Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Making neighborhoods great

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference 

We are excited to announce more details about our Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods 2015 Convening, Nov. 5-6 in New Orleans. By holding our convenings beyond D.C. in different parts of the country each year, we bring a regional flavor to national events and make these networking and learning opportunities more accessible to folks in different parts of the country. This year we are excited to highlight the tremendous redevelopment work that has happened in New Orleans in the 10 years after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. This opportunity to tour revitalized neighborhoods as well as learn from a very diverse group of participants is a unique one for those in the affordable housing community.

On the opening day of Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods we will offer two mobile workshop tours of this work. These tours focus not on disaster recovery but on comprehensive redevelopment, as much of the city’s housing stock needed to be redesigned and redeveloped prior to those catastrophic events.

Habitat for Humanity New Orleans is offering a mobile workshop in the Ninth Ward. This holistic examination will include urban gardens, Habitat model homes, Musicians Village, green building, Make It Right home and much more. Enterprise Community Partners will host a workshop in the famous Treme neighborhood that is now poised for a major revival. This tour will look at housing efforts along with other investments in education, greenspace, healthcare, arts and infrastructure, providing a model for comprehensive community development.

You won’t want to miss this unique opportunity to network with other attendees from local government, development, lending, service provision, syndication, state government and other fields as well as see this work in person on these two tour options. Visit our website for more details on the workshop offerings as well as registration and discounted hotel rooms (which are filling up fast).

The subject matter of Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods is part of NHC’s year-round work. This week senior research associate Janet Viveiros and I are in Portland, Maine for a meeting with the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition. Janet is presenting some of her work to help those in housing understand more about the changes in healthcare and how housing groups and health agencies can be successful partners. This is especially important for Maine, which has significant housing issues for its older adult population as well as an upcoming referendum on bonds to fund housing efforts for seniors to reduce their health care costs. There will be more discussion on these issues at Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods with Janet moderating a workshop on collaboration and innovation in affordable housing and health.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Kicking off the Inclusive Communities Working Group

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

State and local leaders gathered in DC last week for the first meeting of our Inclusive Communities Working Group. What struck me most about this group wasn’t its commitment to the mission of affordable housing—I knew all were committed to that going in. Nor was it how smart and knowledgeable all the participants were—housing has a wealth of talent, and we were privileged to attract so much to this endeavor. 

Rather, I was struck by how the participants saw housing challenges in a broad and comprehensive way.  They saw how land use connects to affordability, how affordability connects to homelessness, how public resources and policy choices intersects racial and ethnic divisions, how public policy too often ignores the needs of people with disabilities and much more. Too often, one can predict that people’s perception of a policy issue derives directly from what they know well and see every day.  Builders want to build, lenders want to lend, service providers want to reach clients, etc. That’s not necessarily bad, but it is somewhat limited. There is a growing recognition that housing connects to transportation, education, employment, the environment and other issues in ways that demand creative solutions that break out of narrow silos. 

The initial discussions of this invitation-only working group are confidential, to promote the free exchange of ideas that we need. But a goal of the group is to produce new resources to share with everyone committed to the goal of inclusive communities. So, in coming months, look for webinars, research papers, conference sessions and more that draw on the insights from this group. Indeed, the very first one will be a roundtable discussion at the upcoming Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods convening this November in New Orleans. The meeting will bring members of the working group together with other stakeholders to further explore ideas presented in the first meeting.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Rebuilding Together awarded grant to continue post-Katrina community revitalization efforts

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

Lowe’s recently awarded $150,000 to NHC member Rebuilding Together to finance community revitalization efforts in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. The grant allowed Rebuilding Together to partner with Lowe’s for two days of service. Gentilly suffered some of Hurricane Katrina’s worst flooding and the revitalization effort celebrates the perseverance and recovery of this community.

In the 10 years since Katrina, Lowe’s and Rebuilding Together have partnered on several home repair projects to assist those who were impacted by the storm. This time around, the organizations will perform repairs for three longtime homeowners in Gentilly, and upgrade and improve the community’s Fire Station 27, which suffered extensive flooding damage as a result of the hurricane. Volunteers will also distribute hurricane preparedness kits to low-income homeowners in the area.

“Ten years after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, there is still some work to be done. Together, with the support of Lowe’s and the Lowe’s Heroes, we are transforming communities in New Orleans and moving closer to our vision of safe and healthy for every person,” Sandra Henriquez, interim president and CEO of Rebuilding Together said in a press release.

NHC will be in New Orleans next month for our second Solutions convening of 2015, Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods. The convening will explore solutions for creating affordable housing and revitalizing neighborhoods while looking at housing as a nexus connected to education, transportation, health, public safety and other social issues. Attendees will also get to see housing policy on the ground in two mobile workshops tours exploring revitalized New Orleans communities. Learn more about the convening and register here.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Lowe’s contributed $650,000 to help restore 10 of the 20 fire houses in the New Orleans Fire Department that suffered damages as a result of the storm. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

What I learned from a local affordable housing planning process

Developing strategies through research
by Lisa Sturtevant, Ph.D., National Housing Conference

On Saturday, Sept.19 I attended the meeting of the Arlington County (Virginia) Board when the five-member body unanimously approved an affordable housing plan and the associated implementation framework that will add thousands of new rental homes affordable to low-income individuals and families. This approval marks the culmination of a three -year community planning process, but also signals the beginning of the next phase, which includes the hard work of implementing the plan and measuring outcomes. The National Housing Conference, along with George Mason University, was part of the study team that conducted the housing needs analysis, collected data through surveys and focus groups, helped to develop policy options, coordinated community meetings and developed communications materials. At the end of the seven hour (!) board meeting—after testimony from more than 50 community members—I cheered along with the rest of the audience as five “ayes” from the dais set the path forward for affordable housing in Arlington.

Over the course of the 18 months that NHC was involved in the affordable housing planning process in Arlington, I learned a lot about how to draft and build consensus around an affordable housing plan. These are lessons, I think, that are valuable to other communities developing their own plans.
First, its important to have a common understanding of both current and future housing needs, and forecasts of need should be based on clear demographic and economic assumptions. One of the key elements of Arlingtons affordable housing plan is a goal of having 17.7 percent of all housing units (22,800 units) in the county be rental units affordable to households at or below 60 percent of area median income (AMI) by 2040. This specific number helped to focus efforts on households with the greatest needs. We developed these need forecasts based on clearly stated assumptions about demographic and economic trends in the region, and generated the forecasts independently and outside of a political process.

Second, data is very helpful to the process, and it is particularly important to have local data to help clarify the issues and respond to opposition. One of the biggest issues during the Arlington process was the geographic distribution of affordable housing in the county. The county was able to use its own data to display the distribution of affordable units in the past and where units would be in the future, given current land use plans and forecasts. These data and maps revealed that affordable housing in the county was, in fact, becoming more and not less dispersed. In addition, there were concerns raised about the impact on schools of concentrating affordable housing, with critics citing research on the benefits of deconcentrating poverty on school performance. The county made available data from Arlington Public Schools that showed that schools in neighborhoods with a lot of affordable rental housing performed better than many other schools across the county.

Third, community outreach that happens early, often and at key decision making points is important for having community consensus at the point of the final vote. At the final board meeting, there were more than 50 people who spoke about the plan. Of the 50 speakers, there were only two with very modest objections. Nearly every speaker praised the plan and the process, and the surge of community support made it easy for the board to vote yes, even the two members who had had reservations early on. Small group meetings, large group meetings, online participation—these were all important to bringing the community into the process. But even more important was the opportunity for public input to actually have an impact on the planning document. County staff made it clear that they were listening to community members and not talking at them.

And fourth, the impact of storytelling cannot be overstated. If you have a chance, its well worth your time to watch just a part of the nearly two hours of public testimony at the board meeting in support of the affordable housing plan. Two main types of stories were told. The first was the “Mi Voz Cuenta (My Voice Counts)” storyline. Concerns had been raised during the process that the plan concentrated affordable housing and that would be a negative for the affordable housing residents themselves. But many residents stood to talk about the benefits they received from having lived in a subsidized home in the county, and rejected the concerns others had for them. The other set of comments during the board meeting had the theme of “I am your neighbor.” School teachers, college graduates and millennials with children all stood to talk about how they have benefited from a county housing program and to show that residents of affordable housing were good neighbors. Im not ashamed to say that I teared up more than once during the impassioned speeches.

Of course these werent the only things that made the plan and process successful. Arlington has among the most dedicated and hardest working local government staff Ive ever met. They have elected officials with a long-held commitment to affordable housing. And they are a community that has as its vision that the county will be “a diverse and inclusive world-class urban community with secure, attractive residential and commercial neighborhoods where people unite to form a caring, learning, participating, sustainable community in which each person is important.” Arlington Countys affordable housing plan and implementation framework—and its process for making it a reality—can serve as a model for other local jurisdictions around the U.S.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

DC Housing Authority awards 13 ‘Commitment to Excellence’ scholarships

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

NHC member District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) is promoting education and self-sufficiency to residents of public housing through its ‘Commitment to Excellence’ scholarship program. Thirteen students who live in DCHA properties or are Housing Choice Voucher Program recipients were recently awarded $25,000 worth of scholarships.

Three students earned $5,000 scholarships and 10 others received $1,000 awards. Scholarship recipients must have met minimum requirements of at least a 2.0 GPA or a 225 minimum score on the GED exam. They attend or will attend various schools around the country including Hampton University, Trinity Washington University and the College of St. Joseph. DCHA sees the scholarships as investments in the futures of its recipients and a way of promoting self-sufficiency and higher education.

“DCHA Executive Director Adrianne Todman said it best when she said that the importance of a college degree or trade/technical training cannot be overstated,” Sherrill Hampton, director of DCHA’s Office of Resident Services said in a press release. “[We] believe in the power of education to help residents enhance self-sufficiency and achieve their dreams,” she added.

Research shows that a safe, affordable living environment has lasting positive impacts on a child’s ability to learn. Our research brief, The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Education demonstrates how stable, affordable housing reduces stress and lessons the likelihood of students dropping out.

Scholarship recipients range from freshman to graduate students. DCHA’s nonprofit subsidiary, Community Vision, Inc., assisted with awarding the scholarships. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Paycheck to Paycheck 2015 examines housing challenges of millennial workers

by Mindy Ault, National Housing Conference

In our 2015 edition of Paycheck to Paycheck, released today, we focus on housing affordability for millennials, the much discussed and stereotyped generation of young adults. Millennials, adults who were between the ages of 18 and 33 in 2013, make up about one-third of the U.S. workforce, and that share will grow as older workers retire and younger millennials finish their education and replace them in the labor market. We used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey to examine the demographic characteristics of this group to find that, contrary to their frequent portrayal in popular culture, this cohort is much more diverse than the archetype of the young urban hipster would indicate.

Millennials, as a group, are more ethnically and racially diverse than the previous generation. About 58 percent of the millennial labor force is white, compared to nearly 67 percent of older workers. About one-third of millennials live with their parents; another third live with roommates, relatives or in a group setting; and about a quarter of millennials live with a spouse or partner. Nearly 44 percent of millennial heads of household have children. They’re also attaining higher levels of education than their older counterparts. The share of older millennials (those aged 25 and over) with a bachelor’s degree or higher is greater than that for older adults. Despite their higher educational attainment, however, employed millennials’ median income of $22,000 is only slightly more than half that of older workers. And more than one-third of employed millennials earn less than $15,000 per year. Surveys indicate that many millennials would like to buy homes, but only about 30 percent of millennial heads of household are currently homeowners.

This year’s Paycheck to Paycheck examines five occupations in which millennial workers are heavily represented—administrative assistant, retail cashier, e-commerce customer service representative, food service manager, and cardiac technician. Administrative assistants earning the median income for their occupation can afford to rent a typical two-bedroom home in 82 percent of the 208 metro areas covered by the report but can only afford to buy a median-priced home in 43 percent  of these areas. Retail cashiers, earning the lowest median wage of the highlighted occupations at $20,432, cannot afford to rent a two-bedroom unit or to buy a median-priced home in any of the 208 metro areas in the report. The highest-paid occupation, food service managers, fare best, as they can afford to rent a two-bedroom home in most metro areas, but even they can only afford to buy a median-priced home in 35 percent of the 208 metro areas. 

Finally, the report discusses the implications of unaffordable housing for millennial workers and the economy overall as well as offers potential policy solutions to address housing unaffordability for both renters and homeowners.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Eden Housing celebrates opening of new affordable community in San Jose

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

NHC member Eden Housing recently celebrated the grand opening of Ford Road Plaza, an affordable development in San Jose. The development offers 75 affordable rental units for residents with annual incomes between 15 and 50 percent of the Santa Clara County area median income.

The 2.4 acre community was purchased by the City of San Jose with the last of its redevelopment funds. The funds were used by redevelopment agencies to renovate deteriorating areas before agencies in San Joe were eliminated. The development features a computer learning center, a courtyard and barbeque area, a community room and two playgrounds. Residents will also be able to benefit from financial literacy classes, energy and water use efficiency education, various health and safety programs and from technology training. The community is also conveniently located near several public transportation options and includes the latest green features to ensure long-term energy efficiency.

“We are proud to partner with cities that are making room in their communities for lower income households to live with their families in the same community where they work,” Eden Housing Vice chair Tim Silva said in a press release. “These folks are important to our communities and they need a place to live.”

Data from Housing Landscape 2015 shows that 17 percent of households in the San Jose metro area spend at least half of their income on housing costs, just above the 16 percent national average. Renters are more likely to be cost burdened than owners, with 23 percent spending at least half their income on housing. Developments like Ford Road Plaza lessen the burden low-income families and individuals face when trying to find affordable rental homes in expensive areas.

Ford Road Plaza was financed primarily with federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.