One Small Step for HPAP, One Giant Leap for DC Residents

affordable housing

The Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) is a 30 year old loan assistance program that exists in the District of Colombia. The program provides interest-free second mortgages to first-time low-to moderate income homebuyers. This interest free loan, which the homebuyer repays, serves as a down payment on a house and also covers most of the closing costs. HPAP recipients receive intensive financial and home buyer education, preparing them for the responsibilities and challenges of homeownership. This program has helped over 13,000 DC residents become homeowners, building assets for their families and anchoring them in their neighborhoods.

As an organization that helps people purchase affordable homes in the District, we often work with people that use HPAP loans, and we advocate for the funding and efficiency of HPAP because we recognize the importance of the availability of this resource. We are glad that HPAP exists in the District, especially now, during this time of rising housing prices; with many residents facing the reality that they may be priced out soon.

The program has done a great amount of good in the District; however, it suffers from a number of inefficiencies that have hampered the success of the program at a time when it is needed most. While home prices (green columns) and HPAP applications (purple line) are rising , the number of DC residents that are able to find and purchase a home using HPAP (blue line) is decreasing.

 

hpap pic

 

At the request of the DC Department of Housing and Community Development, CNHED’s Ownership Housing Working Group came up with recommendations to address some of the issues that have impacted HPAP’s success. These recommendations include the need to increase staffing and administrative capacity, as well as providing a way to allow borrowers to pay HPAP loans using direct debit or online payment services. Yet, one of the most pressing concerns is that the HPAP loan amount is too low. Prior to the Great Recession, the maximum HPAP loan amount was $70,000, but that amount was cut to $40,000 once the recession hit. Although the maximum loan amount was increased to $50,000 last year, that amount still is not enough considering the sharp increases of home prices in the District. With CNHED, our partners, and many low-to-moderate income DC residents, we are advocating to increase that amount to $80,000. The aforementioned issues are just a few of the problems that need to be addressed in order to improve the efficiency, and enhance the impact of HPAP.

However, one giant step has been taken towards improving the program. The Greater Washington Urban League (GWUL), who administers HPAP, recently announced a change to one of the biggest impediments to using the program. Up until last month, two home inspections were required for those purchasing a home with an HPAP loan. The first inspection was paid for by the buyer; the second paid for by the HPAP program. Originally, this inspection was added to fulfill the requirements of a federal subsidy often used in the HPAP budget; however, this funding source has not been a sizable portion of the HPAP budget, if at all, for several years.

This second inspection discouraged many sellers from accepting offers from HPAP buyers. Requiring a second inspection was time consuming and costly. The first inspection is standard for all homebuyers, and during that process inspectors identify issues with the home that the sellers need to address. However, in the event that the second inspector identified additional issues with the home, the seller would have to put out more money to get the second set of repairs completed, sometimes a lot more. This discouraged many people from selling to HPAP buyers. Bill Jackson, a DC realtor that works with at least 25 HPAP buyers each year, recently testified at City Council about sellers choosing a lower non-HPAP offer over a higher HPAP offer – sellers were choosing to take less money due to the hassle and expense of the second HPAP inspection. However, thanks to our advocacy work over the past few years, the second HPAP inspection is no longer a requirement and home buyers and sellers alike are rejoicing.

Two days after the second inspection was eliminated, Jackson submitted an offer on a home from one of his HPAP buyers. The seller’s realtor said he refused to put his seller through the difficulties of working with HPAP. Bill informed the realtor that the second inspection was no longer required, and the realtor immediately agreed to accept the HPAP offer. We are confident that these stories will keep happening as word gets out about this important change.

We are truly thankful for the elimination of this second inspection, and hope the Department of Housing and Community Development will be able to address all of the other kinks in the program in order to make HPAP the best program it can be – District residents need a nimble and well-funded HPAP program! It’s one of the essential pieces to making homeownership and asset building possible for low-to-moderate income residents. We know this will take ongoing collaboration, and continued support from local government and our allies. However, we are celebrating now and can’t wait to see the full impact of this and future changes!

 

 

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Mayor Bowsers’ Plan to End Homelessness -An Important Notch on the Continuum of Housing

365Homelesswebinar

 

 

Mayor Bowser’s plan to eliminate homelessness in DC has gained a lot of attention in recent news. As a member of the Housing for All Campaign, and the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Development, Manna recognizes the need to address homelessness, as part of the continuum of affordable housing. The continuum acknowledges that people have different affordable housing needs, based on their circumstances, and that people can even utilize different forms of housing throughout their life. The continuum encompasses a range of housing options, from supportive housing for those coming out of chronic homelessness up to affordable homeownership, with the ultimate goal of people being housed and gaining stability and self-sufficiency. According to the DC Thrive (a non-profit that provides services to the homeless, and vulnerable individuals), not enough affordable housing combined with increasing rental prices are the two biggest obstacles to preventing and ending homelessness in the District.

Think Progress’ Article entitled “It Would Actually Be Very Easy to End Homelessness Forever” lays out the history of homelessness in America, and explains that after the Great Depression, homelessness did not exist as it does today. It may be surprising to some, but mass and chronic homelessness is a relatively new phenomenon in the U.S. In 1970, there was actually a surplus of affordable housing, and when people became displaced, it was easy to house them. However, the federal government’s spending on housing assistance decreased by 50 percent between 1976 and 2002, which has played a role in our current housing situation. Generally, political officials support the idea of combating homelessness, however, allocating the funds to do so is where the gaps typically occur.

On any given night, there are 7,784 homeless persons in the District of Columbia, and Mayor Bowser has made it her mission to change that. Recently, I was able to hear a presentation on the Bowser’s administration’s strategies to accomplish this goal. The administration’s mission is to end long-term homelessness in the District of Columbia, so that by 2020, “homelessness in the District will be a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience.”  Her plan is built on three major goals:

1.            Finish the job of ending homelessness among Veterans by the end of 2015;

2.            End chronic homelessness among individuals and families by the end of 2017; and

3.            By 2020, any household experiencing housing loss will be rehoused within an average of 60 days or less.

 

The Mayor’s strategies to address these goals are:

1.            Crisis Response

2.            Increase Supply of Affordable/ Supportive Housing

3.            Reduce Barriers to Supportive and Affordable Housing

4.            Increase Economic Security of Households

5.            Increase Homeless Prevention Efforts

6.            Monitoring and Reporting and Planning Update

I believe that the Mayor’s plan is optimistic, yet achievable. Many cities and states have made strides in reducing homelessness in the past couple of years. Mass homelessness does not have to be the norm in D.C. It is my hope that as the Mayor combats homelessness, that all of the notches on the continuum of housing are strengthened so that everyone can have access to the affordable housing and services they need. Continued support for all of the housing types in the continuum will be needed to ensure that we can be freed of chronic and mass homelessness forever.

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Why Banking is an Important Part of Economic Inclusion

 

piggybankA little over a week ago I had the opportunity to attend an conference hosted by several agencies and organizations on the topic of economic inclusion and banking.  At the event we were able to learn what it means to be unbanked, or underbanked, which segments of our population are most likely to fall into these categories, and factors and attitudes which cause some people to avoid the banking system. 

According to the DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, 36% of DC residents are either without a bank account or do not have full access to “traditional banking services”. This is problematic for multiple reasons, especially because being unbanked and underbanked is expensive. Residents who do not use a bank for their financial needs often end up paying significant amounts of money at check cashing locations, or paying unnecessary fees in order to use prepaid cards.

At the conference, we learned that a person is considered unbanked if they do not have a checking or savings account. On the other hand, one is defined as underbanked if they have a bank account, but still used an “alternative financial service” at least once in the past year.

African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, those with low incomes, people with disabilities, and young Americans (particularly young minorities) make up most of the country’s unbanked and underbanked populations – and these populations are banking deficient for various reasons. Common reasons for immigrant populations include the cost of bank accounts, documentation/identification issues, language barriers, and lack of knowledge about access to financial information. Conversely, the disabled are likely to lack full banking services because they often live with someone they are dependent on, and they do not make much income. As a result, they feel as if they are not a good candidate for a bank account, and many instead use prepaid cards. While young Americans between the ages of 15-25 are often unbanked or underbanked because they still rely on the use of their parents’ accounts. In addition, they may feel as if they do not make enough money to have a bank account.

While at the conference, I was able to hear the experiences of people who work with unbanked and underbanked populations. Some of the explanations they have heard regarding why people do not have bank accounts include “they didn’t want the government going through their account” or they are afraid that if they had a bank account, they would “mess it up”. I also learned that some people are unbanked due to being barred from the banking system as a result of previously bounced checks. Whatever one’s reasons or experiences, the fact remains that being banked allows for more financial mobility and stability.

The downsides to being unbanked or underbanked are many, and impact a family’s generational financial well-being and ability to build assets.  Those without bank accounts do not have a safe place to keep savings in the case of an emergency. Fully utilizing a bank account can save time, and money, because it eliminates the need to handle every financial transaction in person, such as visiting check cashers, buying money orders, and making bill payments. Moreover, those without bank accounts may have trouble accessing affordable and responsible credit when they need to purchase household items, cars, or homes. This point is especially important to Manna. Our goal is to help people become financially secure and mobile through homeownership, which requires obtaining a mortgage loan. Banking is an essential part of the homebuying process, allowing households to build savings and credit. Access to low-cost, quality bank accounts is a building block for not only homeownership but also the ability to build assets that will help families weather financial trouble and climb the socio-economic ladder.  This conference highlighted the disadvantages of being unbanked and underbanked, as well as informing us of which segments of our population are most likely to fall into these categories. In conclusion, the theme of the conference was addressing the fact that we need to find a way to promote the use of banks, and provide access to banking systems to those who traditionally would be barred from having one. At the end of the day, this is about more than a bank account – it’s about a household’s ability to build assets that will help them weather financial trouble and climb the socio-economic ladder. It’s about combatting generational poverty and the growing wealth gap in our country – it’s about our common future.

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Housing Discrimination: A Social Justice Issue With an Economic Impact

housing   Our country has a history of race-based housing discrimination, which can be seen in the demographic make-up of the communities that we live in today. Despite common misconceptions, middle class minorities are also impacted by this discrimination. However, with minority populations increasing and playing a more vital role in the U.S. economy, it is becoming more apparent that the health of the United States is intimately connected to minorities being able to secure quality housing, along with the social economic benefits that come with it. This is an economic justice issue that can no longer be ignored.

Earlier this month, the National Fair Housing Alliance filed a federal housing discrimination complaint against two major real estate agencies in Jackson, Mississippi. As discussed in the New York Time’s article How Segregation Destroys Black Wealth, it was revealed that “over the course of nearly a year…black and white testers posing as home buyers had drastically different experiences when they contacted real estate companies near Jackson, Mississippi. Agents often declined to show properties to black customers who were better qualified than whites, with higher incomes, better credit scores and more savings for down payments. Meanwhile, white testers who were interested in properties in the predominately black areas of the city were encouraged to look at majority-white communities elsewhere. Such discrimination is not exclusive to the south. Similar testing took place in Austin, New York, Washington D.C., along with nine other metropolitan areas and produced comparable results, which “suggests that housing market discrimination is universal”.

The version of this study that focused on metropolitan areas identified that even when black and Latino testers were better qualified financially, they were still shown less homes than their white peers, were often denied information about programs that would have aided them in their purchasing process, and were required to produce documents, like loan pre-approval letters when whites were not. These discriminatory practices have helped perpetuate school and residential segregation trends. According to the New York Time’s article, “This behavior is reminiscent of the practices used by the real estate industry in the early 20th century that created ghettos for blacks regardless of income”.

The negative impact of discrimination like this has had a staggering effect on black wealth. Historically, the federal government has encouraged housing segregation.  In the 1930s and 40s, the government opened up homeownership to millions of white Americans, through low cost standardized loans while simultaneously introducing a national appraisal system, that assessed property value and loan eligibility based on race.  Through this system, all white neighborhoods received the highest ratings, which allowed them to benefit from low-cost, government-backed loans, while minority and mixed neighborhoods received low ratings, and were denied these loans. Between 1934 and 1962, $120 billion worth of new housing subsidies were dispersed by the federal government, however less than 2 percent of that funding went to nonwhite families. Although restrictive covenants were banned in 1948, private developers still refused to sell homes to nonwhites, and real estate agents discouraged nonwhite homebuyers from looking at white neighborhoods. Furthermore, following government guidelines, lenders were able to base property appraisals on race, and would deny loans to non-white communities, or insisted on higher fees and interest rates to cover their “risk”.  Ultimately, this structure led to the systemic devaluation of nonwhite neighborhoods.

Efforts were eventually made to address this problem in the form of The Fair Housing Act of 1968, and its amendment in 1988. However, by that time, the damage had already been done. Housing values rose significantly between 1970-1990, and white homeowners who benefited from discriminatory practices were able to see large increases in the equity of their homes. While minority groups who were excluded from subsidies and barred from white neighborhoods were left with homes that were worth far less.  It is sad to see that despite the historic impact that these negative policies had on African Americans, and other minority groups, some of these practices are still in existence today.

Currently, the United States is in what William Frey, author of the book Diversity Explosion, and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution refers to as “a diversity boom that could rival or even surpass that seen during the baby boom of the last half of the 20th century”. According to Frey, “The changes are powered by fast-growing minority populations—including Hispanics, Asians, and people of two or more races—which will double in size over the next 40 years. In addition… the nation also now has a definable black middle class.” Consequently, Frey warns that we need to make sure minority communities are able to finance homes, and suggests that we find more flexible ways of defining their assets. This will assist Hispanics and blacks, who have significantly lower rates of homeownership than whites, and will make up a significant portion of the homebuyer market. Moreover, we need to ensure that their home buying power is not stifled by discriminatory practices.

It is essential that the United States includes minorities in wealth building opportunities. As a recent article by The National Housing Institute stated “Unequal growth is socially and economically unsustainable… Demographic changes are also magnifying the costs of racial economic exclusion and upping the value proposition of inclusion.” This is about justice and equity for minority communities and also a recognition that the increased prosperity of our minority communities translates into overall prosperity for our country.

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Environmentally Sustainable Affordable Housing: The Costs and Benefits

eco housing

 

There is a growing environmental sustainability movement in the US, and DC is no stranger to it. In fact, DC has one of the highest green standards in the country, due in part to former Mayor Gray’s Sustainable DC initiative that went into effect a few years ago. When it comes to new housing construction in DC, many new developments offer sustainable features in their units. Likewise, it is becoming increasingly common for owners of existing properties to take steps towards energy efficiency as well, whether it is installing water efficient toilets, or placing solar panels on their roofs. Yet, many sustainable features are costly. As a result, when you think of an “energy efficient home” the terms “low income” or “affordable housing” usually doesn’t come to mind. However, DC has entered into a new pilot program that will help bridge affordable housing with sustainable design in one particular development. I hope the project will provide insight into how to balance the cost of incorporating environmentally sustainable design when constructing affordable housing.

DC recently received an award from the International Living Future Institute to build sustainable affordable housing.  This organization’s “Living Building Challenge,” is a pilot program that will provide DC with free technical assistance and expertise to equip affordable housing with green technology. Six cities will participate in the program this year. DC’s award will allow the District to develop ten to 15 energy efficient townhomes on a site in the Deanwood area. Under the program, the site will be “net-positive,” so it will create more renewable energy than it uses. The development will incorporate solar panels and smart-design features to help achieve this goal. It is estimated that this project may take up to two years to complete, and the unit’s efficiency will be monitored for the entire first year that residents live there before it can “receive green certification under the Living Building Challenge”. Despite this lengthy process, I am excited about DC entering into this program, and I am interested in what it will teach us about developing sustainable affordable housing.

Here at Manna, we recognize the importance of equipping our affordable homes with environmentally efficient technology, and we try to do so whenever possible. The standard benchmark that we meet is Enterprise’s Green Communities Criteria , which sets criterion regarding water conservation, energy efficiency, and integrative design (just to name a few). Some of the sustainable technologies we have installed in our developments include energy efficient windows, which provide our homes with both ventilation, and warmth, and translate into reduced energy costs for our residents. We were also able to install solar panels on the roof of the Whitelaw Hotel Apartments at 13th and T Streets NW, with the help of a grant we received from Neighborworks. In addition, there are a lot of environmentally sustainable measures we have to take, due to DC law. For example, as part of compliance with DC storm water management regulations, we will be installing a green roof at an apartment building undergoing rehab on Kennedy Street NW. However, it is not easy to finance these sustainable advancements; there is an art to finding funds to pay for the additional costs. There is a need for both the public and private sector to provide more resources. Nevertheless, once the financial obstacles of making affordable housing environmentally sustainable are overcome, the benefits are enormous, both on the individual and communal/public level.

According to the GW Solar Institute, although low-income households use less energy than affluent households on average, electricity costs make up a much larger share of a low-income households’ budget compared to their counterpart. The cost of electricity accounts for 5.7 percent of the median low-income family’s budget, compared to 1.9 percent of other families’ budgets. Therefore, providing access to solar energy and other sustainable features for low-income communities could actually generate wealth and meet a large percentage of their power needs. It is estimated by the George Washington Solar Institute that if all low-income households went solar, their annual budgets would increase between $17.9 billion and $23.3 billion.

If people are spending less money on energy, they will have more money to save, and flexibility to take care of other financial responsibilities. Ultimately, an eco-friendly home can make a home that was affordable to purchase or rent, even more affordable to live in. Environmentally sustainable designs are not only good for the environment, but they can be a source of financial security for its owner and greatly impact low-income households.

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How the Lack of Affordable Housing Impacts Domestic Violence Survivor Support

shelter-300x287I think it is fair to say that finding somewhere affordable to live is the goal of most people who are in the market for a new home. Unfortunately, this search is becoming increasingly difficult for those living in the DC area. The high cost of rent and purchasing a home is a popular topic among those who live and work in the District. You hear people discussing how expensive rent and homes can be as you walk down the street, at work (especially here at Manna) and on the subway. Moreover, we usually do not think about how housing rates affect those who provide housing services.

As you may have noticed housing is, in fact, being developed in DC. However, as Payton Chung of Greater Greater Washington reports, “over the last decade, DC has built 13% less housing than its Comprehensive Plan calls for. Furthermore, of the new housing that is being constructed, most of it is confined to the central city even though the plan recommends only 30% go there. Meanwhile, many parts of the District are seeing little or no new housing construction.” The city has put forward increased funding  and policy to create affordable housing, and Manna and others are constructing affordable and mixed-income developments in parts of town not seeing a lot of new development, but the process is slow.  Overall, these constricted development trends are having an adverse effect on the affordability of our housing market, and having a real effect on people and non-profits alike.

To exacerbate this problem, much of the housing that is being built are high-rises, and everything about developing high-rises is costly, from the development techniques, to the materials used in its construction. In Chung’s most recent article, he stated, “Where housing is built influences how housing gets built. That, in turn, determines how much new housing will cost and thus, who can afford to live there.” Consequently, an expensive building built on an expensive plot of land will produce rents that many would classify as being expensive. And as Chung points out, “These high costs go a long way towards explaining why so little of the District’s new housing is affordable to low and moderate income households …developers can’t afford to sell their products at a 50% loss.”

This causal nexus presents a new dilemma. If the average resident in DC finds these rents to be high, just imagine the effects of these housing trends on service oriented organizations that depend on affordable units. This week, my focus won’t be on organizations that help build affordable housing for DC residents. Rather, it will be on organizations like DC Safe and DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence that find housing for those in crisis situations. A couple of weeks ago, Washington City Paper published an article entitled “A House Provided” by Morgan Baskin ,which discussed the burden that the DC housing market has placed on survivors of domestic violence, who need safe, long-term housing. According to the article, “ A successful domestic violence survivor network operates along a continuum of service, providing 30-day crisis shelters, 90-day emergency shelters, and two-year temporary housing. The problem with D.C.’s survivor support isn’t in crisis intervention. The problem is with mid- and long-term shelter”. According to Karma Cottman, Executive Director of the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “Domestic violence shelters are supposed to house victims for 30 days…We’re talking an average of six months [that families are staying in a shelter], because there is no affordable housing.”

Far too often, victims who cannot be placed in safe housing end up returning to their abuser, or they end up on the streets. “Regionwide, the number of people in families whose current episode of homelessness was the result of domestic violence rose from 261 in 2014 to 1,101 [in 2015]”.

It is clear that rising rental prices are having unintended effects on various segments of our population. We have to ensure that there is affordable housing available for all District residents, especially the most vulnerable in our society. Patton Chung suggests that in order to make future dwellings more affordable, more units need to be developed in less expensive areas of DC, and low-rise and mid-rise techniques should be used. However, it is not just a matter of techniques, but also policy and vision. The city’s vision of a continuum of affordable housing sets us on the path of creating more affordable housing, while at the same time having a dynamic system that supports people to move along that continuum and create spaces for those coming out of crisis. Perhaps if these methods were used more often and our vision drove production, more units would be available for those escaping domestic violence, so they can begin the next chapter in their lives.

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A Moment of Reflection

josh Silver

This will be my last blog post as a Manna employee. I hope to continue writing blogs periodically as a guest columnist. It has been a great year and I will forever cherish the good people at Manna who work against great odds and obstacles in their quest to provide affordable housing.

Manna’s mission as stated on its business cards is “Rebuilding neighborhoods and preserving diversity through affordable housing.” As if this is not ambitious enough, I would add “Combating inequality,” “building the middle class,” “fighting poverty,” “revitalizing neighborhoods and families one housing unit at a time.”

Tireless….persistent…loving kindness and some tough love…more than 1,000 families and households have been housed by Manna since 1982. I was an intern at Manna in 1990 when I was in public policy graduate school. I admired Manna then and kept in touch for the next 25 years, mostly by running in their annual 5 K race. I saw an opportunity to work for them in 2014 as a fundraiser and Development Manager. I took advantage of that opportunity. My work during the last year has made me more impressed with Manna.

There is not enough support for this critical work. I will just say it plainly. There is not enough funding for affordable housing. Housing is not a popular political issue. Some see it as a handout, not a hand-up. But it should be a popular issue. If you think about it, housing is a public good. The families receiving affordable homeownership and rental housing certainly benefit by improving their situation. But the entire neighborhood benefits through raising home values and increased property tax revenues for local jurisdictions. When families gain equity, they have more income to spend and invest. This boosts demand and increases economic output. If we view housing as benefiting entire cities, neighborhoods, and the country as a whole, maybe there will be more public pressure to invest in affordable housing and ensuring that no family or individual is in an unsafe or unaffordable home.

When I knew less about public policy and economics, I viewed housing as a human right and a basic necessity of life. It surely is a basic necessity. And there have been laudable efforts to make it a right. For example, the 1949 Housing Act states that its goal was “the implementation as soon as possible of a decent home and suitable living environment for every American family.”

I personally think housing is a basic necessity and should be a human right. Yet, that is a hard sell. The public good angle might be an easier sell. There is a clear connection between decent housing and neighborhood health. The foreclosure crisis illustrates vividly what happens to the economy as a whole when people have unaffordable housing. In contrast, when homeowners prosper, the entire neighborhood prospers. The public good of housing benefits the entire neighborhood and ultimately the entire country.

How are we going to adequately fund affordable housing? One of my favorite ideas is a modest counseling fee imposed on every mortgage so as to fund counseling for anyone who wants counseling and a counselor to be at the table when he or she signs mortgage documents. Home inspections are commonplace before closing on a home. So should counseling so that we can be more effective at preventing predatory lending. But will we need even more funding beyond adequate funding for counseling. In addition to government funding, the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and the fair lending laws must be strengthened so that the private sector contributes its fair share. Recall that mainstream economics teaches us that public goods, by their nature, are inadequately funded because they produce “positive” externalities enjoyed by everyone though not everyone pays for the public good. Therefore, all sectors of society should contribute in a progressive funding mechanism (more from those with means) to financing counseling and affordable housing.

Which brings me back to Manna. It is very hard to make a convincing argument for housing in the midst of political polarization and paralysis confronting this country. Manna cannot make this argument overnight. Yet, Manna and like-minded organizations are making this argument everyday through their actions. Manna makes connections. It provides opportunities for people to meet new homeowners, to tour affordable housing developments, and to volunteer in neighborhood revitalization efforts. Manna enables people to see first-hand how housing benefits families but also neighborhoods. The results can also be seen in detail in two recent reports of the financial and community benefits of Manna and nonprofit housing.

We have a long way to go. But by bridging the gap and closing the separation between people who would not otherwise have contact with each other, Manna helps build consensus for more critical support for affordable housing. You can see it when you walk down the halls of Manna. On the walls, there is a hall of fame of pictures of Manna’s families and volunteers producing beautiful and long lasting affordable housing. It is heartwarming. I encourage you to make a visit and support the vital mission of affordable housing and preserving neighborhood diversity.

P.S. I am returning to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) as a Senior Advisor. NCRC aims to strengthen the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and the fair lending laws so that more resources will be available for affordable housing and community reinvestment.

 

Josh Silver is the Development Manager at Manna, Inc. Prior to his time at Manna, Josh served as Vice President of Research & Policy at NCRC. Josh is an avid District sports fan and loves spending time with his daughter.

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The Struggle for Women’s Rights and Manna

female homeowner and sonDuring my vacation less than two weeks ago, my family and I went to upstate New York to visit the Finger Lakes and enjoy nature’s beauty as well as some fine wine. However, I purposefully made part of the visit historical. Seneca Falls, New York is the site of Harriet Tubman’s home in her later years and also the site of the Women’s Rights Convention that occurred during July 18-20, 1848.

Seneca Falls is an interesting intersection between the struggle to abolish slavery and the fight for women’s rights. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Coffin Mott, and Martha Coffin Wright organized the Women’s Rights Convention which culminated in the issuance of the Declaration of Sentiments, modeled after the Declaration of Independence and listing the ways in which men had subjugated women. The Declaration of Sentiments was signed by 68 women and 32 men including the abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The question for this blog is how are we continuing the struggle for freedom, particularly women empowerment?

The Declaration of Sentiments is a document that describes the political and economic servitude of women. It states that because women cannot vote that, “He (men) has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.” The declaration continues, “He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.” This is rather complete subjugation.

Despite the eloquence and persistence of the suffragettes over the ensuing decades, it took 72 years before the 19th Amendment establishing women’s right to vote was passed in 1920. In fact, the 95th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment occurred just last week. It took even longer to combat economic servitude. One effort in this struggle was Congressional passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) in 1974 prohibiting gender and race discrimination in lending. Until passage of ECOA, it was common that lenders required male co-applicants before women received loans. Advocacy is difficult and struggles must occur over long periods of time, even decades. But victory, as the 19th amendment and ECOA demonstrate, does occur.

Yet, we are far from finished. The gender gap in pay remains stubborn and persistent.  According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, African-American women make 68 cents on average for every dollar earned by white men. Also, women also have access to fewer sources of wealth or other assets. According to Mariko Chang, previously an Associate Professor at Harvard University, a single woman has only 32 cents for every dollar of wealth owned by a single man.

Manna combats gender economic inequalities through its housing program. Manna did not set out to be a women’s rights organization but over the years, about 80 percent of our clients have been women, mostly African-American women. Many of them are single parents.

We have also had heartwarming stories of women’s empowerment collected by my colleague Annelise Osterberg. Consider the case for one Manna homeowner who purchased in the Le Droit Park neighborhood in 1997. After finalizing her divorce, this homeowner decided she wanted to purchase a home so that she could have something to pass on to her grandchild.  However, she soon realized she didn’t have the necessary savings for a down payment.

She recounted, “Back then the bank account was opened in my husband’s name. The credit cards were in my husband’s name. I was a stay at home mom, so I started working late in life and didn’t have a lot saved up.” Because this homeowner had been economically dependent on her husband during their marriage, she became financially vulnerable after the divorce.  However, with Manna’s assistance she was able to purchase her own home. The financial stability that this purchase afforded her gave her the ability to both start her own small business and begin saving for retirement.  Now after strategically managing her finances, she is fully prepared to retire in the next few years as well as pass her home on to her grandchild—a position she would not have been in without help from Manna.

We have much more ground to cover before achieving gender parity. Manna will continue pursing homeownership and neighborhood revitalization as part of the struggle for women’s rights and dignity.

 

 

Josh Silver is the Development Manager at Manna, Inc. Prior to his time at Manna, Josh served as Vice President of Research & Policy at NCRC. Josh is an avid District sports fan and loves spending time with his daughter.

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What are the Presidential Candidates Proposing to do about Affordable Housing & Community Development?

Presidential Campaign 2016

It is the summer of 2015 and I am already tired of the campaign season. Why do the campaigns start almost two years before the election? And there is so much money involved that citizens can easily become cynical. However, instead of tuning out, it might be the time to ask the candidates some hard questions about housing and community development. The only way the people take back their democracy is by participating and holding candidates accountable!

If you witness a debate among the candidates or attend a speech, ask the candidates questions about affordable housing and community development. See if their webpages have emails to which you can send questions. Read position papers of the candidates. Do they say anything about housing and community development and is it thoughtful?

Housing and community development is often overlooked and neglected. This is the case, I think, because these programs are perceived to be for poor/undeserving people. Most candidates think that housing and community development are not politically popular. They need to be educated. While most beneficiaries of housing and community development are low- and moderate-income, the entire country benefits if thoughtful and effective housing and community development programs can improve the economic well-being of low- and moderate-income people. If low- and moderate-income people live in revitalizing neighborhoods, they are more likely to be employed at livable wages. They are more likely to have access to good education. In the aggregate, if effective housing and community development programs improve the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people, then consumer demand increases, economic output increases, and unemployment decreases.

The following are some housing and community development positions. Observe how close the candidates come to these positions:

Restore Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budgets: As reported in a previous blog, as housing needs have increased, HUD budgets have been slashed. The budget for Section 8 vouchers to help very low income households pay the rent has not kept pace with rising rents while housing cost burdens for renters have increased. The HOME budget that provides subsidies for housing and homeownership programs has been cut by more than 60 percent between 2005 and 2012. The District of Columbia Department of Housing and Community Development has used HOME funding for, HPAP, its low downpayment program. Which candidates are clearest about the needs to increase HUD’s budget?

Strengthen the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA): As described in previous posts, CRA requires banks to meet the needs of communities. Federal agencies produce reports cards for banks that are publicly available and which rate banks on their lending, investment, and services in low- and moderate-income communities. CRA needs to be strengthened as applied to banks and needs to be expanded to cover other financial institutions including mortgage companies, insurance companies, and Wall Street investment banks. Do the candidates discuss CRA in their speeches and websites?

Foreclosure prevention and mediation: Frankly, one of the biggest policy failures of the Obama administration has been its foreclosure prevention program. While I agree with a number of the policy approaches of this administration, foreclosure prevention was not a large enough endeavor. The major program was the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) which offered banks financial incentives and subsidies to rework loans and reduce interest rates for homeowners facing foreclosure. Recent reports by an independent inspector general found that only 1.5 million people were assisted by HAMP but that 6.1 million experienced foreclosures during the time period. In addition, HAMP has $21 billion in unspent funds.

Some may say that the distressed homeowners brought this upon themselves by spending too much on housing and stretching their budgets too thin. However, when a problem reaches this magnitude, a more likely explanation is a rotten industry that was pedaling abusive loans on a large scale. Since homeowners were more sinned against than sinning and since the foreclosure crisis continues to impede the overall economic recovery, a fair question for candidates is will they continue this effort and make it more effective.

Promote neighborhood integration and revitalization:  Recently, a columnist suggested that efforts to revitalize economically distressed neighborhoods should be abandoned in favor of using housing subsidies to move minority and lower income households to more affluent neighborhoods. This is a false choice. Over its 30 year history, Manna has pursued both neighborhood revitalization and integration. Do the candidates recognize the complexity of housing and neighborhood development and will they pursue policies and approaches that promote neighborhood integration and revitalization.

Secondary education that benefits all citizens: Various candidates have announced ambitious plans to provide subsidies and aid so that students do not confront high debt after they finish college. President Obama has proposed free community college for students that maintain acceptable performance. The President’s approach is a step forward. Post-secondary education policies and subsidies must include community colleges and vocational training as well as colleges. Otherwise, a large segment of the population served by Manna will not benefit and will still confront high housing costs because more opportunities to earn higher wages via education and training will not be available to them.

Granted, it is hard work to hold the candidates accountable and you may base your voting decisions on many factors in addition to housing and community development. I took a quick glance at some of the candidate websites and they do not seem geared at this point to stimulate dialogue between the citizens and the candidates in the manner of Congressional websites (you can at least send an email to a member of Congress asking them to respond to your opinion). Yet, keep these issues in mind as you evaluate candidates and take advantage of opportunities to ask them hard questions. It is the only way in the long run to hold them accountable for promoting a more prosperous future for everyone.

 

Josh Silver is the Development Manager at Manna, Inc. Prior to his time at Manna, Josh served as Vice President of Research & Policy at NCRC. Josh is an avid District sports fan and loves spending time with his daughter.

 

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The False Dichotomy – Housing Choice and Revitalization

Choice road sign

A lot has been written the past couple weeks about where lower-income families should live and where affordable housing should be produced. In the New York Times last week, Thomas Edsall decried affordable housing development in high-poverty neighborhoods and stated that all subsidies should go toward moving poor households into higher cost areas that offer better school and job options; this is only answer to helping families move up and out of poverty. He also went a step further to lay blame for concentrated poverty on the many organizations that help finance and build affordable housing across the country, dubbing them the poverty housing industry.

Since his article, there has been a firestorm of responses:

Enterprise writes that “uprooting low-income families and moving them to affluent neighborhoods” is not a panacea to socioeconomic mobility and all the other issues faced by families in poverty. If we abandon communities that have experienced divestment for years, we take away those residents’ choices and condemn those communities to a dismal future.

Similarly, The Atlantic explores how efforts to combat segregation, when that is the only focus, may end up in divestment from communities that need it most. The article highlights a woman named Kellee Coleman, a 34 year old African American single mother from East Austin. Coleman knows the studies on how families like hers would flourish if they moved to “the wealthy suburbs”, but she doesn’t want to move to an area far from public transportation and neighbors that know and support her. She’s also concerned about her children going to school in a predominantly white suburb with few African Americans in leadership to look up to.

The Urban Institute emphasizes that all families, including those who are lower-income, should have the choice to live where they choose. As Edsall points out, these families face constrained choices due to lack of affordable housing in high-cost neighborhoods and discrimination, among other things. However, like Kellee Coleman says, there are many factors that lower-income families weigh when thinking about home. For Edsall to blame the constrained choices of lower-income families on the affordable housing industry is to ignore the effects of redlining and disinvestment targeted towards people and communities of color in this country, disinvestment that many community-led organizations were founded to combat. He is also ignoring where revitalization has occurred and how community-led affordable housing and community development groups have played a part and worked with their lower-income neighbors to stay and benefit.

Ultimately, this is about a both-and public policy approach and sustained investment from private and public partners…policy that promotes expanded choices for lower-income families and that also focuses on revitalizing neighborhoods. In thinking about Manna’s history, this both-and approach has been absolutely key. If Manna and others had only focused on high-income areas of DC (which were almost impossible to build in), then there would not be affordable housing in areas like Shaw and Adams Morgan today – there would be even less diversity in those neighborhoods today. For Manna’s first homeownership development, we had to go to 33 banks before finding one who would provide a construction loan – sacrifices were made and it was done with the community. And affordable housing is not just one type of housing – it’s an entire continuum that people can move along over time, from supportive housing up through homeownership. Finally, it’s not just about affordable housing but combining that with community and economic development, being strategic about partnerships and investments and an advocacy approach centered on the needs of people and neighborhood.

 

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