Housing and the Election Webinar: 5 Ways You Can Take Action

By Sarah Mickelson, NLIHC Director of Public Policy

Over the next few months, affordable housing and community development organizations have an opportunity to influence a number of critical issues before Congress and to help break through the noise of the presidential campaigns to make affordable housing an election issue.

Join us for a discussion with NLIHC staff on our Summer/Fall Issues Guide and Sample Candidate Questionnaire. On the webinar, we’ll review five ways you can take action between now and the November elections to advocate for the issues that are most important to your mission, the people you serve, and your community.

Speakers include:

  • Sarah Mickelson, Public Policy Director
  • Elayne Weiss, Senior Policy Analyst
  • Joseph Lindstrom, Senior Organizer for Housing Advocacy

For more information and best practices on how nonprofit organizations and individuals can lobby their elected officials, see Lobbying: Individual and 501(c)(3) Organizations in NLIHC’s 2016 Advocates’ Guide.

The Housing & the Election webinar was presented on September 7 and can be viewed here: http://nlihc.org/sites/default/files/Webinar_5WaysToTakeAction_090716.pdf 

 

The National Housing Trust Fund: Making Sure it Meets the Greatest Needs

By Andrew Aurand, NLIHC Vice President for Research and Dan Emmanuel, NLIHC Research Analyst

nhtf_logo_webThe National Low Income Housing Coalition’s most recent Gap report indicates a national shortage of more than seven million affordable homes available to extremely low income (ELI) renter households, those with income of no more than 30% of their area median income (AMI). Unable to find affordable housing, ELI renters account for 7.8 million or 68% of the nation’s 11.4 million renter households who spend more than half of their income on housing. Meanwhile, fewer than half of new rental homes supported by federal housing subsidies on which developers most often rely – including the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), and the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program (AHP) – reach these households.

This year marks the first distribution of money from the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF), a program created to focus specifically on the housing needs of the lowest income renters. Funded by mandated contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, at least 90% of HTF funds must be used for rental housing and at least 75% of funds for rental housing must benefit ELI households. All HTF money must benefit ELI households while the HTF is capitalized under $1 billion a year. The first year’s distribution of $174 million is small in comparison to the need, but is an important step forward in helping the nation’s lowest income renters find affordable housing. Successful implementation of the program in its first year will ensure in the future that the HTF truly serves the population it was intended to serve to the greatest extent possible.

A potential challenge that state advocates and other stakeholders are working to address is the possibility that renters whose income is at 30% of AMI may be cost burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on housing, even if they live in an HTF supported rental home. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 modified the definition of ELI for the national HTF to include households whose income is no greater than the federal poverty guideline or 30% of AMI, whichever is higher.[1] The change broadened eligibility for the HTF to households who live in poverty, but whose income is greater than 30% of AMI. HUD’s HTF interim rule went a step further and applied the same criteria to set maximum rents at 30% of either the federal poverty guideline or 30% of AMI, whichever is higher. Wherever the federal poverty guideline is higher, renters with household income at 30% of AMI will be cost burdened by the maximum rent.

Table 1 shows the HTF maximum rent standard by apartment size across metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties.[2] Maximum rents are set at 30% of the federal poverty guideline in 61% and 92% of counties for one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, respectively. The vast majority of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties alike have maximum rents based on the federal poverty guideline for apartments larger than one bedroom.

Table 1: Distribution of HTF Maximum Rent Standards by County and Size

All U.S. Countiesa(3,147)>

Metropolitan Counties (1,198)

Non-Metropolitan Counties (1,976)

Size

% of Counties with Max. Rents Set at 30% of Area Median Incomeb

% of Counties with Max. Rents Set at 30% of the Federal Poverty Guideline

% of Counties with Max. Rents Set at 30% of Area Median Income*

% of Counties with Max. Rents Set at 30% of the Federal Poverty Guideline

% of Counties with Max. Rents Set at 30% of Area Median Income*

% of Counties with Max. Rents Set at 30% of the Federal Poverty Guideline

0 Bedroom

62.57

37.43

80.30

19.70

51.82

48.18

1 Bedroom

38.82

61.18

59.85

40.15

26.06

73.94

2 Bedroom

8.48

91.52

18.61

81.39

2.33

97.67

3 Bedroom

4.13

95.87

9.85

90.15

0.66

99.34

4 Bedroom

1.76

98.24

4.26

95.74

0.25

99.75

a. Includes county portions in New England, where multiple maximum rents can exist within the same county.

b. Includes counties where rents at 30% of 30% of AMI or 30% of federal poverty guideline are equal.

 

To illustrate the challenge, we calculated the potential cost burden for a 3-person family with income at 30% of AMI in each county at the maximum HTF rent for a two-bedroom apartment. They are available at http://nlihc.org/sites/default/files/State-Tables_081516.xlsx. In the median county where the maximum rent is based on the federal poverty guideline, a family of this size and income could spend 38.3% of their income on rent. In the worst cases, it would be 52.1%. The poorest counties, where the federal poverty guideline is much higher than 30% of AMI, will have the highest potential cost burdens. Cost burdened households have difficulty affording other basic necessities such as food, transportation, and health care and are at greater risk of housing instability if they experience a sudden financial crisis.

Table 2 presents a sample budget for a 3-person family with income at 30% of AMI in Orange County, FL. A two-bedroom apartment priced at the maximum HTF rent, based on the federal poverty guideline, would take 38.3% of the family’s income. Even after receiving the maximum benefit from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the family would be unable to meet all of their expenses without additional assistance.

Table 2: Sample Monthly Budgets for Family of 3 in Orange County, FL

Monthly Income

Maximum SNAP Benefit for Family of 3

HTF Maximum Rent for 2BR Unit

Cost of Food on USDA Thrifty Plan*

Cost of Transportation**

Cost of Health Care ***

Income Remaining for All Other Expenses

3 Person Household at 30% AMI

$1,317

$511

$504

$462

$480

$486

-$104

*Based on USDA Thrifty Food Plan estimates in May 2016 for a single female head of household between the ages of 19-50 with two children aged 6-8.

**Cost of transportation for family of 3 (1 adult, 2 children) in Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL MSA retrieved from Economic Policy Institute Family Budget Calculator (2015).

*** Cost of health care for family of 3 (1 adult, 2 children) in Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL MSA retrieved from Economic Policy Institute Family Budget Calculator (2015).

The national HTF is an important new resource in addressing the housing needs of the nation’s poorest renters. While rents affordable to households at 30%, 20%, or even 15% of AMI are challenging to achieve given development and operating costs, developers and stakeholders across the country are finding creative ways achieve them. NLIHC organized a webinar that recently attracted almost 1,000 registrants to discuss how to finance and operate ELI housing. We encourage advocates to use these and other tools to continue pressing to reward rents targeted to the lowest income households in their states HTF allocation plans. In these ways, we can assure that the national HTF meets the needs of the lowest income renters.

[1] This definition for ELI was applied to other HUD programs in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014.

[2] Includes county portions in New England, where multiple maximum rents can exist within the same county.

Join Organizations Across the Nation To Make Housing an Election Issue!

The conventions are over. Candidates up and down the ballot are out on the campaign trail making promises and asking for votes.

Let’s join forces to make sure that affordable housing is on their agenda.

Please join NLIHC, Make Room, and organizations across the nation to send 1 million messages to Congress to get housing affordability on the agenda by Election Day.

Here are three ways you can support the campaign:

  1. Join us. Sign your organization onto the national letter or sign up as an individual.
  1. Raise the profile of affordable housing issues locally. The Make Room Advocacy Toolkit includes sample letters to the editor, emails and e-newsletters, social media messages and website promos, and questions to ask members of Congress at town hall meetings. It also features best practices for meeting with your elected officials one-on-one or inviting them to tour affordable housing developments.
  1. Spread the word. Encourage other national, state, and local organizations, elected officials, and advocates who believe that housing is a critical resource for our communities to join the campaign.

Our nation is facing a housing affordability crisis of record proportions. Too many Americans cannot make rent, and Congress has done little to ease this growing burden.

Every day until Election Day, together let’s deliver one clear message to Congress: Americans cannot afford places to live and need help.

Please join us! We cannot achieve our ambitious goal of 1 million messages without you.

 

Californians Look to Address Affordable Housing in the Voting Booth

californiaOn November 8, voters in California will consider 17 statewide ballot measures. Direct legislation is more common in California than anywhere else in the country. Cities and counties throughout the state are adding referenda of their own, many of which aim to address housing affordability and homelessness. Ranging from housing bonds to zoning changes, these measures coincide with a heightened public awareness around housing and homelessness as the crisis intensifies in California.

Just last month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously urged Governor Jerry Brown (D) to declare a state of emergency on homelessness, joining similar efforts by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) in October of last year (see Memo, 10/5/2016).

California’s homeless population reached 115,000 in 2015, with nearly 74,000 individuals living unsheltered, according to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report assembled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). According to NLIHC’s 2016 Gap Report, there is a shortage of 1,003,110 affordable and available units for extremely low income (ELI) renters—those earning 30% or less of area median income (AMI).

The housing and homelessness crisis has become particularly dire in Silicon Valley region, where skyrocketing housing costs have made the area unaffordable for those who have not benefitted from the tech industry’s prosperity. In response, San Francisco voters approved a $310 million bond last fall for the construction of affordable housing in the city (see Memo, 11/9/2015 and 10/13/2015). Voters in Santa Clara and Alameda counties will decide on similar measures this November.

  • Santa Clara County
    In Santa Clara County, a $950 million bond would generate funds to support housing development. The spending plan would allocate $700 million for ELI housing, including permanent supportive housing for those experiencing chronic homelessness and also rapid rehousing for victims of domestic violence and those leaving the foster care system. The plan also calls for $100 million to be allocated to serve very low income (VLI) households with incomes between 31% and 50% of AMI. The final $150 million will support housing for moderate income households, with $50 million dedicated to assist first-time homebuyers.

    To pay for the bond, the county would assess property owners $12.66 per $100,000 of property value. Costing the average homeowner less than $100 annually, the tax increase will retire the loan in an estimated 30 years. The bond has drawn support from San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo (D), as well affordable housing developers and service providers throughout Silicon Valley. The San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce opposes the measure. The group’s president and CEO issued a statement titled “Business is Under Attack,” criticizing a number of taxes and regulations under consideration in Silicon Valley. Among the Chamber’s members are tech giants Microsoft, Apple, Google and Intel, all based in Santa Clara County. The bond measure will require a two-thirds majority for approval.

  • Alameda County
    Alameda County’s proposed $580 million bond would invest in affordable homes for low-income renters, provide assistance for first-time homebuyers and create an innovation fund to acquire property and prevent displacement in high-opportunity areas. The spending plan would allocate $460 million for rental housing programs, designating at least 20% of units for households earning 20% or below AMI and ensuring all units have an affordability period of at least 55 years. Like Santa Clara County, Alameda County would fund the bond with a property tax increase of $12.50 per $100,000 of property value. The Alameda County measure, which will also require a two-thirds majority for approval, is supported by East Bay Housing Organizations, an NLIHC member.
  • San Mateo County
    Voters in San Mateo County, another hub of Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and YouTube, will decide whether to extend a half-cent sales tax increase by 20 years to fund affordable housing. The original tax, Measure A, was approved by voters in 2012 and has generated more than $80 million annually. Although the county cannot submit a tax extension for a specific funding purpose, the Board of Supervisors intends to allocate the ongoing revenue for affordable housing needs. The Board was also considering a bond measure similar to those in San Mateo and Alameda counties, but polling indicated it would not meet the two-thirds threshold to pass. An extension of Measure A would require only a simple majority.
  • Los Angeles County
    Southern California voters will also weigh in on measures dealing with housing and homelessness as the affordability crisis worsens. Los Angeles County has the second-highest homeless population in the country, at 46,874, and 83% of ELI households are severely cost burdened, meaning they spend more than half of their income on rent. City and county officials have begun to publicly commit themselves to ending homelessness, with Mr. Garcetti pledging $100 million in new funding this year. A larger, ongoing source of revenue is needed.

    The city of Los Angeles succeeded in placing a more ambitious measure on the November ballot: a $1.2 billion bond for the construction of housing to serve the lowest income residents. Approximately 80% of proceeds would fund permanent supportive housing and temporary shelters for homeless individuals, while up to 20% would fund affordable housing for ELI and low income residents who are not currently homeless. To finance the bond, property owners would pay between $4.50 and $17.50 per year for every $100,000 of assessed value. That amounts to $44.31 per year for a median-priced home in Los Angeles, with payments retiring after about 28 years. The bond measure will require a two-thirds majority to pass.

    Voters in the city of Los Angeles will also decide on the Build Better LA initiative, which would impose requirements for affordable housing and labor practices on real estate developments that seek waivers from city zoning rules (see Memo, 6/27/2016). Under one portion of the proposal, developments larger than 10 units that exceed regulations such as those limiting building density would have to make at least 5% of units affordable to ELI households. An additional 6% must be priced as affordable at the very low income rent threshold (50% of AMI) or 15% at the low income rent threshold (80% of AMI). The measure is backed by a broad coalition of labor and housing groups including the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing, an NLIHC State Coalition Partner.

    The Build Better LA initiative does have some opposition in the broader community advocates. Although the LA County Federation of Labor and several groups representing renters support the measure, it is opposed by the LA Tenants Union, who argue that the policy change would bring more luxury housing than affordable housing and thereby accelerate neighborhood displacement. The Build Better LA initiative will need only a simple majority to pass.

  • City of Santa Monica
    Residents in Santa Monica will vote on a half-cent sales tax increase to fund education and affordable housing. A sales tax cannot be dedicated for a specific purpose, so the City Council also placed on the ballot a companion measure that asks if the new revenue should be allocated with half of the funds for each purpose. The allocation referendum is advisory and non-binding, and the extent of the affordability is not clearly specified. The City Council included funding for the school district in order to give the measure a better chance of passage.

Beyond measures to build more housing that is affordable, tenant advocates are taking action to slow the escalation of rents in markets with tremendous scarcities of rental housing. In November, five communities in the Bay Area will consider referenda to adopt rent control policies that will cap annual increases in rent amounts. Advocates in the cities of Richmond, Mountain View, Alameda, San Mateo, and Burlingame collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. The referenda in San Mateo and Burlingame are being contested and their respective city councils will decide before the end of August if rent control will be included in November. In the City of Richmond, the rent control ballot measure will serve to counteract the City Council’s repeal of their existing rent control ordinance in November of 2015. More information about rent control initiatives can be found at the Tenants Together website.

NLIHC’s Advocacy Guide for the Election Season

nlihc-2016_issues-guideOver the next few months, affordable housing and community development organizations have an opportunity to influence a number of critical issues before Congress and to help break through the noise of the Presidential campaigns to make affordable housing an election issue.

This summer and fall, Congress will be in their home districts and states between August 1 and September 6 and again between October 10 and November 11.

To help advocates make full use of this time, NLIHC has created a Summer/Fall 2016 Advocacy Guide, outlining the five key ways organizations can take action between now and the November elections to advocate for the issues that are most important to their mission, the people they serve, and their community.

The Advocacy Guide covers ways organizations can help:

  • Increase federal spending on key federal housing programs;
  • Expand and improve the Low Income Housing Tax Credit;
  • Ensure that housing needs are addressed in criminal justice reform;
  • Support the Make Room campaign—an initiative to demand that Congress make affordable housing a top priority; and
  • Use NLIHC Voterization resources to engage voters and candidates.

For more information and best practices on how nonprofit organizations and individuals can lobby their elected officials, see Lobbying: Individual and 501(c)(3) Organizations in NLIHC’s 2016 Advocates’ Guide.

Together, these resources can help advocates make their voices heard and build strong relationships with their Members of Congress.