This week we have a few thoughts from Kris Siglin at the Housing Partnership Network who will pack a punch on an all-star panel of housing practitioners as they discuss the way housing shapes and forms communities on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 16. Kris also reflects on her time working on the housing commission that preceded the BPC effort – The Millennial Housing Commission – as well as her time on the Hill with one of our co-chairs, Senator Kit Bond.
The Housing Summit will attract attendees from all segments of the housing industry. In a sentence or two, please describe what you do.
I’m Kris Siglin, vice president of policy at Housing Partnership Network (HPN), business collaborative of 100 of the nation’s most successful affordable housing and community development nonprofits. HPN and its members work together to scale innovation and impact, helping millions of people gain access to affordable homes and thriving communities that offer economic opportunity and an enhanced quality of life.
When did you become interested in housing, and why?
I’ve worked on affordable housing policy issues for years, beginning as Senator Kit Bond of Missouri’s staffer at the Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over a wide range of issues from securities and banking laws, export finance, to housing and community development. Senator Bond was concerned about how the problems in distressed public housing in St. Louis had an impact on the people who lived there and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Seeing how quality affordable housing could improve neighborhoods and residents’ lives had such an impact on me that I have worked on affordable housing and community development ever since. I worked at Enterprise Community Partners on policy and the intersection between affordable housing and school improvement, and also as the Policy Director at the Millennial Housing Commission, a Congressionally-chartered commission that looked at many of the same issues as the BPC Housing Commission and issued a report in 2002.
What is the most critical housing issue that we should be paying attention to today?
I am concerned that the pressures for reductions in federal spending on domestic discretionary spending over the next decade may leave housing programs, which already do not serve most of those eligible, moribund. Shrinking block grants could leave state and local governments unable to maintain the existing inventory of affordable housing, much less add to it. Funds to maintain public housing and capital grants to build senior housing could shrink as well. Policy makers should be looking at how make our system more flexible and efficient because we may not have the resources to maintain the status quo.
Your session will focus on housing and community impacts. What, in particular, do you hope to see addressed in the discussion or during the Q&A period?
This budget challenge, though, is also the opportunity to use the power of affordable housing as a platform to improve lives. Housing is interdependent with many other systems. For example, affordable housing with services can be a humane and cost-effective alternative to nursing home admissions for low-income seniors. Affordable housing can give low-income families the stability that helps their children succeed in school. When transit systems in cities expand, neighborhoods can gentrify if there is no affordable housing expansion included in the planning. We need to recognize that a lack of affordable housing causes expenses in other parts of the federal budget and missed chances to expand opportunity. I hope we can delve into practical and specific ways to align affordable housing programs with health care, transportation, workforce development and school improvement strategies so that we can get the best outcomes for low-income people in a time of shrinking budgets.
If you were planning a housing summit, who would be your dream keynote speaker? Why?
I hope the BPC housing summit is a big picture conversation about how to use the power of housing to improve the lives of low-income people. I would ask Bill or Melinda Gates to come talk about what the Gates Foundation has learned about improving education and health care around the world and what role safe, decent, affordable housing can play in fostering positive social change.