Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What we learned at Solutions for Housing Communications

by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference

At Solutions for Housing Communications last week, housers from 28 states and Canada joined us in New York to learn and discuss ways to build support for affordable housing and counter community opposition. I was impressed with the quality of discussion and the insights both our speakers and guests brought to the event. Here are a few of my take-aways:

·         Be unprepared. Many developers have the greatest success in building support when they begin the conversation in the community without a detailed plan in place. It’s harder for community members to trust a developer’s willingness to hear their concerns and work with them when the big decisions have already been made.

·         It takes a village. Affordable housing developers can't address all concerns on their own, and community meetings aren't the only path to building support. Similar to our policy advocacy efforts, we have the best chance of succeeding when we build relationships outside of housing, cultivate supporters from the broader community and grow support for our developments amongst key elected officials.

·         We may get the development done, but we might not be creating community. It's tempting to find ways to just push developments through. But when that happens, the receiving community may not ever truly accept the new development and its residents. This sets the stage for continued conflict and makes it more difficult for the next affordable development to gain support.

·         The law is an option. Sometimes, good communications, organizing and strategy can build the support necessary to move an affordable development forward. But when all reasonable concerns have been addressed, and the opposition is as strong as ever, it may be time bring in a civil rights attorney. Federal fair housing laws can provide significant protection to affordable housing development, as can local laws. Simply making local elected officials and members of the public aware of the laws can provide leverage.

·         Our communication needs to change. In our final plenary, we learned that while the housing community engages in some good communications practices, we have improvements to make, particularly in providing more and better explanations of the structural problems were trying to solve, and in using metaphors to make those explanations come alive. Many state groups are leading the way on this, and housers, particularly those of us working at the national level, should take note.

If you missed this convening, you can still view all the plenary sessions online (where presentations will be posted soon). And I hope you'll join us to continue the conversation in Minneapolis April 27-28 for Solutions for Housing Communications 2017.

Partnerships that build community

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

We are still running on the great energy from our Solutions for Housing Communications Convening in New York last week. Thanks again to our sponsors, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Nixon Peabody and BNY Mellon, and to our speakers, who made this event such a success.  With folks coming from 28 different states and Canada, our attendees were the real star of the show and we are already looking forward to seeing you next year in Minneapolis! Amy has a summary of the convening below.

Our attention now shifts to our 44th Annual Housing Visionary Award Gala and Policy Symposium on June 2 and 3 here in Washington, D.C. These events comprise two days of focus on what matters most to the affordable housing community: the policies and practices that will move housing forward.

We’ll begin with an evening of celebration, networking and reflection at the Housing Visionary Award Gala. We’ll recognize NHC’s 85 years of building the affordable housing movement with you, our members and friends, and learn what two of our nation’s leading rural housing organizations are doing to create partnerships that build community.

This year we are pleased to honor Rural LISC and the Housing Assistance Council for their decades of work on rural housing issues across this country. This is a great opportunity to celebrate and come together as a field as we lift up the successes and ongoing challenges of providing quality, affordable homes in rural America.

This year’s Gala is chaired by Michael M. Horn, Chairman of the Council of Federal Home Loan Banks, and Martin Sundquist, Senior Vice President & Director of the Wells Fargo Foundation. They lead a team of volunteers who are working to secure sponsorship and tables for the gala.

As this is NHC’s most important fundraising event, your support is vital for NHC to continue our work in serving as a resource on policy, communications and research to support the field and move it forward. You can secure your tickets and choose your sponsorship level on our website.

The next day, we will explore the role of housing in shaping economic change for individuals and communities at our Annual Policy Symposium. The Symposium will feature Lisa Mensah, Under Secretary for Rural Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture as our opening keynote. She will be followed by two panel presentations that look at the role of housing in personal and community well-being.

Rural Communities in Transition will discuss how housing policy is shaping development in rural areas rapidly changing to exurban or suburban areas and how lending and development is responding. Panelists will explore what that means for housing affordability, economic development and future public-private partnerships.

Housing's Place in Solving Poverty will feature ways housing programs are helping households become more self-sufficient, and what policy changes could enable more people to move out of poverty. They will also dive deep into some of the key details that make housing distinct in poverty responses.

The symposium is complimentary and will be offered via webcast and archived for those of you unable to attend in person.

I hope you will take this opportunity to support NHC by being a sponsor at this year’s Housing Visionary Award Gala!

North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People’s Mercy Box Movement spreads statewide

News from NHC's family of members
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

The North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People, an NHC member, recently began a partnership with Surprise Church and other community organizations to provide bags of essential care items to people experiencing homelessness. “Mercy Box” drop off sites were set up in six cities across the state to accept donations of unused travel-sized personal care items, socks, first aid supplies, pre-packaged snacks and more.

Boxes were set up in Bismarck, Devils Lake, Dickinson, Fargo, Minot and Jamestown for community members to drop off item throughout the month of April. In addition to the Coalition, churches, health care facilities, local businesses and area nonprofits also participated in the movement. Once items are collected from each box, volunteers will meet on May 15 to sort, stuff and distribute them to community members. Volunteers and community members can then keep some of the bags in their cars and give them away whenever they come across someone who is experiencing homelessness. All other bags are donated to nonprofit service organizations in the community.

“Over 10,000 people across North Dakota are expected to experience homelessness this year alone,” the Coalition’s Director of Communications and Development, Emily Dazell, said in a press release. “The need has never been greater to be able to actively care for people experiencing homelessness.”

NHC advocates for increases in funding for federal programs that are working to end homelessness. In March we signed onto a letter to the Senate advocating for an increase in the 302(b) allocation for housing, including HUD programs that address homelessness. NHC will continue to monitor progress of these efforts.

To learn more about the Mercy Box Movement and the North Dakota Coalition for Homeless people, click here.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Habitat for Humanity International supports SAFE lending act with new video

News from NHC's family of members
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

Advocacy to stop predatory loans, including payday loans, vehicle title loans, and other short-term high-interest debt, continues with NHC member Habitat for Humanity International’s new advocacy video describing why the organization is for ending predatory lending and supports the Stopping Abuse and Fraud in Electronic (SAFE) Lending Act, which would restrain predatory lending practices and promote financial stability.

Predatory loans are often marketed to low-income households and, due to the cycle of debt they create, prevent many potential homeowners from qualifying for Habitat’s affordable housing programs. The SAFE Lending Act aims to curtail payday lending through three key provisions: ensuring consumers’ bank accounts cannot be emptied before consumers have a chance to assert their rights; increasing transparency and avoiding hidden fees; and banning lead generators and anonymous payday lending practices. Habitat’s video features leaders from its affiliates in Charlotte, Colorado, Georgia and Louisiana explaining how predatory loans create negative implications for low-income households who may otherwise qualify for affordable housing programs.

“Predatory lending in any form, whether online or in-person, must be addressed if we are to see individuals of all income levels reach financial stability,” said Elisabeth Gehl, associate director of federal relations at Habitat for Humanity International, in a press release. “Habitat supports regulations that are reasonable to both lenders and borrowers. Without responsible regulation, the debt trap that payday loans, car title loans and other predatory lending practices create will continue to prevent lower-income people from becoming first-time homebuyers and impinge on lower-income individuals’ ability to pay their mortgage, rent or other critical expenses.”

You can learn more about Habitat’s efforts to curb predatory lending in its advocacy video here.

The affordable housing roundtable on Duty to Serve

What we're building 
by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

“I love it when a plan comes together.”
       -John “Hannibal” Smith, The A-Team

 Hannibal’s trademark line, while entertainingly self-aggrandizing, also pointed to a joy we don’t encounter enough in policy circles. Cooperation, a team synchronizing its efforts toward a common goal (be that a cannon made from logs or permanent supportive housing), is a beautiful thing. In housing, we are often so focused on the arcane details of our particular, vexing real estate or social or political challenges that we do not come together in common purpose. Fortunately, a session last month furnished me the opportunity to help and observe housing groups come together to guide the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) toward a successful Duty to Serve rule.

FHFA asked me and Sarah Edelman from the Center for American Progress to coordinate stakeholders for a roundtable on the Duty to Serve proposed rule. (In case you missed it, the Duty to Serve rule implements a 2008 statute directing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to finance affordable housing in underserved parts of the housing market.) The participants came from affordable housing, civil rights, environmental and consumer advocacy organizations, all of whom commented in detail on the proposed rule. This was one of four roundtables FHFA convened with different groups of commenters.

The group did an impressive job of helping FHFA think through the complex issues raised by Duty to Serve, each of which was the subject of detailed comment letters. Those comment letters went deep into the weeds of the rule and surfaced some legitimate differences of opinion on policy. All the participants, however, focused their roundtable remarks on the places of broadest agreement while giving FHFA clarity on points of disagreement. A few examples of topics we covered:
  •  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s purchases of Low Income Housing Tax Credits. There was more consensus than initially appeared, as all participants agreed that if the two mortgage companies reentered the Housing Credit market at all, their role should be carefully constrained.
  • Manufactured housing. Participants agreed that FHFA should have more than a property-size threshold for Duty to Serve credit, focusing more on resident protections.
  • Preserving affordable housing. Some participants focused on the role of Duty to Serve in promoting better financing for preservation of existing affordable housing properties that need new capital to extend affordability commitments and maintain physical viability. Other participants supported that mission but also saw room within Duty to Serve to include activities that preserve affordable housing opportunities in neighborhoods, especially those undergoing rapid economic change, by providing permanent financing for newly constructed apartments.
  • Residential economic diversity. Many participants saw value in encouraging Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to support activities that foster inclusive communities and align with other federal initiatives trying to change long-standing patterns of residential segregation. To the extent there was disagreement among the participants, it was more about the practicalities of how to target such activities and their relative weight in the process.

 We certainly covered other issues, and the comment letters on the Duty to Serve rule covered even more.  As FHFA works to develop the final rule, I expect most of the participants will reach out to the agency, especially to assist with the more technical questions that arise. 

CPDC breaks ground on Hollins House in Baltimore

New from NHC's family of members

by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

NHC member the Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC), in partnership with the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC), recently celebrated the groundbreaking of Hollins House, a community of affordable apartments for older adults and non-elderly disabled residents located in Southwest Baltimore. Hollins House is CPDC’s first affordable redevelopment project in Baltimore and its second partnership with a public housing authority.

As part of HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), Hollins House, which consists of 130 one-bedroom units, will receive more than $10 million in renovations and will remain permanently affordable to low-income families in the Hollins Market neighborhood. The apartments will receive new windows, upgraded floors, kitchens, bathrooms and HVAC. Balconies will be enclosed to help alleviate water infiltration issues and indoor living spaces will be expanded to enhance energy efficiency and improve the building’s exterior. Common areas will also receive significant upgrades including a new game room, a library with computer stations, expanded community space and a resident services office.

“This deal represents an important partnership with HABC to raise private capital via the conversion of public housing to project-based Section 8 through HUD’s RAD program,” Christopher LoPiano, CPDC’s senior vice president for real estate said in a press release. “This conversion will allow us to undertake more than $10 million in needed renovations while preserving the property’s long-term affordability."
The Hollins House affordable development will help to alleviate the housing cost burden that 24 percent of renters in Baltimore face. Our 2016 Housing Landscape database details the housing affordability challenges for people in Baltimore and in all 50 states and 50 metro areas around the country. Use the database to see what affordability is like in your community, and read “Housing Landscape 2016” here

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

How do we address housing needs of ex-offenders?

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

This week is National Re-entry Week, making it a good time to focus on the important role housing plays for people exiting the criminal justice system. For an individual leaving prison or jail, access to safe and affordable housing is vital to their successful re-entry into the community. Without access to affordable housing, ex-offenders are at great risk of homelessness and recidivism. Individuals with criminal histories face many challenges to access affordable housing, from the insufficient supply to exclusion by landlords and federal programs.

In thinking about this issue, it’s helpful to remind ourselves of the magnitude of the ex-offender population and trends: 
  • Between 70 million and 100 million Americans have a criminal record.
  • Over 1.5 million Americans are incarcerated in state and federal prisons; approximately 700,000 individuals are in jail. 
  • Over 600,000 Americans exit federal and state prison annually; over 11 million individuals cycle through local jails each year. 
  • Nearly 50,000 people a year enter homeless shelters immediately upon release from correctional facilities. 
  • Risk of recidivism greatly declines after an individual with a nonviolent conviction has remained crime free for 3-4 years; their risk of recidivism becomes equal to the general population’s risk of arrest.
Some housing providers have been thinking about how we can serve this large population with criminal histories effectively. Given recent public housing and fair housing guidance from HUD and Congress’ efforts to tackle criminal justice reform, understanding how to serve this population is particularly relevant. It is also challenging because understanding how to evaluate a person’s criminal history is complex.

A person develops a criminal record upon being arrested, even if not criminally charged. This arrest record can then become a barrier to federally assisted or privately owned housing. Arrests, criminal charges, convictions, misdemeanors, felonies, violent versus non-violent offenses -- all of these factors illustrate why treating every individual with a criminal history the same is problematic. It also illustrates the complexity of criminal histories and the challenge in providing housing to serve this population. Here are four examples of possible approaches:
  • CSH has been developing the FUSE model in a number of jurisdictions. This program, the Frequent User Service Enhancement (FUSE) program began in New York City, providing supportive housing to people with higher use of the shelter and criminal justice systems. After 12 months, 91 percent of FUSE participants were still housed, compared to 28 percent of the comparison group. They also spent 19 fewer days incarcerated, a 40 percent reduction over the comparison group.
  • Salt Lake County Utah and its Public Housing Authority created a program to help people with special needs secure housing using HOME funds. This Homeless Assistance Rental Project provides housing placement services and rental assistance to individuals with a criminal history and people waiting for release from mental health or substance abuse treatment centers. The program also ensures landlords against damages or eviction proceedings. Salt Lake County expanded the program after its first year because of its success. 
  • New York City Housing Authority is piloting a family reunification program. This two year pilot will work with 150 former inmates that have been released from prison in the last 3 years. These inmates will receive supportive reentry services while living with their family in a public housing unit; upon successful completion of the program, they will be added to their family’s lease and permanently allowed to remain with their family. 
  • Communities are also exploring landlord risk mitigation funds to help encourage private landlords to rent to tenants with criminal histories.