#154 Summer 2008 — What Green Means

Decoding Housing Finance Agencies

State housing finance agencies play a pivotal role in affordable-housing development, yet many advocacy organizations don't know how to gain leverage in influencing these increasingly powerful bodies.

Another example of this type of coalition is Homes for New Jersey. Bringing together homebuilders, landlords, real-estate agents, financial institutions, current and former elected officials, religious communities, and nonprofit developers and advocates, the group seeks to “…promote the production, rehabilitation and preservation of 100,000 homes over the next 10 years in environmentally appropriate places.” Gov. Jon Corzine has indicated his support for this goal, directing the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs to spearhead a planning and implementation effort that includes NJHMFA. A housing policy and status report was published in 2006, cataloguing existing state agencies, programs, and resources. Efforts are underway to develop an implementation plan to meet the 100,000-unit goal. Part of MIHCs’ success may stem from their relatively broad housing agenda. Instead of advocating solely for those suffering the worst housing problems, they have cast their policy net more broadly. They have found that affordable-housing policy innovation becomes more politically palatable when a significant emphasis is placed on the so-called “deserving poor,” such as low-wage earners, seniors, the disabled, and homeless children, along with service professionals, including teachers, police officers, firefighters, and home health-care workers. Programs for those with the greatest need are easier to add as one element of a more inclusive agenda. HFAs have become important players in contemporary affordable-housing solutions. As major financers and administrators of state and federal programs, HFAs often determine and implement state housing priorities, with or without public input. To their credit, they have certainly put housing within the reach of millions of households. However, their risk-averse criteria can trump their mission orientation without some mechanism for deeper public accountability. One indirect mechanism for increasing public accountability is an MIHC. There is increasing awareness among advocates that partnering with diverse stakeholders can help them increase their influence on HFAs. To balance the power of the HFAs’ innermost circle of influence, new statewide MIHCs are emerging to advance a unified policy agenda. These campaigns seem to be unleashing greater political will for more mission-focused housing strategies. While such campaigns may be helpful in moving bureaucracies in the right direction, however, the necessary compromises, such as focusing primarily on workforce housing, and only secondarily on low-income housing, may be detrimental to achieving sustainably affordable housing. These tradeoffs must be carefully weighed against the benefits of holding HFAs more accountable to their low-income housing mandate. Through greater understanding of the importance of HFAs to state government housing solutions, and a keener grasp of the challenges HFAs face meeting their double bottom line, advocates can better position themselves to influence where the money goes. They can press for increased accountability by getting involved in crafting state housing-related plans that guide HFA funding priorities, including both federally mandated and state-initiated projects. In addition, forging partnerships with diverse housing stakeholders can increase advocate pressure on HFAs to target funds more strategically, rather than simply approving the easiest, least risky projects. An informed, vocal advocacy community can foster a win-win outcome, delivering for communities in need of affordable housing and helping HFAs stay on track to fulfill their mission.


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