Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lessons learned in Seattle and beyond

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference

Last week we had the pleasure of holding Solutions for Housing Communications: Building Acceptance for Affordable Housing in Seattle in partnership with the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County. We were pleased to host big contingents from Washington state and California, in addition to attendees from 13 other states and a diverse range of professionals like developers, local and state government officials, service providers, communicators and advocates.

Special thanks to NHC board of governors members Janis Smith, Steve PonTell and Linda Mandolini for speaking at the convening. Our gratitude also goes to Washington State Housing Finance Agency Director Kim Herman and Diane Sugimura, Director of the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, who participated in our Wednesday luncheon plenary. We also extend a big thank you to Nicole Macri and her colleagues at DESC in Seattle who led a mobile workshop highlighting DESC’s work to build acceptance for supportive housing in three Seattle neighborhoods.

We’ve already begun planning for another Solutions for Housing Communications convening next spring, likely on the East Coast. For more information on the content and take-aways from last week’s event, see Amy’s article in Briefing Room.

The Washington Wire has several important updates on the budget process, NHC’s advocacy on tax reform and for the Housing Credit, updates from our Connectivity Working Group and other important notices.

One of the interesting aspects of the National Housing Trust Fund is how it will be utilized by states to produce more housing to serve households at 30 percent of area median income (AMI) and below. A new report by the Technical Assistance Collaborative looks at how three states, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Illinois, have worked to create these targeted, difficult-to-develop units for a population with the greatest housing needs. These innovations at the state level will be important for others to model. It will also be vital to engage HUD on ensuring that federal funding sources can work with these effective state efforts. 

NHC is honoring two examples of high-impact local collaborations at our 43rd Annual Gala. Now is the time to secure your table, buy tribute ads and get your sponsorship in for this terrific gathering of the affordable housing community. Come help us celebrate our two honorees, the Community Properties Initiative in Columbus, Ohio and the Piece By Piece Initiative in Atlanta, Ga. You can read more about our honorees as well as purchase your tickets or become a sponsor on our website.

Deep in the heart of NIMBY

News from NHC 
by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference

Community opposition is one of the most vexing challenges to affordable housing development. NHC is exploring solutions. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Start by looking in the mirror
At Solutions for Housing Communications in Seattle last week, we kicked off the convening with an exploration of the psychology and language of not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) sentiment. As I emphasized in my presentation, the concerns expressed by neighbors of prospective affordable housing developments are usually unfounded, but they’re not unreasonable. Safety and quality of life are important to all of us, and a little empathy can go a long way to building trust and understanding between housers and the broader community. (This is why I suggest we drop the term NIMBY altogether when describing people in our communities.)

It’s a process
There’s no one right way to prepare for and counter opposition, there’s no single person or group with all the answers and having decades of experience doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to learn. I heard over and over again from convening attendees last week about how hearing from others helped them feel they could improve their own approach, and watched plenary panelists take notes on each other’s remarks.  We can all learn from one another, and whether through personal networks or resources like the Housing Communications HUB, we should continue to share our experiences and reach out for advice (and commiseration).

Change the message, change the frame
There are a few truisms that seem to underlie the community opposition conversation: if we just share the facts, acceptance will follow; and when it comes to building support, it’s the housing developer’s responsibility to do the heavy lifting. In Seattle last week, we explored the idea that while commonly raised concerns are more mundane, conflicting beliefs about who has the right to access—and make decisions about—space could actually be a foundation of persistent community opposition. More exploration is needed, but I believe this new frame can help us rethink the way we talk about the positive impacts of affordable housing. And as I write in the most recent edition of Shelterforce, local governments committed to increasing their community’s supply of affordable housing must be equally committed to vocally supporting, and de-politicizing, the affordable housing development process.

Opposition to new development of any kind is not likely to be swept from the American landscape in anyone’s lifetime. But by continuing to explore the roots of the issue, engaging community members and involving key stakeholders like government officials in solutions, we can bring the problem closer to solved. NHC will continue to address community opposition in future events and research. Have questions we could help answer or topics you’d like to see covered? Share them in the comments.  

What to make of the personnel changes at HUD

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

You may have seen some recent announcements of new appointments at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), names you might recognize moving to new jobs with titles you don’t entirely recognize.  The changes are part of the normal end-of-an-administration turnover, but they also reflect political constraints and changes within the agency itself. It remains an open question whether the new roles will empower policy action or create new logjams.

Among the recent and coming changes are:

  • Biniam Gebre, formerly acting FHA Commissioner, moved to become Senior Advisor to Deputy Secretary Nani Coloretti.
  • Ed Golding, previously Senior Advisor on Housing Finance to the Secretary, will become Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Housing, which includes the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).
  • Harriet Tregoning, previously head of the Office of Economic Resilience, will be appointed Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development.
  • Laura Hogshead, formerly Deputy Chief of Staff for Budget and Policy, became Chief Operations Officer reporting to the Deputy Secretary.

All of these are talented, committed public servants who are filling much-needed roles in the agency. As we near the end of President Obama’s second term, it is natural for staff to consider leaving as they think beyond 2016. Expect more openings to come in the next year and a half, and expect those to be steadily harder to fill as the time left gets shorter.

Why the new title of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS)? HUD’s org chart already had its share of jawbreakers for title, after all.  Other agencies have used the title in the past but it is new to HUD. The key distinction is that a Principal DAS does not require Senate confirmation. Given the long delays in confirmations already and now a Senate no longer controlled by the same party as the president, avoiding the confirmation process could put staff to work faster.

Changing the org chart could also create logjams, however. A Principal DAS doesn’t have all the powers of a DAS, so the Deputy Secretary will have to sign off on some decisions, such as the release of formal notice and comment documents. If there are too many demands at one point in the chain, it can be hard for anything to get through. For staff changing jobs within the agency without a successor coming in behind them, there may be a period of having, in effect, two jobs at once—not a position I would wish on anyone.

From my and Chris’ conversations with HUD staff, we get a strong sense that they are working hard to move policy forward efficiently while managing transitions and possibly along the way finding some long-lasting improvements to HUD’s organization. Personnel changes are only some of the many challenges to come. The best way to judge results will be the policy action and program implementation we see, which ultimately mean homes created, communities strengthened and people helped.

Enterprise invests in new affordable homes for seniors in Arizona

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

NHC member Enterprise recently announced a LIHTC deal to create a development in Santa Cruz County, Arizona for older adults. Bowman Senior Residences will feature 48 apartments for older adults earning less than 60 percent of the area median income ($20,000 per person), and replace two dilapidated buildings in the area. Data from the American Community Survey (2010-2013) shows that the median income for householders age 65 and over in the U.S. for the three-year period of 2010-2013 was $37,137. For householders aged 65 and over for the same period in Arizona, the median income was slightly higher, at $39,210.

The development is financed primarily by the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, with nearly $10 million syndicated by Enterprise. Co-sponsors are Gorman & Company, Inc. and Nogales Community Development Corporation. The apartment community will provide residents with many on-site services, including nutrition and financial literacy classes, health screenings, weekly transportation services, wellness classes and more. The development will also allow them to have easy access to the surrounding community.

“Creating Bowman Senior Residences is the latest step toward Enterprise’s generational goal of ending housing insecurity in the U.S., so that nobody is homeless or paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing,” Raoul Moore, Enterprise’s senior vice president of syndication said in a press release. “It’s critical to grow the supply of quality, affordable homes with services for seniors to keep pace with America’s aging population.”

NHC’s most recent report, Housing Landscape 2015, found that 33 percent of working households face extreme housing cost burden and forfeit a majority of their income on housing related costs. This burden often becomes even more difficult for older adults, many of whom are on fixed-incomes. Developments like Bowman Senior Residences will help to lessen the burden older adults face when trying to afford decent housing.

Bowman Senior Residences are scheduled to open at the end of this year.

Monday, April 13, 2015

BRIDGE Housing celebrates renovation of low-income senior development

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

NHC member BRIDGE Housing recently celebrated the renovation of Washington Plaza, a public housing community for low-income seniors. The development features 75 one-bedroom apartments for older adults and saw full renovations made possible by BRIDGE and the Sacramento Housing Authority Repositioning Program, Inc. (SHARP).

Via BRIDGE Housing's Facebook page
The property, opened in 1971, received substantial upgrades including replacement of all major systems, enlargement of community spaces, several green upgrades and exterior retrofits. The property was also updated to accommodate the space needs of supportive programs like service coordination and life-skills training.

“Preservation is critical to maintaining Sacramento’s existing housing assets for vulnerable, low-income seniors and preparing the buildings for future decades of service,” Cynthia Parker, president & CEO of BRIDGE Housing said in a press release. “We are thrilled to welcome home the seniors who live at Washington Plaza.”

BRIDGE Housing engaged with a relocation consultant to accommodate residents of homes being renovated. In three phases, residents were moved to furnished accommodations or given the option to stay with friends or family. 

Washington Plaza’s renovations will play a major role in helping older adults to age in place. As noted in last year’s report from NHC, Aging in Every Place, nearly 90 percent of older adults surveyed by AARP revealed their desire to stay in their homes for as long as possible throughout the aging process. Renovations that accommodate supportive programs and provide a sense of community to older adults in the area, like those made at Washington Plaza, will make aging in place a reality for many lower-income older adults.

Washington Plaza is one of several joint projects by BRIDGE Housing and SHARP. Both organizations have partnered on renovations for two other senior buildings, Sierra Vista and Sutterview, both located in Sacramento.

MassHousing funds multigenerational housing for older adults, and adoptive families

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

Thirteen years of partnership and collaboration have resulted in the completion of Easthampton Meadow, a mixed-income housing and community development for older adults and families with foster children, in Easthampton, Hampshire County, Massachusetts. Early last month the project’s funders, the State Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and NHC member MassHousing, and developers Beacon Communities LLC and Transformations, Inc. celebrated the completion of the project.

Treehouse at Easthampton Meadow.
Photo credit: Beacon Communities, LLC
Easthampton Meadow sits on 46 acres and combines three interconnected neighborhoods and housing options. The development consists of Treehouse at Easthampton Meadow, The Homes at Easthampton Meadow and seven single-family lots for custom-built homes. Easthampton Meadow incorporates many principals of sustainable development, including open space, higher density development and Energy Star rated homes. DHCD and MassHousing contributed roughly $16 million in financing for the development, with MassHousing specifically providing over $5 million in loans for Treehouse at Easthampton meadow and The Homes at Easthampton Meadow.

"The completion of this multi-phased community is a remarkable accomplishment on many different levels," Thomas R. Gleason, executive director of MassHousing said in a press release. “Beacon Communities and its development team created top-quality, highly energy efficient housing for senior citizens and families, particularly for those who have selflessly taken mentoring, fostering and adoption roles in the lives of foster children who are among the most vulnerable members of our society."

This comprehensive community development initiative has received many awards and praise for its innovative and cost-effective approach to providing affordable housing and services to special-needs populations. This year, our Annual Gala will honor two comprehensive community development initiatives, one in Ohio and the other in Atlanta, that have helped to revitalize low-income communities and those hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis. Read about our 2015 Gala honorees here.

The Easthampton Meadow community is now fully occupied. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Strategies for expanding housing options in high-opportunity metro areas

Solutions through research

by Lisa Sturtevant, Ph.D., National Housing Conference

In March, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released data on metropolitan area job growth. Among the largest 100 metro areas, the five regions with the fastest job growth were San Jose, Ca.; Cape Coral, Fla.; Fresno, Ca.; San Francisco, Ca. and Dallas, Texas. These are also some of the places with the biggest housing affordability challenges. According to our recently released Housing Landscape 2015, 27 percent of low- and moderate-income working households in the San Jose metro area faced a several housing cost burden—that is, they paid more than half of their income on housing costs each month. In San Francisco, 26 percent of working households were severely cost burdened. Only in Dallas was the rate of severely cost burdened households lower than the national average, at 18.5 percent. (Housing Landscape only analyzes the 50 largest metro areas so Cape Coral and Fresno are not included.)

Places with the greatest opportunity for economic opportunity and mobility include those where job growth is fastest. So metro areas with fast job growth and high housing costs are places where many lower-skilled and lower-wage workers are challenged to find affordable housing. Living in these regions is out of the question for some. As a result, low- and moderate-income workers may have a harder time accessing areas of opportunity, where job growth is strongest and the potential for economic mobility may be greatest.

High-cost regions need to be particularly innovative and strategic to find ways to increase affordable housing options. Increasing the overall supply of housing is an important step towards expanding the availability of housing at all price and rent levels. NHC’s Center for Housing Policy writes on a number of local affordable housing strategies that are helping to enable high-cost areas to promote and expand the supply of affordable housing.

In many cities and urbanizing suburban jurisdictions, height and other zoning restrictions could be relaxed to expand housing supply, and these development incentives should be linked to the provision of affordable housing. “Inclusionary upzoning,” which links affordability requirements to increased density, is a policy used in many high-cost jurisdictions, including Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Reducing the land costs of a residential project can be a valuable way to foster housing affordability for lower-income residents in high-cost areas. Our recent report prepared for ULI Washington highlights some of the best practices in local public land policy and development.

In many cases, investments in transit and other infrastructure catalyze increases in the value of properties that are well-located near the new amenities. While this growth can be positive for the overall neighborhood, it can also threaten the continued availability and opportunity for construction of new affordable housing, especially for families with very low incomes. Ensuring equitable development near transit is important for expanding affordable housing options in high opportunity metros.

Look for more to come from the Center for Housing Policy on strategies to build economically diverse communities and to expand housing options in high-growth, high-cost areas.