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. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Innovative integration of housing and health in Portland, Oregon

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

During a recent meeting of NHC’s Housing and Health Working Group in Portland, Oregon, group members learned of the exciting work in Oregon to integrate housing into that state’s focus on health in the state Medicaid program. As described by Enterprise Community Partners, one strategy to address the health and well-being of low-income Oregonians is to use the Flexible Funds Pilot program, which authorizes Medicaid funds to be used on non-clinic services in order to address social determinants of health. The program supports the health of individuals by offering services such as short-term rental assistance and security deposits to improve the housing stability with of Medicaid enrollees.

The Center for Outcomes Research and Education (CORE) will evaluate the impact of this use of Medicaid funds on the health of enrollees. If found to be effective, the hope is that other states will work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to seek more flexibility in using Medicaid funds to address social determinants of health. Other research by CORE has found that helping Medicaid enrollees access affordable housing has a significant, positive impact on their health.

Oregon is also experimenting with the use of Medicaid funds to support the use of traditional health workers who apply a deep understanding of the culture of their community and focus on health equity to their interactions patients and help them navigate the health care system and address the social determinants of their health.

Oregon’s use of Coordinated Care Organizations, health care provider networks that offer a comprehensive approach to health care and the flexibility to address social determinants of health, are another avenue used in the state to better address the complex health needs of low-income residents with an integrated approach to well-being.

Even as efforts to repeal or change the Affordable Care Act stall in Congress, states are still focused on how to create health systems that achieve better health outcomes at lower costs. Oregon’s strategy of integrating care and seeking flexibility in the kinds of services Medicaid can fund provide an example for how other states may be able to reform their health systems to serve low-income residents more effectively. 

Let’s improve the fair housing process, not abandon it

by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Recently, HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson stated his intention to reinterpret the department’s rule defining the obligation to affirmatively further fair housing. That statement rings alarm bells for many housers, in part because of his 2015 op-ed characterizing the proposal as “social engineering” likely to fail. However, there is potential to improve HUD’s fair housing rule, which would be a far better outcome than the outright repeal some congressional Republicans are calling for.

HUD’s 2015 rule implementing the Fair Housing Act of 1968 is a planning exercise, primarily. It requires states and localities receiving HUD grants to examine patterns of housing segregation, the sources of that segregation and propose improvements they will pursue. HUD provides data and a process to help by way of a creation of the assessment of fair housing (the output of the five-year review), and the department encourages states and localities to include their own data too. HUD doesn’t mandate particular actions, but rather gives states and localities the tools to improve their own housing policies in ways that work for their communities.

There are certainly legitimate complaints about HUD’s fair housing enforcement. It shouldn’t get in the way of developing new affordable housing, nor should it add significant costs to housing development or operation. The department should encourage a regulatory culture that we often find at the state level, where regulators aim to help development occur both smoothly and with the right qualities: desirable, affordable homes in places of opportunity.

HUD’s easiest path to improvement is through the rule. The department could use the federal notice and comment process to solicit suggestions based on the first cycle of assessments of fair housing and propose improvements to the regulation. It can’t simply repeal the rule without notice and comment, nor should it, especially since the Supreme Court recently opined on the importance of fair housing law. Legislative changes to the Fair Housing Act seem unwise, especially since this is an issue of calibrating regulation, not a time to change our national commitment to end discrimination and segregation in housing.

When it comes to income, lives and potential, segregated housing is costly, and not just to those who live in it, but to entire communities as well. The local, state and federal policies that led to segregated housing still exist in many places. Letting those policies go unexamined would just be bad governance, so it behooves housing stakeholders, community members and HUD to ensure there is an effective process for reviewing and changing housing policies.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Should members of Congress receive housing stipends?

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

In a recent interview with The Hill, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) advocated for a housing stipend to help members of Congress afford housing in D.C. According to Chaffetz, who retires at the end of June, the $174,000 salary for members of Congress is insufficient to allow them to pay for homes in both their home districts and in D.C.

NHC’s Paycheck to Paycheck database shows that in order to own a median-priced home in the Provo-Orem metro area, which falls within Chaffetz’s district, his household would have to earn nearly $75,000 a year. To rent a typical two-bedroom home in the Washington, D.C., metro area, Chaffetz’s household would have to earn almost $65,000. Few would dispute that residents of the D.C. metro area face high housing costs. But given the $174,000 salary of members of Congress, Chaffetz theoretically would be able to afford the combined cost of owning a home in his district and renting in the D.C. area.

Some members of Congress may find it harder to juggle the costs of two households if their home district has high and rising housing costs like that of San Francisco, where owning a median-priced home would require a family to earn over $275,000. This raises the question of how people who are essential to the running of our federal, state and local governments afford housing in costly areas on much lower salaries than congressmen and congresswomen.

Instead of pursuing housing subsidies for special groups, such as members of Congress, we should think more broadly about strategies to promote access to quality housing that is affordable to Americans at all income levels.   

Monday, July 10, 2017

Summer forecast

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

With our Housing Visionary Award Gala and Annual Policy Symposium behind us, NHC has much work planned for the last six months of the year.

NHC will continue its active participation in the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding to advocate for housing funding at HUD and USDA through the remainder of the budget process. Congress continues to work through the appropriations process in hopes of passing a budget before the September 30 end of the fiscal year, making the next few months important for budget advocacy.

To put similar focus on the housing policy discussion, NHC brought national housing and community development organizations together this spring to launch Strong Voices for Housing. We are currently working with this group of more than 35 national organizations to develop messages that all of us can use to more consistently and coherently position housing as a vital issue area for government support.

Solutions for Affordable Housing 2017, NHC’s national housing policy convening, is set for November 29 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Following up on last year’s look at what was ahead for housing in the Trump administration, this year’s convening will connect potential policy action from the agencies with solutions emerging from practice and opportunities in the legislative environment. Plenaries and breakouts will provide opportunities for engagement with the administration, policy makers and leaders in the field. This convening will be an important opportunity to learn from and connect with colleagues, and is a great opportunity to sponsor a high-profile national convening. Visit our website to sign up for updates. I hope you’ll plan to attend.

As part of our continued effort to support our members and raise the national profile of housing, NHC has joined Our Homes, Our Voices for a national week of action that anyone, anywhere can participate in. What began as a single-day event has now expanded into a National Housing Week of Action, July 22-29, calling for increased federal investments in affordable housing and community development. To date, local housing advocates have planned 29 events in communities across the U.S. Visit the website to learn about the Week of Action and the campaign.

In September, NHC will release “Paycheck to Paycheck 2017,” a report and database comparing the median wages of over 80 occupations with the housing costs in over 200 metro areas across the country. This year’s report will analyze the impact of housing costs on fast-growing occupations in the health care sector.