Making a Splash in Policy: A Policy Intern during the Trump Administration

May 19, 2017
By Natalie Brown, former NLIHC policy intern

Natalie Brown - Policy Intern

Natalie Brown, policy intern with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Being at NLIHC has been one of the most immersive and incredible experiences a policy intern could ever ask for. Not kidding. Because I know with twisted absolute certainty that I would not trade my first time working in Washington D.C. for any other time than now. Why? Because I have learned more while fighting against majority interests than I could have while comfortably defending them.

I applied to be a policy intern at NLIHC for a variety of reasons, but one of my biggest aims was to explore a policy realm I had less experience in. During my coursework at Cornell, I had studied a variety of entitlement programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and SNAP which made my belief in their importance resolute. A piece felt missing, and that piece was an understanding of the importance of housing, which could fairly be considered the most important part in the security of low-income families. NLIHC’s mission of supporting socially just policy that promotes access to housing to those with the greatest needs greatly appealed to me, and I was blessed with the opportunity to hit the floor running this January.

The facts I learned about the affordable housing crisis were staggering. Nationwide there are 35 units affordable and available for every 100 extremely low income Americans. Waitlists to receive help are in the thousands in many cities. Only one-quarter of those who qualify for housing assistance receives aid. And so our job was to spread the message. Attending meetings on Capitol Hill with the Policy Team to talk with Congressional staff about these issues was invigorating: I had never imagined I would be this close to the people crafting policies changing the lives of everyday Americans. I learned more than I ever thought I would, and I am confident I will use it in future work and advocacy.

To conclude, I’d like to talk about the three most poignant truths about policy during my time interning in D.C.

  1. Change is less like water being poured out a pitcher and more like miraculous tiny drips and splashes. Every optimistic and starry-eyed Political Science major wants to come to Washington to see the curtains drawn back on what our government does. To watch big changes pour out of the doors of the Congressional chambers and to bask in the glow of them. I was no exception. Peculiarly, being here has shown me that big changes take time. Even though the idea of quick solutions is encouraging, there is no doubt that Congressional staffers and members put so much time and effort into the work they do in order to craft the solutions they believe in. For the job to be done right, quick-fixes just are not good enough. If for example, Congress allocated one trillion dollars in a block grant to a good cause (affordable housing, to be especially pertinent) with no mechanisms for oversight or no thought about what the disbursement guidelines will be, funds could easily be misused in a variety of different ways that could not only not solve the problem but exacerbate it. Policy, though expansive, should be carefully crafted and not taken lightly in order to be effective.
  2. Do your homework. Knowledge is power! Understanding the issues is the first step in solving them. When I first stepped into the office, the first thing I was instructed to do was to read up on housing programs, and I could not believe how large the issues are. As an advocacy organization, we strive to provide facts and data to offices so they can make the most informed policies and decisions. So even someone who is not an advocate but just wants to have a policy position should search for facts far and wide in order to come to a decision.
  3. Compromise is inescapable. If the government was about always getting what you want, life would be simple (and would lose almost all of its intrigue). Compromise is inevitable, and a big part of a long term strategy. In today’s climate, it may be tempting to retreat to one side of the aisle and not entertain the idea of a middle ground. But that gives up the fight entirely! Find middle ground when possible while still fighting for what’s right. This doesn’t work when an issue is black-and-white, but in many cases having support on both sides is better than fighting alone.

Throughout my time as an intern at NLIHC, I have had the opportunity to delve into affordable housing policy. It’s been a better primer than I ever could have asked for. Being here when tax reform has reemerged onto center stage and in the midst budget battles has been incredible. Being here when the fight is just beginning has been amazing and I cannot thank NLIHC enough for the opportunity to fight alongside you.

Continuing the Fight on the Local Level: Views from NLIHC Organizing Award Recipients

By NPH Executive Director Amie Fishman and EBHO Executive Director Gloria Bruce 

Preface: The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) awarded its annual Organizing Award to the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH) and the East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) during its “2017 Housing Policy Forum: Advancing Solutions in a Changing Landscape” on April 3.

NPH and EBHO are honored to be recognized by NLIHC for our longstanding roles and partnerships initiating, supporting, and driving success for affordable housing investment policy via a number of local revenue measures in the San Francisco Bay Area this past fall.

We took on this work because we knew acting locally mattered. What we didn’t know at the time, but has become increasingly and devastatingly clear since Election Day, is just how vital local action on affordable housing would become. The following is our perspective on why it’s important to continue defending affordable housing policies on the national level, but we should also stay vigilant to drive progress locally.

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In 2011, California’s governor and legislature dissolved our state’s redevelopment agencies, cutting $1 billion annually in funding for housing for low-wage workers, seniors, people with disabilities and veterans. Coupled with federal cuts, some California counties experienced a reduction of 89% in affordable housing investment – all while housing needs continued to grow.

Advocates recognized that we needed to take control back into local hands. Working with elected and community leaders, NPH and EBHO worked to find local and regional opportunities to create affordable housing investments. Then, we looked within to identify unique opportunities to galvanize our affordable housing community, including building and mobilizing a robust resident engagement program.

Building up to the November 2016 election, our organizations worked with leaders, partners, members, residents, and community members to initiate, support, and win a number of local affordable housing funding measures to invest in the affordable housing opportunities and options our communities needed. Including our work on Measure A (Santa Clara County), Measure A1 (Alameda County), Measure K (San Mateo County), Measures KK and JJ (Oakland), and Measure U1 (Berkeley), we secured more than $2 billion new, urgently needed revenue to create affordable housing opportunities in our communities this past fall.

NPH worked with resident leaders across Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Alameda County to develop a voter registration and education program for affordable housing residents, including speaker trainings, distributing more than 11,000 voter materials in seven languages to affordable housing residents, and organizing member staff and residents to support campaigns directly through phone banking and precinct walking.

Amie phone banking

EBHO resident leaders from affordable housing communities in Oakland made more than fifty presentations across the city and worked tirelessly to reach neighbors, friends, faith communities, and other local groups with the message to vote yes for affordable housing.

EBHO Gloria

Providing strategy, developing strong coalitions, fundraising, and organizing our communities proved well worth our efforts and an important step in driving solutions. We’re obviously proud of our work and honored by NLIHC’s recognition. But with more cuts coming from the federal level, it’s no time to rest on our laurels. Our commitment to advance inclusion, racial and economic equity in our communities is more important than ever.

Anyone following NLIHC is certainly aware of the new federal policies, proposals, and considerations that will impact our affordable housing work. Affordable housing advocates’ concerns include, but certainly, are not limited to:

  • The confirmation of Ben Carson as HUD Secretary. Carson has made on-record statements demonstrating his support for rolling back housing protections and policies;
  • President Trump’s executive orders. One of Trump’s first actions as president was to roll back an FHA mortgage loan policy that was intended to support young and moderate-income Americans seeking to become homeowners;
  • Uncertainty over tax reform under the Republican Congress, including disruptions to the tax credit market;
  • The “skinny budget” proposal which would cut more than $6 billion from HUD’s budget, down 13% from last year’s bare-bones budget — and down 15% from the funding level for FY17, resulting in more than 200,000 families, seniors, and people with disabilities who benefit from housing assistance becoming at immediate risk of homelessness;
  • The proposal to eliminate a number of important programs, including Community Development Block Grants and HOME Investment Partnerships, as well as dramatically reduce funding to other core programs that our communities rely on.

Any one of these bullets would cause concern. All together? It’s not an overstatement to recognize the direction of the federal administration as a direct attack on our ability to create thriving, inclusive and equitable neighborhoods.

We’re thankful to have national partners like NLIHC working hard to fight back against these cuts and harmful proposals, and to press HUD Secretary Ben Carson on commitments to HUD’s mission. We believe that local and regional organizations must support these efforts and do what we can do to bring voices from all over the country to support their strategies.

But, given the sheer enormity of current situations, it will take more than our status quo. It’s more important than ever that we push on our local and state leaders to defend our communities and find new solutions.

For those of us in blue states, it’s not enough for our local leaders to decry the federal administration’s actions – they must commit to take the actions they can to defend our most vulnerable communities, fight for affordable housing, and preserve our values.

Here in California, advocates are looking to local and state leadership to help defend our most vulnerable communities, fight for affordable housing, and protect our neighbors. To echo Assembly member David Chiu (D-San Francisco), we know that California’s housing crisis existed before the Trump administration took office – but there is no doubt that this Presidency is exacerbating and inflaming the problem.

California, and especially the Bay Area, has long been known to lead ‘worst of’ lists when it comes to housing affordability and opportunities. But we’re proud of the work our communities have been doing to step up and emerge as leaders in finding solutions too. Affordable housing advocates are coming together to work closely and strategically in one voice, in a way like never before to make sure our leaders do their part in supporting the needs of our neighbors and the values of our communities.

For those of us in more conservative states, remind your elected officials that affordable housing is not a partisan issue: In fact, polling from Ipsos Public Affairs showed that more than 3 out of every 4 voters were more likely to support a candidate who made affordable housing a priority in government. In fact, a strong majority of Republican, Democrat, and Independent voters alike want to make affordable housing a core component of their party’s platforms.

Especially at this national moment, those of us working in cities and states across the nation need to push on decision makers to find local solutions to advance housing justice. Voters have demonstrated their unity behind affordable housing. Now, we should push on our local and state leaders to keep up the urgency and keep building on the movement. While we can’t give up on fighting at a national level, it’s more important than ever to look at local, regional, and state leaders in order to drive progress.

5 things I heard Secretary Carson say at the NLIHC 2017 Housing Policy Forum

By Sharon Cornu

Sharon_Cornu_thumbnail

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson spoke at the National Low Income Housing Coalition conference in Washington, DC on April 3 as part of his listening tour. Here are five things he said and actions housing advocates can take to ensure that everyone has a place to call home.

  1. “Home is a place where you can feel secure. Housing is an integral part of well-being mentally and physically. There are three to four times as many people who need affordable housing as we can provide. Millions are paying 50% of their income for housing.”
    • That’s absolutely right – why, it reads almost like housing advocates’ talking points.
  1. “Healthcare is important. The emergency room costs three times as much as the clinic and doesn’t do preventive care. Exposure to lead hurts kids permanently.”
    • Again, we agree, and that’s why so many people worked hard for health care reform and especially the expansion of Medicaid to America’s lowest income families. We see the connection to housing as so many medical experts do, and we’re glad Secretary Carson supports this view. Unfortunately, he is part of an administration that may try again to take healthcare away from 24 million people.
  1. He proposed “Housing Savings Accounts” for unit-by-unit maintenance of public housing, where the individual resident is incentivized not to report common structural conditions or simple repair needs.
    • This is bad policy and disastrous property management. A spate of fires – and related deaths — in my community in Oakland, CA recently has reminded all of us that code compliance and regular maintenance protects human life.
  1. “The Low Income Housing Tax Credit is effective.”
    • We agree, and that’s why we are working at the state level to expand it, and at the federal level to preserve it. We encourage Secretary Carson to share this non-alternative fact with his administration and to join housing advocates in supporting affordable homes for everyone.
  1. “People are concerned about this new budget like it’s a crisis and the end of the world.”
    • We hope you are, too!  According to NLIHC, the budget “proposes to zero out HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods grants, cut the Community Development Block Grant in half, and eliminate the Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program and NeighborWorks grants.” The budget has its values upside down and redirects investment to the wealthiest 1%.

He closed with, “As Jesus said, a house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Actually, Dr. Carson, that was a man named Abraham Lincoln.)

During the Q&A portion, NLIHC’s President & CEO Diane Yentel pushed back with the diplomatic skills Washington has forgotten.  She pressed, “These budget cuts are real and immediate. People will be losing their homes. What assurances are you offering?” Carson answered that only waste and inefficiency will be cut – fueling the fears of people like me, who feel he is one of the cabinet officials dedicated to closing the Department whose critical mission he was entrusted to serve.

HUD programs have great consequences for millions of Americans in cities, suburbs and rural communities across the country. The essential investments offer families, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities the security and opportunity of stable housing and a place to call home.

To learn more about why we need serious talk and legislative action to support housing, visit the Non-Profit Housing Association website for California issues and NLIHC for federal. You’ll find urgent and important actions to take to defend our communities and support affordable housing.

Join us on calling on Secretary Dr. Carson to first, do no harm.


Sharon Cornu is political director for the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH) and adjunct professor at Mills College.

What Affordable Housing Means to Me…

Affordable Housing Success Story: Florida

Ability Housing 

Mission: Ability Housing’s mission is to build strong communities where everyone has a home. To fulfill this mission, we develop and operate quality rental housing affordable to people with extremely limited incomes, focusing on the needs of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and adults with disabilities. Ability Housing partners with area service organizations so our residents have the supports they require to ensure housing stability and increase their independent living skills. In 2015, Ability Housing’s housing stability rate was 95.5% across its affordable developments. This exceeds the HUD Continuum of Care performance benchmark (80%) for permanent supportive housing.

Story: Consuello lost her housing in 2012 due to several setbacks caused by her anxiety and depression. After weeks in transitory motels and shelters, she lost custody of her daughter. Michael was forced to leave his grandmother’s home due to family conflict. When he and Consuello met, an immediate bond of faith and love was formed between them. But they could not find housing as they were unable to find work and were forced to live outside of an abandoned warehouse. Jacksonville, like many communities, has a crisis with affordable housing with more than half of the city’s renters being cost-burdened and 337 people identified as chronically homeless. When they met Joe Johnson, the program manager at Ability Housing, Consuello and Michael said that their prayers had been answered. The Village on Wiley was developed specifically to provide 43 units of permanent supportive housing for the community’s highest users of crisis services. The couple moved into their new home at this beautiful complex in 2015. With the support resources provided by HUD Continuum of Care program (CoC) funds, they found the capacity to rebuild their lives and married in early 2016. Consuello and Michael are now receiving benefits that have further stabilized their income and Consuello is now supplementing their income with work at McDonald’s, having gotten her license and a car to help her get to work. They have moved into a two-bedroom apartment at Ability Housing’s Mayfair Village so they can have their children back in their lives. Education seemed like an unattainable dream when Consuello and Michael were experiencing homelessness, yet they are planning to attend Edward Waters College to study music, with the goal of teaching children. With the support of Ability Housing, their future is as bright as their smiles.

consuello_and_michael_ability_housing_village_on_wiley_2016_2

Contact:

Tanya Adams; 904-359-9650; tadams@abilityhousing.org

abilityhousing.org

Organization Information:

City: Jacksonville

Congressional District: FL-4

Use of Funds: Rental Assistance

Federal Programs: CoC: $925,414

Total Federal Dollars: $925,414


Success stories from the A Place to Call Home report are available at: http://nlihc.org/sites/default/files/A-Place-To-Call-Home_Profiles.pdf 

What Affordable Housing Means to Me…

Affordable Housing Success Story: California
West Hollywood Community Housing Corp. 

Mission: West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (WHCHC) develops safe, decent and affordable housing for people with limited incomes, including those with special needs, enhancing the community and supporting economic diversity. We envision sustainable communities of healthy, diverse neighborhoods within the greater Los Angeles, California area. Our residents include people with disabilities, seniors, people with HIV/AIDS, transition-age youth, families, and people who have formerly been homeless. As of December 2016, WHCHC houses 813 residents, 60% of whom are 55 years old or older. Most WHCHC affordable projects include HUD HOME Investment Partnerships program (HOME) funds from the County of Los Angeles Community Development Commission and the City of Glendale, as well as HUD project-based vouchers (PBVs) from both the County and City of Los Angeles housing authorities. WHCHC also relies on the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program (LIHTC) in developing its projects.

Story: After almost 10 years of homelessness, Stephen was selected from a lottery in 2009 for an apartment at Sierra Bonita Apartments in West Hollywood, California. It changed his life.

stephen_sadler_photo_2_whchcStephen, a paraplegic from back injuries, was awarded a Shelter Plus Care (S+C) voucher, but he was unable to find an apartment that would accept his voucher. In fact, because of the housing shortage in West Hollywood and Los Angeles, Stephen’s voucher expired twice while he was trying to find an apartment. Ultimately, Stephen found WHCHC, the only landlord in West Hollywood accepting new residents with vouchers.

Sierra Bonita Apartments is a 42-unit new construction project for people with disabilities, located in a low-income neighborhood where much of the housing stock is aging and deteriorating. The project was awarded $3 million in HUD HOME funds in 2008, and it received 32 HUD project-based vouchers in 2011. The development created approximately 45 construction jobs and two permanent jobs. The WHCHC Resident Services department provides Sierra Bonita tenants with educational and economic opportunities, and staff help to promote housing retention and positive health outcomes.

While living at Sierra Bonita, Stephen keeps fit by working out and surfing with his friends at “Life Rolls On.” WHCHC’s Resident Services staff provide services as needed, but Stephen is becoming less reliant on supportive services in his daily life.

Contact:
Robin Conerly; 323-650-8771; robin@whchc.org
 whchc.org

Organization Information:
City: West Hollywood
Congressional District: CA-28
Use of Funds: New construction, rental assistance
Federal Programs: HOME: $3 million PBV: $164,448/year LIHTC: $7.09 million
Total Federal Dollars:
Development: $10.90 million
Rental Assistance/ Services: $164,448/year
Other Financing: $3.79 million
Total Project Cost: $18.77 million
Affordable homes created or preserved: 42


Success stories from the A Place to Call Home report are available at: http://nlihc.org/sites/default/files/A-Place-To-Call-Home_Profiles.pdf