Los Angeles, Calif.
Through its Systematic Code Enforcement Program (SCEP), the City of Los Angeles Housing Department inspects all rental properties with two or more units — more than 760,000 buildings in total — on a four-year cycle. In effect, the program requires owners to keep up their properties, preventing the deferred maintenance that can seriously undermine the condition of the housing stock. SCEP has identified 1.9 million violations, which in turn spurred an estimated $1.7 billion in plumbing, heating, carpentry and other repairs.
In addition to the regular inspections, the housing department responds to complaints about building conditions by tenants, owners or other public agencies. Property owners who fail to comply with correction orders can be placed in the Rent Escrow Account Program (REAP). Under this program, tenants pay their rents into a rent escrow account until all ordered building repairs are completed.
Information and Data Collection
The Preservation Compact brings together public, private and nonprofit leaders to address the loss of affordable rental stock in the greater Chicago area. In 2007, Compact members developed a Rental Housing Action Plan that includes a number of innovative elements, including the creation of the Cook County Interagency Coordinating Council, which works to improve communication and cooperation across agencies and levels of government involved in preservation-related activities, and a Rental Housing Data Clearinghouse that collects and maintains information on both the subsidized and unsubsidized rental stock.
The Florida Housing Data Clearinghouse combines federal and state housing data to produce a comprehensive picture of housing conditions in each Florida community, aiding state and local decision making. One core component of the Clearinghouse is the Assisted Housing Inventory, which contains comprehensive, property-level data about subsidized rental housing in each county and locality. The Clearinghouse is managed by the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida, with funding from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation and the university.
New York, N.Y.
The SHIP database provides access to information on some 235,000 privately owned, subsidized rental properties in New York City. This includes properties developed with financing or insurance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), HUD project-based rental assistance, New York City or the state Mitchell-Lama Housing Program financing, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit or one of multiple city subsidy and property tax exemption programs. Created and administered by the NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, the database, which can be explored through the Center’s Data Search Tool, includes data from 50 public and private sources that can be easily filtered and viewed on a map.
St. Paul, Minn.
The Housing Justice Center (HJC) , formerly known as the Housing Preservation Project, headquartered in St. Paul, continues to demonstrate that a legal advocacy approach to affordable rental housing preservation works.
Initially formed in 1998 with backing from a local intermediary philanthropic funder, HJC was launched to combat the threatened loss of privately owned federally subsidized rental housing in Minnesota. The scope and influence of this public interest advocacy and legal organization quickly expanded nationally and includes preservation of subsidized and unsubsidized rental housing, including site built and manufactured housing.
HJC’s primary mission is to prevent the loss of affordable rental housing by conversion to market rate, demolition, foreclosure and other causes. HJC also works to foster expanded affordable housing opportunities. This work involves a variety of innovative strategies, including:
- Providing technical assistance to local attorneys and tenant advocacy organizations, owners, housing funders and policy makers
- Negotiating with property owners
- Pursuing litigation to uphold both local and national laws, enforce fair housing and affordable housing planning requirements, and to challenge NIMBYism by local groups opposing affordable housing
- Seeking local and national policy changes through legislative advocacy
- Educating the public about affordable housing issues
- Continuous monitoring of the current supply of at-risk affordable housing
- Working with tenant advocacy organizations to organize and empower tenants
HJC attorneys work with tenant and advocacy organizations, public and private housing funders, owners, developers and policy makers in their efforts to protect and expand affordable housing. Its attorneys have provided technical assistance to attorneys and advocates in 20 states, including the District of Columbia.
HJC’s work has played a significant role in creating an environment in Minnesota that discourages the market rate conversion of units. Aggressive intervention and litigation strategies created public attention for the issue, encouraged owners to pursue negotiated resolutions and led to creation of $10 million (annual) state preservation funding.
Since 1998, HJC has achieved landmark victories in a series of cases, leading to changes in federal legislation and HUD policies that have resulted in increased protections for tenants nationwide. Further examples of what HJC advocacy has accomplished include:
- Persuaded state office of RHS to require owners of Section 515 housing developments to comply with state prepayment notice laws, drastically slowing the process of prepayments and providing opportunities for preservation.
- Led a successful effort to change the Minnesota state law on condo conversions to eliminate a sunset provision that affected local ordinances. This amendment will ensure any changes made at the local level will positively impact the way conversions are handled in the city for the future.
- Helped pass the Minnesota Manufactured Housing Park Closure Notice bill (S.F. 2887 and H.F. 3449), which adds a requirement that notice of manufactured park closures be sent to the MHFA and the department of health. By centralizing this data, advocates will be better able to track and respond to park closures. The bill was signed into law on May 10, 2006.
- Created the first database of manufactured home park units in Minnesota, detailing the location, number of units and resident demographic information. This database is updated regularly and is used with a sophisticated mapping program that has proven to be an effective policy advocacy tool.
- In response to threatened HJC litigation, HUD modified its national policy on how to treat enhanced voucher holders who have become over-housed, eliminating the requirement that such tenants (often elderly surviving spouses) be required to move or pay large rent increases.
One hundred low-income families lived in Eastland Woods’ three- and four-bedroom single family detached homes located in an Akron suburb. But with an expiring Section 8 contract, a pending reduction in HUD rent subsidies, substantial rehabilitation needs, and an owner interested in “getting out,” these families faced a serious risk of losing their homes.
The Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing (OCCH) and the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA) developed a plan that preserved the affordability of these units for the long term and positioned them for the future through a combination of a mortgage restructuring under the Mark-to-Market program, $2 million investment by AMHA, and supportive HUD and Mark-to-Market administrative offices that proved crucial to making the deal work. HUD restructured $4 million of its original loan, converting it to a long-term 1-percent loan payable from a portion of annual cash flow. A $2.4 million tax exempt first trust, 4 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credits, AHMA’s $2 million loan — also repayable from cash flow — and deferred developer fees make up the bulk of the remaining sources.
In 2003, with property values in the neighborhood on the rise, the owner of Battery Park Apartments in downtown Asheville was contemplating selling the 14-story building to a developer with plans to convert it to market-rate condos. That meant the property’s elderly residents would lose their homes and the city would lose 122 units of project-based Section 8 assistance.
National Church Residences (NCR) expressed interest in preserving the property’s affordability, and the owner agreed to sell to them — but only if NCR could match the other buyer’s offer, meeting not just the price, but the purchase deadline. The National Affordable Housing Trust (NAHT) helped to structure a six-month interest-only acquisition/bridge loan, allowing NCR to buy the property. The loan involved two pieces: $4.465 million from Fannie Mae’s American Communities Fund and $235,000 from NAHT. A key element: NAHT took the top loss position, with its funds covering the top 5 percent of the combined loan.
NCR started its $30,000 per unit renovations immediately after closing. The bridge loan was repaid and the deal went forward with the typical range of financing sources: a HUD 221(d)(4) mortgage, 4 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credits, federal and state historic tax credits, HOME funds from the City of Asheville, and NCR’s deferral of developer fees. Tenants receive Section 8 rental assistance.
In the late 1980s, New Holland Apartments in rural Danville was renovated as affordable housing for low-income families but was poorly managed by an out-of-state company. It was a vacant eyesore when Crosspoint Human Services decided to pursue redeveloping it as 46 units of affordable housing.
Crosspoint faced challenges in getting the project off the ground — mainly raising the funds necessary to begin the development process — until the City of Danville provided a $35,000 predevelopment grant. Crosspoint also chose to pursue a green approach, and the property is on track for at least a silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) award for major renovations. The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation provided more than $200,000 in grants to help cover the LEED design process and other energy improvements; additional funding came from Enterprise Community Partners and Enterprise Community Investment, which purchased historic and 9 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
Rents are set at levels that very-low-income families can afford, due in part to a 30-year, 1 percent mortgage structured by the Illinois Housing Development Authority. Twelve of the units are reserved for formerly homeless single mothers with children, who receive support services to help them get back on their feet.
The New York City Housing Development Corporation established the Mitchell-Lama Preservation program in order to preserve the affordability of rental homes funded through the state’s Mitchell-Lama Housing Program. Mitchell-Lama was created by the New York State Legislature in 1955 for the purpose of building affordable housing for middle-income residents. In exchange for low-interest mortgage loans and real property tax exemptions, the Mitchell-Lama law required limitation on profits, income limits on tenants and supervision by the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal. Because developments were eligible to withdraw from the Mitchell-Lama program after 20 years upon prepayment of the reduced-cost mortgage, New York City is now faced with the loss of thousands of critically needed affordable rental homes for working families. The Mitchell-Lama Preservation program seeks to preserve these homes through two products:
- Through its Rehabilitation and Preservation (RAP) Program, the New York State Housing Finance Agencyoffers flexible, low-cost financing to the owners of rental properties that are made affordable through the state’s Mitchell-Lama program. With many of the older Mitchell-Lama projects in need of major repair, RAP financing helps to free up resources for critical capital improvements and building renovations. In exchange, owners agree to keep their properties affordable for an additional 40-year period. Financing available through the RAP Program draws from many sources, including tax-exempt private activity bonds and federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs).
- The Mortgage Restructuring Program offers owners within the Housing Development Corporation’s insured Mitchell-Lama portfolio the chance to restructure the first and second mortgages held on the properties. The mortgages are refinanced at a lower cost to the owner and for a longer period of time. Savings can be taken in the form of further reduction of payments or as funds to repair the property.
Providence Vincent House underwent a significant renovation, including energy enhancements expected to save the tenants nearly $100 a year each in utility costs. In 2004, with the help of Providence Health System, Providence Vincent House received a $6.3 million HUD Section 202 rehabilitation grant. At the same time, the city agreed to donate $40,000 to make certain energy enhancements, including adding energy efficient lighting, thermostats, and refrigerators to all of the units.
The money provided by HUD ensures that Providence Vincent House can continue operating. The Section 202 grant included $5.2 million for renovations and a project-based rental assistance contract. Although tenants will now be responsible for their own utility expenses, the energy efficiency improvements funded by the city will ensure that electricity costs are low.
St. Charles, Minn.
Clover Patch Apartments in St. Charles was built in 1980 and financed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Section 515 program. In 2001, the owner applied to prepay the loan. By this point, the 20-year low-income use restriction period imposed on post-1979 Section 515 properties had expired. As a result, the owner could convert the property to market rate, making Clover Patch’s tenants vulnerable to substantial rent increases.
After reviewing the owner’s application for prepayment, USDA’s Rural Development determined the loss of this affordable housing would adversely affect housing opportunities for minorities in the region, meaning that the owner had to market the property to a nonprofit or public agency that would maintain affordability. The search for a qualified purchaser was not easy, in part because nonprofits could not be reimbursed for organization costs or earn a developer fee under Rural Development loan programs, but Three Rivers Community Action, a local nonprofit, stepped up to the plate. Rural Development transferred the existing mortgage to Three Rivers and provided a new loan to cover the gap between the owner’s equity and the outstanding loan. Rural Development also increased the number of units receiving USDA project-based Rental Assistance from 18 to all of the property’s 32 units.
Three Rivers then found the funding for rehabilitation and organization costs to undertake the transaction. Minnesota Housing Finance Agency provided a $350,000 deferred loan from its Preservation Affordable Rental Investment Fund Program, a statewide program that provides low-interest-deferred loans to help cover the costs of preserving permanent affordable rental housing with long-term project-based federal subsidies that are in jeopardy of being converted to market-rate apartments.
Galen Terrace Apartments was once identified as one of the most troubled properties in Washington, but in 2006 the Galen Terrace Tenants Association exercised its right of first purchase under D.C. law and acquired the Section 8 property in order to make substantial improvements. The DC Housing Finance Agency provided $5.6 million in tax-exempt bonds and $4.65 million in tax credit equity toward the acquisition and renovation, while the Department of Housing and Community Development provided $3.25 million in CDBG funds. HUD renewed the complex’s Section 8 contract for another 20 years.
The renovations included environmentally friendly features that have made the buildings more energy efficient and healthier for residents. Galen Terrace is now the first rehabilitated property in D.C. to meet all of the criteria under the Enterprise Green Communities Initiative. Moreover, it’s the first Section 8 building to be rehabilitated under Enterprise’s Green Communities program. Environmentally friendly features include low-volatile organic compound paints, primers, sealants and adhesives, Energy Star appliances and lighting, solar reflective roofing material, double-paned windows and water barrels to collect and reuse rain water for landscaping.
Right of First Refusal
Before converting a rental unit to condominiums, Boston requires developers and property owners to give a five-year notice to seniors, disabled and low- to moderate-income tenants. If the lease expires within the notice period, the lease must be extended to allow the tenant to stay for the entire notice period.
The state of California requires owners of HUD-subsidized housing and expiring Section 8 projects who intend to terminate the subsidy for any reason or prepay their mortgages to give a year’s notice to tenants, the state housing authority, the local housing authority and local governments. The notification program is paired with a right of first refusal that allows state-registered preservation buyers to match offers from other parties under certain circumstances.
Before converting a rental unit to condominiums, Chicago requires developers and property owners to give a 120-day notice to tenants. Expiring leases must be extended for the notice period. Tenants who are over 65 years old, blind or unable to walk without assistance must be given a 180-day notice. Tenants have a right of first refusal to purchase their units.
Montgomery County, Md.
By law, Montgomery County and its combined public housing and housing finance agency, the Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC), have the right to match contracts on rental facilities built before 1981 or on rental buildings being sold for conversion to condominiums. Certified tenant associations also have the right to match the contract on rentals built prior to 1981. The right can be waived if the purchaser commits to preserving the building as a rental property for five years with rent acceptable to the county, or makes a cash contribution to the county’s Housing Initiative Fund, which supports affordable housing countywide.
The county, either through HOC or a designated nonprofit housing developer, has exercised the right of first refusal at least six times. For example, to preserve some naturally occurring affordable units and hard-to-find three-bedroom units, the HOC bought an unsubsidized 1950s apartment building and is renovating it for moderate-income tenants. The county also recently used this right to purchase a rental property in the high-opportunity community of Bethesda, where the county has otherwise struggled to build new, affordable rental housing.
A partnership between the Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) and the HOC allows HOC the first right to purchase up to one-third of the inclusionary housing units within a subdivision produced through the county’s Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) law and operate these units as federally subsidized public housing.
Since 1973, this arrangement has resulted in the purchase of over 700 homes in market-rate properties, which are made available to very-low-income families through the public housing program. When projects subject to the MPDU law are in location-efficient areas near transit and other amenities, this arrangement provides an opportunity to create well-located public housing.
The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) provides that, before any rental housing unit in the city may be sold, the owner must give notice to each tenant and to the mayor. The tenants then have a right of first refusal to purchase the property. The tenants may assign this right to a third party. The tenants have at least 120 days to negotiate a sale. This time period can be extended for another 120 days if a lending institution provides written notice that the tenant association has applied for financing. Some Washington affordable housing developers have partnered with tenant groups to arrange complex purchase and rehab deals, often involving LIHTC financing.
For example, Somerset Development and NHT/Enterprise Preservation Corporation worked with the tenants to acquire and rehabilitate Galen Terrace, a federally subsidized 84-unit community in serious disrepair and threatened with sale.
State and Local Funding Strategies
Cook County, Ill.
The Class S program encourages owners of project-based Section 8 multifamily housing in high-cost markets to keep their units affordable by reducing the tax assessment by up to 33 percent. The Class 9 program offers a similar reduction to owners of unsubsidized properties who complete new construction or major rehabilitation of multifamily buildings and reserve 35 percent of the units as affordable. In 2001, Cook County extended the Class 9 program from just low-income census tracts to all areas of the county, an important strategy for encouraging mixed-income development. To reduce incentives for converting rentals to condos, in 2008 the county lowered the property tax assessment for apartment buildings from 26 percent to 20 percent (rates were reduced to 16 percent in 2009).
Fairfax County, Va.
In 2005, Fairfax County adopted “one penny for housing” from a local real estate tax levy for its affordable housing preservation fund. In 2006 and 2007, the fund received $18 to $22 million annually, which was used to leverage private financing, CDBG and other resources, such as developer contributions, to preserve rental properties. In projects using the Penny for Affordable Housing Fund, a minimum of 50 percent of the units had to be affordable to households earning 50 percent of the area median income or below. In 2009, the County’s Board of Supervisors voted to reallocate revenue from the penny fund to help fill a budget gap and restore emergency and human services programs.
Fairfax County also has a preservation tax abatement incentive for owners of older (20-plus years) multifamily rental properties. Under this incentive, the tax increase on significant improvements will be abated for 10 years as long as the rental apartments remain affordable.
The Illinois Affordable Housing Tax Credit (IAHTC) program allows individuals or organizations to give donations in the form of cash, securities, personal property or real estate to participating nonprofit housing developers and receive a credit against their income taxes. A number of donations may be made, but the aggregated amount must be at least $10,000. Donations can be used for purchasing, rehabilitating, constructing, providing financing, technical assistance or general operating support for any approved affordable housing project. Donation tax credits can make the difference between the seller’s asking price and what a new owner can afford in strong markets. In weak markets, credits can help an affordable housing developer handle exit taxes.
New York, N.Y.
A major element of the City of New York’s preservation strategy is the city’s Acquisition Fund. The fund provides affordable financing for the acquisition and preservation of affordable homes. The fund was capitalized with $8 million in city funds, combined with $32 million in loan guarantees from private philanthropic organizations, to leverage more than $190 million in private financing. The fund, which provides bridge financing for the acquisition of properties, aims to create and preserve up to 30,000 rental, homeownership and supportive housing units over the next 10 years.