The NLIHC 2016 Housing Policy Forum held in Washington, DC on April 3-5 attracted 270 participants who discussed the challenges and solutions to housing poverty in the U.S. A diverse array of NLIHC members and partners engaged with speakers, learned about NLIHC’s policy priorities, and met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to share their concerns and ask for their support.
The 2016 Forum was the first public appearance for Diane Yentel in her new role as NLIHC president and CEO. It served as opportunity to welcome her and introduce her to the NLIHC members assembled. Sheila Crowley, outgoing president and CEO, introduced Ms. Yentel, saying “I have great confidence in the future of NLIHC under the leadership of Diane Yentel. Diane is the future of our movement, deeply grounded in where we have come from and full of new ideas and energy. She is the right person to take the Coalition to new heights and great victories.” In her opening remarks, Ms. Yentel thanked Dr. Crowley for her many years of service, for being such an effective and tireless advocate for low income people and their communities, and for being a longtime mentor and inspiration for Ms. Yentel and for countless others across the country. Ms. Yentel introduced herself to the forum attendees and described her vision for ending housing poverty. She ended with a quote from Todd Parr, “Peace is everyone having a home,” saying, “I believe we can achieve this goal together. Bold systemic change will be achieved by all of us…and I look forward to it.”
In his remarks, HUD Secretary Julián Castro called Ms. Yentel “a veteran housing rights champion” and said he is “pleased to join the affordable housing community in celebrating her leadership.” In a moment of levity he recognized Ms. Yentel as a prolific “tweeter,” joking that he sees her on Twitter “all the time.”
More on Dr. Crowley’s farewell speech and Ms Yentel’s introductory speech will be featured in upcoming issues of Memo to Members.
The theme of the 2016 Forum was “Ending Housing Poverty, Achieving Housing Justice.” NLIHC has named the problem we are working to solve as housing poverty, defined as both a condition experienced by a person or a family of not having enough money to pay the monthly cost of a modest, decent home and also pay for food, medicine and other basic needs, and a condition experienced by a community that fails to provide sufficient modest, decent housing for all its members, so that some members are forced to live in unsafe, unstable housing or go without housing altogether to pay for food, medicine, and other basic needs. (Housing poverty is an adaptation of, but not the same as, the concept of shelter poverty coined in the 1990s by Michael Stone.)
The Forum featured eight plenary sessions, which are summarized here. Video recordings of the 2016 Housing Policy Forum will be available soon on the NLIHC website. Visit www.nlihc.org
HUD Secretary Julián Castro and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) on Housing and Criminal Justice Reform
Secretary of HUD Julián Castro delivered the Forum’s keynote address, during which he spoke about the importance of affordable housing for low income people in America, about HUD’s new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, and about the rollout of the National Housing Trust Fund in 2016 (see related article in this week’s Memo to Members). The Secretary recognized the Coalition’s 16-year leadership in “standing up the National Housing Trust Fund.” He acknowledged NLIHC’s work on behalf of extremely low income households and described NLIHC as “hands down one of my favorite organizations.” Secretary Castro told the audience that he has cited NLIHC’s Out of Reach study “more than any other study in my entire life.”
Secretary Castro used the occasion of the NLIHC Forum to announce HUD’s new guidance on how fair housing laws apply to policies that summarily exclude people with criminal records from housing opportunities. The guidance clarifies that blanket bans on applicants with criminal records are likely to violate the Fair Housing Act because such policies may have a disparate impact on racial minorities. (See related article in this week’s Memo to Members below.)
"Our country," said Secretary Castro, "can’t fulfill any of our major goals—from tackling inequality and improving folks’ health to keeping neighborhoods safe and making sure every child gets a good education— unless we also focus on housing.” He emphasized that housing is one of our most basic needs and lauded HUD’s new AFFH effort that will help make “the promise of fair housing a reality for every American.” HUD’s new AFFH guidelines released in 2015 (see Memo, 7/13/2015) are designed not only to protect the housing rights of individuals but to “help local governments strike a strong balance between, on the one hand, providing low-income families with greater mobility, and re-investing in older, distressed neighborhoods on the other,” said Secretary Castro.
Secretary Castro cited the “disparate impact” standard as one of the most powerful tools the country has to end discrimination. According to Secretary Castro, “HUD will not be shy about using [disparate impact] to tear down the unfair barriers that have undermined the dreams of far too many Americans.” He unveiled HUD’s new guidance on protecting the housing rights of ex-offenders, announcing that “HUD will use the full force of the law to protect the fair housing rights of those who’ve been arrested or who are returning to their communities after serving time in jail or prison.”
“Black and Latino Americans,” said Secretary Castro, “are unfairly arrested at significantly higher rates than white Americans.” The Secretary referenced a study by the Drug Policy Alliance that finds that even though rates of drug use are comparable across racial lines, black and brown Americans are more likely to be “stopped, searched, and arrested for drug law violations than are whites.”
Secretary Castro made clear that landlords need to distinguish between arrests and convictions and cannot simply use arrests to ban applicants for housing. “If landlords summarily refuse to rent to anyone who has an arrest record,” said Secretary Castro, “they may effectively and disproportionately bar the door to millions of folks of color for no good reason at all.”
For those applicants with prior convictions, Secretary Castro cautioned landlords not to exclude them from housing simply because of a conviction. “Many landlords use the fact of a conviction—any conviction, regardless of what it was for or how long ago it happened—to indefinitely bar folks from housing opportunities,” said Secretary Castro. "When someone has been convicted of a crime and has paid their debt to society, then they ought to have an effective second chance in life. The ability to find housing is an indispensable part of that second chance," he said.
Continuing the theme of the intersection between criminal justice reform and housing in his address, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that as criminal justice reform moves forward, there must be a plan to ensure that returning citizens have meaningful access to affordable housing to prevent them from becoming homeless or recidivating. He said, “Housing is a fundamental part of who you are. . . If you’re going to constrict and restrict one’s ability to get housing that’s dignified or housing that’s equal to others, then you’re basically putting a lid on their ability to rehabilitate.”
Senator Kaine welcomed the news of HUD’s newly released fair housing guidance regarding criminal record screening policies, and spoke of his own experience litigating disparate impact cases under the Fair Housing Act. He said that it was through these cases that he first came to understand the importance of housing and that this exposure to the discrimination faced by his clients had a powerful impact on his life.
Senator Kaine also spoke about the prospects of criminal justice reform moving forward in Congress. He said that while the issue has gained bipartisan attention and there has been some positive rhetoric, so far the only concrete legislation that has passed has been in some states rather than at the federal level. He anticipates that the debate in the U.S. Congress will likely be around sentencing reform, and he cited Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) comments about the need for such reform as a positive sign. Senator Kaine stressed that, with whatever reform is enacted, social services and housing will be needed to help former prisoners successfully return to their communities. He thinks it will be important to frame the criminal justice reform conversation around preventing crime and reducing recidivism to keep our communities safe.
Knowledge is Power: Research on Extreme Poverty and Housing Interventions in Homelessness
Two of the Forum’s plenary sessions were about scholarly work that helps to inform advocacy. The first session featured Dr. Kathryn Edin, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University and co-author of the new book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.
In the book and in her presentation at the Forum, Dr. Edin discussed in detail the eradication of cash assistance under Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and its replacement by the much more stringent Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program. A very small percentage of households eligible for TANF actually receive assistance. When Dr. Edin asked people she interviewed why families were not enrolled in TANF assistance programs, she heard responses like, “They just aren’t giving that out anymore,” or “What’s that?” One low income mother was told when she applied for TANF, “Honey, I’m sorry. There are just so many needy people. We just don’t have enough to go around.”
For $2.00 a Day households, 70% of children are in a family with at least one working adult, but Dr. Edin stressed the capricious nature of employment and the scarcity of resources. Jennifer, a woman with asthma, had a cleaning job in Chicago and was providing a stable life for her family until her health deteriorated when her work moved to sites with hazardous conditions. “It took Jennifer 11 months to find that job, and 9 months to lose it.” Rae was a cashier at Wal-Mart, who was twice named Employee of the Month. Despite that distinction, Rae lost her job when she failed to report on time one day because the one vehicle shared by her household was left without fuel.
Dr. Edin reported that non-conventional income is common in $2.00 a Day households. The U.S. produces 70% of the world’s plasma. Many adults in the U.S. give plasma multiple times per month in order to generate income as high $75 per donation. Dr. Edin closed by emphasizing three key points: Everyone who wants to work deserves to do so; parents need their own homes in which to raise their children; and the U.S. needs a functioning safety net.
Responding to Dr. Edin’s presentation, Dr. Sharon McDonald, Director for Families and Youth at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, further discussed the insufficient nature of TANF in meeting the needs of low income households. She said that 41% of families that enter homeless shelters are receiving some form of help from TANF, demonstrating that it is not enough to prevent homelessness. Dr. McDonald addressed the rise of state laws restricting how TANF is used, such as limits on the purchase of luxury food or prohibitions on withdrawing TANF funds from ATMs at liquor stores or casinos, and the pernicious efforts in states to see that TANF recipients are subject to drug testing. Dr. McDonald also discussed the ways that various states are using TANF money to address the housing instability of TANF recipients, such as Mercy County, NJ with rent assistance that they fund entirely with TANF.
Sheila Crowley, outgoing president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, responded to Dr. Edin by discussing how prominently housing poverty was experienced by the families in her book. The personal stories in $2.00 a Day, and those in Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted and Adrian LeBlanc’s book Random Family, all tell of households struggling with scarcity in the private housing market. “Doubling up” is how many of them cope. Dr. Crowley discussed the different counts of people who are doubled-up and the difficulty posed by the inclusion of doubled-up children as homeless by the Department of Education.
Dr. Crowley reported that Desmond says that housing advocates think of doubling-up as a problem, but families have always taken one another in. Indeed, 85% of people who double up move in with family members. Dr. Crowley cited three circumstances that make doubling up problematic. The first is overcrowding, especially in substandard housing. The second is lack of security that comes with being beholden to someone else, with no legal claim to one’s home. The third is exploitation and abuse, such as the molestation of a young girl in a family in $2 a Day who moved in with an uncle.
In the second plenary on research, Dr. MaryBeth Shinn, Professor of Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University, presented the interim results of the “Family Options Study: Short-Term Impacts of Housing and Services Interventions for Homeless Families” (See Memo, 7/13/2015). The study compared four different approaches to addressing homelessness in the U.S.: permanent housing subsidies, rapid re-housing, transitional housing, and usual care in participants’ communities. Dr. Shinn said the study showed strong evidence for the benefits of permanent housing subsidies for housing stability, adult well-being, and family preservation. Permanent housing subsidies reduced dependence on alcohol and drugs by almost a third and intimate partner violence by more than half, decreased adult psychological distress, and reduced child-family separations and foster care placements. Transitional housing had more modest impacts on housing stability and no impact on adult well-being or family preservation. Rapid re-housing showed no impacts on housing stability, adult well-being or family preservation in the study.
Children in families receiving permanent housing subsidies changed schools less frequently, and children in families with permanent subsidies or in rapid re-housing had fewer school absences. Transitional housing showed no such impacts. Families with permanent subsidies or in rapid re-housing were more likely to report being secure in their access to food. Dr. Shinn identified the radiating impact of permanent housing subsidies on adult, family, and child outcomes as a surprising lesson.
Kathryn O’Regan, HUD Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research, said the Family Options Study’s findings about the benefits of permanent housing subsidies showcased how solid research can impact policy. The Administration’s FY17 budget request includes funding for 10,000 new vouchers for homeless families with children and $11 billion in mandatory spending over the next ten years, 80% of which would be for new housing vouchers and 20% for rapid rehousing assistance (see Memo, 2/16/2016). Barbara Sard, vice president for housing policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, echoed these sentiments, saying that the study’s evidence for housing vouchers to achieve housing stability provided a powerful justification for the President’s proposals to fund additional targeted vouchers.
Housing Advocacy Moves to States and Localities: Preparing to Implement NHTF and AFFH
With two major new initiatives underway in 2016 and 2017, the Forum included plenary sessions on the implementation of the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) and Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). The NHTF session opened with remarks by Marion Mollegen McFadden, HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Grant Programs in the Office of Community Planning and Development. Ms. McFadden said that while a few states that act swiftly could receive their NHTF grants by late summer, others are more likely to receive their funds in the fall. By the end of the year HUD intends to release a technical assistance product describing best practices for deeply targeting assistance across HUD programs, including with NHTF and HOME funds.
Brian Hudson, executive director and CEO of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA), said that PHFA does not have preconceived notions about the types of projects NHTF will develop. The agency reached out several months ago to key stakeholders, including the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, an NLIHC state coalition partner, to begin to gather ideas. He discussed the need to pair NHTF resources with other state-level resources in order to develop viable projects for extremely low income renters. Mr. Hudson encouraged advocates in the audience to let their state agencies know about the types of projects they want funded. He urged states to have bold plans for NHTF projects and to share successes early on.
Nancy Rase, co-founder and the former president and CEO of Homes for America, Inc. and principal of Nancy Rase Consulting Services, LLC, stated that it is possible to develop housing projects to serve extremely low income (ELI) households, those with incomes at or less than 30% of the area median income (AMI), without imposing a cost burden on them. The goal should be to have 20% of the units in a property to be affordable to ELI households, with another 10% affordable to households with incomes at 15% of AMI. Ms. Rase mentioned a number of sources that could be layered in with NHTF funds to help achieve such deep affordability. To help affirmatively further fair housing in strong markets that are areas of high opportunity and to cross-subsidize ELI units, she suggested developing projects with 25% of the units renting at market rate.
The final panelist was Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition and an affordable housing developer at Avesta Housing, a nonprofit housing agency based in Portland, Maine, as well as an NLIHC board member. Mr. Payne urged advocates to promote impactful NHTF projects this year in order to demonstrate the value of the new program. He also expressed concern that HUD’s interim rules allow rents to be higher than advocates had expected and encouraged them to seek preference for projects which do, in fact, ensure rents affordable to extremely low income households. Finally, Mr. Payne urged residents and advocates to attend the NHTF public hearing in their states and be particularly vigilant about opposing efforts to simply supplant existing programs with NHTF funding.
During the session on HUD’s recently released Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, panelists talked about the history of the Fair Housing Act and the AFFH rule and current efforts to ensure the rule is properly implemented across the country in the months and years to come.
Luke Tate, a senior policy advisor to President Obama, began the discussion by recognizing that economic opportunity is intrinsically related to fair housing. He lauded the progress represented by HUD’s issuance of the final AFFH rule but acknowledged the challenges that lie ahead in ensuring it is implemented correctly. Mr. Tate said, “We know we have a legacy of structural racism [in this country], and it persists today. The AFFH rule is about taking that head on.” He spoke about how the AFFH rule calls on communities across the country to broadly and accurately define who its residents are when deciding where to invest federal resources so that no one is excluded. Mr. Tate stated that the White House’s Opportunity Project is providing those leading the conversation around AFFH implementation with sound information, including data on access to transit and high quality schools to help them achieve the best possible outcomes for their communities.
Bryan Green, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, spoke about Martin Luther King’s efforts to bring to light the deplorable conditions in which poor African Americans were living during the 1960s and how the Fair Housing Act (FHA) serves as a memorial to Dr. King’s work. Mr. Greene lamented that 50 years after King’s passing, systemic poverty and segregation still exists. “HUD’s AFFH rule is seeking to breathe life into this law that King fought and died for,” Mr. Greene stated. He said the original legislative intent of the FHA wasn’t just to prevent discrimination but also to tackle segregation in a structural way. Mr. Green noted while the law is 50 years old, there has been only a patchwork of regulations around the duty to affirmatively further fair housing, most of which were weak and largely ineffective. HUD’s new rule clarifies communities’ AFFH obligations. New tools provided by HUD, including maps and data, will help communities implement the rule consistently across the country in a way that promotes collaboration and takes public input into account.
NLIHC Senior Advisor Ed Gramlich noted that at long last local governments, states, and public housing agencies have the guidance they need to meet the FHA’s obligations around affirmatively further fair housing choice. He emphasized to the residents and advocates in attendance at the Forum that it is now incumbent on them to become engaged to make the new rule work and to ensure its long-term effectiveness. He described the many advocacy opportunities built into the new AFFH rule. He noted that the rule requires public participation in the drafting of the new Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH), including a minimum of one public hearing. The AFH must analyze any “local knowledge” provided during the public participation process, which could include the identification of neighborhoods at risk of gentrification or of campaigns to pass a local source of income ordinance. The rule also provides an additional advocacy opportunity because the AFH must be sent to HUD for review and acceptance. Advocates can write to HUD during the review period to point out any inconsistencies or gross omissions.
The slides Mr. Gramlich presented at the Forum are available at: http://bit.ly/23qjltP
Learn more about the Opportunity Project at: http://opportunity.census.gov/
Reaching Out: Housing in the 2016 Elections and in the Media
Getting our message out to the broader public and to policy makers was the subject of two other plenaries at NLIHC’s Housing Policy Forum.
Brian Miller, Executive Director of Nonprofit VOTE, Pamela Patenaude, President of the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America's Families, and LeeAnn Byrne, Policy Director of Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, engaged in a lively discussion of the how to get candidates for elected office to pay attention to the issues of housing and homelessness.
Mr. Miller opened by stressing the importance of voter participation by people in low income communities. He said that “part of the reason we often don’t have power is that the populations we serve don’t vote” in the same numbers as higher income people do. He praised NLIHC’s Voterization project http://nlihc.org/library/voterization and other voter engagement programs, and reported that in 2014, the people who engaged with non-profit voter efforts voted at rates 5-15% higher than those who did not. He emphasized that “if we want to get affordable housing on the agenda of candidates, any candidates…we have to put it there,” with active candidate engagement. Non-profits cannot endorse candidates for public office, but can educate all candidates about issues and ask them their positions.
Ms. Patenaude reported on the efforts of the Terwilliger Foundation to engage all the presidential candidates on housing issues in advance of the 2016 New Hampshire Primary. She and her staff attended numerous town halls and other open meetings throughout the state to ask the candidates questions. The Foundation organized a Housing Forum in the state in cooperation with several housing organizations, including Housing Action New Hampshire, an NLIHC state coalition partner. All presidential candidates were invited to speak and six accepted. Although none were first-tier candidates, some who were not aware of housing issues came away with an increased awareness of the seriousness of the problems.
Ms. Byrne described the very robust candidate engagement activities, especially with candidates for the state offices, of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, also an NLIHC state coalition partner. They organize tours and meetings with candidates, prepare and distribute a variety of reports and fact sheets for use by candidates, and educate them about both problems and solutions. Their work does not end with Election Day, but continues year round with winners and losers alike. Someone who lost a particular election is very likely to be back on the ballot in a future election and be more aware of the issues if the relationship has continued throughout the year.
Mr. Miller urged attendees to participate in the second webinar in NLIHC’s 2016 Voterization series, “Educating Voters and Candidates on Housing Issues,” to be held on Monday, April 18 at 2:00pm ET as well as NonProfit VOTE’s webinar on voter engagement on Thursday, April 14 at 2pm EST. RSVP for the NLIHC event at http://bit.ly/1PL6R6F. RSVP for the NonProfit VOTE event at http://bit.ly/1TMymDV.
Washington Post reporter Emily Badger spoke to Forum participants on housing in the media and said it was fair criticism that the news media do not sufficiently feature stories on housing. Issues of housing and housing affordability are something everyone should be addressing to a much greater degree because housing is fundamental to every aspect of our lives, she said. Ms. Badger urged advocates to provide the media stories that show the connections between housing and other aspects of life and that surprise the reader about such connections.
Ms. Badger, whose reporting has highlighted the challenges faced by low income families in accessing decent, affordable housing, said that some in the media treat housing as an asset while others look at it merely as shelter. Given that narrow framing, the general public is reminded about housing only when reporters write about home buying, mortgage rates and foreclosures or about overcrowded homeless shelters.
“Housing is not just about shelter. It is about fifteen other things that are connected to our lives. Housing is about education, opportunity, wealth, poverty, health, and the environment. The best stories about housing are the ones that say how housing is connected to other important aspects of your life,” she said, “Everything is connected to housing. Baltimore, Ferguson and Flint are all housing stories. Where you live is incredibly important for setting the path that you will go on for the rest of your life.”
Ms. Badger cited the groundbreaking research of Stanford University Professor Raj Chetty about the impacts of housing opportunities on children’s wellbeing later in life. This kind of research is highlighting how where a child grows up affects their success in school and their earnings potential when they are adults. “Children who live in Salt Lake City have much greater odds of moving up the income ladder than children who grow up in Atlanta,” she said. “Children who grow up in Seattle are in much better shape than those who grow up in Detroit. So, housing is about opportunities and mobility as well.”
In Special Forum Session, Residents Discuss Section 3, RAD and AFFH
The 2016 Forum offered a special session for residents of public and assisted housing on topics of particular importance to them. Seventy-three residents and advocates gathered to learn about and discuss Section 3 requirements to hire and contract with low income tenants, the latest on the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), and resident involvement in the new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) requirements. Presenters included Keith Swiney, President and CEO of Motivation Inc., and Joy Johnson from the Public Housing Association of Residents in Charlottesville, VA, on Section 3; Tom Davis, the Director of the Office of Recapitalization at HUD and Jessica Cassella, attorney at the National Housing Law Project, on RAD; and Debby Goldberg, Special Project Director at the National Fair Housing Alliance on AFFH.