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.

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.

House Panel Advances FY17 THUD Spending Bill

By Elayne Weiss, Policy Analyst

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) approved its FY17 spending bill on May 18 by a voice vote. Much like the Senate version of the bill, the House proposal is better than expected and should provide sufficient funding to ensure continued assistance to all households currently served by HUD. House appropriators were able to avoid major cuts and increase funding for a few programs.

The bill includes no negative policy or funding decisions related to the national Housing Trust Fund, a stark departure from last year’s House THUD Subcommittee bill which proposed raiding the HTF to fill a funding gap.

Overall, the funding levels for HUD programs proposed in the bill are fairly similar to those included in the Senate bill, with some notable exceptions, reflecting the different priorities between the two chambers. However, unlike the Senate, the House THUD Subcommittee largely excluded policy proposals, such as expanding the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) and initiatives to reduce lead paint hazard, from the bill.

The House THUD Subcommittee received an allocation of $58.2 billion to fund important housing and transportation programs, an increase of $889 million over the FY16 allocation. Of this amount, HUD will receive $38.7 billion, $384 million more than last year’s level, but below the amount provided in the Senate version of the bill, $39.2 billion.

THUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Mario Diaz-Balart stated, “We were able to make these vital investments in transportation systems and communities because of the very generous allocation to this subcommittee.”

Homelessness

Homeless assistance programs received a large increase in funding when compared to the Senate version of the bill: $2.487 billion versus $2.3 billion. This also represents a $237 million increase over FY16 funding levels. The bill does not specifically target funds to address youth homelessness, but does require HUD to collect performance measures of each continuum of care that will influence how future funds are distributed.

Tenant Based Rental Assistance

Despite providing less funding than the Senate ($18.312 billion compared to $18.355 billion), House appropriators maintain that this amount is sufficient to renew existing housing choice vouchers. The House also chose not to allocate any money towards new Family Unification Program (FUP) vouchers, and only provided $7 million towards Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers specifically targeted to Native American veterans.

The bill does not include funding for the Obama Administration’s proposed housing choice voucher mobility demonstration designed to encourage families to move to lower-poverty areas and expand access to areas of opportunity. The Senate provided $11 million for the demonstration.

Project Based Rental Housing

Like the Senate version of the bill, the House bill provides $10.901 billion to renew all project-based rental assistance contracts for calendar year 2017, an increase of $85 million from the FY16 funding level.

Public Housing

The House decided to flat fund both public housing accounts in FY17. The Senate has proposed increasing funding for both. Under the House bill, the operating fund and capital account would receive $4.5 billion and $1.9 billion respectively.

The bill does not increase the number of public housing units that can convert under the RAD.

Other Housing Programs

For certain housing programs, the House bill provides the same level of funding proposed in the Senate bill. That includes $505 million for the Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program, enough to renew all contracts, and $154 million for the Section 811 Housing for People with Disabilities program, $3 million over the FY16 level. The House bill does not include language allowing Section 202 Project Rental Assistance Contract (PRAC) properties to convert under RAD.

Like the Senate, the House bill flat funds the HOME Investments Partnerships program ($950 million), the Community Development Block Grant program ($3 billion), and the Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA) program ($335 million). The House bill does not update the HOPWA formula.

While funding for the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative was cut in both bills, the House overall provided more funding for the program in FY17 ($100 million compared to $80 million). The program received $125 million in FY16.

Additionally, the bill provides $130 million to the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes’ grants, a $20 million increase.

Next Steps

The full Appropriations Committee will likely debate the bill and amendments offered by committee members sometime next week. Policy riders will loom large, including trucking safety provisions and language potentially added as an amendment preventing HUD from implementing its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule.

 

Making the most of the National Housing Trust Fund in Texas

Texasblog_image

By Will Livesley O’Neill

The National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) is the first dedicated source of funding for extremely low income households in decades. Its primary purpose is to provide states with funds to expand the supply of available, affordable rental housing for extremely low income households (ELI), or those that earn less than 30 percent of their area’s median income (learn more). 2016 is the first year that the program will provide funding to states, and it is expected to be allocated sometime this summer.

Because this is a new and rare opportunity, housing advocates have a vested interest in making sure the Trust Fund as successful as possible in expanding housing for ELI households. As the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) begins to hold roundtable discussions and draft an allocation plan for distributing Texas’ share for this year ($4.81 million), advocates have come together to propose recommendations to make the funding work for the people who need it most:

Target projects that serve the biggest need.

All of this years’ Trust Fund dollars must serve ELI households. However, in order to provide housing opportunity to the most underserved households, extra points in the allocation plan should be awarded to projects that will serve and set rents affordable for those under 15 percent area median income – a population unexamined by HUD but defined by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) as “deeply low income,” or DLI.

According to NLIHC’s 2016 Gap report, Texas has a chronic shortage of housing units available and affordable to DLI households – a deficit of more than 264,000 units. For every 100 DLI households in the state, there are just 14 available and affordable units, making Texas one of just 10 states in the country with such a low percentage. This shortage is a major reason why 93 percent of Texas’ DLI households suffer from severe housing cost burdens, paying at least half of their monthly income toward rent and utilities.

Who are the DLI residents harmed by Texas’ glaring affordability deficit? Many are people with long-term disabilities, elderly people or those experiencing or transitioning out of homelessness. Many rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to pay for housing, although the maximum monthly SSI payment is just $733. According to NLIHC’s Out of Reach Report for 2015, the average Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a one-bedroom unit in Texas is $685 – 89 percent of maximum monthly SSI. In more expensive areas, the SSI maximum doesn’t even cover the average cost of rent, such as in Austin, where the average FMR for a one-bedroom is 108 percent of SSI.

The State of Texas Consolidated Plan recognizes the burden that the housing deficit places on ELI and DLI households, noting that “the most common housing problems are cost burden [paying more than 30% of income for rent and utilities] and severe cost burden [paying more than 50% of income for rent and utilities], especially for households with income between 0-30% of the area median income (AMI).” States must take the priorities outlined in their Consolidated Plans into consideration when developing Trust Fund allocation plans, and the Texas Consolidated Plan makes it clear that the gap in housing for ELI and DLI households creates the state’s “most common housing problems.”

The Trust Fund is an opportunity to begin to narrow the gap, and reduce the burdens on those most impacted by the housing deficit by providing an extra emphasis on housing that serves DLI households.

Lower barriers to housing.

Beyond the enormous deficit of available, affordable units, extremely low income people including people experiencing homelessness often face unfair barriers to accessing Texas’ current housing stock. Trust Fund dollars can help expand access if the allocation plan gives extra points to projects that lower physical and systemic barriers to housing. Beyond the federal, state, and local accessibility and reasonable accommodation requirements, extra points should also be awarded to units that:

Do not require proof of employment or monthly income at three times the cost of rent;
Do not require services, case management or support as a condition of tenancy;
Do not refuse tenancy to individuals with poor or no credit history or past evictions; and
Do not refuse tenancy to individuals with limited criminal histories.
A “limited” criminal history does not include registered sex offenders, evictions from federally-assisted housing in the past three years due to drug crimes or violent crimes, any felony convictions for drug or violent crimes in the past 10 years or any felonies for murder, rape or arson.

And it’s important to note that there is nothing radical about reducing barriers for people with limited, nonviolent criminal histories. On the contrary, it complies with federal policy and fair housing guidelines. In early April, HUD announced new guidance on how housing providers consider criminal backgrounds. Landlords can no longer flatly refuse to rent to anyone with a criminal history, as doing so has a disparate racial impact thanks to the mass incarceration of minorities in America.

The guidance states that “a discriminatory effect resulting from a policy or practice that denies housing to anyone with a prior arrest or any kind of criminal conviction cannot be justified, and therefore such a practice would violate the Fair Housing Act.” Trust Fund allocations are legally obligated to abide by both HUD policy and the Fair Housing Act.

Require the expansion of affordability.

Units created thanks to the Trust Fund must be affordable for a household below 30 percent area median income. Whether that is achieved through new construction, rehabilitation or preservation, the result must be that rather than replacing, repairing, or expanding existing units, all Trust Fund dollars increase the number of units for extremely low income households.

Extend the length of affordability.

In addition to expanding affordability, we should be extending it. The Trust Fund provides Texas with the ability to expand affordability not just this year, but for generations. The state should require that units created with Trust Fund dollars be affordable for extremely low income households for 50 years, in order to ensure a lasting impact and avoid a quick disruption of affordability that would leave residents vulnerable.

Karen Carson, a Boston resident facing the end of her building’s affordability period, put that vulnerability this way: “As a person with a disability, I have lived most of my adult life in affordable housing. I had never heard of the fact that subsidies could end…When I found out it was expiring, I got pretty scared of becoming homeless.”

Affordability periods often range from 15 years, common in many tax credit properties, to the 30 year minimum mandated by the Trust Fund. But a 2012 HUD study found that the majority of tax credit developments remain affordable after their legally-required period has expired, because it makes sense financially for the property owner. So in most cases, longer affordability periods won’t impose unreasonable burdens on owners, and are much safer for tenants.

Moreover, HUD’s official guidance on Trust Fund allocation states that “the funding priority in the [state] allocation plan should consider how project underwriting supports the financial feasibility of the project beyond the required 30-year period.” Rewarding Trust Fund applications that plan for ways to extend the length affordability to 50 years would be consistent with this federal guidance.

Diversify development.

Because the Trust Fund is the first source of dedicated funding for ELI and DLI housing in decades, it should expand upon, not merely supplement, existing resources for affordable housing. While the allocation plan should not restrict funding to any type of developer, it can reduce barriers to access for smaller, mission-driven developers who are often excluded from other sources of funding.

The allocation plan can help diversify the types of developers receiving funding by providing alternative, less burdensome applications for mission-driven developers who are often excluded from access to tax credit funding because of burdensome costs and requirements. TDHCA’s current multifamily application is prohibitively time-consuming and expensive for small developers with limited staff and budget.

The department’s current requirements for developer experience also don’t make sense for small projects. A requirement for experience developing 150 units is not commensurate with a small mission-driven developer applying for funding to do a 10- or 20-unit project, for example. The allocation plan could make a distinction on alternate experience requirements for smaller mission-driven developers.

There are other ways TDHCA could make the application process for Trust Fund more accessible for small mission-driven developers, such as changing certificate of occupancy standards and more. Doing so would broaden the scope of low income housing options, providing much more choice for ELI and DLI households who may have different needs that smaller developers are more equipped to provide.

Increase availability for households without rental assistance.

A large percentage of units in current tax credit properties are home to ELI households that afford their higher rents through the use of Housing Choice Vouchers. We are concerned that some recipients could “check the box” of meeting the Trust Fund’s income targeting requirements by serving voucher holders, thus not increasing the amount of affordable housing for ELI households but merely doubling up the funding. The allocation plan should not prevent the use of vouchers, but should create a way to ensure that units are available to those without access to rental assistance.

Gaining access to rental assistance is extremely difficult. While there are many forms of rental assistance, including programs used by people with long-term disabilities, veterans transitioning out of homelessness and others, the Housing Choice Voucher program provides a clear example of the challenges ELI households face in receiving a subsidy. The Housing Authority of the City of Austin had 1,897 families on its waiting list to receive Housing Choice Vouchers at the end of 2015. The waiting list has been closed since an eight-day period in October of 2014 – and even then, the names added to the list were selected from a random lottery of the thousands of households who signed up just for the chance to wait. The households with or waiting for vouchers in Austin represent a fraction of the need, and the same is true for many cities around the state.

Even after receiving a voucher, many households struggle to find housing, due in large part to widespread discrimination against Texas’ voucher holders. The options for households with rental assistance are often limited to units funded through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. According to the Furman Center, 70 percent of ELI households in tax credit housing nationwide use some form of rental assistance.

But because rent levels for vouchers are typically set at 50 to 60 percent of area median income, much higher than the 30 percent mandated by the Trust Fund, households with rental assistance can sometimes afford a unit that would be unaffordable, or severely cost-burdensome, for the many ELI households unable to access rental assistance. If the Trust Fund goes entirely toward units that serve rent-assisted households, households without rental assistance will, in addition to being unable to afford most tax credit units, be blocked from access to the new 30 percent units that would otherwise provide a desperately-needed affordable rental option. (Courtesy: The Texas Housers)

Will Livesley O’Neill is the communications director at Texas Low Income Housing Information Service (TxLIHIS), an NLIHC State Coalition Partner. In this role, he articulates the need for fair and affordable housing and tells the stories of low income Texans to community stakeholders, legislators, and the press. Will also writes the TxLIHIS blog, where he originally posted this article. You can contact him at will@texashousing.org and follow him on Twitter at @WillLives.

 

Home Is Where You Feel Physically and Emotionally Secure

Isabelle Headrick, Executive Director Accessible Housing Austin!

Isabelle Headrick, Executive Director       Accessible Housing Austin!

Isabelle Headrick is the Executive Director of Accessible Housing Austin! She has been a member of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) since 2005. On March 9th, the NLIHC Board of Directors elected her as a new Board Member. In this interview, we spoke to her about her decade-long affiliation with NLIHC and how she benefits from her membership.This interview is a part of our ongoing series of conversations with NLIHC members that we are presenting to our readers in the wake of NLIHC’s Membership Month. We asked Isabelle, among other topics, why she would recommend NLIHC to our prospective members.

Why are you a member of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC)?

Since I first became professionally involved in affordable housing 13 years ago, I have been impressed by the quality of the policy work that NLIHC does in housing education and advocacy. NLIHC supports the work that we as advocates do at the state and local level by providing us with policy resources and advocating for funding at the federal level. So, I feel that it is critical to support the work that they do.

How did you first get involved in affordable housing?

I started volunteering in a homeless woman’s shelter in Chicago during high school. Later, my first job after being a stay-at-home mom was with a neighborhood-based community development corporation in Austin, Texas.

What do you find most challenging about affordable housing advocacy?

I’m frustrated by the fact that the current emphasis on getting the chronically homeless off the streets ignores (and in some cases diverts resources away from) the substantially larger population of invisibly homeless and housing-insecure Americans. Our policies are being driven by a movement that is not inclusive of all extremely low-income people, let alone of people who don’t need or want supportive services; and I think this is a mistake.

What is your best advice for housing advocates?

All housing advocates, even those with whom you may disagree sometimes, have incredible resources of talent, intelligence and dedication. Get to know your colleagues, find the issues on which you can collaborate, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be generous in sharing your own expertise.

What is your favorite thing about being a member of NLIHC?

Knowing that my support translates into high-quality advocacy and policy work.

What does “home” mean to you?

For me, it means a place raise to my kids: a place where they will be comfortable and physically and emotionally secure, feel connected to their community and neighborhood, and have access by walking, bike-riding, or public transportation to their schools and friends.

Any good book recommendations? (i.e. books related to social justice, housing advocacy, homelessness, poverty etc.)

This is not directly related to any of those, but Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia is a fascinating read about the origins of slavery and racism in the American colonies – some of the very issues whose legacies we are still dealing with today.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a member of NLIHC?/ Why should someone join NLIHC?

NLIHC is the premier national organization advocating for very and extremely low-income renters and public housing residents. For those of us who live in states whose legislators do not support affordable housing funding, it is all the more vital to have an ally at the federal level.The annual Out of Reach report provides critical information about our states and communities to help us advocate for affordable housing to our policymakers and legislators. NLIHC gives us the resources to do our jobs as advocates…and advocates for the resources for us to do our jobs as affordable housing providers and homelessness preventers.

Describe a time when you have used NLIHC research.

I spoke to a Community and Regional Planning class at the University of Texas at Austin about quantifying the need for accessible, affordable and integrated housing for extremely low-income people with disabilities and showed them Out of Reach as a data resource.

Describe a time when you took action as a result of a Call to Action (CTA) from NLIHC.

I called my Congressman this week to ask for the sequester caps to be lifted and to advocate for HOME and the National Housing Trust Fund.

Read Related Interviews:

Why I Joined NLIHC: A Member’s Reflections
Affordable Housing for Extremely Low Incomes is Possible: Ruth A. Matz
Lack of Understanding of the Affordable Housing Crisis Is Frustrating: Anne M. Williams