Fulfilling America’s Affordable Housing Promise

by Rick Lazio and Linda Mandolini.

Having an affordable home is important to all of us, but it can be difficult to actually talk about affordable housing. Even the most passionate advocates of meeting America’s affordable housing needs struggle to find the best language to mobilize the nation. Who is it affordable for, exactly? Whose responsibility is it to make housing affordable? These are challenging questions.

We think of housing as an investment in our economic future. There is a growing body of evidence that links housing insecurity and poor-quality housing to behavioral issues and long-term educational outcomes for children. It’s not just a pay now or pay later situation; it’s a matter of an effective return on the taxpayer dollar. We want to permanently solve problems, not just appear to be treating symptoms of poverty. Avoiding the conversation gets us nowhere.

Sixty-five years ago, Congress enacted a national housing policy in the Housing Act of 1949, declaring, “the general welfare and security of the nation… require the realization, as soon as feasible, of the goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family.” Given our country’s most recent economic experience, and the massive disruptions to housing, particularly for those with the least means, it’s time for us to fully embrace this national promise.

Not only does housing impact children, it impacts business. The lack of affordable housing affects workers in all corners of the country. In order to close the gap between the demand for affordable housing and the supply, 4.5 million units affordable to extremely low-income households would need to be added. Since 2000, the incomes of low-income households have declined as rents continue to rise. Not only is this an issue for the workers who need the housing, it’s also a challenge for the many employers who seek to fill jobs in the recovering economy, from North Dakota to Silicon Valley. According to federal government data (HUD), fair market rents for a 2-bedroom apartment have increased by 41% from 2000 to 2009.

None of these sad facts change the goal. But they do change how we have to get there. Federal solutions must work with local solutions. The private sector is a critical partner. Using this evolving and powerful model, innovators have emerged with solutions. At the 42nd Annual National Housing Conference Gala this month, we had the privilege of honoring Enterprise Community Partners, the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, and Northern California local leader Dianne Spaulding.

These groups are using all of the financial tools and assets at their disposal, many of which leverage federal resources like Low-Income Housing Tax Credits with private-sector dollars to maximize local impact. Their achievements include passage of a $1.4 billion state housing bond to support production and preservation of housing affordable to low- and moderate-income families, creation of award-winning communications tools to build community acceptance of affordable housing, and marshaling resources to recover from devastating disaster, like Hurricane Katrina.

In our own work to bring the benefits of affordable housing to families and communities, we measure success by the opportunities we create. We invest in outcomes for communities and our economy. And we think the return on our investment in housing is high. We think competition, innovation and measurement are valuable and motivating in the context of providing desperately needed affordable housing.

The current post-crash reality obligates us to be creative, like the groups and leaders we honored, in finding ways to bring the benefits of secure affordable housing to those who need it the most. Properly understood, housing is a catalyst for personal growth and improvement. And because of this, we need to keep the conversation going, even if it gets difficult. The need is great and growing. Today’s calling is to mobilize our nation in fulfillment of America’s promise of healthy and affordable housing for all.

Linda Mandolini is the president of Eden Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing developer and manager in Northern California.

Rick Lazio is the head of the New York office of law firm Jones Walker, heading up their Housing and Housing Finance Industry Team. Lazio served four terms in the United States House of Representatives, where he served as chair of the key housing subcommittee in the House.

Andrew Cuomo Has A Reform To Sell You

by Josh Benson (Reprinted from capitalnewyork.com, 7/23/14).

The New York Times did something extraordinary today, producing a report on a much-hyped state investigative commission that, thanks to Governor Andrew Cuomo, could end up having a greater impact than anything the commission was allowed to produce during its short and brutal existence.

The conclusion - that Cuomo gamed the ostensibly independent Moreland Commission on Public Corruption - isn’t surprising, and reconfirms reports that surfaced early on in the commission’s proceedings that the administration was setting the parameters.

But what the Times has done, in a potentially governorship-defining piece of work by Susanne Craig, William Rashbaum and Thomas Kaplan, is lay out in highly entertaining detail how the administration’s cynical manipulation of this hand-picked group of untouchables actually worked.

Investigative red lines, explicitly political reprimands, an administration mole—it’s memorable stuff.

In the short term, the political fallout from the revelations is more likely to be noisy than consequential. Cuomo’s opponents will get lots of use out of this new trove of embarrassing detail. But the story won’t change the fact that Zephyr Teachout is a protest candidate, or that, as Republican Governors Association chair Chris Christie noted on the subject of Rob Astorino, New York is not a realistic target for a Republican pick-up this year.

What the report should do, though, is permanently banish the idea that Cuomo will ever put any skin in the game when he talks about reform. He can talk to voters about how their trust is important to him, and recruit fancy commissioners, and say “Moreland” a lot, but the outcomes of these putatively investigative exercises will always be whatever Cuomo needs them to be.

Read full article at capitalnewyork.com.

Lift Gov. Cuomo’s Curtain

'The administration must reveal details of a politically charged ad campaign.'

by Bill Hammond (Reprinted from nydailynews.com, 7/16/14).

In high-quality TV ads popping up in living rooms across the country, Gov. Cuomo is telling the world that New York State is “Open for Business.”

But exactly how he’s spending the public’s money to broadcast that message is closed to public scrutiny.

Way back on July 9, 2013, the Gannett News Service formally requested details on the campaign — including what the ads cost, where they aired and how much is being spent in each state — under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

A full year later, Gannett is still waiting to receive information the public is clearly entitled to know.

The most recent postponement came in a June 26 letter from the agency responsible, the Empire State Development Corp. The only explanation: “ESD continues to gather and review documents.”

The wait has been long enough that the state’s own Freedom of Information expert, Bob Freeman of the Committee on Open Government, was moved to say: “I would conjecture that the kind of records requested can be located relatively promptly, and that a delay of as much as a year is inconsistent with law.”

It’s even more inconsistent with Cuomo’s words from 2010 — as printed on page 10 of his campaign book, “Clean Up Albany” — when he pledged “to make the state government the most transparent and accountable in history.”

That might be one of the most-quoted statements Cuomo has ever made — because it comes up in all the stories about his administration delaying or denying requests for public information.

Read full article at nydailynews.com.

One Man’s Vision of Equality and Disability

by John D. Kemp, President & CEO of The Viscardi Center.

Pictured is Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr., Founder of The Viscardi Center

According to the U.S. Census, there are over 59 million of us in the United States. There are 650 million of us worldwide. And since we represent 10% of the global population, it is important that our success stories are celebrated. Who are we? People with disabilities.

We are an integral fabric in our communities in the United States and around the world. We range from thought leaders and innovators to everyday citizens. Despite our significant contributions, people with disabilities continue to face considerable barriers.

However, strides are being made; we live in a global era that is witnessing expanding human rights, Paralympic athletes pushing the limits of their bodies, corporations aggressively diversifying their workforces by including people with disabilities, and the advent of new medical technologies and treatments to fight chronic diseases. In that spirit of progress, it seems only natural that we reflect on the contributions made by people with disabilities, many of whom have helped us reach this place.

There was a time, unfortunately, when having a disability was seen as a negative thing, even frowned upon … but times are changing. Disability is increasingly accepted – even celebrated – within our family units, our work environments and our communities. We praise “disability” not because the disability defines the individual, but rather because the individual defines the disability. This is exactly why people with disabilities are helping to change the world that we live in for the better.
To that end, I invite you to rejoice in this celebration by nominating a friend, colleague or mentor with a disability for the Viscardi Awards this month. They are designed to recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of people with disabilities being made on a daily basis and over time to include people with disabilities in everyday life and allow every person to achieve to their fullest potential.

The Viscardi Awards were developed to honor the legacy and vision of our founder, Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr., who himself wore prosthetic legs. As one of the world’s leading advocates for people with disabilities, he served as a disability advisor to eight presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter.

By taking the time to submit a nomination prior to March 15th, it serves as a reminder that more needs to be done to fully include people with disabilities in society. The people being nominated to receive a Viscardi Award are evidence that societal recognition and change is happening.


John D. Kemp has been President & CEO of The Viscardi Center in New York since February 2011. Born without arms and legs, he has been actively involved in the disability movement, both in the US and internationally, for over 50 years. Additionally, John has been instrumental in the  growth and development of the independent (nonprofit) sector where he serves as an attorney in government and private practice, and as an executive in leadership positions. In 2006, he received the Henry B. Betts Award, widely regarded as America’s highest honor for disability leadership and service, from the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Bending the Cost Curve: Solutions to Expand the Supply of Affordable Rentals

by Andrew Jakabovics, Lynn M. Ross, Molly Simpson, and Michael Spotts - (Urban Land Institute Terwilliger Center for Housing and Enterprise Community Partners).

Summary: This report from Enterprise and the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing, explores the many factors that raise the cost of affordable rental housing development and provides specific recommendations for bending the housing cost curve.

As public funding sources come under threat - in efforts to reduce government expenditures or simplify the tax code - it becomes increasingly necessary to identify opportunities to lower the cost of providing affordable homes.

This report, which builds upon our previous discussion brief on the subject, (see Bending the Cost Curve on Affordable Rental Development), explores the many factors that raise the cost of affordable rental housing development provides specific recommendations for bending the housing cost curve.

This research is based on a series of interviews and roundtable discussions co-hosted by the Terwilliger Center and Enterprise over 12 months with more than 150 developers, financiers, and policy makers in ten markets. The report states that costs could be lowered by: promoting consolidation, coordination and simplification; removing barriers to reducing construction costs and delays; facilitating a more efficient deal assembly and development timeline; improving and aligning incentives; improving the flexibility of existing sources of financing and creating new financial products; and supporting the development and dissemination of best practices.

Rick Lazio is a member of the Board of Trustees of Enterprise Community Partners and a member of the Board of Directors of the Enterprise Community Loan Fund.

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