed change, as well as for informed dialog on what to protect.

NHC will build on our How Housing Matters conference and Solutions for Affordable Housing convening of December 2016. How Housing Matters highlighted the significant evidence and success in cross-sector partnerships that improve outcomes in education, economic opportunity and health through affordable housing. We are committed to working with other national partners on keeping this evidence and practice at the forefront of future policy and budgetary discussions at all levels of government going forward.

At Solutions for Affordable Housing we featured discussions about the future of major housing issues as well as what we can learn from innovations at the local and state levels. These include important issues like the many connections between housing and opportunity and the future of public housing, as well as the National Flood Insurance Program and the impact of the lack of access to credit on homeownership, which have received less attention.

Going forward these issues represent coalition-building opportunities for NHC and our member-partners to engage with the new Congress and presidential administration as we work to improve the environment for affordable housing in this country.

We look forward to being a consistent source of information for our members over the coming year and to partnering on important policy opportunities with other national, state and local housing groups across the housing continuum. These are all reasons why being a member and supporter of NHC is so valuable. We thank you for your support and hope you will continue to help NHC in our work in 2017!

New Year’s resolutions for Fannie and Freddie

by Ethan Handelman,
National Housing Conference

In the middle of December, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) released its final rule implementing the Duty to Serve obligation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2008. The rule creates a process for Fannie and Freddie to create underserved market plans that lay out ways each company will try to better reach people and places not currently well-served by the mortgage market. Unlike the typical case of a final rule, this one means it’s time for you to get involved. Fannie, Freddie and FHFA are listening to your ideas for these underserved market plans, so now’s the time to propose ideas, even more so than during the rulemaking process.

Here’s my super quick version of what is to come with Duty to Serve (for more detail, FHFA has a fact sheet and the rule itself):

FHFA issues evaluation guidance, which then starts a 90-day drafting period for Fannie’s and Freddie’s underserved market plans.
Fannie and Freddie each submit draft underserved markets plans to FHFA for review and for public comment (60 days).
Comments from FHFA and the public may result in revisions, after which we can expect FHFA to issue (at its discretion) the precisely named non-objections to the three sections of each plan.
Fannie and Freddie then implement their three-year plans with periodic reporting to FHFA and opportunity to request changes.
FHFA will evaluate performance annually, and in three years the cycle begins again.

Now is the time to propose ideas for what Fannie and Freddie can do in their plans. FHFA was careful not to be prescriptive in the final rule; much of the detail will emerge in the plans. Types of activities include outreach to underserved market participants, development of loan products, purchases of loans and investments (but not grants, under conservatorship). The activities must fit into the three types of underserved markets laid out in statute: Manufactured housing, affordable housing preservation and rural housing.

There’s lots of room for interesting affordable housing work in each of those areas. Have a nifty loan product you’d like to see tested? Want to make sure Fannie and Freddie only purchase sustainable chattel loans on manufactured homes? Are there ways to preserve apartment properties you think Fannie and Freddie should expand? Do you know better ways to expand rural housing lending? Share your ideas at one of the listening sessions coming up between Jan. 25 and Feb. 9, then watch for the underserved market plans to be released and comment on what they propose.

These underserved market plans will be like New Year’s resolutions, with the essential addition of an independent federal agency making sure they are followed. Get involved to make sure the Duty to Serve makes real, positive change.

What to expect from NHC’s research lab in 2017

by Janet Viveiros,
National Housing Conference

As we move into the new year, NHC is excited to pursue its 2017 research agenda, which will continue our work on evaluating the housing affordability challenges of low- and moderate-income households, examining how housing intersects with health, education and economic opportunity and exploring how to preserve and create inclusive communities.

We will start the year with the January 10 release of “Paycheck to Paycheck: More Than Housing,” a research supplement, which puts data from “Paycheck to Paycheck 2016” in context by examining spending on housing combined  with other household spending. Despite a recovering economy, many households still struggle to cover their rent check or mortgage payment each month. These struggles also have an impact on their ability to buy nutritious food, access health care or medications or deal with other financial needs. While high housing costs on both the East and West Coasts contribute to housing affordability challenges there, many people in low-cost regions also face serious obstacles to finding affordable housing.

Building upon the discussion at the How Housing Matters Conference in December, NHC will convene at housing and health working group with practitioners from both sectors. The working group will meet over the course of the year to learn from each other about innovative ways to create sustainable cross-sector partnerships and initiatives to support the well-being of low-income households by addressing social determinants of health. Working group members will also tackle some of the barriers practitioners face when creating partnerships, and develop a knowledge base that will help both fields better understand the steps needed to pursue viable partnerships across the housing and health silos.

Early this year, NHC will also begin releasing an updated and revised guide from HousingPolicy.org, a resource developed by the Center for Housing Policy before its merger with NHC. The guide explores numerous strategies for creating and preserving quality, affordable housing that meets different needs for households with low- and moderate-incomes. This online affordable housing policy guide will also be a resource for individuals looking to learn more about a wide variety of policies and programs at the federal, state and local level that support the development or preservation of affordable housing to rent or own. We will add to the policy guide over the course of the next year to create a comprehensive source of information on affordable housing policies and programs.

As we get further into 2017, there will be much more to come from NHC’s research department. We also want to hear from all of you. What resources and research does the field need in 2017? Get in touch and let us know what research you want to see from NHC this year.

NHP Foundation celebrates progress on massive apartment rehabilitation

by Andrea Nesby, 
National Housing Conference 

On Dec. 19, 2016, NHC member the NHP Foundation (NHPF) welcomed Texas state and local officials to tour to-date $40.9 million renovations on a multifamily housing community. The NHP Foundation received funding to renovate Cleme Manor Apartments, a 284-apartment complex located in the Fifth Ward neighborhood in Houston. 

From left to right: Richard Burns, CEO, NHP Foundation; Mark Montgomery, president, BBVA Houston City; Kathy Blueford-Daniels, president, Greater Fifth Ward; Tom McCasland, director, HCDD and Dr. Edward Pringle, director, Houston U.S. Housing and Urban Development
photo by: Kevin Dunn
“Cleme Manor is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for NHPF,” said NHPF’s president and CEO Richard Burns. “Because of its scale, unique needs and the impending aesthetic changes and updates to the neighborhood, Cleme Manor has provided NHPF with an unusually robust chance to ‘get in on the ground-floor’ and play an essential part in the early stages of an exciting neighborhood revitalization.[a1]  We are excited and grateful to have this opportunity to deliver a sustainably improved living environment for the residents of Cleme Manor Apartments and additional high-quality affordable housing for the city of Houston.”

Through funding and partnerships with PNC Bank N.A., BBVA Compass, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National Affordable Housing Trust, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs and the City of Houston, NHPF has been able to complete renovations the property has not seen in over 20 years, including the installation of new drywall, Energy Star appliances, doors, higher efficiency HVAC units and water heaters, windows, water savings improvements and more. Construction of a new play area, tot lot and renovation of the office, community space and laundry facilities are underway.  

The project started in October 2016 and is expected to wrap up by December 2017.

Is your organization part of restoring and rehabilitating a community development? If so, NHC’s Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force may be of interest to you.  NHC lifts up best practices for comprehensive community development like NHPF’s Cleme Manor Apartments rehabilitation to help those neighborhoods still struggling to recover from the foreclosure crisis, the recession or many years of underinvestment and neglect. For more information or to participate in the task force, contact NHC policy and research associate Kaitlyn Snyder.

NHC’s back-to-back events bring multiple sectors together

by Andrea Nesby,
National Housing Conference

On Dec. 13 and 14, NHC hosted our How Housing Matters Conference and Solutions for Affordable Housing policy convening.

Photo by: Rob Cohen Photography
How Housing Matters brought together close to 500 practitioners from the housing, education, health and private sectors. Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research Katherine M. O’Regan of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development opened the conference with a presentation on cross-sector collaboration at HUD, and the conference continued with sessions on connecting housing to economic security, building bridges between education and housing stakeholders and improving community health through collaboration. The discussions were augmented by NHC’s newest housing intersections research.

Close to 200 practitioners from various sectors joined us for our Solutions for Affordable Housing policy convening on Dec. 14. At Solutions, attendees engaged in discussions with national and local leaders in the affordable housing field and networked with colleagues. Breakout sessions ranged from rental housing innovations to floods and disasters. At the plenary sessions, the post-election outlook and housing finance reform were discussed.

Both events were held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. NHC thanks everyone who attended these events, all speakers and moderators and sponsors! View both event pages to view available presentations, recordings and photos. 

NHC’s next event is Solutions for Housing Communications on April 27–28 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Sign up for updates here. We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

6 tips for crafting a successful housing campaign

by Andrea Nesby and Amy Clark, 
National Housing Conference

The new year offers us an opportunity for a fresh start in our work, and this can mean starting a campaign. Campaigns can be a great away to connect with the community, promote our organizations, strengthen current relationships or create new ones. Most importantly, campaigns can help us achieve goals that benefit those who need our services and the community at large.

When it comes to housing campaigns, we believe every campaign needs these six key components to be successful.

Well-defined purpose and audience. Simply put, you won’t know if your campaign has been successful if you haven’t defined what, exactly, you want it to accomplish. And “raising awareness,” while a seemingly laudable goal, is often short on payoff. Once people are aware of the need for affordable housing, what do you want them to do? The to-do part is the true purpose of your campaign. Make it your focus.

Once you know the purpose, you’ll be just steps from defining your audience. Target your campaign at the people or entities who have the power to make the changes you want to see—or can influence those with the power. For example, if you want your city to adopt an affordability overlay as part of its zoning, your audience may include city elected officials, as well as the constituencies they pay attention to.

Clear, action-focused messaging. We recommend developing three to five key messages that can be repurposed and reinforced in all campaign outreach. Make sure these key messages have relevancy and a human, emotional angle. If you’re looking to garner media attention, this is what news organization will gravitate toward. Furthermore, when crafting these messages, you should always ask yourself why the community should care about your campaign. The answer should guide your messaging.

The campaign’s goals should be clear in all outreach materials, including online. You can make your campaign materials and online presence look as snazzy as you want, but it will all be for nothing if people are unsure or don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve.  Be sure to clearly state what the problem your campaign is aiming to resolve then provide a concise list of what is the campaign’s goal(s). Having a projected date to achieving the goal(s) will give your campaign a sense of urgency.

Clear calls to action that give your audience something to do. When you have the community’s attention, you will need to inform them how they can help. We suggest having no more than three calls to action. If you want community members to sign a letter, donate, volunteer or help spread the word, then these calls to action should all be clearly stated in all your communications.  You’ll also want to make it easy and accessible for people to support. Easy online giving, simple volunteer forms and one-click email sign up are all essential, especially for engaging Millennials.

Stories and eye-catching visuals. Stories are an effective way of humanizing your campaign goals and communicating facts in a way people will remember. Visuals—photos as well as graphics that communicate and reinforce data points—make a statement the way words alone cannot. And short videos are especially effective, particularly on social media! Do take care to tell stories about the broader impacts of housing on the community and economy, not just on those individuals in need of an affordable home. This will help your target audiences see benefit for themselves in the campaign’s goals, making them more likely to support it.

Politician and influencer participation. Getting elected officials and other influential members of your community on board with your campaign can help give it legitimacy, connect your campaign with different segments of your community and draw media attention. And if your campaign goals involve legislation, elected officials can be particularly useful in “advocating up” to their lawmaking colleagues. Use quotes from elected officials and influential community members in campaign literature, social media and as testimonials, and invite them to speak at campaign events.

It’s also important to be mindful that representatives of your organization are often not the most effective campaign spokespeople. Instead, use a mix of people who will be positively impacted by the campaign’s goals, and campaign supporters who represent the groups or interests your audience pays attention to.

Unified coalition of supporters. A long list of respected community organizations and individuals supporting your campaign demonstrates a broad base of support for your idea. It also provides your campaign with the “boots on the ground” to do the work of the campaign, be it attending community meetings, raising money or getting out the vote.

While a broad and deep supporter base is invaluable, the point we made earlier about key messages will increase in importance the larger your coalition becomes. Educate new partners about the campaign plan and get them on board with using the messages in a way that will be effective, while leaving some room for partners to tailor the messages to the needs and interests of their target audiences.

We hope these tips are helpful.

What strategies have you used to create successful campaigns?