Posts Tagged ‘Affordable Housing’
Today’s guest post comes from Alliance research associate Pete Witte: homelessness researcher, urban planner, and brand new dad.
Last week I attended a meeting with the local D.C. chapter of the American Planning Association. Xavier Briggs – urban planner, academic, and current Associate Director at the Office of Management and Budget – spoke to the group.
Briggs is most acclaimed for his work on the concept of “geography of opportunity,” the idea that race and class segregation affects the well-being and life potential of people with fewer means. As a former urban planner turned homelessness researcher, Briggs caught my attention when he dropped the h-word into the conversation:
“…and planning for low-income housing and for those who are homeless.”
One of the things that I quickly learned in my post at the Alliance is that there is plenty of overlap between my former role as an urban planner and my current role as a homelessness researcher. Namely, I still spend my time asking one central question: what does it mean to improve our communities?
As an urban planner, that meant considering the best way to incentivize “green space,” or deciphering what the zoning code had to say about “FAR,” pondering what it meant to “rethink the auto” and encourage “TOD.”
As a homelessness researcher, it means new and different things.
I’ve learned that one way to improve communities would be to increase the amount of permanent supportive housing options for persons who are chronically homeless. We could also rapidly re-house individuals who, under incredibly difficult circumstances, have lost their home. We could make small changes that could better our homelessness system – by creating a central point of contact, coordinating services, and targeting homelessness prevention programs.
As an urban planner, I often thought about what it meant to improve our communities. I rarely thought about what it meant to end homelessness or what ending homelessness might look like. Today, I still identify as an urban planner, only now I think about community improvement in at least one more significant and important way: through ending homelessness.
When Congress comes back – whatever the election results – the men and women we elect will be facing appropriations season; they’ll be trying to determine how much money to spend on which programs. Ask any staffer on the Hill and they can tell you it’s always a rigorous and deliberate process – and passing a budget is one of the most important things that Congress does all year.
And that’s not all. We at the Alliance set policy priorities every year that we work toward with Congress and the Administration.
- Increase access to permanent, affordable housing for extremely low-income families by funding new Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers and supporting the capitalization of the National Housing Trust Fund.
- Increase the capacity of the VA and HUD to prevent and end veterans homelessness by enacting S. 1547, the Zero Tolerance for Homeless Veterans Act and supporting funding for additional HUD-VASH vouchers.
- End youth homelessness through supportive housing, rental assistance, and services specific to unaccompanied youth by supporting a baseline youth count in 2011 community homeless counts and increasing funding of the Family Unification Program
And really, that’s not all. Remember the whole federal plan to end homelessness that the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness released last June? Remember the youth homelessness site visit campaign? Remember how the HEARTH Act is going to kick up at any moment?
The people that we elect today will have the ability to make significant changes in our lives – and for my part, I’m hoping they have the best interests of our communities and our country at heart.
And if that isn’t enough, let me remind of you of the situation at hand with a few flashback statistics (courtesy of the Center for Housing Research):
- With only one in three poor renters benefiting from federal housing assistance, by 2006, some 16.8 million renter households (46 percent of all renters) were paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing.
- According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2010 Out of Reach report, a full-time minimum wage earner could not affordably rent a typical one-bedroom apartment in any county in the country (except some parts of Puerto Rico). The report estimates that the national “housing wage” – the hourly wage that a full-time worker must earn in order to afford the rent for a standard quality unit – is $18.44, or roughly 2.5 times higher than the current minimum hourly wage.
- In 2008, the percentage of people living with severe housing cost burden – paying more than 50 percent of their monthly income in rent – shot up by one-third to 16 percent. According to the State of the Nation’s Housing authored by the Center on Joint Housing Studies at Harvard University, a record 18.6 million households faced severe housing cost burdens this year – an increase of 4.7 million since 2001.
Look, you don’t need us to tell you that the situation out there isn’t rosy. Isn’t there some hubbub about the rent being too high in New York?
For many, it’s not a joke – it’s for real. Countless Americans are struggling to stay stably housed and support themselves and their families while precariously straddling their financial cliff. Together, with the support of Congress and the Administration, we can make that tightrope walk just a bit easier. With a focus on housing and services, we can prevent and end homelessness in this country.
So make sure you get out there and vote today.
Today’s blog post comes from Steve Berg, Vice President for Programs and Policy at the Alliance.
As a member of the Alliance’s policy team, I have the privilege and responsibility of meeting with elected officials, members of President Obama’s administration, national advocacy groups, and other stakeholders in the world of homelessness and housing. We share ideas, challenges, strategies, and innovations to best meet our common goals.
Earlier this month I had the distinct honor of attending a White House-sponsored gathering called Next Generation Housing Policy: Convening on Rental Housing. A policy that could do more to help the lowest-income Americans afford decent housing would provide a powerful wind at the back of everyone who works to end homelessness – so the issue is key to our work.
The event took place in a building that looks like a small warehouse, planted in an internal courtyard of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), next door to the White House. Inside was a comfortable, well-appointed auditorium. About 200 people were there – federal officials, people from the development and financing industry, researchers who study housing, and advocates for low-income people.
Speakers included members of the Obama Administration: Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Melody Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council; Larry Summers, Director of the National Economic Council. Academics, advocates, and practitioners from the affordable housing world also spoke, offering their ideas for change. Among them was our friend and colleague Rosanne Haggerty of Common Ground, who gave an astute pitch for supportive housing and its positive impacts for homeless people.
- The need for a more active policy on affordable rental housing has captured the Administration’s attention.
This was evident from the fact that this session was taking place, the time devoted to the session by members of the Administration, and the clear commitment expressed to develop a policy proposal that would address the problems people are having affording rental housing.
- The Administration and others see wide ranging benefits in increasing the amount of affordable rental housing. Melody Barnes spoke about affordable rental housing improving joblessness and revitalizing communities. Panelists addressed how a better housing policy can combat poverty, address social inequity, create incentives for wealth building, and promote fair housing. Linking housing policy to these broader goals draws in new allies and builds a stronger case for investments. (The more modest goal of ending homelessness has been embraced by this Administration and is on the list.)
- A universal policy, of decent, affordable housing for everyone, as an end in itself, may not be on the short-term agenda. Concern about the amount of federal debt and resulting difficulty enacting new spending programs was on everyone’s minds. If the policy being developed, however, is one for the next generation (i.e. the next 25 years or so), it will be appropriate to keep a universal approach as a longer-term goal while pursuing partial solutions over the next couple years that either don’t cost a lot or save money elsewhere.
- Housing produces results that can save money, but the savings are hard to predict. In fact, sometimes these savings don’t “count” in deliberations by Congress or the Administration for a number of reasons. Since the publication of research showing the cost-effectiveness of supportive housing, people working on homelessness have been struggling to realize these savings in a concrete way. It’s up to us – housers, policymakers, and advocates – to clearly demonstrate how housing is not only an effective solution but a cost-efficient one as well.
The convening closed with Derek Douglas, Special Assistant to the President and an important mover for the Obama Administration’s policies related to homelessness. Douglas said that staffers at the White House will be developing a policy proposal and that he expects that there will be additional consultation with people who attended this gathering about key details.
It’s time to act!
Homelessness is complicated, but in the end, we believe that people are homeless because they can’t find housing they can afford. Today, there is something YOU can do about it.
The National Housing Trust Fund aims create 1.5 million units of affordable housing within ten years – and tomorrow, the House will debate H.R. 4213, which would fund NHTF with $1 billion. With your help, the bill will move on to the Senate next week. (H.R. 4213 also includes funding for a variety of programs that low-income Americans need, including the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund. More info is available here).
Here’s what you can do:
1. Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.
2. Ask for your Congressional Representative. If you’re not sure who that is, you can find out here.
3. Ask for the staffer who works on housing.
4. Urge them to continue their support for preventing and ending homelessness in your community by voting YES on H.R. 4213. Here’s what you can say:
I am deeply concerned about homelessness in my community, but I know the way to end homelessness is to house people. I’m calling to ask you to fund the National Housing Trust Fund.
The National Housing Trust Fund is critical for efforts to prevent and end homelessness. The majority of the people who enter the homeless system have experienced some sort of crisis that causes them to lose their housing. At least 75% of NHT funds funds for rental housing would be aimed at extremely low income households.
H.R. 4213, the “tax extender bill,” would provide $1 billion for the NHTF and an additional $65 million for project-based vouchers to be released in conjunction with capital grants. Please vote yes on H.R. 4213 today.
5. Hang up, then call back: follow steps 1-5 for both your Senators!
Want more information? Courtesy of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, here are some important facts about NHTF.
- The housing trust fund will, once capitalized, provide communities with funds to build, preserve, and rehabilitate rental homes that are affordable for extremely and very low income households.
- It is a permanent program, and will have dedicated source of funding not subject to the annual appropriations process.
- At least 90% of the funds must be used for the production, preservation, rehabilitation, or operation of rental housing.
Stay tuned to this blog for advocacy updates!
As Catherine pointed out yesterday, many in the homelessness field have been slow to embrace using social media tools. As the New Media Intern at the Alliance, this hesitance has sometimes created challenges, but it has also made for some happy surprises.
As I’ve explored the social media landscape, I’ve been impressed and inspired over and over again by the homelessness blogosphere. Advocates, policy organizations, service providers and concerned citizens are using this new medium to share stories and information, to engage supporters and investigate new ideas.
So straight from my Google Reader, here’s homelessness in headlines this week – from the blogopshere:
2) for those who can’t afford free speech, the blog of Portland’s street newspaper Street Roots, consistently shares a wide variety of great content. This past week, they published an interview with Liesl Wendt, CEO of 211info in the Portland area. It serves as a handy introduction to 211 services, as well as the recession’s impact on the people of Portland.
4) Unity of Greater New Orleans’ Signs of Life. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: read it!
5) Inforumusa is updated daily with news and analysis about homelessness in LA and across the U.S. This week, they covered the Our Faith Matters Conference, which featured an appearance by HUD Deputy Director Anthony Love. He’s talking about the federal strategic plan on homelessness – due out next week!
6) Change.org’s End Homelessness blog represents a wide range of perspectives: service providers, advocates, formerly homeless people – and us! Plus, it’s updated 2-3 times every day, so you can stay up to date.
7) Open House, the blog of the National Housing Conference, keeps us informed about affordable housing and housing issues.
It’s brand-new and not specifically focused on homelessness, but Off the Charts makes the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ complex analyses easily readable and with great infographics, easy on the eyes.
10) And then there’s the Homelessness section on the Huffington Post, which just this week included a post from Maria Foscarinis of NLCHP connecting Arizona’s new immigration law SB-1070 and homelessness. If you stay tuned, you’ll also catch posts from Invisible People, which lets people experiencing homelessness share their own stories.
This is by no means an exhaustive list! What blogs about homelessness do you read? What did am I missing?
In order to understand the report, it’s important to establish two things:
- “Fair Market Rent” refers to the national average cost of a rental unit; it usually refers to a two-bedroom unit.
- ”Housing Wage” refers to the hourly wage a person must earn – working full-time – in order to afford Fair Market Rent.
The report found that a family needs to earn $18.44 per hour in order to afford a modest rental, two-bedroom home in the United States. This amounts to $38,360 per year – $16,310 more than the federal poverty level for a family of four.
Key findings of the report include:
- In 2010, the estimated average wage for renters in the United States is $14.44 – a decline from $14.69 in 2009;
- At the federal minimum wage of $7.25, a household would have top work 102 hours a week to afford the national average FMR;
- There is no county in the United States in which a full-time minimum wage worker can afford even a one-bedroom apartment at FMR.
The report also found that the two-bedroom Housing Wage topped $20 in 10 states, including the District of Columbia, California, New York, Florida, and Hawaii. The five most expensive metro areas included San Francisco (CA), Honolulu (HI), Stamford-Norwalk (CT), San Cruz-Watsonville (CA), and Westchester County (NY) – the housing wage for each of those areas topped $30 per hour.
In their report, the NLIHC calls upon Congress to allocate $1 billion to the National Housing Trust Fund, a federal program that, once capitalized, could provide funds to build, preserve, and rehabilitate rental homes accessible for very low-income households.
From our perspective, this report shows that the most vulnerable residents of the United States are struggling to maintain housing. The risk of homelessness becomes more and more salient as rental rates rise and wages fall, especially for those already on the precarious brink of economic stability.
What this report demonstrates is the necessity of approaching the problem: we are now living in a country where the FMR of a two-bedroom apartment is just under $40,000 a year. We are now living in a country where a person earning the federal minimum wage requires a person to work 102 hours/week to sustain housing. We are now living in a country where, in some places, the Housing Wage for a two-bedroom apartment is over $60,000 per year.
In such a reality, it’s little wonder that the lowest-income individuals and families are at real risk of experiencing homelessness.
Luckily, the solution is clear. The Alliance stands firmly besides NLIHC in their call for a greater investment in affordable housing. Homelessness – at it’s very root – stems from the inability to afford housing and therein lies the solution. With a sufficient supply of affordable housing, we can provide everyone a place to call home.
Many thanks to the NLIHC for this important report. For more information about the findings – and to see data on the Housing Wage and FMR in your community – check out their website.
At our Annual Awards Ceremony on April 22, we’ll honor Unity of Greater New Orleans, a nonprofit organization leading a collaborative of 63 agencies providing housing and services to the homeless in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish. In 2009, UNITY provided housing or services to 19,468 homeless children and adults – nearly twice the number of people served annually before Hurricane Katrina.
Executive Director Martha Kegel will accept our Nonprofit Achievement Award on behalf of UNITY. Read on to learn more about Martha’s story and UNITY’s work.
According to The Rising Elderly Population, the latest report from our own Homelessness Research Institute, homelessness among the elderly is set to increase 33% between 2010 and 2010.
Bill: I think the primary thing that can be done right now is to trying shore up affordable housing programs on which elderly persons rely.
There’s a mix between project-based Section 8, housing choice vouchers, Section 202, Section 515. Because elderly persons have a diverse range of needs, they utilize a diverse range of federal programs and local programs. So I think it’s really critical that the housing stock in these programs be preserved.
Bill: It’s also critical that new housing units be created moving forward. Federal policy definitely has to move in a direction such that we’re dramatically expanding the availability of affordable housing that elderly persons rely on.
I also think that one of the things that’s critical from a homelessness perspective is that the job of ending chronic homelessness be completed. The projection is that there will be a 33% increase in elderly homelessness between 2010 and 2020 and a lot of the people that are chronically homeless now are in the “older adult but not yet elderly” category.
So the success that we can have in the next 10 years at actually housing the chronically homeless population, particularly the older adults, will go a long way to avoiding one of the pathways into elderly homelessness, which is older adults becoming elderly.
And one of the issues with that is that as they become elderly, their needs may change. So their needs in terms of the services, they’ll likely become more frail, so it’s important to get them into housing, so those needs can be anticipated and dealt with moving forward.
The third thing we can do, after we shore up the affordable housing stock and after we finish the job of ending chronic homelessness, is to better understand the elderly homeless population so that services and housing can be provided in a very targeted way.
One of the limitations in the research we were seeing – the studies we were cobbling together as a part of informing the background of this study – was that there’s very little that’s known about the elderly homeless population, in terms of how they use the shelter system, in terms of whether they’re episodic users of the system or chronic users, how they use the mainstream services and systems, including Social Security and Medicare – what their utilization is like of those sort of programs – and other sort of things about their characteristics, dynamics and location.
There’s a lot that’s not known about the elderly homeless population. Having better knowledge and a typology of the elderly homeless population is critical for being able to figure out whether or not there’s a set of prevention programs, for example, that could be put in place for elderly persons with low needs and whether or not there are service-enriched strategies that need to be put in place for people with higher needs and we need to figure out just how many people are in those two categories.
Today’s guest post is from Maureen Friar, the new President and CEO of the National Housing Conference. We asked her some of the most pressing questions in the field. Here’s what she said:
Where do we – as a national community – stand on the issue of affordable housing? Where should we go from here?
Our country still faces a huge affordable housing problem. Housing is not affordable for many segments of our society, including low-income households and working families. In addition, when the cost of transportation is combined with the cost of housing, households are finding it even harder to make ends meet.
With the recent downturn in economy, collapse of the financial markets, and the overextension of credit, the number of foreclosures continues to rise, affecting millions in our communities. According to our research affiliate the Center on Housing Policy’s newest Paycheck to Paycheck study, between 2008 and 2009, home prices rose or held steady in 90 (44 percent) out of 207 metropolitan areas. Over the same time period, the income needed to purchase a median-priced home decreased in 193 of these metro areas (93 percent).
As well known to NAEH, we have made great strides in ending chronic homelessness, but many still are without a home. People are also living in substandard housing and families often are doubled- and tripled- up, which adds to the affordable housing crisis.
We must work with the Administration and Congress as one national community to implement measures to halt foreclosures, increase and expand new and affordable housing options, and fund the Housing Trust Fund. We must also continue to attack homelessness, which is the most visible sign of our housing crisis. It is essential that we raise our voices together to highlight the need for safe, decent and affordable housing for all Americans.
What is the most important innovation or development in the field of affordable housing that you’ve seen in the last decade?
I have seen extraordinary commitment and increased capacity from the nonprofit community to develop quality multifamily housing projects that integrate private and public financing. These developments, financed with private equity, primarily through the Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit, show that public private partnerships are effective and create solutions that work for our neighborhoods.
There are wonderful examples across the country – in rural, urban, and suburban settings. They incorporate mixed financing, as well as green and sustainable initiatives, and ultimately create high quality, affordable housing that is viable in the long-term. I also applaud the housing solutions that help successfully integrate people with disabilities and special needs into neighborhoods and affordable housing developments. As a result, we are moving away from housing people in isolated communities and making a variety of options available like never before.
What are a few of your most important policy priorities for the year?
NHC’s policy priorities for this year include, first and foremost, preventing foreclosures and stabilizing impacted neighborhoods. This includes developing better tools and improving the implementation of federal policies to stem foreclosures. We have been particularly active on this front through the NHC-sponsored National Foreclosure Prevention and Neighborhood Stabilization Task Force.
In addition, NHC is focused on helping low- to moderate-income working families meet their housing challenges through rental preservation, employer-assisted housing and workforce housing. NHC also plans to help improve the coordination of housing, transportation and energy. Specifically, through NHC’s advocacy at the local, state and national levels we hope to create incentives to preserve and expand the availability of housing that is permanently affordable to low- and moderate-income families near transit, job and retail centers, and develop the incentives necessary to improve the energy-efficiency of existing residential dwellings.
What brought you to NHC and what do you hope to accomplish there?
I am tremendously excited to be the new NHC president and CEO after 14 years of building the Supportive Housing Network of New York into an effective advocacy organization at the state and local levels. I am very interested in working on federal policy because it is the foundation on which most housing policy is developed.
With its nearly 80-year history, NHC is the oldest housing advocacy organization in America. Our membership comprises every segment of the housing industry. Given that we have just experienced the most dramatic housing crisis since the Great Depression, NHC has a tremendous opportunity to make an impact in helping fix this crisis and developing creative solutions to address future housing needs.
Known as the United Voice for Housing, we plan to build on our role as a convener by collaborating with our membership and drawing upon their strengths to craft and promote ideas for improving government programs, financial opportunities, and expanding the dialogue on housing solutions.
In addition, NHC will be increasing the presence of affordable housing as a first-tier national priority through our new Center for Housing Communications (CHC). The primary mission of the CHC is, ultimately, to improve collaboration between the housing and related industries in order to better communicate the need for, and benefits of, affordable housing.
NHC is also actively engaged at the state and local levels through its regional forums. We act as a clearinghouse to provide information on best practices for preserving affordable rental housing, foreclosure issues, and the connection between housing and transportation. I am delighted to be working in partnership with our research affiliate the Center for Housing Policy and our other national partners to be an effective and proactive voice on these issues.
I truly believe that by working collaboratively and diligently, change is possible. We can make affordable housing a first-tier national priority.
Without question, the news of the day is the reported 38 percent drop in Los Angeles, CA.
In a year when everything seemed to present endless challenges for the homeless and homeless advocacy community – rising unemployment, stifled state budgets, increasing homeless counts, reduction of public services, and the rest – it seemed incredible that the city with the largest homeless population in the country saw such a pronounced decrease in their numbers. The Los Angeles Continuum of Care (CoC) is a solid ten percent of the entire homeless population in the country – so any significant movement in their number would represent a notable change in the nation’s homeless population.
All to say – we definitely noticed.
And the inevitable question that rises from such a report is this: how?
Alliance staff has ruminated about the data for the last couple days. Together, we discussed the drop in the sheltered count (down by 19 percent), rental unit vacancy rates for the last five years (up by 3 percent), the unemployment rate (up by 5 percent), the Consumer Price Index (down by 4 percent), and – of course – methodology. We compared Los Angeles to New York and the nation, comparing numbers and rates and population, noting the general difficulties in counting homelessness people – especially the unsheltered (67 percent of the homeless population in LA is unsheltered.)
Of course, all these variables could play a role in determining how and why the count went down as significantly as it did. The rate of rental unit vacancies, the rate of turnover in a homeless shelter, the way the CoC decided to define and count the homeless population all affect the number.
As I’m considering this reality, I’m also reminded that this number – although telling and significant and interesting – is only one piece of information. It’s one number derived from one count on one night in one continuum of care and, by itself, certainly not enough to paint a picture of the depth and breadth of the homeless problem, even just in Los Angeles.
Because homelessness is a complex issue, one that must be contextualized with all those other elements in order to full understand and – hopefully – solve.
That being said, our heartiest congratulations and thanks to Los Angeles for their report and their leadership in this field. Many new programs in the area are being funded by the City and County of Los Angeles, and the County launched a $100 million Homeless Prevention Initiative. The CoC hosts a Permanent Supportive Housing Program, expanded Section 8 voucher programs, and has long worked to ensuring that homeless families and individuals are not only housed but also equipped with the skills and tools to pursue permanent independence. Contextualized or not, we know that ending homelessness in Los Angeles is no easy task, and commend the CoC and their partner organizations hard at work developing innovative solutions and new ideas.