Weekly update from the National Housing Conference
News from Washington
NHC holds its 7th annual Solutions for Housing Communications convening

NHC’s 7th Annual Solutions for Housing Communications convening on Thursday brought together industry communicators and advocates to hear from leaders in housing policy and research, media, communications and public relations to discuss a range of topics from health and housing partnerships to breaking down stigmas associated with affordable housing. While past iterations of the convening had typically focused on communications strategies to build support for addressing housing issues, many panelists during this year’s convening noted that the crises of 2020 thrust housing to the forefront of the national conversation. As panelist Kate Peterson, senior vice president for marketing and communications at Mercy Housing, noted, “If there is a shelter-in-place mandate and you do not have a home, how can you shelter in place?”

Panelists also focused on the need to center racial equity in housing policy. Many noted that last year’s protests against police brutality and White supremacy drew scrutiny to racist practices in housing that had long been ignored and cited recent racially motivated attacks against Asian Americans as yet another example of why housing policy should not be color-blind. Some panelists noted long-running efforts to close racial gaps in housing that have gained new attention, while others discussed their organizations’ efforts to pivot messaging and programming to account for historic and ongoing racial discrimination.

We thank everyone who joined us for #SolutionsComms!
Illinois city set to approve reparations for anti-Black housing discrimination

The Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, is set to become the first city in the country to fund reparations for Black residents victimized by historic discrimination after approving a plan to distribute $10 million over the next decade. The first phase of the plan, which is set for a vote tomorrow, would distribute $400,000 to Black residents who themselves suffered or are descended from the victims of housing discrimination due to city policies. Evanston’s reparations plan places it at the forefront of a growing movement of communities looking to atone for historic anti-Black discrimination in housing, including Washington, D.C., and nearby Chicago.

The reparations are targeted at victims of housing discrimination because, according to the city’s website, “reparations, and any process for restorative relief, must connect between the harm imposed and the City. The strongest case for reparations by the City of Evanston is in the area of housing, where there is sufficient evidence showing the City’s part in housing discrimination as a result of early City zoning ordinances in place between 1919 and 1969, when the City banned housing discrimination.” Like most cities, Evanston has a history of discriminatory housing practices that prevented integration and inhibited Black households from accumulating wealth through homeownership.

“Reparations is the most appropriate legislative response to the historic practices and the contemporary conditions of the Black community. And though many anti-Black policies have been outlawed, many remain embedded in policy, including zoning and other government practices” said City Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, who introduced the legislation. “We are in a time in history where this nation more broadly has not only the will and awareness of why reparations are due, but the heart to advance it.”
HUD releases first portion of annual homelessness assessment

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released part one of its 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress on Thursday, which counted more than half a million people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January of last year, a 2% increase over 2019. The report found significant upticks in chronic and unsheltered homelessness, with overall homelessness in 2020 up 2.2% over the previous year. Youth homelessness continued to decrease in 2020, albeit slowly, while reductions in veteran homelessness stalled after four years of steady decline. The report also notes that people of color, especially African Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, remain overrepresented among the homeless population.

Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), noted that the report’s results “were tabulated practically on the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they show a system under-resourced to meet the needs of people experiencing and at risk of homelessness, much less the coming consequences of the global pandemic and recession.” NAEH noted late last year that the pandemic and associated economic fallout would likely push homelessness levels even higher.

HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge called the report’s findings “very troubling, even before you consider what COVID-19 has done to make the homelessness crisis worse,” but emphasized that the Biden administration is already taking steps to reduce chronic and economic homelessness. “Thanks to President Biden’s leadership, we are once again putting Housing First to end this crisis and build strong, healthy communities, as reflected in the American Rescue Plan,” she said.
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Treasury updates emergency rental assistance guidance

The Treasury Department updated its guidance on the administration of emergency rent assistance (ERA) programs this week, addressing several concerns about non-traditional renters’ access to the program. The updates confirm that security deposits and fees for rental applications and tenant screening count as rental payments for the purposes of the program and clarify the circumstances in which individuals living in hotels or in rent-to-own units can apply for ERA funding. The new guidance also makes clear that households that rent the land on which their housing sits are eligible for assistance, ensuring that ERA funds are made available to residents of manufactured housing who own their homes but not the land they occupy.

The updates come after Treasury released an overhaul last month of the initial guidance that was released in January. This week’s changes were comparatively minor, with most of the document remaining unchanged.
Fannie Mae announces new multifamily affordability incentives

Fannie Mae announced this week that it would introduce sponsor-initiated affordability (SIA) incentives for multifamily borrowers to address the nationwide shortage of affordable multifamily housing. Offered in the form of reduced borrowing costs, the incentives will be made available to multifamily borrowers who keep at least 20% of their units affordable to residents earning less than 80% of area median income.

The incentives “help address the shortage of affordable rental housing in America at a time when rent growth is outpacing wages,” said Rob Levin, senior vice president of multifamily customer engagement at Fannie Mae, in a statement that emphasized Fannie Mae’s desire to attract investors interested in social impact. “SIA allows borrowers to strengthen communities by keeping rents affordable over the life of the loan, and helps ensure renters have more stability when it comes to housing related expenses.
FHFA OIG finds substantial non-compliance with conflict-of-interest rules among Fannie Mae executives

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report Monday finding that Fannie Mae senior executives failed to follow FHFA directives for the timely disclosure and resolution of conflicts of interest. The report finds five instances in which senior executive officers failed to disclose and resolve conflicts of interest in a timely manner, including one in which $25 million in Fannie Mae contracts were awarded to the personal friend of a senior executive officer. In particular, the report finds that Fannie Mae CEO Hugh R. Frater failed to comply with conflict-of-interest rules 43% of the time.

The report follows a 2018 report that found similar failures by Fannie Mae senior executives to report and resolve conflicts of interest, which led FHFA to issue a conservatorship directive that set rules for the enterprise’s conduct on such matters. “Non-disclosures and untimely disclosures of [conflict of interest] matters were inconsistent with Fannie Mae’s goal of operating with the highest standards of compliance and ethics,” the new report finds.

The new report identifies several actions FHFA could take to remedy the problems, including determining appropriate disciplinary actions to address Frater’s conduct and clarifying the extent of Fannie Mae Office of Compliance and Ethics’ authority on conflict-of-interest matters involving him. FHFA endorsed the recommendations.
Chart of the week
Chart of the week: Lack of public awareness reduced effectiveness of CDC eviction moratorium

A new report from the Government Accountability Office finds that though eviction moratoria reduced eviction filings during the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of awareness promotion by initiating agencies meant that many eligible households did not benefit from them. Specifically, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moratorium was enacted in September of last year, jurisdictions without local moratoria in place experienced larger increases in eviction filings relative to jurisdictions with local moratoria, “which suggests that some renters may not understand how to use the CDC moratorium (completing required documentation).”
What we're reading
A working paper from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) suggests that out-migration from expensive metropolitan areas can have the effect of raising housing prices in cheaper metropolitan areas with which they have pre-existing migration links. “For example, the Boise, ID, region saw population growth of 13 percent and real house price growth of 41 percent in 2000-2007 at least in part because it is an important destination for people leaving booming places in California, such as Los Angeles or San Francisco,” the paper’s author wrote in a post on JCHS’ blog.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a set of federal policy recommendations to maintain and improve the country’s public housing stock, which include funding for improvement projects, increasing housing choice for residents, and expanding access to public housing units. According to the authors, public housing’s potential lies not only in housing low-income families but also in “acting as a platform for services that improve other aspects of their lives and contributing to reinvestment and improved conditions in surrounding neighborhoods.”

A new report on rent payments from affordable housing tenants in New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic from the NYU Furman Center finds a 43% increase in rental debt between September 2019 and September 2020, with extreme rental debt rates doubling in the same time period. The report finds clear benefits to rental households thanks to federal stimulus measures and concludes that “deeper subsidies may provide a greater level of protection for tenants and their landlords in the face of severe economic shocks.”
The week ahead
Monday, March 22

Tuesday, March 23
ULI: Ask ULI, noon – 1 p.m. ET

Wednesday, March 24

Thursday, March 25

Friday, March 26
The National Housing Conference has been defending the American Home since 1931. We believe everyone in America should have equal opportunity to live in a quality, affordable home in a thriving community. NHC convenes and collaborates with our diverse membership and the broader housing and community development sectors to advance our policy, research and communications initiatives to effect positive change at the federal, state and local levels. Politically diverse and nonpartisan, NHC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
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