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 

 

Broad Coalition tells Congress to Give People with Criminal Records a Fair Chance at Housing

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By Christina Libre, NLIHC Policy Intern

NLIHC sent a letter this week to Congress to support Representative Maxine Waters’ (D-CA) bold leadership in introducing the Fair Chance at Housing Act of 2016 (H.R. 5085), landmark legislation that will go a long way to ensuring people with criminal records have access to affordable housing.

The letter was signed by a broad coalition of over 85 national, state, and local organizations that focus on issues ranging from housing, criminal justice reform, disability rights, poverty, and beyond. Together, these organizations argued that everyone, including individuals who have been involved in the criminal justice system, deserve a fair chance at decent affordable housing.

Ms. Waters’ Fair Chance at Housing Act would reform the ways in which public housing authorities (PHAs) and owners of federally-assisted housing screen applicants out of or evict tenants from housing based on their involvement with the criminal justice system. Currently, too many housing providers rely on criminal histories to deny housing to justice-involved individuals across the nation.

The letter states, “Barriers to federally assisted housing make the reentry population uniquely vulnerable to becoming homeless. Homelessness, in turn, is often a catalyst to recidivism. These barriers perpetuate a vicious cycle that sends individuals in and out of the prison system and prevent these people from constructively moving forward in life. Approximately one out of ten individuals entering prison will have experienced homelessness in the recent past, and of those leaving prison, one out of ten will experience homelessness in the future. The gravity of these statistics is in great part a result of screening and tenancy policies that keep justice-involved applicants from entering assisted housing or that evict tenants and their families without a complete consideration of their circumstances.”

NLIHC applauds Representative Waters’ for introducing of the Fair Chance at Housing Act and hope that our strong showing of support for this important piece of legislation will raise more awareness that criminal justice reform must ensure people with criminal records can find a decent and affordable place to call home.

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.

 

The Upshot of Focusing on Extremely Low Income Renters: Expanded Housing Availability for All Renters

By Dan Emmanuel, Research Analyst at NLIHC

Our recent report, The Gap 2016, revealed a shortage of more than seven million rental units affordable and available to extremely low income (ELI) renter households, those earning less than 30% of the area median income (AMI). Seventy-five percent of ELI renter households were severely cost-burdened, paying more than 50% of their income on rent and utilities (Figure 1). Our report clearly demonstrates that ELI renters face the most severe housing challenges compared to other income groups.

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Yet, our primary federal rental housing production programs do not adequately reflect this reality. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), and the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program (AHP) all permit rents higher than ELI households can afford without additional rental assistance. Fewer than 44% of HOME rental units have served ELI households at initial occupancy. Thirty-six percent of LIHTC units in a recent NLIHC analysis of projects in five states served ELI households, many of whom relied on vouchers to afford their unit. Fewer than 25% of new rental units receiving money from the Federal Home Loan Banks’ Affordable Housing Program (AHP) in the last two years were affordable to ELI renters. What if federal housing policies were realigned to address the most critical housing needs among the nation’s poorest households?

Of the 10.4 million ELI renter households in the United States, 7.6 million occupy housing that is unaffordable to them, but affordable to higher income groups. What would happen if an adequate supply of affordable rental housing were produced to allow these ELI renters to move from unaffordable units to affordable ones? Figure 2 shows that approximately 2.7 million ELI renter households live in units that are not affordable to them, but are affordable to very low income (VLI) households, 3.7 million ELI renter households live in units affordable to low income (LI) households, and 1 million ELI renter households live in rental housing affordable to moderate income households. Producing an adequate supply of rental housing affordable to ELI renters would provide them the opportunity to move, freeing up the rental homes they currently occupy for renters who could better afford them.

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Allocating resources for housing production programs explicitly targeted to ELI renters, such as through the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF), could contribute to addressing broader affordability challenges across the income distribution. LIHTC reform could also provide more resources for ELI housing. NLIHC supports an income averaging option in the LIHTC program that would allow at least 40% of the units in a project to be occupied by residents with incomes that average no more than 60% of AMI. Under NLIHC’s proposal, some rent-restricted units in a LIHTC project could be occupied by households with incomes up to 80% of AMI as long as 30% of rent-restricted units are provided to ELI households. Any unit with an income limit less than 20% of AMI would be treated as having a 20% limit for the purpose of averaging. A basis boost would be provided to properties that choose this income averaging option. Senator Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) legislation to expand and reform LIHTC contains a somewhat similar income averaging provision, but does not currently include a set-aside requirement for units targeted to ELI households or a basis boost.

While federal housing production programs insufficiently target ELI renters, the private housing market also fails ELI households. The rents that ELI households can afford to pay often do not cover the operating costs of new housing, making it nearly impossible for developers to produce new housing affordable for them without a subsidy. Meanwhile, older housing of adequate quality rarely becomes cheap enough for ELI renters to afford. The Urban Institute recently found that over 80% of adequate quality rental units affordable and available to ELI households are subsidized by HUD programs, predominantly Public Housing, Section 8, and Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV).

In addition to production programs, tenant-based vouchers are an important tool in our nation’s efforts to address the housing needs of ELI renters. Ideally, vouchers allow recipients the opportunity to afford modest, private-market rental housing in communities of their choice. Research however indicates that voucher holders’ choices are constrained by market forces and elements of the voucher program itself. For example, in tight rental markets with strong housing demand, vouchers can be difficult to use. Also, unlike housing production programs, vouchers don’t add directly to the supply of rental housing.

While we often hear about the potential impact of new market-rate rental construction on housing for low income renters as older units become available to them, less attention is paid to the impact of new ELI rental units on housing availability for moderate income households. The latter is an important area for research. New market-rate development is not affordable for the lowest income renters; older housing does not become affordable for many of them; and vouchers present numerous challenges, particularly in hot markets. Public subsidies for ELI housing development, such as those provided through the recently funded HTF or those that LIHTC may provide if sufficiently reformed, can both meet the needs of the lowest income renters and address broader affordability challenges.

MacArthur Genius Dr. Matthew Desmond Discusses Poverty and Evictions at NLIHC Event

xdesmondBy Sarah Jemison, Housing Advocacy Organizer, NLIHC

Harvard sociologist and MacArthur Genius Dr. Matthew Desmond discussed his critically acclaimed book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, to an audience of housing advocates and others committed to ending housing poverty at an event sponsored by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Coalition on Human Needs, and the National Housing Conference hosted on April 28, 2016. Published in March of 2016, Evicted became an immediate bestseller and has lifted the national rental housing crisis and the reality of housing poverty into the national spotlight. The event was designed to connect Dr. Desmond’s groundbreaking scholarship with larger discussions regarding housing policy. The Ford Foundation sponsored the event.

Dr. Desmond dedicated his address, which drew large number of attendees both in person and over livestream, to explaining the scourge of evictions and the broader rental housing crisis in the U.S. He wove together the story of one family who experienced a cycle of evictions in Milwaukee with compelling statistics on the plight of low-income families nationwide. Dr. Desmond met Arleen, a mother of two boys, while he lived in a trailer home and later in a boarding house in the lowest-income areas of Milwaukee.  The story of Arleen and her children was a heart-rending account of how small mistakes can lead to an eviction and how a first eviction can prevent a family from finding a new place to rent because of the stigma of eviction records.  Mr. Desmond interspersed his discussion of the effect of eviction on Arleen and her sons with research reminding his audience of the pervasive reality of housing poverty.

xd2If Arlene’s experience gave Dr. Desmond’s statistical analyses of housing poverty a human face, his discussion of the high rate of black women in Milwaukee who have faced eviction—20%—and the rising costs of housing and eviction rates nationwide showed how common Arleen’s experience is.   Dr. Desmond noted that in Milwaukee alone, there are forty evictions every day.

Dr. Desmond stated that eviction contributes to poverty, instability, and joblessness. He said that his most important message was: “Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.”  But Dr. Desmond also emphasized that eviction is not inevitable.  The cycle of eviction and housing instability is, he said, a result of deliberate policy choices. “We already have a housing assistance program in this country,” Mr. Desmond said, referring to the mortgage interest deduction. “It’s just not a program for low income people. It predominately benefits the wealthy.” Dr. Desmond concluded: “There is no moral code, or ethical principle, or piece of legislation, or piece of scripture, or holy teaching that can be summoned to defend what we’ve allowed to happen to the least among us” before advocating for policies designed to expand affordable housing.

P1000173Throughout his presentation, Dr. Desmond acknowledged the presence of many affordable housing policy experts in the audience. This depth of knowledge allowed for a vigorous discussion following Dr. Desmond’s remarks, first during the question and answer period and later on Twitter.  Attendees engaged Dr. Desmond on an array of questions ranging from how to make affordable housing a presidential campaign issue to how advocates can combat the use of nuisance complaints as cause for eviction, a practice that disproportionately effects victims of domestic violence and families with children.

P1000235Dr. Desmond continued the conversation on a Twitter chat using the hashtag #EvictedDC. Answering questions from Twitter users, Mr. Desmond tweeted: “If we care about homelessness, family, work, opportunity…then we should care about affordable housing;” “Affordable housing is central to human flourishing.  Fix that and we fix a lot;” “NHTF = Natl Housing Trust Fund = important solution to house poor families;” and much more.  In all, the Twitter chat with Mr. Desmond engaged 227 users and included 500 posts. The Twitter chat reached 422,075 users and created 2,026,580 impressions while the hashtag #EvictedDC trended on Twitter, which was a testament to the attention Evicted has brought to the critical issue of housing poverty.

To follow the Twitter chat, please go to: http://bit.ly/1r3jeWW

To view a recording of the event, go to: http://bit.ly/1TARrXA