Staying Current and Healthy with Efficient Building Practices

Posted by Casius Pealer and Lisa Hodges on April 20, 2015

Holistic, green building certifications are an increasingly integral part of affordable housing development. These certifications are often pursued by developers due to incentives in competitive funding allocations, requirements in formula-based funding, or internal commitments from mission-driven organizations.

For example, Enterprise Community Partners recently released a survey of state LIHTC allocations from 2013, Green Policies Build Green Homes (this report and survey was conducted by the authors of this post) showing that over 75 percent of projects nationwide committed to achieve some holistic green building certification program.

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Is DC Really Affordable?

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on April 17, 2015


I'm glad to see I'm not the only one thinking about the limits of the "30 percent of your income" housing affordability definition.

This Washington City Paper article gets into the idea that housing and transportation together is a better measure of affordability, but then also addresses the idea that I have also raised that "how much disposable income you have left over after paying for housing" might be a better measure of whether your housing costs too much than what percentage you are paying.

It's an interesting application of this angle to note that DC Millenials' salaries are enough higher than those in many other cities that's DC's could be considered "more affordable" for them than other cities, such as Baltimore, even though they are spending a median 44 percent of their income on rent.

It's definitely a noteworthy point that a median earner with a median 1-BR apartment in Boston or San Francisco would be much worse off than one in DC, and folks in cheaper cost of living cities not necessarily better off.

But does that mean the city is really "affordable"?

After all, the critique of the 30 percent housing affordability measure says that housing costs are always going to fall hardest on the poor. So to say that DC is really a more affordable city broadly speaking you should be at least as interested, if not more, in how well it houses its lower income workers and fixed-income seniors, rather than its professional Millienials.

How do wages on the lower end of the scale in DC compare to elsewhere? I don't have an answer to that; minimum wage in DC is going up to $9.50/hour—no where near, for example, Seattle's groundbreaking $15. Perhaps that's the next number crunching the Office of Revenue can take on.

(Photo credit: Flickr user Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0)

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The Immigrant Population In Profile

Posted by María E. Enchautegui on April 16, 2015

Implications for Policy with a Focus on Housing and Urban and Workforce Development









The U.S. immigrant population is growing, and today immigrants can be found in virtually every city across America. Immigrants are driving population growth in the Sun Belt, Pacific Northwest and Mountain States and helping to slow population decline in Middle America (Pew Charitable Trust 2014). Immigrants—meaning people born abroad not of American parents nor in the U.S. territories—help to inject economic vitality into the areas they locate by paying taxes, creating businesses, stimulating consumption, and meeting labor demand. But this population is not a monolith. Digging deeper into the data to learn what countries they come from, where they live, and the socio-demographic characteristics of their households can help us craft immigrant-conscious policies and programs that can foster the well-being of immigrants—and the communities where they live.

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Article Reveals Manufactured Housing Industry’s Greed

Posted by Doug Ryan on April 15, 2015

Earlier this month, the Center for Public Integrity and The Seattle Times released an investigative article examining the business practices of the leading manufactured home builder, lender, and retailer, Clayton Homes. As many readers now know, Clayton, a Berkshire Hathaway firm, operates the two largest lenders, the biggest retail network, and the top manufactured home builder in the nation.

What may have come as a surprise, though, is how the practices highlighted in the article seem to be a replay of those that led to the larger housing crisis about 10 years ago—misleading loan terms, underwater homeowners and questionable practices that look a lot like steering.

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Engaging Banks—And Fighting Them at the Same Time

Posted by Daniel Kravetz on April 14, 2015

John Taylor, the President of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), proudly told me that NCRC’s Annual Conference is among the most diverse gatherings of individuals across the country that are connected to the civil rights movement.

As a newcomer this year, I was struck by the professional diversity of the conference: a critical mass of advocates, organizers, community developers, academics, administrators, and bankers and regulators, all on one upmarket hotel floor.

It was energizing to watch the hodgepodge of economic justice devotees convene to share lessons and advance their common cause. It was also fascinating to watch its different factions—the squeaky wheels and the well-oiled ones—navigate their inherent tensions.

Some of the interplay felt familiar: for instance, an optimistic panel on asset-based community development morphing into a less comfortable discussion on cultural development and gentrification.

And some felt more distinct. After a session on successful state and local policy campaigns, a gray-haired gentleman—familiar from local events—asked a pointed question on curbing the insidious revolving door between banks and regulators. When a regulator who was also a former banker spoke up from the back of the room to defend her ilk, the collective response was non-oppositional. Instead, the discussion turned to how critical it is for community groups to make an effort to work collegially with banks to reach common goals. The first gentleman then admitted to also being a former banker, which elicited laughter. “It’s okay,” one woman said. “We forgive you.”

As its attendees struck balances and occasionally butted heads, NCRC seemed to be conducting its own balancing act: on one hand it offered a polite welcome to bankers and placed their full-page ads in its 60-page conference program; on the other, its inner activist intermittently—and very publicly—held their feet to fire. The appearance of Thomas Curry, Comptroller of the Currency, was a prime example.

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Immigration Is a Community Development Issue

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on April 13, 2015

The story of neighborhood populations changing with waves of migrants is a classic part of the history of American cities. We are, as most school children have heard, a national of immigrants—some voluntary, some involuntary, some driven by persecution, some lured by opportunity. When I lived in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, as one of very few non Spanish speakers in my building, the mezuzzah (a Jewish scroll of Torah nailed by a door frame) under several layers of paint by my apartment's front door was a reminder of some of the history of who had lived in that building.

Whether newly arrived, or moving within the country, new arrivals to a city often cluster in one place. This too is sometimes voluntary, for social networks and familiarity, and sometimes horrifically involuntary, as with the violence that enforced the ghettos in northern cities during the great northern migration of African Americans fleeing Jim Crow.

In any case, the movement continues today, whether it's Latin American children fleeing gangs, U.S. cities welcoming refugees from international violence, or longer-established immigrant communities moving within the country, sometimes displaced from historic urban neighborhoods to suburbs, sometimes following jobs into the heartland.

Large immigrant populations are no longer the province of major coastal cities. Community development groups located anywhere are likely to have at least some immigrants within their constituencies, and in some cases might be seeing the demographics of their neighborhoods shifting significantly. This can bring new challenges: Adding services in other languages. Understanding how federal immigration policy and citizenship status affects members/constituents. Addressing a need for new kinds of financial services, and even new building plans. Developing cultural competancy.

I spoke at a conference last year with a woman who headed an agency in a older upstate NY city that helped people attain homeownership. She spoke of challenges within her city's refugee community, in which social divisions from home countries affected people's ideas of who could and should become an owner of property even here. These are the kinds of things that can take a community-based organization by surprise if they have not thought of immigration as relevant to their work.

A few years ago we published a wonderful article based on research by James DeFilippis and Benjamin Faust on New York City CDCs and how they adapted—or didn't—to changing demographics in their neighborhoods.

Over the next couple of months, we are pleased to be following that up with a series of articles that will both give an introduction to the context of immigration patterns, immigration reform, and immigration organizing in the United States and then explore some of the ways in which the community development field is encountering and working with immigration explicitly, from citizenship loans to partnerships among difference ethnic-focused organizations, to going multilingual. 

Keep an eye out for these articles (make sure you are signed up for Shelterforce Weekly to not miss any!) and if you have an example of a great immigration-related community development program or campaign we should cover, or if you have a question or challenge you'd like us to try to address in this series, let us know!

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Can Nonprofit Leaders Also Be Tech Innovators?

Posted by Michael Hickey on April 13, 2015

You may have seen my prior post on why the nonprofit sector is so tech averse. If you haven't read it you should, because my observations are fresh, keen, and entertaining. But just in case you don't have time, here's the summary:

  • Nonprofit leaders don't have much exposure to applied tech, so they don't know what tech tools are out there.
  • Even if they do know, they lack the internal staff capacity to implement and manage new tech.
  • Even if they have some internal capacity, many of their funders don't understand applied tech and so they don't know how to support nonprofits trying to implement it.
  • Even if nonprofit leaders have the exposure, capacity, and money, most wouldn't know how and where to look for the tech talent.

You see what I'm getting at? There's all this tech popping up (not to mention all the great design thinking that's going on around it), but the nonprofit sector on the whole is about two to three generations behind on tech adoption. If you think I'm lying, take a look at Raiser's Edge sometime.

So here's a really bad idea that we should try anyway: Let's teach nonprofit leaders to be tech innovators ...

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Police & Community Partnerships in L.A. Housing Projects

Posted by Richard Layman on April 9, 2015

LA's Community Safety Partnership has been covered by a variety of media outlets including NPR and The New York Times Magazine. I happened upon it while changing channels via a recent episode of the HBO program "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel."

One of the segments was on the Watts Bears kids football team. The Watts Bears youth football and track program is open to children living in the Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts, and Jordan Down public housing developments.

Police athletic programs are nothing new. Many cities have such programs. But it turns out that the Watts Bears are just one component of the Community Safety Partnership developed by the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) and the Los Angeles Police Department.

In 2011, HACLA and the police department implemented a community-engaged policing strategy in four public housing communities in the Watts neighborhood: Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts, Jordan Downs, and Ramona Gardens. The Watts neighborhood has the greatest concentration of public housing in the city and each development had been marked by deep-rooted gang problems, drug sales, and crime.

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Solar for the People

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on April 8, 2015

So this story started off sounding so promising.

An affordable housing complex put solar panels on its roof!

Also, it's affordable "community solar," meaning you can invest in a piece of it for $150 (instead of, say, $10K to buy your own array, or minimum $500-$1400 in other joint solar investments) and earn a return in lower energy bills as you share in the electricity the panels generate. You'll at least break even in five years.

The article is pretty gushy about it—this is about the "real sharing economy" and following Naomi Klein's dictum that "the people who got the worst deal in the old economy should be the first in line to benefit in the new economy."

Splendid--some of the returns of the solar revolution going to folks without the resources to put up solar themselves. I'm all for that.

But then I realized the "community" part and the where it's located part didn't seem connected. Somewhere buried down at the end of the article is a concern that seemed to me to be a fairly big point—none of the people living in the building have bought in. In fact, none of the residents of Capitol Hill Housing's 48 affordable housing properties have. Even $150 is probably a bit much for them to put up just because it's the right thing to do, since the return is fairly slow. 

That sounded bad to me—I actually started writing this post as a disappointed, "gee that doesn't sound so great after all" post. 

But then a I poked a little further and found that one of the crucial points wasn't mentioned in the first article at all—after the initial 5 year investment period, the solar array will be donated to the affordable housing nonprofit that owns the building to "reduce the long-term operating expenses of affordable housing."

Now we're talking! Community investment, a modest return, locally sourced parts and labor, increased distributed capacity attached to the grid—and eventually reduced utility costs specifically for affordable housing. That could be a pretty great model.

What do you think? Would you host a project like this on your roof for benefits starting in 5 years?

(Photo credit: Flickr user WildEarth Guardians, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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The Role of Municipalities in Supporting Family Wealth-Building

Posted by Brent Kakesako on April 7, 2015

How might a municipality leverage its resources and influence to better support its families?

Hawai'i County, specifically the Office of Housing & Community Development, has leveraged its influence to bring partners together to address that issue, and supports the Ho'owaiwai Network as a vehicle to deliver programs and services to the community. As mentioned in a past post, ho'owaiwai is a Hawaiian word that broadly translates to a vision of wealth that is more than financial, and encompasses relationships with family, place, and culture.

The Ho‘owaiwai Network convenes government, service provider, private, and community partners to sustain and expand support that will increase the financial stability and genuine well being of Hawai‘i Island families while building and strengthening the communities in which they live and thrive.  Its intent was to realize outcomes at three levels:

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