Looking for Work? Head to Texas

Excerpt from SHRM

Click on a circle to see a city's ranking. The smaller the circle, the higher a city was ranked for finding a job. The larger the circle, the lower the city was ranked. Rankings are also represented on a color scale, with light blue representing cities that ranked the highest and bright orange representing cities that ranked the lowest.

Here’s a tip for 2016 job seekers: Head to Plano, Texas, a short drive from Dallas and an affluent hub for corporate headquarters such as Capital One, J.C. Penney and Frito-Lay. Plano is the U.S. city with the very best opportunities for employment, according to a new analysis. 

The worst place to find a job? That would be Stockton, Calif., located in the economically depressed Central Valley and the second-largest city to file for bankruptcy protection after the 2008 financial crisis. 

Personal finance website WalletHub compared 150 of the most populated cities across 17 key metrics, ranging from job opportunities to employment growth to monthly median starting salary, to come up with the best and worst places in the U.S. to look for work. 

In 2016’s Best & Worst Cities to Find a Job,released Jan. 4, WalletHub found that three cities in Texas—Plano at No. 1, Austin at No. 3 and Irving at No. 4—were among the top 5 places to find employment. 

“Texas has an attractive job market with lots of opportunities and employment growth,” said Jill Gonzalez, a WalletHub analyst. “It's actually one of the most varied states in terms of industry. Oil is certainly one of them, but it's now joined by tech, health care and hospitality booms. It's also important to point out that many Texas cities have reached what's known as full employment, meaning an unemployment rate of 5 percent or lower.”

Dallas and Houston were among the five cities with the highest monthly median starting salary. 

Meanwhile, half the cities considered the 10 hardest places to land a job were in California: San Bernardino, Ontario, Modesto, Fresno and Stockton. Those last three cities are considered part of the state’s Central Valley, long an agricultural region that has been economically depressed. 

“These cities have very few job opportunities,” Gonzalez said. “For example, Fresno ranked 139th with 0.2 opportunities per capita—not a lot to go on for prospective job hunters. The annual job growth is quite low in the California cities that were ranked worst. The unemployment rate in these cities is more than double the national average, with Fresno being the second-worst city at 12.6 percent. High state taxes make it less lucrative for small-business owners to open up shop in California, which drives down new job openings.”

The five cities with the lowest monthly median starting salary were all in California—Anaheim, Santa Ana, Irvine, Oxnard and Santa Rosa.

Where the Jobs Are

Leanne Ralstin, a career development specialist at the University of Idaho whose comments were included in the analysis, said cities rich in employment opportunities tend to have well-developed technology, engineering and medical industries. 

Eli Berman, a professor of economics and research director for International Security Studies at the University of California, San Diego, said in the analysis that jobs in health care and personal care occupations will grow because the U.S. population is aging. “Tech sectors are also a great bet,” he said. 

Paul Harrington, professor of economics and director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University, cautioned that not all health care jobs are experiencing growth.

“Hospital employment is still growing, but at a much reduced rate, and employment in the nation’s nursing homes is flat and will likely decline,” Harrington said. There are “very strong gains in ambulatory care [as well as] high-end nurse practitioners, physician assistants, various imaging specialists and all the therapeutic occupations, including PT, OT and speech therapy. Also, [there is] tremendous growth in the low-skill home health care industry, with home health workers growing at a very rapid pace.”

Outside of the health care industry, he said, the professional, scientific and business consulting industries are growing rapidly. “This has created a lot of demand for a range of highly skilled college grads with various professional specialties,” he said. “Computer, science and IT are quite strong. Business degrees, especially in finance, accounting and related areas with strong quantitative abilities are strong.”

Comparing the Best and Worst

According to the analysis: 

• Houston has the highest cost-of-living-adjusted monthly median starting salary, three times greater than in Honolulu, the city with the lowest.
• Detroit has the highest unemployment rate, six times greater than in Lincoln, Neb., the city with the lowest.
• Providence, R.I., has the highest number of part-time employees for every 100 full-time employees, two times greater than in Plano, Texas, the city with the lowest.
• Tallahassee, Fla., has the highest percentage of the workforce living under the poverty line, eight times greater than in Fremont, Calif., the city with the lowest.
• Gilbert, Ariz., has the highest cost-of-living-adjusted median annual income, three times greater than in Cleveland, the city with the lowest.

- See more at:,%202016&MID=01718256&LN=Fisher&spMailingID=24502758&spUserID=MTk0NDI5OTA1Mjc3S0&spJobID=722493426&spReportId=NzIyNDkzNDI2S0#sthash.SGIKK2jV.dpuf

Texas Housing Case Tests Civil-Rights Doctrine

Supreme Court Case Could Weaken Fair-Housing Enforcement by Requiring Proof That Discrimination Was Intentional

By Robbie Whelan and Jess Bravin / The Wall Street Journal    

Jan. 20, 2015 10:33 p.m. ET

DALLAS—Demetria Johnson, a 32-year-old beautician, used to sleep on a couch at her cousin’s apartment in Pleasant Grove, a low-income neighborhood in south Dallas. When she came home from work, she said, she was often greeted by drunks in the parking lot and the occasional sound of gun shots.

On a wait list for her own place at the time, the single mother of four worried about her luck of the draw. “My next house doesn’t have to be the biggest house or the nicest house,” she said. “I just want somewhere nice and clean and peaceful.”

But for years, real-estate developers have built the vast majority of this city’s government-subsidized, low-income housing in poor, minority communities where land is relatively inexpensive and local opposition is limited.

That pattern has long come under attack by housing advocates who argue that developers who receive subsidies should be held to account, in part by building more low-income housing in the city’s wealthier, predominantly white communities.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will take up the matter when it hears oral arguments about whether the current system for doling out tax subsidies promotes racial segregation and violates the Fair Housing Act of 1968—a civil-rights landmark signed by President Lyndon Johnson a week after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The suit began in 2008 as a Dallas housing dispute brought by advocacy group the Inclusive Communities Project Inc. against the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. It has since blossomed into one of the weightiest housing lawsuits in a generation.

An array of industry and conservative groups are backing Texas in its effort to roll back Fair Housing Act enforcement. Civil-rights organizations, along with 17 states and more than 20 large cities and counties, are siding with Inclusive Communities.

“Housing lies at the fulcrum of civil rights,” because where one lives affects opportunities for education, employment, health care, recreation and other aspects of life, says John Relman, an attorney representing the National Fair Housing Alliance, an advocacy group that filed a brief in the case backing Inclusive Communities.

If the state wins, it can continue to give subsidies to developers erecting housing in mostly-black areas without fear of discrimination lawsuits. If the advocates prevail, the state would be indirectly forced to figure out some way to allocate more funds to build low-income housing in majority-white neighborhoods.

The Supreme Court case centers on a controversial doctrine used to enforce civil-rights law known as “disparate impact.” It holds that to prove that a policy is discriminatory, one must only show that its results disproportionately affect one group of people—even if the discrimination wasn’t intentional.

Federal agencies have relied on disparate impact for decades to prove discrimination in buying, selling, lending, renting and zoning of real estate. The justices must ultimately rule whether the application of disparate impact should apply under the Fair Housing Act.

The Supreme Court’s decision is expected before July. A ruling in favor of the state could have broad implications, potentially spilling over into civil-rights enforcement in employment, education and other areas, such as banking and insurance practices.

For example, Countrywide, SunTrust and Wells Fargo have all reached settlements with the Justice Department in the last two years related to allegations that they charged higher fees and interest rates to minority borrowers. A ruling that quashes disparate impact could create an opening for the courts to revisit disparate impact’s use in cases against lenders and in employment and education law as well. Financial services and other industries have rallied behind Texas’ position.

Housing advocates and some federal officials worry about the outcome. That’s because the Supreme Court—which has been scrutinizing and sometimes rolling back civil-rights laws and practices that it believes overly burden other interests—will look harshly on disparate impact.

But the state, and some developers, argue that they are just trying to balance competing federal rules and policies, some of which incentivize them to build low-income housing in poor neighborhoods.

“The developer is not going to build in high-income areas because they’re not going to make any money,” says Bill Fisher, president of Sonoma Housing Advisors, which has built 7,000 units of tax credit housing over the last two decades, more than half of it in Dallas. On the flip side, he says, “We might complain so much…that we’ll advocate ourselves right out of business.”

If the high court overturns disparate impact, it would have come full circle on the issue. The Supreme Court actually laid out disparate impact in 1971, when it unanimously held that the 1964 Civil Rights Act permitted suits against employment practices that were race-neutral on paper, but disproportionately harmed minorities in practice.

That case involved a North Carolina power plant that had explicitly barred blacks from better jobs until racial discrimination was outlawed by the Civil Rights Act. The company then imposed new requirements—a high school diploma and IQ test scores—for the better jobs, which, in a state that had shortchanged black schools for generations, effectively disqualified many African-Americans. The court ruled that the company’s new requirements were discriminatory.

“Good intent or absence of discriminatory intent does not redeem…mechanisms that operate as ‘built-in headwinds’ for minority groups,” Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote. But, he added, practices that disproportionately harm minorities can be upheld if justified by “business necessity.”

Applying that precedent, 11 federal appeals courts have adopted similar approaches to Fair Housing Act suits. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued regulations codifying disparate-impact analysis to housing.

In general, a plaintiff arguing disparate impact must show that a challenged practice disproportionately harms minorities. The burden then shifts to the defendant, which must demonstrate that the practice is necessary to achieve its goals. The plaintiff then gets a chance to rebut that claim by suggesting less discriminatory approaches that would work just as well.

“People need to get over this idea that just because they weren’t trying to hurt people that they weren’t hurting people,” says Betsy Julian, a former official at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development who now serves as president of the Inclusive Communities Project.

But critics say disparate impact distorts free-market decision making and burdens the housing industry with needless costs. For example, the risk of disparate-impact lawsuits has given housing providers and lenders an incentive to avoid practices or projects that, even inadvertently, may perpetuate segregation.

“The threat of the use of disparate impact—it tends to induce decision makers to engage in affirmative action, which sometimes looks to some people like reverse discrimination,” says George Rutherglen, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law.

The Supreme Court seems to share that concern. Twice before it has agreed to hear challenges to disparate impact—only to see the cases settle. Many assume that the court’s conservatives are eager to scrutinize the doctrine, because they took the case despite unanimity among appellate courts that disparate-impact applies to the Fair Housing Act.

In 2012, the city of St. Paul., Minn., which was defending its code enforcement policies against a disparate impact challenge, dropped its appeal specifically to deny the justices a chance to invalidate the doctrine.

The court then took another disparate-impact appeal, only to see it vanish in 2013 when officials in Mount Holly, N.J., settled with low-income residents challenging a redevelopment project.

The Inclusive Communities Project’s original suit against Texas’ housing agency argues that the state discriminated by distributing federal tax credit subsidies almost entirely to buildings going up in neighborhoods with large African-American populations, which tended to be poorer.

The housing in question was built using money raised through the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, a Reagan-era measure that allows private corporations to shield their earnings from taxes by investing in affordable housing developments. Those credits are allocated to certain projects by state housing agencies. In Texas, the state uses a points system to decide which properties get the go-ahead.

A federal-district court found in 2012 that the state was in violation of the Fair Housing Act, citing statistics from Inclusive Communities’ suit showing that as of 2008, 92.9% of Dallas units built under the program were in census tracts with more than 50% minority residents.

Inclusive Communities works with holders of Section-8 vouchers, another federal subsidy that pays a portion of a low-income tenant’s rent. Many Section-8 renters live in tax-credit buildings because their landlords are required by law to accept vouchers from qualified tenants.

The tax credits are awarded on a system that takes into account location, community support, feasibility, and a number of other factors. In some instances, community opposition is often a demerit on developers’ funding applications.

A bigger issue is financing: Developers typically build tax-credit projects in return for a fee, and the tax credit program itself offers more money to projects built in “qualified census tracts,” defined by the Internal Revenue Service as high-poverty areas. As a result, developers are incentivized to build in lower-income locales.

In a friend of the court brief, the Mortgage Bankers Association and other industry groups argue that “the risk of disparate-impact lawsuits…pressures the residential mortgage lending industry to arrive at particular outcomes and end numbers” such as making loans to borrowers based on racial factors rather than on typical underwriting criteria such as a borrower’s salary or credit score.

In other words, “it just pushes toward racial quotas,” says Paul Hancock, an author of the brief.

Many housing advocates disagree. “This case cuts to the core of what fair housing is all about,” adds John Henneberger, a housing advocate from Austin who last year won a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” award for his work. “It’s about integration, and about people being able to choose where they live.”

After the 2012 district court ruling, the state of Texas devised new criteria for handing out tax credits to developers, with the goal of awarding more allocations of tax credits in high-income areas. The advocates approved and the disputes calmed.

But then last May, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, urged on by Gov. Perry’s office, decided to raise the disparate impact issue with the Supreme Court.

The appeal, if successful, would be a major blow to the Obama administration, in part because in 2013, HUD finalized a rule supporting the use of the disparate impact approach in fair housing cases.

HUD declined to comment. But in its brief, the government argued that because “individual motives are difficult to prove directly…Congress has frequently permitted proof of only discriminatory impact as a means of overcoming discriminatory practices.”

Mr. Abbott’s office has sued the federal government more than 30 times, mainly on environmental issues, with mixed results.

“I wake up in the morning, I go to work, I sue Barack Obama and then I go home,” Mr. Abbott said in a stump speech during his 2014 gubernatorial campaign in October, echoing comments he has made since at least 2012.

Through a spokesman, Mr. Abbott, who was elected governor of Texas in November, declined to comment.

North Court Villas is located in Frisco, an affluent majority-white suburb north of Dallas. The 134-apartment project, built using tax credit financing, opened in November 2013 with 500 families on its waiting list. It features townhomes in dark brick with high-end kitchen appliances and a community center with a pool.

Neighbors to the development protested it at meetings of Frisco’s city council while it was still in the planning phase in 2010, arguing that it would drive down property values and increase crime.

None of that fazes Greg Briette, a 32-year-old father of two who earns about $2,500 a month from his job at a call center. He and his wife moved into North Court Villas last year, he says, since they wanted to live closer to their church, and because schools are better than in McKinney, a suburb to the east where they used to live.

“It felt pretty bad to serve this community—do things for the people who live here with our church, and live in another community, because we weren’t able to afford to live here,” he says. But he remained optimistic. “We always thought, ‘We’ll be in Frisco some day.’ ”

Write to Robbie Whelan at and Jess Bravin at

The future of multifamily housing bonds?

Earlier this year, President Obama included within his Administration’s budget to Congress certain tax proposals.  Among those was a proposal to allow states to convert up to 8 percent of their private activity bond (PAB) volume cap into Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) allocations.  For every $1,000 of PAB volume cap converted, a state would receive 9 percent LIHTCs equal to $1,000 times the applicable percentage of the 4 percent LIHTC for the previous December times two.  This proposal was recently discussed at the Bipartisan Policy Center Housing Commission roundtable on affordable housing held on July 23.  Those in favor of this proposal suggest that because states have failed to use a large portion of PAB volume cap in recent years, the proposal would increase available low-income housing projects which are in short supply.  Others, however, argue that as interest rates rise and the demand for PAB increase, more PAB volume cap will be utilized which would limit or possibly eliminate a state’s ability to convert PAB volume cap into LIHTC allocations.  In addition, multifamily housing bonds are just one of the many types of bonds that PAB volume cap can be used for, and housing finance agencies do not necessarily determine the use for PAB volume cap allocations.  Either way, the proposal is interesting.  For additional information about the proposal and additional context for this debate please see Housing Solutions: What Role Should Affordable Multifamily Housing Bonds Play?

By Jacob Carlton on September 28, 2014

Posted in Housing Bonds, Legislative Initiatives, Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Multifamily, Policy

Affordable Housing Linked to Children’s Intellectual Ability


"...The findings are highlighted in two new journal articles, Housing affordability and investments in children, published in the Journal of Housing Economics, and Housing affordability and child well-being, published in Housing Policy Debate.

More than 88 percent of renters with the lowest incomes spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent, according to the 2009 American Community Survey. And the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s latest report on affordable housing states household incomes must be at least 105 percent of the area median for a family to find decent, affordable housing units.

Families that spent most of their money on housing spent less on things like books, computers and educational outings needed for healthy child development, Newman and Holupka found. Families that didn’t invest enough in housing likely ended up in the sort of distressed neighborhoods and inadequate dwellings that can also take a toll on children.

“The markedly poorer performance of children in families with extremely low housing cost burdens undercuts the housing policy assumption that a lower housing cost burden is always best,” Newman said. “Rather than finding a bargain in a good neighborhood, they’re living in low-quality housing with spillover effects on their children’s development.”

Newman and Holupka found families who had obtained truly affordable housing, spending roughly 30 percent of their income on it, did indeed spend more money on enrichment for their kids.

When a family moved from spending more than half of its income on housing to the 30 percent ideal, they invested an average of $98 more on their children, the researchers found. Not a lot of money, but enough to make a difference. Even when families increased the amount spent on housing — from spending 10 percent of their income to 30 percent — they spent about $170 more on child enrichment.

“People are making trade-offs,” Holupka said, “and those trade-offs have implications for their children.”

The MacArthur Foundation supported this research."

6/9/2014 - Jill Rosen

Johns Hopkins University

In Many Cities, Rent Is Rising Out of Reach of Middle Class

By SHAILA DEWAN  The New York Times

APRIL 14, 2014

MIAMI — For rent and utilities to be considered affordable, they are supposed to take up no more than 30 percent of a household’s income. But that goal is increasingly unattainable for middle-income families as a tightening market pushes up rents ever faster, outrunning modest rises in pay.

The strain is not limited to the usual high-cost cities like New York and San Francisco. An analysis for The New York Times by Zillow, the real estate website, found 90 cities where the median rent — not including utilities — was more than 30 percent of the median gross income.

In Chicago, rent as a percentage of income has risen to 31 percent, from a historical average of 21 percent. In New Orleans, it has more than doubled, to 35 percent from 14 percent. Zillow calculated the historical average using data from 1985 to 2000.

Nationally, half of all renters are now spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to a comprehensive Harvard study, up from 38 percent of renters in 2000. In December, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan declared “the worst rental affordability crisis that this country has ever known.”

Apartment vacancy rates have dropped so low that forecasters at Capital Economics, a research firm, said rents could rise, on average, as much as 4 percent this year, compared with 2.8 percent last year. But rents are rising faster than that in many cities even as overall inflation is running at little more than 1 percent annually.

One of the most expensive cities for renters is Miami, where rents, on average, consume 43 percent of the typical household income, up from a historical average of just over a quarter.

Stella Santamaria, a divorced 40-year-old math teacher, has been looking for an apartment in Miami for more than six months. “We’re kind of sick of talking about it,” she said of herself and fellow teachers in the same boat. “It’s like, are you still living with your mom? Yeah, are you? Yeah.” After 11 years as a teacher, Ms. Santamaria makes $41,000, considerably less than the city’s median income, which is $48,000, according to Zillow.

Even dual-income professional couples are being priced out of the walkable urban-core neighborhoods where many of them want to live. Stuart Kennedy, 29, a senior program officer at a nonprofit group, said he and his girlfriend, a lawyer, will be losing their $2,300 a month rental house in Buena Vista in June. Since they found the place a year ago, rents in the area have increased sharply.

“If you go by a third of your income, that formula, even with how comfortable our incomes are, it looks like it’s going to be impossible,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Part of the reason for the squeeze on renters is simple demand — between 2007 and 2013 the United States added, on net, about 6.2 million tenants, compared with 208,000 homeowners, said Stan Humphries, the chief economist of Zillow.

And as rents head higher in the tightest markets, many are discovering that living on their own is proving unaffordable, forcing them to double up again. Arturo Breton, a 37-year-old waiter in Miami Beach, said that after years living on his own, he was joining forces with a roommate who works as a manager at J. C. Penney. “I’ve come down to the conclusion that in this country, it’s easier for two people to pay the rent than for one person,” he said.

For many middle- and lower-income people, high rents choke spending on other goods and services, impeding the economic recovery. Low-income families that spend more than half their income on housing spend about a third less on food, 50 percent less on clothing, and 80 percent less on medical care compared with low-income families with affordable rents, according to a new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. And renters amass less wealth, even non-housing wealth, than homeowners do.

The problem threatens to get worse before it gets better. Apartment builders have raced to build more units, creating a wave of supply that is beginning to crest. Miami added 2,500 rental apartments last year, and 7,500 more are expected in the next two years, according to the CoStar Group, a real estate research firm.

But demand has shown no signs of slackening. And as long as there are plenty of upper-income renters looking for apartments, there is little incentive to build anything other than expensive units. As a result, there are in effect two separate rental markets that are so far apart in price that they have little impact on each other. In one extreme case, a glut of new luxury apartments in Washington has pushed high-end rents down, even while midrange rents continue to rise.

“Increasing the supply is not going to increase the number of affordable units; that is a complete and utter fallacy,” said Jaimie Ross, the president of the Florida Housing Coalition. “People say if there really was a great need, the market would provide it; the market would correct itself. Well, the market has never corrected itself and it’s only getting worse.”

Money for affordable housing has dried up at a time when it is needed most. Federal housing funds, in a form now known as HOME grants, have been cut in half over the last decade. The percentage of eligible families who receive rental subsidies has shrunk, to 23.8 percent from 27.4 percent, the Harvard study found. And Florida, which like other states faced large budget shortfalls after the financial crisis, has raided its housing trust fund, funded by a real estate transfer tax, for several years running. This year, the Legislature has proposed restoring at least part of the money.

Cities have been left to address the problem on their own, with some granting exceptions to their own zoning laws to allow for things like micro-apartments. Miami has allowed some variances to its urban plan for projects like Brickell View Terrace, which will have 176 units in a prime location near a Metrorail station. Ninety of the units will be affordable for people making 60 percent of the median income, 10 for people making less, and the rest will be market rate.

But a seemingly insatiable demand for luxury condos in Miami, created in part by wealthy Latin Americans, has caused land prices to soar, making affordable housing projects harder to build anywhere close to downtown. Moving farther out is cheaper, but the cost savings on housing can be quickly wiped out by transportation costs. A 2012 study by the Center for Housing Policy found that Miami was the most expensive metropolitan area in the country when housing and transportation costs were combined.

In many markets, buying a home is considerably cheaper than renting, and Miami is no exception. But many people are shut out of buying because their income is too low, they don’t qualify for a mortgage or they are burdened by other debt. In 2008, a quarter of rental applicants were still paying off student loans, according to CoreLogic, but as of last fall half of them were doing so.

Steve Gunn, 25, the marketing director for a Miami real estate brokerage firm, said he could certainly afford an apartment on his salary of $52,500 — if he weren’t paying more than $800 a month in student loan debt. Instead, he commutes 90 minutes to work. From his mother’s house.

Migration makes Texas suburbs boom, while births boost big cities like Dallas

The major metropolitan areas of Texas remain among the fastest-growing in the U.S. — Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land ranks first, and Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington is third — according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

But the counties that make up those metro areas grow in vastly different ways. While most of the suburban counties grew primarily through domestic migration, the central-city counties relied much more on natural increase — births minus deaths — and none more than Dallas.

Half of Collin County’s growth in the year that ended in July 2013 came from people moving in from other parts of the U.S., and in Denton, almost 60 percent moved in.

Dallas County added close to 27,000 residents from July 2012 to July 2013, almost all of them — more than 24,000 — through natural increase, the Census Bureau reported. More than 9,000 arrived from other countries. In domestic migration, though, far more people moved out of Dallas County — a net loss of almost 6,000 — than moved in.

“If you look at state-level data over the last several decades in Texas, you find that about half of the growth is through natural increase. The other half would be migration, equally divided between domestic and international,” said Dr. Steve Murdock, former head of the Census Bureau and now director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University.

“But now, the reality is that about half of our growth is still through natural increase, but the other half is now 20 percent international and 30 percent domestic migration,” he said. “And the big central-city counties are more reliant on natural increase than migration.”

Dr. Lloyd Potter, the Texas state demographer, said the state’s major urban areas “have a relatively young age structure and are increasingly Hispanic [a group with relatively higher birthrates], so natural increase is a significant component of their growth.”

“Whenever we look at population growth, people have a knee-jerk assumption that it’s being driven by migration,” Potter said. “That certainly drives a significant portion; in Collin and Denton counties, domestic migration is the driving force.”

But in the urban areas, births account for much of the growth, he said.

The state’s largest county, Harris, which encompasses Houston, added almost 83,000 people between July 2012 and July 2013 — almost 43,000 through natural increase and about 40,000 through migration, much closer to the historical ratio.

Tarrant County grew by about 30,000 people over the same period — 16,000 through natural increase and almost 14,000 through migration, but with domestic migration adding almost twice as many as international migration.

“These numbers are a little soft,” Murdock said. “They’re estimates. But they do show that Tarrant is different than Dallas and different from Harris in the ratio of international vs. domestic migration.

“The pictures between the older, central-city counties and the suburban counties are very different,” he said. “In places like Collin and Denton, domestic migration is very important, and they’re seeing lots of growth from that.

“In the urban counties, growth is mostly births over deaths.”

In its latest release of annual population estimates for counties and metropolitan areas, the Census Bureau noted that many of the fastest-growing places in the U.S. were in oil- and gas-rich areas in and near the Great Plains and along the Gulf Coast.

That included the booming areas around Midland and Odessa, Fargo and Bismarck in North Dakota, and Casper, Wyo.

The fastest-growing “micropolitan” areas — between 10,000 and 49,000 people — were in North Dakota, western Oklahoma, New Mexico and Andrews, Texas, which sits just north of Odessa and Midland.

The continued growth in Midland and Odessa stood out to Potter, who described the effects of the oil boom as “just kind of crazy.”

“Housing is very difficult to find, and a lot of the businesses that use people with commercial driver’s licenses are losing them to the oil fields, people like school bus drivers,” he said.

“It’s the same with the service industries,” Potter said. “The demand for those services is growing faster than the supply, and that’s why we’re seeing all the migration there.”

The Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area remains one of the fastest-growing in the country, Potter said. Increasingly, it is also having significant growth-related problems.

“As a culture, they’ve been somewhat anti-growth, but they’re still growing very fast,” Potter said. “Now the infrastructure there is starting to feel the pinch with things like roads.”

The latest numbers also reinforced another trend: the continued growth of metropolitan areas and the declining fortunes of more rural areas.

Nationally, metropolitan areas with populations of 1 million or more grew by an average of 1 percent, double the rate for smaller metro areas, the Census Bureau said.

Metro areas grew faster than the U.S. as a whole, and among the fastest-growing metro areas, migration was the greatest driver of growth in all but five, including Dallas-Fort Worth.

But the 1,335 counties not included in either a metro or micro statistical area saw a collective population decline of more than 35,000 between July 2012 and July 2013, with more than six in 10 of those counties losing population.

Follow Michael E. Young on Twitter at @mikeyoungDMN. 


Staff Writer

Published: 26 March 2014 11:16 PM

Updated: 27 March 2014 08:50 AM

How many hours must minimum-wage earners work to afford rent?


Jolie Lee, USA TODAY,  9:04 a.m. EDT March 26, 2014


Minimum-wage employees must work on average 2.6 full-time jobs to afford a decent two-bedroom apartment in the USA without paying more than 30% of their income,according to a report released Monday from the National Low Income Housing Coalition based on federal data.

Perhaps more surprising is that the inability to afford rent is not limited to big cities with high housing costs.

A full-time minimum-wage earner can't afford even a one-bedroom unit — except in a handful of counties in Washington and Oregon. A worker would have to make $18.92 an hour to be able to afford renting a two-bedroom apartment.

The low-income housing advocacy group's report shows a state-by-state breakdown of the number of hours a week a minimum-wage employee would have to work to afford rent in their state's fair market value as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Development.

In California, for example, a minimum-wage employee must work 130 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom rental, according to the report.

The coalition has released this report annually for the past 25 years.

"Every year the story is worse," said Sheila Crowley, the advocacy group's CEO, on a phone call with journalists.

Twenty-one states and D.C. have a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, according to the Labor Department. But a higher minimum wage doesn't translate into housing affordability. In D.C., the minimum wage is $8.25, but a full-time worker would have to make $23.83 an hour to afford a one-bedroom rental and $28.25 an hour for a two-bedroom apartment, according to the NLIHC report.

"The minimum wage has just not kept up with the cost of living for about 40 years," said Bob Pollin, an economics professor and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The Obama administration has backed efforts to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, but Congress has not passed any wage hike and is unlikely to do so. Last month's Congressional Budget Office report found raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would lift 900,000 workers above the poverty line but cost 500,000 jobs.

NLIHN says raising the federal minimum wage alone does not solve the complex issue. The nation must also address a shortage of about 7 million affordable rental units for extremely low income households, defined as 30% of an area's mean income. Eliminating that shortage would cost roughly $30 billion a year for 10 years, according to NLIHC.

The National Housing Trust Fund, a federal program, was designed to address the shortage, but the initiative is unfunded. The fund would provide grants to states to build or reconstruct affordable housing, according to HUD.

Last week, leaders in the Senate Banking Committee released text for legislation that would provide $3.5 billion a year for the fund.

The low-income housing tax credit also spurs the development of affordable rental housing, said George Hezel, director of the Affordable Housing Clinic at SUNY Buffalo Law School.

"It's not always oriented to the extremely low-income families, but it has produced a lot of much-needed housing all across the United States," Hezel said.

Follow @JolieLeeDC on Twitter.


Low-Income Housing in High-Income Frisco is Breaking Stereotypes


February 19, 2014

Credit Shelley Kofler / KERA News

In recent weeks, we’ve reported on a federal housing investigation regarding where Dallas locates low-income housing. 

Some federal officials and community advocates claim Dallas discourages subsidized housing in wealthier, white parts of the city. That results in almost all of the units ending up in low-income and minority neighborhoods, primarily in southern Dallas.

But critics say it doesn’t have to be that way. They point to Frisco, a place known for its country clubs and gated communities. In this upscale Collin County suburb, a low-income development is breaking stereotypes.

In the decorated offices of North Court Villas, manager Nann Gamel gathered information from a young couple who wants to move in.

“We do a full background check: criminal, credit, rental, employment, just like any apartment community,” Gamel told the couple. 

But North Court Villas in Frisco is unique.

In a city where the median household income is more than $108,000 a year, a single person living in this development can earn no more than $28,000. A family of three can earn a maximum of just under $37,000. 

That’s because North Court Villas was built with the help of federal tax credits and a non-profit housing grant. In return, it must serve lower-income tenants who earn no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income.

North Court Villas in Frisco, an affordable-housing development, is so popular it has a waiting list of 500 people.

"You have more opportunities" 

As part of a 1980s court settlement to desegregate run-down housing in Dallas that housed mostly blacks, some of the North Court units are reserved for Dallas Housing Authority clients, such as Chimerle Thompson.

She’s burning calories on a treadmill in North Court’s well-equipped exercise room.

“I’m actually working out this morning,” she said breathlessly as she gestured toward the apartments.  

“I love it. It’s very nice.” 

Thompson, the mother of a 10-year old, works at a local department store. But she qualifies for housing assistance because she doesn’t earn a lot of money. 

When Thompson moved to Texas from Arkansas, the Dallas Housing Authority told her about available apartments in South Dallas and Frisco. The choice was easy, she said.

“I didn’t want to live in South Dallas. I wanted to live in Frisco. I’m not scared of Caucasian people,”  Thompson said with a laugh.

“To me, in areas like this, you have better things," she added. "You have more opportunities. There is more going on to me. The streets are nicer. The neighborhoods are nicer."

Kids can play in peace

Thompson is among the North Court residents who defy the myth that minority clients don’t want to live in mostly Anglo communities, says Ann Lott with the housing non-profit Inclusive Communities.

“When you give low-income families a choice as to where they would live, you’d be surprised how many families would chose to live in areas of high opportunity, even if they’re moving to predominantly Anglo areas,” Lott said.

By high opportunity, she means access to quality groceries and stores, good transportation, jobs and highly-rated schools.

Ladeva Hampton loves her spacious two-bedroom apartment with walk-in closets, washer and dryer connections and new kitchen appliances.

But Frisco’s schools are the biggest reason she moved in. She’s a bus driver with two small children.

“I want to put them in the greater school system," Hampton said. "That way, they can grow up and be successful and become something."

“My children, they can feel free to walk," she added. "They don’t have to worry about getting shot at."

Hampton feels lucky to live at North Court villas. The 134 units were already filled when the apartments opened in November. There are 500 people on a waiting list.

No increase in crime, city says

There's another myth that developer Cherno Njie wants to debunk: that it’s too expensive to build this housing in an upscale community.

“We didn’t find the land in Frisco was much more expensive compared to others, especially given the rewards of locating there,” he said. 

Those rewards include apartments that are never empty; support from the city of Frisco when some citizens wanted to prevent the affordable housing from being built; and the financing that became available when Njie made his case to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

“The point I drove home is this was a rare opportunity where … a city recognizes the need for affordable housing in an area that has few options for working families," Njie said. "Where the schools are excellent and good opportunity existed to make a difference in the lives of the next generation."

Frisco officials say North Court Villas apartments have been problem-free. There’s been no increase in crime as some residents predicted.

Another North Court resident, Ladeva Hampton, says she can now imagine a better life for her family.

She plans to return to college and complete her bachelor’s degree and then find a job in contract management.

Hampton looks forward to a day when she’ll earn too much money to stay.

Upscale Towns Courting Affordable Housing

4:09 p.m. EDTJuly 24, 2013

When it comes to affordable or mixed-income housing, there is no such thing as low-hanging fruit.

It isn't easy to build affordable homes in the 32 Connecticut municipalities that have a fair amount of such housing; it's much harder in the other 137 communities that don't.

However, a quiet, steady housing revolution is taking shape across Connecticut.

When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced last week that 10 more municipalities were receiving HOMEConnecticut grants to study where they could create higher-density, more affordable, energy-efficient, walkable housing that will be close to transit, it might have seemed, to some, like a mistake.


Because the municipalities involved — RidgefieldBrookfield, Stonington, North StoningtonFairfieldMilford,HaddamDurhamBurlington and Canton — were created for suburban, single-family, leafy, luxurious lifestyles. Now, they're getting grants to help determine how to broaden that array of housing options because, frankly, they need them.

Their 60-plus baby boomers need to get out of their big houses but want to stay in their communities. Their key workers — police, firefighters, teachers, nurses, public works employees — can't find places to live affordably. Their adult children can't come back to their hometowns.

What's more, there are many towns not far behind. I'm aware that at least a dozen similar upscale towns — from Greenwich to Guilford and Bethel to Ledyard —- are likely to apply for the next round of HOMEConnecticut grants.

The reason is fascinating. While most of those towns were founded in Colonial times, census figures show they didn't grow much until post-1970 suburban sprawl. They built thousands of single-family homes for baby boomers then in their 20s. Now that they're in their 60s, the charter members of the Pepsi generation don't want to rake leaves or shovel snow. What they do want is to stay in their town, near their friends, families, churches, doctors and other anchors. But their towns have nothing for them.

At the same time, Gen Yers or millennials — young workers in their 20s and 30s — have high education debt ($24,300 on average, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) and neither the credit ratings nor down payments nor career prospects to qualify for a mortgage or buy a home.

Top that with $4 per gallon gasoline, expensive heating costs and increasing attraction to urban, walkable lifestyles and you have demand for smaller, denser, energy-efficient homes within walking distance of shops, restaurants and services in the town center — which are worth even more if they can be near bus or train service.

There is enormous demand. In 133 of Connecticut's 169 cities and towns, 70 to 93 percent of the housing stock is single-family. Connecticut has the seventh highest state rental costs in the nation because of short supply; it ranks 50th in construction of any type of housing over the last decade. For people making 80 percent of the median household income (about $56,000) or less, there is an 83,000-unit statewide shortage of affordable rentals. Now, demography — all those baby boomers and millennials — will add to the demand, and therefore the price, unless we add new supply.

Towns such as West Hartford are hearing from many would-be multifamily developers and commercial property owners who would like their properties rezoned to residential.

The towns receiving HOMEConnecticut grants — or adopting inclusionary zoning ordinances or otherwise rezoning to create more multifamily homes — are giving the market what it wants. They will benefit from their proactivity: Residents and municipal leaders, not developers, will decide where, how much and what type of housing they want. They will control the design and shape it appropriately to its surroundings. There will be few angry public hearings.

How will the state and its residents benefit? We will open Connecticut's high-resource schools and service-rich communities to young families, recent graduates, police and firefighters, teachers, nurses and so many more. We will improve educational outcomes and provide skilled labor for businesses we hope to lure. We will allow Connecticut to attract population, not lose it.

And we will be providing the housing we need for the people we need where we need it.


Public Housing Agencies Push to Impose Time Limits, Work Requirements for Aid Recipients

BY JENNIFER LEVITZ  (Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2013)

Deep in the president's new budget is a plan that could transform public housing in the nation by allowing housing authorities to increasingly set time limits or work requirements for participants.

Currently, government housing benefits are generally open ended. Unlike welfare—which has a five-year limit—federal housing programs allow low-income Americans to receive rent vouchers or live in government complexes for decades.

In an experimental program in Tacoma, the city housing authority is offering rental-support vouchers to low-income parents, on the condition that they are active in their childrens' school. 

The result is that people endure long waits to qualify for the program and sometimes celebrate almost like lottery winners when they get the word. In New York City, the average person stays in public housing for 20.7 years.

But President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2014 budget calls for "substantial expansion" of a 1996 demonstration project that allows select housing authorities to set restrictions on residents, or try other strategies to promote self-sufficiency. Only 39 housing authorities out of 3,200 nationally have this power currently. Congressional approval was required for each one.

Housing agencies are lobbying for the expansion. They say the current system doesn't motivate residents to become financially independent and isn't fair to thousands of impoverished renters who need help now but must wait years for assistance.

Directors of both the Houston and Milwaukee housing authorities say they would likely add work requirements for people getting public assistance there. Tenants with jobs would pay a higher share of the rent, and the housing authorities would be able to help more people, they say. The Houston Housing Authority drew 83,000 applicants for vouchers when it opened its waiting list in August, versus 29,000 when it last opened the list in 2006.

"We've got these waiting lists that in some cases you practically get through a generation before you get a shot at a unit," says Tony Perez, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. "If you want to change this, you have to change the way you go about business."

Congress appropriated $34.3 billion in 2013 for public housing, including vouchers. Eligible households for the vouchers earn at or below 50% of median area income, and generally pay 30% of gross adjusted income toward rent and utilities while the government pays the rest, within a range.

Under the program, a family of two earning $15,000 a year in California's San Bernardino County would pay $375 a month toward its rent. The Housing Authority of the County of San Bernardino chips in up to another $1,025 a month, depending on the cost and location of the apartment.

The recession and mortgage crisis swelled the ranks seeking federal rental assistance and led those with benefits to hold on to them longer. Well-publicized instances of fights and mayhem broke out in January near Detroit and New Orleans as people scrambled for scarce vouchers.

While there is agreement the current system is broken, not everyone approves of President Obama's fix. The National Low Income Housing Coalition, an advocacy group, said the change would force people off housing assistance before they are ready.

"You are just cycling these families back to the end of these waiting lists," says Linda Couch of the coalition. "The answer is more affordable housing; it's not moving the deck chairs on the Titanic."

The federal government began providing public housing in 1937, initially building publicly managed apartment complexes for the poor. In 1974, Congress added "Section 8" vouchers that recipients could use to subsidize private rental housing.

In 1996, the U.S. overhauled its welfare system that provided cash to families. Now, participants in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program are required to work, and they receive benefits for no more than five years. At the same time, Congress created a small demonstration project, "Moving to Work," for public housing.

Some authorities participating in the project have recently imposed time limits and other restrictions on renters.

In Tacoma, Wash., the housing authority in March started limiting new recipients to five-year terms. San Mateo, Calif., San Antonio and the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation plan their own versions of time limits within the next year. The restrictions are applying most commonly to rent vouchers, but also in some cases to public housing. The disabled and elderly are exempt.

"We provide these very valuable housing vouchers—deep, potentially permanent subsidies—to a group of very fortunate families and then we have thousands of people with their noses pressed up against the window desperately needing housing and getting nothing from us," "says Michael Mirra, executive director of the Tacoma Housing Authority. As of March, the average length of stay for nondisabled, nonelderly voucher recipients at the housing authority was nearly eight years.

Other housing authorities are instituting rules requiring residents to get a job. The Housing Authority of Champaign County, Ill. in January began mandating that new residents between ages 18 and 54 must work 20 hours per week. For existing residents, the mandate is being phased in.

"Some people need a real push,' said Patty Smith, an official at the Champaign County authority.

Many who work with low-income families say that current housing policies provide little incentive to move on. Ideally, the government should tell residents, "Your housing is stable. Congrats, take a deep breath. What's next?" says Sherry Riva, founder of Compass Working Capital, a Massachusetts nonprofit working with the Cambridge Housing Authority to help residents save money and set goals.

The recession has complicated things. Those with subsidies held on to them longer, while new people entered the rental market after the foreclosure crisis, says Sandra Henriquez, an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Federal rental assistance aims to "move people to economic independence, so you move in, you move up, you move out," she says. But even leading into the recession, people kept housing benefits for an average of six or seven years, she says, and "In the last five years, we see a little bit of a creep that is moving that up to eight and nine years."

While roughly half of subsidized-housing recipients are seniors or disabled, who are exempt from new time limits, younger, healthier people also stay for years. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan group focused on low-income families, found that in 2010, 43% of nondisabled, nonelderly voucher holders had been getting the benefits for more than five years.

Meanwhile, HUD reported in February that a record 8.5 million low-income households without government housing assistance either paid more than half their monthly income in rent, lived in "severely substandard housing"—or both in 2011. That was up from 7.1 million such families in 2009.

"Nobody is representing those families; they don't really have an organization looking out for them," says Dan Nackerman, executive director of San Bernardino's housing authority, which adopted five-year-time limits last year after finding that people were holding on to vouchers for eight years on average, while 45,000 people sat on the waiting list.

The president's proposal to expand moving-to-work has bipartisan support in Congress, although there is disagreement over how big the expansion should be. Some Republicans support unlimited growth in the program for high-performing housing authorities, while many Democrats back a more limited expansion. In either case, federal officials would monitor the program.

The House Committee on Financial Services plans to take up the proposed expansion soon, says the spokeswoman for chairman Jeb Hensarling, (R., Texas). The Senate Committee on Banking Affairs will also consider the idea, says the spokesman for chairman Robert Menendez (D., N.J.).

Tacoma, a hilly port city south of Seattle, imposed a five-year limit on benefits in March. In exchange, the housing authorities say it is preparing people for the private rental market. It is enlisting case workers to help residents repair credit records and go back to school, and forming partnerships with nonprofits that offer job training and child-care.

The authority will consider hardship requests to make sure the new approach isn't harming residents, says authority director Michael Mirra. He predicts the deadline will motivate recipients to invest in their own education and employment, while providing a fair system to people like Elizabeth Hadnot, who applied in 2008 and only got her voucher in March.

Divorced with two of her five children at home, and with custody of her toddler granddaughter, "it's been a struggle," said Ms. Hadnot during a break at BJ's Beauty & Barber College, where she is in school. "I held on to my faith."

Even with two jobs—at a gas station and youth center—she still spent 75% of her wages on rent, she said.

She obtained a federal grant for needy students and enrolled in the beauty school last year, while a church friend offered Ms. Hadnot's family a temporary place to stay.

Meanwhile, Ms. Hadnot kept "popping in" to the housing authority to see if her name had moved up, she said. "I was adamant about getting into the program so I could move forward in life."

The five-year time limit on her new voucher "is a little scary" and at first prompted disappointment because "I know people who have been in public housing forever," she said.

But now at 45 years old, she thinks that is "a good amount of time" to carry out a "plan of action." She listed her goals, such as her own home and her own salon. "It is really happening, it's my turn," she said. "Five years started ticking yesterday."

What Will Tax Reform Mean for the LIHTC?

What will tax reform mean for the future of the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC)?

BY DONNA KIMURA (Affordable Housing Finance, March 2013)

The tax reform threat and its potential impact on the LIHTC is real, and we need to continue to make sure our representatives know the program and the good work our industry is doing. While the program has support in both [parties], there are at least two ways the threat could play out: across-the-board reduction or elimination of all tax expenditures; or a change in the tax code that would greatly diminish the credit’s value. The second, in my opinion, is the greater threat. If tax expenditures are targeted, we will hopefully be able to force a conversation about the value of these programs. However, if there is agreement to alter the tax code to lower corporate tax rates, it will be very difficult to overcome that with an argument that the impact would be detrimental to an otherwise worthy program. There is no substitute for the LIHTC program, and no one believes that an appropriated housing program would be created to replace it, so if there is to be a future for affordable housing, we have to engage in this discussion.

— Deborah VanAmerongen, strategic policy adviser, Nixon Peabody

Tax reform is a desirable goal for our nation. It does not, however, require the elimination of all tax deductions and credits. It does not compel Congress to start over with a clean slate, destroying credits and deductions that have made us a better society. The LIHTC is one of the most successful housing programs in American history and is embraced by lawmakers of all political stripes. Not only is such housing created privately, but it’s administered and maintained privately, as investors and lenders are engaged in the long-term compliance of their housing to ensure the protection of their investments. The affordable housing industry should confidently embrace the tax reform agenda, secure in the knowledge that the LIHTC must remain a part of housing policy for decades to come. As a community, we need to understand that elimination of the LIHTC will not happen and advance our discussion to what changes we need in the LIHTC for the 21st century.

— J. David Heller, principal, The NRP Group

If the Congress follows through with its stated intention of a comprehensive evaluation of the tax code, the LIHTC will be a target of intense scrutiny. What will decide the fate of specific tax expenditures is the ability of their constituencies to convince Congress that their tax preference is vital to the public good, an efficient use of government resources, and the most practical way to meet the policy goal of the expenditure. Our advocates within the Congress and the broader housing audience believe the LIHTC meets these standards, but it will be incumbent upon the larger tax credit industry to build a level of support within the Congress that will secure the LIHTC’s future in whatever tax structure results from this reform endeavor.

— David Gasson, executive director, Housing Advisory Group, and vice president, Boston Capital

The credit is at risk if Congress pursues a clean-sweep approach to comprehensive tax reform, and housing advocates need to fight to protect and strengthen the LIHTC. Fortunately, by making tax cuts permanent for most households, the fiscal cliff deal removed a major impetus for comprehensive tax reform and reduced the likelihood the LIHTC will be swept away. Moreover, passing comprehensive tax reform would require sustained bipartisan effort, which seems a dim prospect. Nonetheless, we must make sure Congress understands the LIHTC’s benefits. And we should strengthen the LIHTC to ensure it retains broad support—starting with reform of the Community Reinvestment Act to promote LIHTC investment beyond major metro areas and enactment of the administration’s proposal for mixed-income LIHTC properties.

— Amy Anthony, president and CEO, Preservation of Affordable Housing

What we’ve been hearing of late is that the odds of tax reform taking place in the Senate is greatly diminished—any bill that raises revenues (increases taxes) is very likely to be filibustered and stall. Any bill coming out of the House will propose unpopular individual and corporate tax-break elimination or reduction, resulting in rancor among constituents and corporate supporters, and face defeat in the Senate. Regardless, we will not let down our guard and will continue to educate new members and remind others as to the importance of the program. Without the housing credit, affordable housing will not be produced. We have strong support for the program in the Senate Finance Committee and, while we have supporters in the House Ways and Means Committee, we need many more to be sure our program is not swept up in a frenzied attempt at tax reform at any time in the future.

— Ronne Thielen, executive vice president, R4 Capital

A Role Model for New York City's Affordable Housing

BY RONDA KAYSEN (Architectural Record, February 14, 2013)

An urban farm on the rooftop of a David Adjaye–designed affordable-housing project in Harlem will provide fresh produce and income for the building sometime after construction has been completed in December. An $80 million development in the historic New York City neighborhood, Sugar Hill Housing will offer 124 units of rental housing for low-income adults and families. Adjaye’s stepped-profile design, with a rose-embossed, textured precast-concrete facade, makes it the latest example in a trend to replace bland institutional architecture typical of affordable housing with creative and striking design.

The rooftop farm, along with plans for a farmers’ market in the entrance plaza, provides another example of affordable housing’s potential to improve quality of life for neighborhoods. Students at Columbia University are devising a business plan for the 3,500-square-foot farm. Broadway Housing, the nonprofit developer, hopes to model the farm after others like Brooklyn Grange, which operates 2½ acres of farmland on buildings in Queens and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

“There’s been a lot of attention given to luxury and middle-income housing, but there hasn’t been a discussion about affordable housing in New York,” says Adjaye. “It was a subject that architects needed to rethink now, so that we can contribute in a meaningful way.”

Innovative affordable housing is on the rise in New York City, starting with Via Verde, a complex designed by Dattner Architects and Grimshaw Architects that opened in the Bronx last year. In January, the city tapped nARCHITECTS for a prefabricated tower of micro-unit apartments in Manhattan, 40 percent of which will be for low- and middle-income residents.

“The quality of the design and the quality of the finishes has increased tremendously for a lot of low-income housing these days,” says Saky Yakas, a managing partner at SLCE Architects, the architect of record for Sugar Hill Housing. “The expectations of the sponsors and even of the city agencies are far greater than they used to be.” For many years, New York City and affordable-housing groups focused their efforts on renovations. But with few properties left to redevelop, developers have turned to new construction.

The 13-story Sugar Hill development will also house a 15,000-square-foot children’s museum of art and storytelling, an early-childhood learning center, a parking garage, and office space. Adjaye, who designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., which opens in 2015, has also designed houses for many artists. His background in gallery design is evident in Sugar Hill. The first floor has a glass facade, so the upper floors appear to float above the base. The glass has another benefit: it brings light into the subterranean children’s museum.

Light is a critical component throughout the building. The punched windows are set at different levels. Because of the building’s location, perched on a ridge on the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and 155th Street, residents will have views down to Battery Park. In an unintentional nod to how far the designs of affordable housing have come, the building also overlooks the Polo Grounds Towers, a hulking 1968 public-housing project.

For residents, 20 percent of whom will be formerly homeless, the design of the building may come second to simply having quality housing. The recognition that David Adjaye is a world-class architect will only be understood once residents experience the asymmetrical windows and the light that’s cast in their living space,” says Ellen Baxter, executive director of Broadway Housing. “All of us are looking forward to understanding what it’s like to be affected by that. I don’t even know myself yet.”

Hurricane Sandy and LIHTC

The Impact of Sandy on the LIHTC Industry

IRS disaster relief adds additional affordable housing for Hurricane Sandy victims and assists LIHTC project owners.

BY SUSAN PRISTO REAMAN (Affordable Housing Finance, November 2012)

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will temporarily suspend low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) tenant-income limitations and non-transiency rules to allow project owners to rent their vacant units to individuals and families who lost their homes due to Hurricane Sandy even if those individuals do not qualify as low-income persons. Notice 2012-68, which is similar to the relief provided to victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, requires owners to receive prior approval from their state housing agency to temporarily house displaced individuals up until Nov. 30, 2013. Projects in any state are eligible regardless of whether a major disaster was declared in the state where the project is located.

Under the notice, an individual is eligible for temporary housing if that person resided in a jurisdiction designated for individual assistance and who was displaced because his or her residence was destroyed or damaged as a result of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. The president declared major disasters in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) designated jurisdictions in those states for individual assistance. The notice also provides special rules concerning the status of a unit in an LIHTC project rented to a displaced individual.

Units in the first year of the credit period

A displaced individual temporarily occupying a unit during the first year of the credit period will be deemed to be a qualified low-income tenant for purposes of determining the project’s qualified basis and for meeting the project’s 20–50 test or 40–60 test as elected by the project owner. A displaced individual will no longer be deemed a qualified low-income tenant once the temporary housing period ends.

Vacant units after the first year of the credit period

During the temporary housing period, the status of a vacant unit (that is, market-rate or low-income, or never previously occupied) after the first year of the credit period that becomes temporarily occupied by a displaced individual remains unchanged, and that person will not be treated as a qualified low-income tenant. This means that even if a unit is rented to a displaced person, a low-income or market-rate unit that was vacant before the effective date of the notice (Oct. 22, 2012) will continue to be treated as a vacant low-income or market-rate unit. Similarly, a unit that was never previously occupied before Oct. 22, 2012, will continue to be treated as a unit that has never been previously occupied even if it houses a displaced individual.

Consequently, the fact that a vacant unit becomes occupied by a displaced individual will not affect the building’s applicable fraction for purposes of determining the building’s qualified basis, nor will it affect the minimum set-aside test. If the income of occupants in low-income units exceeds 140 percent of the applicable income limitation, the temporary occupancy of a unit by a displaced individual will not cause application of the next available unit rule. Finally, the project owner is not required during the temporary housing period to make attempts to rent to low-income individuals the low-income units that house displaced individuals. Once the temporary housing period has ended, all the suspended LIHTC rules will once again be applicable.

Certifications and record-keeping

Owners must also maintain and certify information concerning each individual including the name, address of damaged residence, Social Security number, and a statement signed under penalties of perjury by the displaced individual that, because of damage to the individual's residence in a jurisdiction designated for individual assistance by FEMA as a result of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, the individual requires temporary housing.

The owner must also certify the date the displaced individual began temporary occupancy and the date the project will discontinue providing temporary housing as established by the agency. The certifications and record-keeping for displaced individuals must be maintained as part of the annual compliance monitoring process with the agency. 
Rent for units that house displaced individuals cannot exceed the LIHTC restricted rates for low-income units.

Finally, owners must obtain prior approval from their state housing agency, and that agency will determine the appropriate period of temporary housing, but not later than Nov. 30, 2013.

Revenue Procedure 2007-64

Project owners should review Revenue Procedure 2007-64, which provides comprehensive disaster relief for LIHTC projects located in areas that FEMA has designated for individual assistance and/or public assistance under the president’s disaster declaration (Major Disaster Area). If an owner has a carryover allocation, the revenue procedure allows up to an additional six months to satisfy the “10 percent test” and an additional one-year period to place its project in service subject to the state housing agency approval.

For buildings in the first year of the credit period that are located in a major disaster area and are severely damaged or destroyed as a result of the disaster, the state housing agency has the discretion to treat the allocation as returned credit to the agency or may toll the beginning of the first year of the credit period until the project is restored. The tolling time period is up to 24 months from the end of the year in which the disaster was declared.

Also, owners in major disaster areas have up to a 24-month period from the end of the calendar year in which the disaster was declared to restore a project that has suffered damage causing a reduction in qualified basis. Owners will not be subject to recapture and may also continue to claim the credit during the restoration period.

Susan Pristo Reaman is counsel with Nixon Peabody, LLP, and focuses on advising clients on federal tax credit issues for the LIHTC and related IRS Form 8823 compliance matters; the New Markets Tax Credit, specializing in targeted population transactions; the historic tax credit; and the renewable energy tax credits.

Denver Adds Solar to Affordable Housing News (August 7, 2012)

By next April, Denver will add more than 2.5 megawatts (MWs) of solar power to 387 affordable housing buildings, cutting power costs and adding to the value of the real estate. 

The 668 systems are being installed through a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) signed by the Denver Housing Authority (DHA). The project, one of the city's largest, will include 10,471 240-watt panels made by SolarWorld. Completion is targeted for April 2013.

Under the PPA, the DHA will pay about $0.109 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), slightly less than what it has been paying to Xcel Energy, reports The Denver Business Journal. The contract price will rise 3.5% annually compared with typical increases of 5% from the utility, the Journal reports.

The solar integrator is Namaste Solar, while Oak Leaf Energy Partners handled the site planning, interconnection analysis, tax and financial structure, and negotiated the financing.

"This project was the most complicated and challenging of any of the 35 solar projects we have completed to date but also, perhaps, the most compelling and beneficial," says John Hereford, a partner with Oak Leaf.

Some of Oak Leaf's other projects include installations at the Denver International Airport and a Denver Public Schools contract involving 16 schools.

Enfinity America Corporation was the financing partner, and it owns and operates the panels. DHA will have the opportunity to purchase the systems at year 6, 10 or 15.

The project adds an estimated $10,000 to the value of each single-family residence in the developments, so buying the systems outright at some point would represent a sustainable investment by DHA.

Once the project is completed, the systems will generate approximately 3.4 kWhs annually in clean renewable energy.