Thursday, July 30, 2015

New report outlines four ideas for moving beyond the poor door

by Robert Hickey, National Housing Conference

Last fall I wrote in this space about how the media’s fixation on the rare but notorious “poor door” phenomenon misplaces outrage, and how we shouldn’t lose sight of the more important issue of pernicious segregation in our nation’s neighborhoods and schools, and the need for solutions that lead to more inclusive, mixed-income neighborhoods.

But while the “poor door” may have been over-hyped, it does point to an important challenge: inclusionary housing can be tricky in denser, city settings, especially where new construction is predominantly in high-rise structures. When high land prices necessitate taller buildings that entail expensive materials, it can be difficult to meet affordability requirements within the same building as market-rate housing units, adding pressure on developers to cut corners. And when affordable condominiums are located in high-amenity buildings with expensive condo fees, these costs can undermine the overall affordability of these homes.

In a new report out this week, I present four ideas for how cities can improve the workability of inclusionary housing policies in cities by making them more flexible.  I offer suggestions for how policies can offer developers more ways to meet their affordability obligations, and more locations in which to do so – while preserving the objective of fostering mixed-income communities.

While most inclusionary housing policies today offer some form of alternative to on-site affordability, as well as the option to appeal for an overall waiver, city policies would benefit from offering additional options. As I discuss, localities might want to build off the recent experience of New York City, Montgomery County, Md., and Boulder, Colo. with allowing developers to increase or preserve the affordability of existing market-rate housing, in particular affordable homes at risk of being lost in gentrifying neighborhoods. Or follow San Diego and Boulder’s lead in allowing off-site affordable units in a variety of locations where poverty levels are low and core amenities are present, such as transit or walkable streets.

As more cities take up inclusionary housing, let’s stay focused on the goal of creating mixed-income communities and expand the number of pathways to getting there, so that inclusionary housing will be feasible in both low- and high-rise structures and our overall housing supply can continue to grow.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

LISC initiative creates safe neighborhoods through comprehensive crime reduction

News from NHC's family of members
by Radiah Shabazz

Opportunities for effective education, transportation, public safety, economic development, health, job training and much more are key factors in ensuring community development and revitalization is successful, and when neighborhoods have access to safe, affordable housing, they have greater opportunities to access education, transportation and much more. For more than 20 years, the Community Safety Initiative (CSI) of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) has worked to create safe neighborhoods through partnerships with community residents, law enforcement and community developers.

LISC’s CSI has facilitated comprehensive crime reduction measures to ensure public safety in revitalized communities through a four-pronged model that incorporates revitalization strategies, engagement of neighborhood residents, using data and research, and diverse cross-sector partnerships.  Through a partnership with the Department of Justice’s Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation program, LISC’s work has included emphasis on public safety through combined collaboration, community empowerment, commitment from local law enforcement and infrastructure investments. Since the partnership began, the Byrne program has facilitated comprehensive crime reduction measures in 46 communities using this four-pronged approach.

Four cities, Austin, Milwaukee, San Antonio and Syracuse, have successful programs using different elements of the LISC-Byrne model. Work in Austin focuses on immigrant and refugee communities and improving resident relationships with the police force. Milwaukee’s emphasis is on preventing crime through community tools like safety audits and mapping to determine new ways to improve neighborhood safety, while San Antonio improves police-resident relationships by bringing probation meetings to residents who cannot access or afford public transportation. Community members in Syracuse used peacemaking strategies to create a neutral community space that deters crime.

LISC’s CSI and collaboration with the Byrne Program will be one of several comprehensive community development initiatives highlighted this November at our second Solutions convening of the year, Solutions for Restoring Neighborhoods.

View LISC’s presentation at NHC’s July Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force meeting to learn more about their comprehensive community development work. 

Investment in housing and neighborhoods is investment in health

Solutions through research
by Lisa Sturtevant, Ph.D.

An individual’s health and well-being is affected by a number of different factors. Research consistently shows that where people live is an important determinant of positive physical and mental health outcomes. The Center for Housing Policy has completed a series of research briefs that describe the intersections between housing and health, analyze opportunities for the housing and health communities to collaborate and highlight successful programs that have integrated housing and health services.

In the context of ongoing national and state efforts to reform health care, it is important for policymakers to understand the various pathways through which housing and neighborhoods affect health. As an update to earlier reviews on the relationship between housing and health, the Center has released a review of the recent research on the various ways in which the production, rehabilitation or other provision of affordable housing may affect health outcomes for children, adults and older adults.

In an effort to help housing and community development professionals learn more about how to collaborate with the health community, the Center has also released a paper that explains how the Medicaid program works and describes key changes made by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This tutorial on the health care environment focuses on opportunities for affordable housing providers to collaborate with health care organizations to address the impact that housing has on the health of a low-income individuals.

Finally, to highlight concrete examples of successful housing-health collaborations, the Center has produced three case studies of innovative programs across the country—Hennepin Health in Minnesota, the Georgia Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, and the Creston Avenue Residence in New York, the first supportive housing project to use Medicaid funds for capital expenses. These case studies describe the process by which housing providers work with health care organizations to improve housing and health conditions of residents. The analyses also highlight challenges and obstacles to integrating housing and health services, and offer innovative solutions to pursue moving forward.

The integration of housing and health is increasingly important given the changing health care landscape, the aging of the population and the growing concern about rising health care costs. The Center for Housing Policy is eager to continue this work on housing and health, and to connect our research with not only housing and community development professionals, but also with the health community. One key goal of this work is to provide research and information to help housing and health strategies to be incorporated into broader community development efforts.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ending housing segregation

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference 

This letter to the editor appeared in the New York Times on July 24, 2015. 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s long-awaited empowerment of state and local governments to make real efforts to end housing segregation is welcome and necessary (“The End of Federally Financed Ghettos,” editorial, July 12). But your editorial unfairly blames nonprofit housing developers for housing segregation. 

Neighborhoods of concentrated poverty arose from decades of development shaped by government policies. Fair housing law responds by ensuring that all Americans have equal access to housing and opportunities that lead to a fruitful life. Nonprofit developers work to improve housing in distressed communities and make affordable housing available in better-resourced places. But their efforts are small compared with the housing created privately and regulated locally.

America should be a country where every place has good schools, ample job opportunities and quality rental and homeownership opportunities affordable to a wide range of people. Ensuring availability of affordable housing in areas of opportunity is a necessary step. Creating better housing, jobs and services in distressed communities is another. We can — and must — do both. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

White House Conference on Aging shows more advocacy needed for older adults’ housing needs

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference

Last week’s  White House Conference on Aging celebrated two important developments for the wellbeing of older adults in the U.S.: the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act, and the 80th anniversary of Social Security. The conference assembled a wide variety of stakeholders who are integral in supporting healthy and productive aging among Americans and fostered discussion of the progress the country has made in supporting the wellbeing of older adults as they age.

Speakers called out the work that still needs to be done to address the diverse and growing older adult population and their many different needs. This includes the need for affordable, accessible and supportive housing, as explored by a report from NHC’s Center for Housing Policy, Housing an Aging Population.

President Obama commented on the how the Affordable Care Act is critical to expanding opportunities for older adults to receive supportive services in their homes and communities if they need assistance to continue living independently. The Center recently examined several effective models for home- and community-based supportive services in urban, suburban and rural communities in its report, Aging in Every Place.

While speakers addressed the importance of supporting the financial security of older adults as they age, they did not address the key role affordable housing plays in the wellbeing of older adults. Almost half of the lowest income older adults devote 50 percent or more of their income to their housing. This has a major impact on their wellbeing and makes NHC’s advocacy for more affordable and accessible housing options for older adults even more critical as the number of older adults continue to rise rapidly.

As the speakers at the conference emphasized, in order to take advantage of the experience and ideas that older adults have to offer, we need to be flexible in how we envision the role of older adults in our society and give them the tools they need to continue to be independent and contributing members of our communities as they age. NHC is devoted to advocating for innovating and effective approaches to developing and preserving housing that meets the various affordability, accessibility and supportive service needs of America’s older adults. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Climate resilience and equity in low-income communities

By Emily Brown, National Housing Conference

On July 9, the Center for American Progress and the National League of Cities hosted a discussion about “Building Climate Resilience for Equitable Communities: City, Federal and Tribal Perspectives.” Shaun Donovan, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), gave the opening remarks. The panel featured perspectives from local and tribal government with Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City and Chairwoman Karen Diver of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa as well as perspectives from the federal government with Harriet Tregoning, principal deputy assistant secretary, Office of Community Planning and Development Resilience, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Mustafa Santiago Ali, senior advisor to the administrator for environmental justice in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In Director Donovan’s opening remarks he spoke of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and new initiatives to ensure that low and moderate income communities are protected from the effects of climate change. Low-income communities and communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change including rising sea levels and more intense storms. Tribal communities are some of the most impacted because changing climate can jeopardize their access to traditional foods, threatening public health, food security and cultural wellbeing. Recent initiatives are beginning to address these inequities:
  • The new Resilience AmeriCorps program, a public-private partnership with the mission of helping communities plan and carry out climate resilience measures. 
  • The newly announced Obama Administration initiative to expand access to solar energy for low- and moderate-income communities including 300 megawatts of clean energy from solar panels on public housing developments.  
Efforts to better plan for disasters and climate change are changing to better serve vulnerable populations. In the past, HUD’s community disaster recovery efforts prioritized returning communities to normalcy. However, noted Tregoning, putting people back exactly how and where they were prior to a disaster doesn’t make sense in terms of planning for future climate disasters. It makes more sense to plan for a changing climate and changing economy, which is exactly the thought that inspired HUD’s new National Disaster Resilience Competition

On another note, as Senior Advisor Ali explained in his remarks, one vital aspect of ensuring that communities remain strong in the face of climate change is involving residents as equal partners during the decision-making processes. Communities are frequently aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Residents know how well their neighborhood is served by public transit and what resources they can access. This valuable local knowledge can help policymakers and advocates more effectively empower a community to meet its needs and to weather the effects of climate change. Additionally, due to the historic prioritization of physical infrastructure, social resiliency is an undervalued but fundamental piece that impacts how communities heal in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Along with community empowerment, the discussion highlighted the importance of cross-jurisdictional partnerships and regional collaboration, and underlined the fact that each community will have a different approach to climate resilience. A webcast of the discussion is available online

Thursday, July 16, 2015

House subcommittee hearing discusses strengths and challenges of HUD’s public and Indian housing programs

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

On July 10, 2015, the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing on the future of housing in America and the oversight of public and Indian housing. Testimony from Ms. Lourdes Castro Ramirez, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), highlighted how HUD has been working to improve its public and Indian housing programs, how well the programs function and their limited success at reaching more households without greater funding. Testimony from Mr. Daniel Garcia-Diaz, director of financial markets and community investments for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), showed that some public and Indian housing programs do have room for improvements, but his statement also recognized the active approach HUD was taking to address many of GAO’s concerns. Some committee members questioned the efficiency of the public and Indian housing programs and others raised concern about the Moving to Work (MTW) program; in response Ms. Castro Ramirez highlighted the strengths of PIH programs and HUD’s recent and ongoing efforts to improve PIH programs.

Ms. Castro Ramirez testified first, discussing the growth of the public housing programs and improvements that have been made over time. Since 1965, public housing and housing choice vouchers moved from serving 600,000 households to serving over 4.6 million. Public housing agencies (PHAs) have a 96 percent occupancy rate and a 98 percent utilization rate for vouchers. Ms. Castro Ramirez also discussed how public housing programs have been underfunded for decades, making it difficult to preserve the current supply or create new units.

Mr. Garcia-Diaz testified about recent GAO studies of PIH programs and explained that HUD is actively working to address many of GAO’s recommendations including streamlining administration of the voucher program, beginning to provide guidance on how to handle public housing reserve funds and developing outcomes information and reporting measures for the Moving to Work program. HUD has also significantly reduced improper payments since 2000.

The subsequent discussion among the committee members covered many topics within PIH, including:
  • Rep. Luetkemeyer (R- Mo.) asked about the program structure and efficiency. Ms. Castro Ramirez discussed the challenges to administer the program facing PHAs given recent cuts to the administrative fee.
  • Rep. Cleaver (D-Mo.) highlighted the strengths of the Family Self Sufficiency program. 
  • Rep. Waters (D-Calif.) and Rep. Velasquez (D-N.Y.) questioned the Moving to Work program and asked for HUD to provide more data on outcomes from the program. Both members expressed concern about a lack of standards and performance metrics. Rep. Royce (R-Calif.) expressed support for the MTW program because of how well it works for the San Bernardino Housing Authority. 
  • Ms. Castro Ramirez responded to the conversation around MTW with HUD’s recent efforts to strengthen agreements with the 39 MTW agencies, focusing on four areas: update administrative and legal requirements, add stronger evaluations, address funding inequities and add strong language about continuing to serve the same number of families. 
  • Rep. Pearce (R-N.M.) asked HUD to consider changes to give tribes and tribal agencies more flexibility for implementing federal Indian housing programs.