The Kenan Scholars program has exploratory funds allocated for scholars to attend conferences and other activities that contribute to their education in a meaningful way. Because of the exploratory fund, senior scholar Emily Arnold attended the 2019 Solutions for Affordable Housing Conference in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 3 and 4. The conference brought together leaders in affordable housing from all over the country to discuss the financing and future of affordable housing. Emily will use what she learned at the conference when writing her senior thesis.
The conference began with a luncheon and presentation by David Dworkin, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference. Dworkin reminded the audience that housing cost-to-income ratios today are the highest they have been in over a century. Affordable housing models lack innovation and creativity. While policymakers create temporary fixes, no policy fully fixes the housing supply problem.
Following lunch, attendees chose one of three breakout sessions to attend. In the session “Rent Control and the Housing Supply Crisis,” panelists discussed the pros and cons of rent control on housing supply. Mark Willis, a senior policy fellow at NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, discussed the lower turnover rates for rent-regulated units. Abigail Suarez, vice president of community development for JPMorgan Chase & Co., discussed the failure of housing production to keep up with job production. Michael Spotts, founder and president of Neighborhood Fundamentals LLC, discussed the “missing middle” in affordable housing as developers continue to choose expensive development opportunities over cheaper but less profitable ones. Pamela Hughes Patenaude, former deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, closed the session by giving examples of initiatives taking place in nearby Tyson’s Corner, Va.
A second breakout session, “Passing the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act,” explained the benefits to proposed legislation to fund redevelopment of blighted properties. Kris Siglin, vice president of policy and partnerships for the National Community Stabilization Trust, explained that 40 percent of homes in the U.S. are more than 50 years old, and demonstrated some of the challenges present in caring for those homes. Buzz Roberts, president and CEO of the National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders, introduced the proposed Neighborhood Homes Investment Act to build and rehabilitate more than 500,000 homes in distressed areas. Matt Josephs, senior vice president for policy for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, explained some of the specific metrics for qualifying homes and what the potential impact of the act would be. Chrissi Johnson, vice president for federal policy and external affairs with Quicken Loans, closed by describing a small-scale experiment with a similar policy in Detroit and the successes of that policy.
The conference concluded with Advocacy Day on Dec. 4. U.S. Reps. Lacy Clay and Debbie Dingell presented on current Congressional initiatives to curb the affordable housing crisis. Rep. Clay shared his concerns for minority homebuyers who are being locked out of the market due to the high cost of homes. Rep. Dingell shared her concerns about the condition of many more affordable properties in America, like a home for the elderly she visited that was infested with cockroaches. Both agreed that Congress needs help understanding the challenges presented by affordable housing and that members need to learn to work together. Until both parties can learn to compromise, nothing major can change.