The Business at HAND
The challenge of funding and building vibrant affordable housing communities got plenty of discussion at the 22nd annual Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers (HAND) meeting and expo.
The recent sold-out gathering drew affordable housing officials, developers and other professionals from throughout the region to the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, VA to mull the future of their industry.
Affordable housing’s dependence on public funding from bonds and tax credits was on everyone’s mind at a town hall-style forum led by a panel of housing officials from Virginia, the District,and Maryland.
Moderator David Bowers, Vice President and Mid-Atlantic Market Leader at Enterprise Community Partners, kicked off a lively exchange by asking about the possible impact of dwindling support.
“We have to be mindful about how we’re using resources in the tax credit program,” noted Susan Dewey, Executive Director of the Virginia Housing Development Authority.
Harry Sewell, Executive Director of the D.C. Housing Finance Agency, said survival lay in asking a larger question: “What business are we in?”
Then, answering his own question, Sewell urged all affordable housing agencies and advocates to think bigger and more holistically about the communities they are building.
Explaining that one of the key priorities for the D.C. Housing Finance Agency at this moment is to focus not only on the supply side of the problem, but also on the demand side, he used the example of the once enormously-profitable Kodak company.
Kodak was forced to declare bankruptcy, Sewell said, because of a failure of vision. The company put all of its money into the film business, rather than the image business.
“We’ve been philosophical about this—we see this as the Kodak moment of our industry,” Sewell said. It is not enough to simply provide affordable housing for low-income families, but agencies must “help kids graduate and help parents get job training.”
That statement led to the topic of transforming neighborhoods. Sewell noted that his agency is focusing on “what we can do to cause a catalytic effect.”
When audience members, mostly nonprofit developers, were given the chance to ask questions, one attendee wanted to know more about the philanthropic community’s contribution to affordable housing ventures. That brought the discussion back to funding.
“We as an industry have to do what we can to get the private sector,” responded Raymond Skinner, Secretary of the Maryland Department for Housing and Community Development.
Sewell added that the philanthropic community also provides “brain power.”
And in a spot of good news for affordable housing, Sewell noted that although federal funding is on the decline, new revenues are available thanks to the region’s expanding population and tax base. Sewell said his agency plans to “harness the growth of the city” in an effort to provide more affordable housing.
A final question from the audience was about individuals with special needs and their housing options, and all three panelists responded with similar messages.
Skinner explained that his department has been looking to alternative sources and organizations for aid and has successfully received more funding.
Dewey’s Virginia agency has created a statewide task force looking at how the physically-disabled can be better served.
Sewell commented that D.C. is looking toward all of the agencies that could possibly provide assistance for this type of housing.
All three panelists stressed that more is being done across the metropolitan area to better accommodate the physically and mentally disabled. And they emphasized that overall, throughout the region, collaborative efforts are succeeding in providing desperately needed affordable housing.