Housing Choice Voucher study underscores need to step up regional collaboration - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Housing Choice Voucher study underscores need to step up regional collaboration

Last week, I had the bittersweet privilege of joining colleagues for a panel discussion on practical responses to sobering new data released by the Illinois Assisted Housing Action Research Project (IHARP) in its report, “Moving or Moving Up? Understanding Residential Mobility for Housing Choice Voucher Families in Illinois.” The report details the demographics of households using Housing Choice Vouchers, as well as the neighborhoods where they are able and opting to move. Most voucher holders continue to live in high-poverty communities, and "porting" between jurisdictions does not necessarily translate to improving access to good jobs, schools and other opportunities. 

On one hand, the data is very well-timed, as MPC and partners are working to scale-up lessons learned through regional voucher initiatives, including the Regional Housing Initiative (RHI) and Suburban Cook County Multifamily Preservation Initiative (SCCMPI). On the other hand, having reviewed similar data 10 years ago, it's hard not to be disheartened by the lack of progress in voucher trends.

The IHARP report's first and second policy recommendations are about the importance of regional and state cooperation, which are the current hallmarks of RHI and SCCMPI.  And its remaining recommendations are largely policy and technical suggestions consistent with these regional partnerships' current efforts. Formed to address similar data 10 years ago, RHI now includes the housing authorities of Cook, Chicago, Joliet, Lake, McHenry, Oak Park and Waukegan, along with MPC and the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA). These partners recognized that a key impediment to voucher holders' mobility was the lack of housing options affordable in "opportunity areas," policy-speak for places near jobs and quality schools—places most people would want to live. RHI was created to support the creation or preservation of homes that fit this bill, through new operating subsidies awarded by RHI partners.

The leadership and support of IHDA, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and, most recently, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) has been critical to RHI's success. SCCMPI, a pilot effort in Cook County, includes the resources of RHI, Cook County as well as the Preservation Compact.  Recognizing the limited dollars available to developers interested in rehabbing and preserving the affordability of rental properties in any of the county's 100-plus municipalities—and the complexity involved with those towns' various opportunities, ordinances, codes and politics—SCCMPI was designed to create a "one-stop shop" or "no wrong door" approach.  Through SCCMPI, developers can access financing from Cook County, operating subsidies from RHI, and the full range of support available through the various partners of the Preservation Compact. Both RHI and SCCMPI score developers' proposals use the Housing Endorsement Criteria of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, and both are committed to CMAP's GO TO 2040 regional plan for northeastern Illinois.

Because MPC and partners have been working on so many parallel initiatives to create more "fertile ground" for housing development and rehab throughout the region, what started as incremental activity has since become rather exponential:

  • Eight of the 16 RHI proposals approved between 2003 and 2008 are up and running, while the other eight struggled with financing or community acceptance challenges that made them nonviable. Standing RHI-supported properties include 109 RHI apartments and 707 total. What's more, as incentives increased for RHI within the IHDA tax credit competition, the success rate increased:
  • Between 2008 and 2010, eight additional proposals have been approved, all of which are either in rehab or final stages of financing. This represents another 175 RHI apartments, for a total of 726. Half the successful RHI efforts to date are suburban. The other half are in the City of Chicago.
  • In 2011, RHI already has eight new proposals for 251 RHI operating subsidies within 989 total apartments.  Not all of these will be approved, of course, but this batch of proposals is strikingly reflective of local and regional priorities. Among them are:

- An adaptive re-use proposal in one highly desirable suburb.

- Three major rental preservation initiatives and one multi-family Neighborhood Stabilization Program development in suburban opportunity areas.

- Three supportive housing proposals—one in an opportunity area near jobs and transit, two others in revitalizing area—all in communities involved in interjurisdictional coordination.    

Looking forward, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development has introduced several bills to encourge regional coordination and access to opportunity. RHI and SCCMPI partners are hoping to inform HUD's efforts, ramping up a demonstration pilot in the Chicago region that builds on lessons learned while informing future efforts.  Please click here to download a letter from RHI and other civic partners to Shaun Donovan, Secretary of HUD, regarding the pilot currently in negotiations.  The primary goals of this pilot are (a) to expand the incentives (to housing authorities, developers, local jurisdictions)  for linking RHI-type operating subsidies to local and regional priorities, (b) to build and bolster the connections between these affordable housing options and need housing counseling, employer-assisted housing, workforce development and other community development services, and (c) to evaluate key outcomes for families and communities served.

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