Which of the recommendations in the BPC Housing Commission’s report should receive highest priority?
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Among its comprehensive package of prescriptions for addressing America’s housing challenges, the BPC Housing Commission report offers one powerful, low-cost, readily implementable recommendation which could quickly and measurably improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the federal rental assistance programs now serving some 5 million Americans: Refocus from process to performance.
Historically, most federal rental programs have emphasized housing providers’ compliance with prescriptive, often burdensome regulations, with very little reference to the programs’ actual impacts on residents’ lives. The BPC report suggests this old compliance model should be traded in for “a new performance-based system for delivering federal rental assistance that focuses on outcomes for participating households, while offering high-performing providers greater flexibility.”
This call for a focus on outcomes is consistent with the Obama Administration’s strategic plan goals for HUD to transform the way it does business and make housing a platform for improving quality of life. It builds on accumulating evidence – referenced in the BPC report – that HUD-assisted housing, with links to resources from partners in the realms of health, education, employment training, and more, can be a stable foundation from which residents can build successful lives.
As the BPC report notes, this shift in approach would be a significant one, and will require a transition period in which HUD develops and tests new approaches, extends new flexibility to high-performing owners while increasing accountability to ensure residents are protected.
High-capacity, mission-driven housing nonprofits are HUD’s natural partners in this transition to a performance-based rental assistance system. They have large housing portfolios, strong financial capacity, deep expertise, and – most important – they share HUD’s commitment to high-quality affordable housing.
The 14 nonprofit members of Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF), including my organization, POAH, together own nearly 100,000 affordable apartments – making them well positioned to deliver on the BPC report’s recommendation that HUD capture economies of scale by shifting from the current property-by-property compliance and financing systems to a new, portfolio- or even enterprise-level approach – while adding accountability for individual residents’ outcomes.
Strong nonprofit owners are already focused on the need to make housing a platform for resident success, and to measure the impact of those efforts. As the BPC report notes, SAHF has launched an initiative to support and coordinate its members’ collection of resident outcomes data across a range of areas – earnings, health, education, and more – which is helping POAH and our SAHF partners to continually evaluate and improve our effectiveness in supporting our residents and better positioning them for success.
Amy Anthony is president, founder and executive director of Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH).
Welcome to the BPC Housing Commission expert forum! This forum is intended to foster interactive and substantive discussion about pressing housing issues. Each month contributors from different parts of the housing sector will be invited to respond to a discussion topic. Guest posts will feature prominently on BPC’s website, as well as be shared regularly with Housing Commissioners to help inform their work.
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