May 14, 2014

The HUD Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition

Ohio State University winners with Secretary Donovan. Left to right: Donald Wiggins, Jr., Shanell Davis, and Brad Hosfeld

The inaugural year of the competition comes to an exciting close

Tuesday, May 6 marked a successful end for the 2014 HUD Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition (IAH)—a competition intended to encourage research and innovation in affordable housing that fosters cross-cutting teamwork within the design and community development process. Four student-led teams from New York University, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, and a joint New York University/Columbia University team presented concepts to a panel of jurors. These presentations were the result of over four months of competition which included two phases and one site visit to Emerson, New Jersey. Continue reading

May 13, 2014

A Blueprint for Access to Credit for American Families

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Couple signing mortgage documents

Many families look forward to the day they can establish deep roots in a community by buying their own home and taking advantage of all the opportunities that brings.  But, for too many American families the thought of owning a home is dream that never becomes a reality.

Today, it’s tough for anyone with less than perfect credit to get a mortgage.  In many cases borrowers who are qualified still struggle to get a mortgage to purchase a home.  The President has said that responsible access to credit is critical for growing and strengthening the middle class.    That’s why FHA is proposing steps to ensure that qualified borrowers, especially first-time homebuyers, have an opportunity to purchase a home – the exact reason FHA was created almost 80 years ago. Continue reading

May 6, 2014

Housing’s Role in Reducing the Burden of Asthma

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World Asthma Day resourcesToday is World Asthma Day, an annual event to improve asthma care and awareness around the world.  Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory disease of the lungs that has increased in prevalence in many countries, including the U.S., over the last several decades.   Asthma is the most common cause of missed school days among children, and is more common among children living in poverty and some minority groups, including African Americans.

Asthma has an important connection to the home environment.  Symptoms can be triggered by allergens from pests (e.g., cockroaches, mice), pets, mold, and dust mites, as well as irritants such as tobacco smoke and other indoor and outdoor air pollutants.  The good news is that a person with asthma can lead a normal, active life by taking steps to manage the condition, including regular healthcare visits, the proper use of medications, use of an asthma action plan, and avoiding environmental triggers.

In May, 2012, HUD and its federal partners released a Coordinated Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities.  In addition, HUD is supporting several initiatives that will benefit both children and adults with asthma who live in public or other federally assisted multifamily housing.  In an effort to reduce exposure to asthma triggers, the Department launched a smoke-free housing initiative which encourages owners and managers of multifamily housing to implement policies to prohibit smoking by residents and staff.  As a result, we currently estimate that 486 public housing agencies have established smoke-free policies in some or all of the buildings they manage. Continue reading

April 21, 2014

We Can End Homelessness

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As a new intern in the Federal government in the winter of 1983, I was a junior researcher for a Presidential hunger commission.   One frigid morning I saw a man living on a heating grate near the White House.  His name was Saif.  I was stunned to see someone living outside and I sat down near him to understand why he was there.   This was the first person had I ever met who was homeless.   At the time there weren’t any Federal homelessness programs, much less evidence-based programs and strategic policies to confront the problem.

Today, ending the cycle of homelessness is an audacious goal but the evidence is now clear that it can be done.  In fact, it’s already happeningThe Federal government’s strategic plan to prevent and end homelessnessis calledOpening Doors.” It’s a strategy built on proven approaches taken at the state and local level that are dramatically reducing both chronic and veteran homelessness in this country.  Since 2010, more than 3,000 cities and counties reported a 24 percent reduction in veteran homelessness and a 16 percent decline among those who have been living on our streets and in our shelters for long periods of time.

How are they doing it?  These communities understand there is no single method to reduce homelessness.  Instead, they’re taking a strategic approach by targeting various interventions based upon the needs of the individual or family.  Whether it’s helping to rapidly re-house families with young children or finding a permanent home for an individual with serious health conditions, HUD is working with our Federal, State and local partners to reduce and even eliminate homeless.  Over the last few years, the Federal government and local planners changed the trajectory of homelessness in America by understanding a simple truth — the cost of housing someone who is homeless is often less than doing nothing at all, as persons on the streets often cycle between expensive jails, hospitals and emergency shelters.

HUD recently awarded $1.6 billion in grants to renew support for nearly 7,100 local homeless housing and service programs throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  These grants allow local housing and service providers to continue offering permanent and transitional housing to persons experiencing homelessness as well as job training, health care, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, and child care.

But let’s face it—during this tough budget environment, HUD is challenging local communities to rethink their traditional response to homelessness and give greater weight to evidence-based strategies that we know are working.  Strategies like “Housing First” models that offer permanent supportive housing to persons living with long-term disabling conditions to rapid re-housing programs that help struggling families in our shelters move quickly into a place of their own.

Sure, Opening Doors sets a pretty high bar when it comes to preventing and even eliminating homelessness in this country.  For their part, local communities are making the smart choice, investing HUD funds in evidence-based, cost-effective programs.  But now is not the time to retreat from what’s been working.  President Obama’s 2015 budget seeks $2.4 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants, over $300 million above the 2014 enacted level. This level of funding maintains the approximately 224,000 HUD-funded beds that assist the homeless nationwide and would provide permanent housing with service supports for an additional 37,000 persons living on the streets.  If funded, we would effectively end street homelessness in this country.

I’m retiring from federal service after more than 30 years fighting this fight and working with some of the most heroic people you can imagine across this great country who share this mission.  As I prepare to leave, I’m heartened at how far we’ve come since I first met Saif living on a heating grate near the White House with nowhere to go.  We have the tools and the will as a nation to reduce and end homelessness in this country.

April 18, 2014

Strengthening Local Partnerships to Advance Solar Energy in Affordable Housing

President Obama has made addressing climate change one of the top priorities of his agenda.  As part of this work, his Administration has worked tirelessly with local leaders to support cutting-edge renewable energy technologies and, in recent years, we’ve seen great progress.  As the President stated in this year’s State of the Union Address, “every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced.”

At HUD, we work every day to “create strong, sustain­able, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.” To make this happen, we want to ensure that families, in every neighborhood, can access the environmental and economic benefits produced by renewable energy. In fact, President Obama issued a challenge to create 100 megawatts of on-site renewable energy in affordable housing by 2020.  We gladly accepted that challenge, which will triple the amount of on-site and community-scale renewable energy in the feder­ally assisted housing portfolio.

This work will make a tremendous impact.  The residential sector accounts for nearly half of all building energy use and 20 per­cent of all energy-related U.S. carbon emissions.  It’s clear that the actions we take today to help promote clean energy solutions in housing will save money and combat climate change tomorrow and for generations to come. I believe that if we succeed in making renewable energy commonplace in affordable housing, we will generate the capability for on-site renewable energy to become standard practice everywhere.

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the Denver Housing Authority, GRID Alternatives, the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority, Boston Community Capital, Community Power Network, Bloc Power, Lakota Solar Enterprises, Hannah Solar and Clemson University we are closer to meeting our renewable energy goal. Individuals at each of these organizations were recognized in a special Champions of Change ceremony at the White House for their work to help the advancement of solar power installation and development.

Meeting this goal will depend on creating partnerships, and a model has been created here in Washington D.C. Today, the Obama Administration launched the Capital Solar Challenge, which will engage Federal agencies, Public Housing Authorities, and federally assisted multifamily housing owners on opportunities to deploy solar renewable energy across the National Capital Region.  Under the direction of the Department of Energy,  the General Services Administration and HUD – this challenge directs federal agencies to lead by example in the Washington area by ramping up solar renewable energy deployment across the region including on federally assisted housing.

This program will capitalize on innovative financing and procurement models such as aggregated solar purchases, power purchases agreements, and energy performance contracts, to help lower their cost of electricity.  And, the Capital Solar Challenge will go further to align with efforts already underway in the District to exponentially increase solar on affordable housing and municipal buildings.

America is achieving real progress on renewable energy. For the first time in 15 years, the United States led the world in solar installations last year, and the price of a solar panel has come down by over 60% since 2011. A low-carbon future starts with our neighborhoods and our homes; and HUD and this administration are working to ensure that ev­ery American household has a chance to benefit from energy conservation and independence. We will continue to create solid partnerships with local partners to deploy low-cost solar and other forms renewable energy, produced right here in our communities.