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

NLIHC Research Team: What We Do

NLIHC’s research team uses the most recent housing data to create resources for our members and other advocates. For 40 years, NLIHC has made high quality research a priority because our founder, Cushing Dolbeare, understood the importance of having hard numbers to back up the assertion that a community, city, or state has a real need for more affordable housing. A typical day for the research team generally falls into three categories:

Rapid response to requests for information. We answer requests for data from our members, state coalition partners, the media, members of Congress, and other researchers in a timely manner. When the Washington Post wanted to create an interactive map showing the one-bedroom Housing Wage in each county, we made sure they had all the information they needed by their deadline. Since our members often lack the resources to conduct the same level of in-depth analysis that we can, they can request custom data analysis – a benefit of being an NLIHC member, so don’t be afraid to call us!

NLIHC’s standard research products. For 25 years, NLIHC has produced our flagship report, Out of Reach, which features the Housing Wage – the hourly wage someone needs to earn in order to afford a modest apartment. We calculate the Housing Wage for every county, metropolitan area, combined nonmetropolitan area, and state in the country; this helps inform the public and policymakers on the extent of America’s affordable housing crisis. NLIHC also produces Congressional District Profiles and State Housing Profiles. These one-page profiles pack in key data such as the shortage of units affordable and available to renters at different income levels, and the number of renters at different income levels who spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs. We also produce Housing Spotlight, a series of occasional research briefs that use data from different sources to highlight a variety of housing issues.

One-time research projects. NLIHC is also always working on other research projects. In November of 2014, we released a report on the housing needs of veterans that was funded by the Home Depot Foundation. We continue to work with the Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation (PAHRC) to maintain and update the National Housing Preservation Database, an inventory of all federally subsidized properties in the country. In the coming months we will release findings from our Alignment Project, a comprehensive analysis of the incomes of households currently served by federal housing programs, and the strategies used by developers to achieve deep affordability without the use of federal housing vouchers.

All of the data that the research team collects and analyzes make it clear that those suffering most from a lack of affordable housing in America are the lowest income residents. NLIHC’s research team is committed to providing advocates with the tools needed to take that message to their local, state, and federal policymakers.

Membership Monday: NLIHC Publications for Every Type of Advocate!

Over the past 40 years, NLIHC’s robust network of organizational and individual members has sustained our efforts not just through financial support, but by building our far reaching advocacy base. We are proud that our growing field of members reflects the broad range of advocates working on housing issues in communities across the country. NLIHC produces a wide range of publications to serve the advocacy needs of our diverse and dedicated members. There are so many reasons to become a member of NLIHC, and one of them is the early access to our publications at free or discounted rates!

For everyone from the beginner advocate to the expert in need of quickly looking up information, there is the go-to Advocates’ Guide to Housing and Community Development Programs.

The Advocates’ Guide includes the history and summary of key housing issues and programs, forecasts for 2014, tips for local success, what to say to legislators, and much more! Members can learn about every major housing and community development topic from Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing to the newly updated Voterization tools. The Advocates’ Guide helps equip NLIHC members with the resources you need to be effective advocates at home in your communities and on the national level.

New member: FREE!
Discounted member rate: $25 (+ shipping)

For the policy tracker, there is no better source for current housing news than Memo to Members.

NLIHC members receive Memo to Members directly in their inbox or mailbox every Monday. Our acclaimed weekly newsletter keeps advocates up to date on the latest federal housing policy, research, and other news such as public webinars and reports from our field.

New and current members: FREE!

For members of low income renter communities, Tenant Talk is made specifically to be shared with your friends, family, and neighbors!

This quarterly newsletter is for tenants, residents, and other low income renters. Created to engage low income people in housing advocacy, Tenant Talk connects with residents on the housing policy issues affecting their lives such as source of income discrimination, voterization, and protecting tenants at foreclosure.

New and current members: FREE!

For the state and local advocates, our annual flagship report Out of Reach provides powerful data on the affordable housing crisis.

Out of Reach reveals a key indicator: the Housing Wage, which is the wage one must earn in order to afford a modest rental home in communities across the country. Advocates can use this information to show Members of Congress, state legislators, and local elected officials the great need for affordable housing and its impact on the daily lives of their constituents.

Discounted member rate: $10 for the abridged version with state-specific data; $25 for the full report (+ shipping)

Join NLIHC today at www.nlihc.org/membership! Please contact our Field Team at outreach@nlihc.org with questions or comments. To order a publication, please email creyes@nlihc.org.

And stay tuned to the blog this summer to learn more about these and other publications in upcoming Project Spotlights!

Guest Blog: How Utah advocates used Out of Reach data to support legislation for raising the state minimum wage

Guest post by Barbara Stallone, Director of Policy and Public Relations, Utah Housing Coalition

The Republican heavy legislature of Utah is not usually an arena that would be considered friendly to a conversation about the need for a living wage. However, during the recently ended 2014 legislative session, HB 73 Living Wage Amendments were sponsored by Representative Lynn Hemingway. The bill would have increased minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.25 in Utah and mandated additional increases every two years tied to the Consumer Price Index. Representative Hemingway defined a living wage as one that “pulls people out of poverty.” While the last several bills regarding minimum wage increases have failed, this bill had a robust debate and has been returned to the Health and Human Services committee for additional study during interim.

The Utah Housing Coalition (UHC) was able to use Out of Reach data in several ways to further this conversation. First, when the sponsor introduced the bill, UHC approached him and asked if he was interested in numbers that would support the need for an increased wage. He was thrilled to have the numbers readily available to support his contention that Utah needs to adjust wages to make housing more attainable for a greater number of people. We handed him the Utah specific page of the Out of Reach report. He used the data from that page to craft his initial testimony on the bill.

Secondly, to add emphasis to his initial testimony, UHC prepared individualized reports for each committee member with regard to the numbers specific to their respective district. This data helped to drive home the point that there are those living on the edge of housing stability in their own districts. Tara Rollins, Executive Director of Utah Housing Coalition, explained, “The importance of pay in relation to the ability to maintain housing cannot be understated. We need wages that will allow people to pay for their housing and we need rents at a level that people can pay.”

With this session safely behind us, the Utah Housing Coalition will continue to share the Out of Reach data with legislators, and will be meeting with local and county elected officials to reinforce the data throughout the summer.

State-specific Out of Reach 2014 data can be found online at www.nlihc.org/oor/2014.

Twenty-five years after Out of Reach was first published, the housing crisis continues…

A week ago, NLIHC released its annual report, Out of Reach. Out of Reach 2014 provides extensive data on housing costs and wages for every state, county, and metropolitan area in the United States. Over the years, NLIHC has expanded and improved the Out of Reach report; however, the methodology remains the same. Here’s a review of some key definitions and figures used by Out of Reach:

What it means: The federally accepted standard of “affordable” housing is that which requires no more than 30% of the household income be spent on rent and utilities. Out of Reach uses this standard of affordability to determine the wages renters must earn to afford their local rent.

How to explain it:
Many Americans spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs. For some, this may be considered a short-term situation. However, for millions of low income Americans, spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs means serious housing instability as these households often live paycheck to paycheck.

When a household has to spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities, they are considered cost burdened. When a household has to spend more than 50% of their income on rent and utilities, they are considered severely cost burdened. Three out of every four extremely low income families are severely cost burdened, forcing them to make tough decisions on how to spend the little leftover income they have on food, transportation, medical costs, child care, and other important expenses.

What it means: Simply put, Fair Market Rents (FMRs) are a standard measure of current housing costs across the country, using a consistent methodology. HUD estimates FMRs annually. They represent HUD’s best estimate of what a household seeking a modest rental unit in a short amount of time can expect to pay for rent and utilities in the current market. When calculating what incomes renters need to earn to afford rent, Out of Reach uses the Fair Market Rents.

What it means: How much must an individual earn hourly in order to afford a rental unit at FMR. The standard Housing Wage refers to a two-bedroom rental unit; however, Out of Reach also provides the Housing Wage for efficiencies up to 4-bedroom units in the state excel files. This figure is an average, available at the national level, state level, county level, and metropolitan area level.

How to use it: The 2014 two-bedroom national Housing Wage is $18.92. This figure varies considerably at state and local levels, so it is most effective to look up your county, metropolitan area, or state Housing Wage. You can compare this piece of data with what the average renter in that area actually earns, and what minimum wage workers earn.

While the Housing Wage can help your elected official understand the disparity between what renters in your community need to earn to afford rent and what they actually make, it is important to note that raising wages is an insufficient response to the problem. In every state, the Housing Wage is higher than the proposed raised federal minimum wage of $10.10. This disparity points to the extreme shortage of rental housing that is both affordable and available to low income renters. The strongest solution to the affordable housing crisis is an increased federal investment in affordable housing, which can be best achieved through the National Housing Trust Fund.

What it means: How much does the average renter earn on an hourly basis. This wage is a mean calculation.

How to use it: Compare your state or local renter wage with your Housing Wage to demonstrate that the average renter cannot afford rent. It is important to note that because the renter wage is an average, many families face an even greater wage disparity.

ImageWhat it means: This one is pretty self-explanatory, which is why it has become one of the most popular data points from Out of Reach. This analysis is most widely recognized in its map form, which provides how many hours a minimum wage worker must work every week to afford a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent. The calculations use the prevailing minimum wage (whichever is higher between the federal or state minimum wage).

How to use it: This Out of Reach analysis has been used by many to argue for increasing the federal minimum wage. In every state, this figure is greater than 40 hours per week, even when using the prevailing state minimum wage. This reveals that nowhere in America, can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a two-bedroom rental unit.

Learn more, and read the full Out of Reach 2014 report, at www.nlihc.org/oor/2014. Use the “View State Data” dropdown to access your state’s Out of Reach page. Click on the attached State Report (PDF) and State Data (Excel) to view and compare these and other data.

Barbara Stallone, Director of Policy and Public Relations for the Utah Housing Coalition, guest blog posts on how our state partner used Out of Reach data to advocate for an increased state minimum wage.