September 27, 2016

DC Long Term Affordability Roundtable

DC Long-Term Affordability Roundtable

By Melissa Bondi, a state and local policy consultant in Enterprise’s Mid-Atlantic Market Office.

Last week, more than 50 regional leaders from the policy, financing, development, philanthropic and government sectors examined how long-term guarantees can preserve affordable housing more effectively. Sponsored by Enterprise’s Mid-Atlantic office, the Urban Institute, Coalition for Smarter Growth and DC Fiscal Policy Institute, the Long-Term Housing Affordability Roundtable looked at the experiences of high-cost cities like Boston and New York to identify methods to extend the length of commitments in the District of Columbia.

Permanent affordability is not only about keeping rents manageable for low- and moderate-income people, though that is crucial. It also develops approaches that allows affordable units and buildings to be renovated over time, so that residents continue to live in quality homes.

A quick survey of the room found wide variability in the length of affordability agreements – often referred to as covenants -- for units in programs across the region, ranging from as few as five years to more than 60. In many cases, incorporating the cost of future rehabilitation as projects are first financed can help to mitigate the cost of re-syndication and improvements when a building requires renovation. This concept serves as a kind of “upfront preservation” that enables tenants, property partners, and the local government to benefit from a strategic approach to building maintenance and affordability for more than one development life cycle.

Theresa Gallagher, Boston’s deputy director of neighborhood development, described how the city uses this approach: developers make an upfront commitment to keep the property’s rents below market for terms significantly longer than 30 years, when the building may need rehabilitation. The city of Boston makes a commitment to help support project financing over this longer affordability term, if needed. As a result, the city knows its upfront investment in these units will provide far greater value in meeting affordability goals that benefit Boston residents, and do so for many years to come.

DC Council Members Anita Bonds, Brianne Nadeau, and Elissa Silverman participated in the discussion.  Harriet Tregoning, Director of HUD’s Office of Community Planning, spoke of the significant and ongoing loss of market-rate affordable housing as a key factor for the need to examine policy options like long term affordability. Additional guest speakers included Bill Brauner from Community Economic Development Assistance Corp, Peter Roth of New Atlantic, and Barika Williams of New York’s Association of Neighborhood & Housing Development. All shared their experiences in gaining longer covenants for affordable housing deals when local funding is used to secure a project’s viability. David Bowers, Enterprise’s Mid-Atlantic vice president, and Brett Theodos of the Urban Institute moderated the day’s conversations.

The roundtable was an encouraging first step in understanding the needs, value and opportunities to expand affordability covenants through strategic methods that benefit all partners in a deal. Upfront preservation promises to be another important new tool to protect against future losses of critically needed affordable housing stock.

Photo: Aimee Custis for Coalition for Smarter Growth

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