Footing the bill for vital services for affordable workforce housing residents - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Footing the bill for vital services for affordable workforce housing residents

It’s firmly established that quality affordable housing goes well beyond “bricks and mortar.” What’s less clear are viable options for financing programs that improve opportunities for working families.

One of the primary strategies outlined in Illinois’ first-ever comprehensive housing plan, “Building for Success,” is to align the efforts of all entities that fund and administer affordable housing development, including state departments, local and federal governments, nonprofits, business leaders, and financial institutions. Coordinating the many layers of administration and funding for workforce housing development is certain to make it easier for developers to get the housing built and renovated for the people who need it most, particularly low-income families, seniors, people with disabilities, and homeless people who live in job-rich areas near public transportation. Toward this end, the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) is already working with other state departments such as the Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Dept. of Children and Family Services, and Dept. of Human Services to coordinate funding of housing and services for these people.

This new policy has raised many questions for developers, who are charged with providing much more for their residents than four walls and a roof. Before the foundation can be laid, multi-family housing proposals must meet many demands, including obtaining community acceptance from reluctant neighbors and public officials; meeting restrictive building and zoning codes; and coordinating multiple layers of financing. In addition to overcoming these challenges, developers increasingly must plan, budget and coordinate an array of supportive services for the families and individuals who will call the community home.

Developers face manyquestions when trying to accomplish this goal: What after-school programs, financial literacy classes, or referral networks are available to support residents as they attain self-sufficiency? What types of services are necessary? Which of those services should be provided onsite and which off-site? Who will provide those services?

And, most vexing of all, is the question of how to pay for these services.

To realize answers to all of these question, on April 31, 2005, The Enterprise Foundation and Neighborhood Reinvestment convened the symposium “Resident Services: Linking Affordable Housing and Opportunities for Families,” in Washington , D.C. At the conference, 100 nationwide housing experts gathered to concentrate on four main questions:

  • How to structure housing financing to support resident services in multi-family developments?
  • How to underwrite the service package?
  • What is the return on the investment and what outcomes can be achieved?
  • How to leverage and attract resources beyond housing dollars to ensure a sustainable funding model?

For summaries of the symposium agenda and its outcomes, click here .

Symposium participants focused on the “resident services coordinator,” or RSC, model as a viable solution for affordable multi-family developments. The RSC model is a “third way” that falls somewhere between the labor-intensive and often costly “supporting housing” model (generally used for special needs populations, such as ex-offenders or individuals who are formerly homeless or have mental health challenges) and the informal “ad hoc” model of referring families to community organizations and public agencies.

RSCs are individuals who work for the development and link residents to services that allow them to achieve self-sufficiency. Their role is complex: they must assess the needs of different residents, connect families to available resources, and help them manage personal crises, without assuming a “case management” level of responsibility. Also, RSCs typically bring services onsite and engage in fundraising activities.

As explored in a recent “Building Successful Mixed-Income Communities” forum, co-sponsored by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Metropolitan Planning Council, in order to achieve success, service providers must coordinate their work with both the property management and governance structures at the development. RSCs do this, benefiting not only the families receiving services, but also the development itself (by reducing turnover rates, preventing evictions, and easing the work of property managers) and the surrounding community (by supporting a well-served, well-maintained property).

It’s notable that in Chicago, the Service Connector program for families affected by the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation is taking an approach similar to the RSC model. The program, managed by the Chicago Dept. of Human Services, aims to help about 11,000 families who live in public housing and use Housing Choice Vouchers reach self-sufficiency.

Participants at the D.C. symposium discussed a number of approaches for funding RSCs in an era of severe decline in federal resources for low-income housing and supportive services, such as cuts that President George W. Bush has proposed for the FY2006 U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development budget. One of the most innovative ways to fund RSCs proposed by symposium attendants is to incorporate the cost into a development’s operating budget at a rate of $300-400 per family per year. This idea, nevertheless, faces its own difficulties. For example, although many states encourage developers to include services in proposals for federal low-income housing tax credits, only a few states allow developers to underwrite services through their operating budgets or provide grants for this purpose. To learn more about funding challenges and strategies, click here .

More information on RSCs is available at the American Association of Service Coordinators Web site.

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