Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Improving intergenerational mobility by investing in people and place

By Emily Brown, National Housing Conference

On June 25, HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research held a panel discussion on upward mobility, mixed-income housing and the importance of place. The discussion, entitled “Investing in People and Places for Upward Mobility,” was moderated by Katherine O’Regan, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research. Early in the discussion, O’Regan brought up intergenerational mobility, a child’s chance of advancing up the income distribution ladder relative to their parents, often a measure of opportunity. In the United States, intergenerational mobility is declining and is lower than in similar nations. Intergenerational mobility varies by race, with white children experiencing more opportunities for mobility and black children experiencing fewer.

The dialogue focused on mixed-income communities as a key strategy to improve outcomes for low-income families; creating mixed-income communities can be done through two approaches. The first, investing in people, involves facilitating the mobility of low-income individuals to low-poverty areas. The second, investing in place, focuses on a comprehensive community development approach that supports the transformation of a neighborhood. During the lively discussion, a few key themes emerged.

Strategies for supporting upward mobility vary and are as unique as the communities themselves. Panelists offered several strategies for promoting upward mobility and creating mixed-income communities.
  1. Provide high quality housing.
  2. Increase neighborhood safety.
  3. Invest in on-site services. 
  4. Leverage private, public and philanthropic funding.
  5. Provide strong role models within the community.
  6. Track a community’s performance over time to allow for mid-course corrections.
  7. Combine housing opportunities with improving schools.
  8. Develop strategies to address the challenges of sustaining resident engagement, staff capacity and financial resources.
Collaborative efforts allow for the strongest projects. Advocates should break down silos and allow housing efforts to work in tandem with investments in education and community wellness. Shared metrics ensure that partners share a vision of the future of the neighborhood. Finally, a diversified funding stream has great value, particularly when advocates can leverage the power of private investment.

Success can be difficult to measure. Each community is unique and will have different metrics of success, which makes measuring this success a complex task. Additionally, many indicators of improved outcomes – such as health or quality of life – are longer-term and subjective, making them more difficult to track. Some panelists agree that we need to rethink short-term performance metrics, because short-term metrics can be misleading.

For more information on some emerging projects or resources, keep an eye on the following:

Community Preservation and Development Corporation kicks off revitalization of affordable development

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

NHC member Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC) was joined last month by Mayor Muriel Bowser and various housing leaders to celebrate the planned revitalization of affordable housing developments in the Edgewood neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Edgewood Commons, formerly known as Edgewood Terrace, was a haven for open-air drug markets before CPDC acquired and redeveloped the portfolio of properties between 1995 and 2001. It is now in the process of being transformed into a mixed-use community of economically diverse residents. CPDC’s approach for the redevelopment is to prevent the displacement and disruptions of current residents and those who have lived in the community for a number of years by preserving affordability.

“We know that even more important than physical renovations, communities thrive when residents are invested and take ownership in the place they call home,” Pamela Lyons, CPDC’s senior vice president of resident services said in a press release. “Our inclusive approach to resident engagement has spurred a cultural transformation at Edgewood—one of asset-based community building, organizing and engagement.”

Community revitalization and stabilization will be the focus of NHC’s Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods convening Nov. 5-6 in New Orleans. The convening will draw connections between housing an economic development, and include policy developments and practical solutions. More details will be available soon, so save the date and plan to attend the convening. 


The first phase of redevelopment was completed last year. Phase II, consisting of 292 apartment homes, is currently underway. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Supreme Court upholds disparate impact standard for housing discrimination

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

On Thursday, in a dramatic decision, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act are within courts’ jurisdiction (the legal term is “cognizable”). The decision upholds many years of HUD practice in fair housing enforcement as articulated in a recent HUD regulation that interpreted the Fair Housing Act to include disparate impact (measured by observable outcomes), not just disparate treatment (measured by intent to discriminate). It also reinforces the need for all of us in the affordable housing and community development movement, public sector and private sector alike, to think carefully about how our policies affect people’s ability to choose where they live. Both the majority opinion and the dissents offer reminders of perhaps the key lesson in fair housing, that we must balance revitalization of distressed neighborhoods with creating options in high-opportunity places.

The case in question, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs et al v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., et al, was a suit against the Texas state agency that allocates Low Income Housing Tax Credits. The plaintiff, Inclusive Communities Project, argued that the concentration of affordable housing investments in low-income, primarily minority neighborhoods violated the Fair Housing Act. The Court’s ruling does not say whether or not there was a violation. It simply rules that lower courts can evaluate a claim based on disparate impact, which they must now do.

Communities across this country have had long-standing patterns of segregation by race, income, ethnicity, disability status and other characteristics. Unfortunately, these patterns have emerged from and been reinforced by government policy at local, state and federal levels, even as they played out in a multitude of individual household and business decisions. We know these patterns are as difficult to change as they are detrimental to the people living in these distressed neighborhoods and are costly to all of us both locally and at the state and federal levels. The Court’s decision reminds us that we cannot assume that segregation and its costs are behind us just because we do not see expressed discrimination.

NHC considers the issues of fair housing, community redevelopment, preservation to prevent displacement and the reframing of affordable housing as comprehensive community development to be central tenets of our work. It is integrated into our convenings, local, regional and federal policy work, research and communications efforts. The ruling will not end the discussion but further inform the work on community development and affordable housing going forward.

Part of the ruling’s effect will fall on private sector businesses: lenders, developers, real estate professionals and others. The work of addressing business practices and unexamined assumptions in housing is necessary but also costly. As all of the opinions of the case cautioned, we should not take fair housing law so far as to prevent the creation of the very shelter we hope all in America can enjoy.

On the practical level of creating and sustaining housing, stakeholders should draw a lesson expressed in both the majority opinion and the dissents, albeit in different language. Affordable housing must balance investment in distressed neighborhoods with creation of affordable housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods. That’s hard to do in practice, and it’s messy to measure. But it’s the only way with limited public resources that we can hope to make positive change.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

NHC Board elections, Annual Gala and Policy Symposium

News from NHC
by Amy Clark and Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

Many of our members and friends are familiar with our Annual Gala. But June 11 and 12 were about more than just a celebratory gathering of the housing community.

We started the day Thursday morning with our Board of Governors meeting. We said thank you to John Kelly for his three years of leadership as chair, and welcomed Ted Chandler to his new role. While we are sad to see some of our board members step down, they will be ably replaced by the new slate of board members elected by the membership.

Thursday nights Gala kicked off with a rousing performance from "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Corps Band. Gala co-chairs Senator Mel Martinez and Nancy O. Andrews of LIIF shared what this year's theme, creating community, means to them and their work. Audience members were touched by the moving stories shared by this year's Housing Visionary Award honorees, Piece by Piece Regional Foreclosure response Initiative led by Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership and The Community Properties Initiative led by Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing. Following the program, our guests enjoyed conversation, corn pudding and the sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing that they contributed to the Gala, exceeding NHC's fundraising goal.

The events of Friday opened early for Young Leaders in Affordable Housing members with a breakfast meeting on the future of the affordable housing field and the role young leaders can play. Kris Siglin of the Housing Partnership Network and Ali Solis of Enterprise Community Partners spoke at the session moderated by YLAH president Eva Wingren.

As Ethan said in our blog last week, the Policy Symposium "showed [the] many ways that housing can be a solution, and it drew together housing stakeholders to learn from each other." The keynote and research presentation helped us think about the importance of quality affordable housing at every stage of life, and the panels helped us think about the different ways homeownership and supportive rental housing create opportunity for people and communities.

We couldn’t close this reflection in good conscience without expressing the deeply felt gratitude of NHC’s staff and leadership for our sponsors, especially JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. They and all of our Gala and Policy Symposium sponsors make our work possible all year round. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bipartisanship no match for caps in Senate THUD bill


by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

On June 23, the Senate Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) subcommittee held its mark-up hearing on the FY 2016 THUD appropriations bill. Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-Maine) opened the hearing with a summary of the challenges facing the subcommittee and the “tyranny of the math.” Two key facts led to a troubling conclusion:
  1. Federal Housing Administration (FHA) receipts are estimated to be $1.1 billion below FY2015 levels.
  2. The cost of renewing rent assistance programs will be $2.3 billion more than current funding levels.
Therefore, despite the $55.6 billion allocated to HUD, this amount is not sufficient to keep all programs at their current FY 2015 funding levels.

Subcommittee Chair Collins also expressed her support for maintaining housing assistance for the 4.5 million families and individuals currently served as well as efforts to reduce and end homelessness. While the bill has not been released yet, Chair Collins announced a few specific provisions in the bill: 10,000 HUD-VASH vouchers, an additional $20 million for family unification vouchers and additional funding to test programs focused on youth homelessness. The bill would fund the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program at $2.9 billion. In the hearing, Chair Collins also explained why the subcommittee chose to make a deep cut to the HOME program: to avoid severe cuts to other programs, avoid eliminating programs and dealing with a HUD budget where 83 percent has to fund existing rental assistance needs. The amount of the cut was not announced in the hearing, but Ranking Member Reed’s (D-R.I.) statement clarified that the HOME program would be cut to $66 million, or only seven percent of its current $900 million level. At such a low level, the HOME program could not effectively function as designed.

Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) praised the subcommittee for its bipartisan and transparent efforts but said despite its “great will, we need a new wallet.” Ranking Member Mikulski called for a budget agreement and an end to sequestration. Under the budget caps, any THUD budget will be insufficient because it will not be able to even maintain FY 2015 funding levels, which are already insufficient for the great housing need in this country.

The subcommittee favorably reported the bill to the full committee with no objections or additional amendments.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

New research supports place-based equity in affordable housing

by Mindy Ault, National Housing Conference

Professor Raj Chetty of Harvard University presented his recent research on place and economic mobility on June 1 at the Brookings Institution. His work utilizes de-identified tax records from more than five million children whose families relocated across counties between 1996 and 2012. The findings support existing research on the importance of place: chances for upward mobility vary not only among nations, but also within the United States. Further, Chetty’s study indicates that when households move from a place that offers low odds for economic mobility to a place where mobility is more likely, children who are younger than 13 at the time of the move fare better than those who are older.

This work, which also finds effects on mobility from racial segregation, income inequality, family structure, social capital and school quality, presents a number of policy options to consider. Some examples from Chetty’s presentation and panel discussion include:

  • Constructing public housing in lower-poverty areas instead of where poverty is highly concentrated.
  • Investing in areas where economic mobility is currently low with the goal of replicating areas where mobility is higher.
  • Making school choice a priority so that children in families unable to move to areas of more opportunity are not forced to attend poor-quality schools.
  • Targeting housing vouchers so that families with the youngest children are prioritized since young children stand to benefit the most from moving to an area of opportunity.

Certainly these policy recommendations have been made before, but Chetty’s work utilizes a very large data set to lend heft to the rationale behind them. 

How are you incorporating some of these ideas into your work? 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

NHC’s Policy Symposium highlights: Solutions from the field


by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

Last Friday’s Policy Symposium showed many ways that housing can be a solution, and it drew together housing stakeholders to learn from each other. If you missed the event and the live webcast, here are just a few of the highlights:
  • Older adults need housing help to meet basic needs, protect saved assets, improve health and more. Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of the AARP Foundation, shared that AARP began with Ethel Percy Andrus’ discovery of a retired teacher living in deplorable housing conditions. Today, AARP’s housing agenda encompasses affordability, housing counseling, fraud prevention, multi-generational communities, aging in place and other areas of work.
  • Homeownership can position individuals and families for success, but a lot of policy work is still needed. Panelists compared structural barriers to low-income homeownership, such as the persistent racial gap, to cyclical barriers that may ease as the economic recovery grows. Julia Gordon pointed to the coming expiration of Making Home Affordable, which will present renewed challenges for clearing up the end of the foreclosure wave. Paul Weech noted the central role of nonprofits as trusted advisors, financial coaches and housing counselors for low-income households working toward homeownership. Phil Bracken pointed to the need for long-term, fixed-rate, low-cost financing, especially in communities of color (see his slides). Ron Haynie described the challenges lenders face in meeting a host of new regulatory requirements. 
  • Nonprofits are combining rental housing with services to create new solutions. Panelists explored many avenues of cutting-edge housing and service combinations. Patricia Belden offered lessons for deploying mental health services and retraining service coordinators. Steve PonTell described two new pilot programs taking different approaches to moving families up and out of subsidized housing. Frances Ferguson raised several models of housing and education linkages, as well as the efforts of NHC’s Connectivity Working Group to support deployment of broadband in affordable housing. Michelle Norris presented examples of assisted living options for seniors that provide more independence and cost-savings at the same time by enriching housing with services.
NHC and our members are active in all of the policy areas touched on in the Policy Symposium. Join us, and get involved!