5 Years of Affordable Housing Lessons

6 min read

In advance of The NHP Foundation's annual symposium, Thomas Vaccaro reviews the recommendations that emerged from previous events.

Thomas Vaccaro

For the past five years those in the affordable housing ecosphere have had a unique opportunity to mingle with, and learn from, some of the brightest in the business. The NHP Foundation hosts an annual symposium that honors bi-partisan legislators for their work in affordable housing and also brings together experts from policy, academia, supportive housing services, finance, and development to share insights and ideas.

Each year, a single-topic study is presented that analyzes current research and offers forward-thinking recommendations for attendees to act on in their own endeavors to continue creating and preserving affordable housing in America.

As we prepare for our 6th Annual Symposium, One Paycheck Away from Homelessness: Building Popular Support for Affordable Housing, here is a look back at the top recommendations from each of our previous events.

Year I: Pay for Success & Affordable Housing

 The first NHPF Symposium honored two champions of housing support, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Orrin Hatch (R-U). A speaker from the prestigious University of Virginia Pay for Success Lab presented case studies on different PFS models. PFS contracts are a form of private-public partnership aimed at promoting innovative and preventive social services while simultaneously mitigating financial risks for governments and allowing philanthropic donors and impact investors to contribute to efficient projects.

The recommendation was to do a deep dive into PFS to see if it will work for you. Learn more in Pay for Success & Affordable Housing.

Year II: Housing & Health: The Backbone of Strong Communities

The 2nd annual Symposium recognized the achievements of several in Congress dedicated to furthering housing legislation including Jim Himes, (D-CT), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Suzan DelBene (D-W). We also honored Henry Cisneros, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (1993–1997).

The event featured a presentation from CSH, leaders in providing housing, justice, health and human services. A dynamic panel discussion, tackling housing as a social determinant of health,

included Jonathan F.P. Rose, founder of Jonathan Rose Cos.; Stephen Brown, senior director, Social Behavioral Health Advocacy, University of Illinois; and Maria Torres-Springer, NYC Deputy Mayor for Economic & Workforce Development.

  • Create partnerships with health care providers
  • Make your target audience research more in-depth
  • Co-develop more than housing, think community infrastructure

Read more about housing and health in Housing & Health: The Backbone of Strong Communities

Year lll: Affordable Housing Investment: Impactful Returns Realized

The 3rd annual Symposium posed two primary questions: “Do you currently advise clients to invest in affordable housing?” And “If not, why not?”

Harish Sharma from Pixabay

To answer, we convened a panel of investment experts including Reuben Teague, vice president, Impact Investments at Prudential Investment; Cherie Santos-Wuest, NHPF Trustee & managing partner, Celadon Venture Partners; and David Wood, director, Initiative for Responsible Investment at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, Harvard Kennedy School.

The conversation was informed by candid and confidential answers from leading global investment managers participating in an NHPF study revealing that a majority (74 percent) currently invest in affordable housing, 10 percent do not invest, but plan to in the future, and 16 percent do not currently invest and have no plans to do so. The respondents cited these barriers to affordable housing investment: miseducation (or under-education) of the investment community and the federal government’s “onerous rules and regulations”.

The recommendations were:

  • Put more resources into lobbying Congress to simplify the rules
  • Create more educational tools to help new developers navigate the current government red tape
  • Look for a different set of benefits to encourage more pension fund investment

Learn more in Investing in Affordable Housing: A Strong Asset Class

Year IV: Growing Up & Out of Poverty: Enhancing Academic Success Through the Intersection of Housing and Education

When young people have a safe and stable place to call home, their educational outcomes improve and they have the opportunity to grow into their full potential. But what happens in the classroom when families struggle to find housing or stay housed? How can educators support students? What can leaders in the community development and human services fields do to work with educators toward solutions?

The 4th annual Symposium sought to answer these questions by gathering perspectives from  educators across the US as well as hearing personal accounts from Maryland gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore, From Homeless to Harvard author Liz Murray and others who “grew up and out of poverty.” Housing awards were presented to Senator Todd Young (R-IN) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)  also posthumously to Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD). The renowned author Matthew Desmond delivered a keynote on the consequences of eviction on US families.

Educators identified struggles with homelessness, lack of access to basic utilities, and frequent moves as common among the students they work with and expressed a need for more tools to help mitigate housing related challenges for young people.

The recommendations were:  

  • Increase the availability of service enriched housing
  • Provide additional support to schools and school districts to enhance staff training and improve support plans
  • Recognize the importance of building trust with students and families
  • Remove barriers faced by educators to connect students with supportive services
  • Create and promote cross-sector partnerships to ensure families are served andsupports are aligned

Learn more in Growing Up & Out of Poverty: Enhancing Academic Success Through the Intersection of Housing and Education.

Year V: A Decade of Rental Housing Vulnerability: Lessons Learned from Financial Crisis to Coronavirus

This event sought to identify ways of alleviating housing vulnerability for lower-income renters, particularly renters of color, who despite widespread diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice efforts, remain largely disenfranchised when it comes to housing. Owing to the past decade of significant economic and political swings, and natural disasters, participants in a national survey, as well as experts who spoke at the event, perceived several policies and trends to have exacerbated housing vulnerability for lower-income individuals and households.

The news was not all bad though. NHPF presented interviews with three sitting governors, Mayor Justin Elicker, New Haven, Conn.; Mayor Francis X. Suarez, Miami, Fla.;  and Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston, spoke of ways they are ensuring housing security in their cities. We also heard from housing policy experts including Jenny Schuetz, senior fellow, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program; and Emily Cadik, executive director, Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition.

The recommendations were:

  • Capitalize on a readiness to address racial inequity issues
  • Redouble efforts to assist all underserved populations
  • Foster creation/expansion of automatic stabilizers for the housing market
  • Enhance capital support, crucial to addressing need
  • Make local, flexible policy shifts to enable increased production and preservation
  • Break down barriers to increase collaborative efforts
  • Be open to bold, new funding ideas

Learn more in A Decade of Rental Housing Vulnerability: Lessons Learned from Financial Crisis to Coronavirus

The affordable housing industry thrives on collaboration and an influx of new ways to do business. The Symposium feeds that interest by providing a great exchange of ideas that serve to inspire the affordable housing universe every year.

Thomas Vaccaro is senior vice president, External Affairs & Corporate Secretary, NHPF.

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