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Special Report: NLIHC Conference and Lobby Day


A strong delegation from Connecticut attended the annual National Low Income Housing Coalition conference and lobby day March 27-30, 2011. Conference attendance was strong, and vigorous conversation took place on a wide variety of housing policy issues.  Here is a summary of the highlights.

CT Advocates Urge Congress to Invest in Housing and Homelessness Solutions

Meetings took place Wednesday, March 30, on Capitol Hill to discuss how Connecticut's members of Congress can support funding and policies that create affordable housing and help end homelessness.  Meetings occurred in the offices of all of Connecticut's members of Congress, including Senators Joseph I. Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal, and U.S. Reps. John B. Larson, Joseph Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, Jim Himes and Christopher Murphy. Reps. Courtney and Himes themselves joined those meetings.  Advocates also met with Dan DeSimone, who is Governor Dannel P. Malloy's Washington, DC liaison.  A major part of DeSimone's role is to help Connecticut pursue federal funding; the meeting started a promising working relationship that could help access resources to address housing affordability and homelessness. Attending the meetings from Connecticut were Howard Rifkin and Shelby Mertes of the Partnership for Strong Communities; Betsy Crum of the CT Housing Coalition; Daisy Franklin, a  member of the CT Housing Coalition's Public Housing Resident Network (PHRN); and Aaron Wenzloff of New Haven Legal Assistance Association. The issues discussed in these meetings included:

  • Investing the first $1 billion into the National Housing Trust Fund.  One possibility the NLIHC is exploring is to change or end the home mortgage interest deduction.
  • Maintaining funding in the FY11 Continuing Resolution and FY12 budget for critical programs like the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8), HOME, CDBG, Homeless Assistance Grants, Section 811 and others.
  • Re-establishing $75 million for HUD-VASH vouchers to create supportive housing for veterans, which the H.R. 1 Continuing Resolution bill in the House proposed to cut to $0.
  • Devoting funding to the Housing and Services Demonstration Program, proposed by the Obama Administration, which would align resources and policies of HUD, the Dept. of Health and Human Services, and the Dept. of Education, to create 10,000 new units of supportive housing.  The program needs $85 million for HUD vouchers, and $19 million for HHS services.


Partnership's Mertes Shares HOMEConnecticut With State Partners, Urges New Approaches

The day before the conference, NLIHC held its State Partners meeting, a small gather of housing advocates from most states designed to share strategies for national housing advocacy and problem solving.  An afternoon session was held on Inclusionary Housing and Transportation Oriented Development, at which the Partnership's Shelby Mertes shared the accomplishments and lessons learned from the HOMEConnecticut Campaign and the state program it helped create.  Also speaking were Jaimie Ross, affordable housing director for 1000 Friends of Florida, and Rob Weiner, executive director of the California Coalition for Rural Housing - both longtime champions of inclusionary housing; and Andy Frazier, executive director of the Indiana Association for Community Economic Development, who spoke on strategies to help communities collaboratively plan comprehensive multifaceted development.

Mertes stressed the importance of adding zoning and land use to the affordable housing toolbox by illustrating how affordable housing subsidy alone won't solve the states' housing woes.  Comparing data on cost-burdened renters from the U.S. Census, population growth projections, and typical amounts of subsidy used per affordable housing unit, Mertes noted that to attempt only subsidizing the way through the problem would require well over a trillion dollars – an amount that's extremely unlikely to emerge, even in better economic times.  Mertes' key points:

  • In mixed-income developments, market-rate units draw enough profit to compensate for the required affordable units, thus creating affordability even before subsidy is used.
  • Mixed income zoning can push the private market to create affordable units for households at about 80% of Area Median Income (AMI), a level at which affordable housing subsidy is often used.  Getting the market to create units at that level frees up the subsidy to be used at much deeper affordability levels.
  • Subsidy can still be used in mixed-income developments.  In fact, instead of trying to subsidize downward from the market rate in an expensive place, developers can use the 80% AMI units and subsidize down from there.
  • Although in towns lacking housing affordability we may wish for much more, but mixed-income housing and housing for more moderate income households is more palatable for cautious towns.  It allows these towns to walk before they run.
  • Use of a statewide program to encourage more compact, mixed-income housing in many municipalities can prompt production of enough housing to improve the overall real estate market – by creating enough supply to meet demand.  Otherwise, an undersupply of housing can continue escalating prices.

Click here for Mertes' presentation.

HUD Moves on Newly-Reformed Sec. 811 Supportive Housing Program

The recently passed Melville Supportive Housing Investment Act, introduced and championed by U.S. Rep. Christopher Murphy, D-CT, makes several changes to HUD's Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities program to make it easier to use and to encourage supportive units to mix with other affordable housing.  HUD is starting to craft regulations to enact the program, beginning with a listening session in Washington on April 14 to hear input from agency and congressional staff and several interest groups.

An insightful overview was offered at a workshop led by HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary Carol Galante, who is leading HUD's administration of Section 811 and transitioning it to the new model; Ann O'Hara of the Technical Assistance Collaborative, an important collaborator in crafting the legislation;  and Michael Passante, staffer for U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), leading sponsor of the Melville Act in the Senate. Before these reforms, Section 811 was seen by many as mired in red tape, and ineffective at combining with other programs. The Act addresses these concerns by:

  • Moving the voucher component of the program to the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8).  These vouchers will still be earmarked for tenants with disabilities.
  • Steering funds to states where the Housing Finance Authority partners with the state's Health/Human Services/Medicaid agency - to facilitate use of Medicaid for supportive housing services.
  • Allowing multifamily developments to include only up to 25% of units to be set aside for people with disabilities.
  • Incentivizing mixing of Section 811 with other programs like Low Income Housing Tax Credits, HOME, and state housing trust funds.

HUD has not yet spent FY2010 Section 811 funds.  It will be issuing a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) soon.  That round of funding will not include the Melville Act reforms.  FY2011 funds will not fund new supportive housing development - HUD will simply renew existing developments, while it works on the new regulations, which will apply to FY2011.

HUD expects to issue draft regulations for the program in the fall, and will be inviting feedback as it drafts them.

Donovan, Frank, Ellison Report from the Trenches of Housing Politics

The conference featured three plenary keynotes from three of affordable housing's biggest supporters – HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, U.S. Rep Barney Frank, D-MA, the House Financial Services Committee ranking member, and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-MN. Donovan focused on the difficult budget decisions that HUD is facing and HUD's commitment to protecting current residents of public and assisted housing.  The Secretary reflected on the improvement the economy has experienced over the last year but said that despite progress, significant housing challenges remain.

Citing HUD's report to Congress, Worst Case Housing Needs, Secretary Donovan said that the housing circumstances for very and extremely low income households saw the biggest increase in history between 2007-2009. He described the ways that the President's budget request for FY12 would support extremely low income (ELI) households, such as by doubling the number of new permanent supportive housing units, supporting public housing, and including portions of the Section Eight Voucher Reform Act (SEVRA. Reforms proposed in the budget will result in cost savings that can then support programs serving ELI households, such as the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers requested in FY12.

Frank said the effort to stabilize the housing market and create a safer mortgage system - including major changes to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) - will be so significant it will have to be a bipartisan affair.  Frank believes that long-awaited money for the National Housing Trust Fund will come out of that process.



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