Preservation groups argue that the Supreme Court and HUD favor both affirmatively furthering fair housing and redevelopment of poor neighborhoods with concentrated poverty
Preservation vs. Integration At the dawn of the 1990's, rent assisted housing (Section 8) faced a crisis. Built in the 1970's as a private sector alternative to "public housing," these properties were facing two threats:
In more prosperous communities, owners could pre-pay their HUD mortgages and "go market rate."
In poorer neighborhoods, the properties were aging and slipping into disrepair and abandonment.
Advocates were concerned that the US could lose most of its rent-assisted housing because there was no new construction and not much support for expanding Housing Choice Vouchers. The affordable preservation movement emerged between 1990-2010 when the only practical way to save low income housing subsidies was to save housing units with subsidies. Saving every subsidized unit became a rallying cry for advocates and non profit developers. In response, Congress and HUD created new tools to permit refinancing of these 20 year old properties with new affordability commitments. Using the Mark to Market program, Section 236 de-coupling, use of Low Income Housing Tax Credits for affordable refinancing, and use of new enforcement tools (Real Estate Assessment Center) HUD and advocates could address the range of threats (gentrification or demolition) to the multifamily housing inventory. Much of the affordable housing stock in the US was saved over this 20 year period. A new study of HUD preservation efforts confirms this conclusion. Now, however, the affordable housing preservation movement is being challenged by a renewed interest in making housing a "platform for opportunity". Thomas Edsall writes in the New York Times: "Three developments this year – an academic study, a Supreme Court decision and a tough new Department of Housing and Urban Development regulation – have challenged existing policies that place the bulk of low-income housing in the most deprived neighborhoods." Edsall in his op-ed suggests that the affordable housing preservation movement perpetuated segregation. "The dominant force behind existing policies is what critics call the 'poverty housing industry,' a de facto alliance of multimillion-dollar nonprofit housing companies, city politicians, state and local housing authorities and grass-roots organizations based in distressed urban communities." Did affordable housing advocates perpetuate segregation of low income and minorities in low income communities as Edsall seems to suggest? Even before the Edsall Op Ed, the non profit preservation "industry" was cautiously welcoming this policy shift.Enterprise Community Partners writes:"There is no doubt that we as a country must do more to improve the lives of families living in segregated, poor and deeply distressed communities. But does doing so mean using scarce federal resources only to assist these families with moving to higher opportunity neighborhoods? Or should those resources be used to comprehensively revitalize distressed communities? At Enterprise we believe it must be both." In fact, the Obama administration has covertly promoted a"both/and"strategy for six and a half years (dog whistle?) as HUD promoted mobility in the project based voucher program, the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), the Choice Communities,and with HousingAssistance Payment (HAP)"8bb" transfers. Inside the preservation community, advocates sensed that the times were, indeed, "a-changin.' " Sometimes it's hard to say good bye to a movement (affordable housing preservation) to which one has given half a career's work. Affordable housing preservation advocates may at times sound defensive, but it's not, as Edsall implies, a conspiracy to maintain segregation.. Preservation is what the advocates and non profit developers know how to do. Still, when we were young, we marvelled at Apple II and IBM-PCs with floppy disks, but now we use smart phones and store most of what we know in "the cloud.".Time to learn new tricks to maintain and expand affordable housing opportunities in new ways.
But is affordable housing preservation dead? Hardly!
In communities where middle income tenants are moving in, affordable housing preservation is necessary to prevent displacement of low income households.
In rural areas there's a huge inventory of affordable housing at risk because USDA has failed to provide owners with chances to refinance and renovate subsidized properties, and preservation can be an element in creating new mixed income opportunities in older developments.
Both/And in every project? A challenge to the preservation community How can affordable housing developers create opportunity mobility in areas of concentrated poverty? 1. Matched developments. Moving HAP contracts to opportunity areas. Conversion to mobility vouchers. 2. Transportation to integrated service enrichment. 3. Preservation in gentrifying neighborhoods with integrative features.