New NHC President and CEO Maureen Friar on the past, present and future of affordable housing

written by naehblog
March 30, 2010

Today’s guest post is from Maureen Friar, the new President and CEO of the National Housing Conference. We asked her some of the most pressing questions in the field. Here’s what she said:

Where do we – as a national community – stand on the issue of affordable housing? Where should we go from here?

Our country still faces a huge affordable housing problem. Housing is not affordable for many segments of our society, including low-income households and working families. In addition, when the cost of transportation is combined with the cost of housing, households are finding it even harder to make ends meet.

With the recent downturn in economy, collapse of the financial markets, and the overextension of credit, the number of foreclosures continues to rise, affecting millions in our communities. According to our research affiliate the Center on Housing Policy’s newest Paycheck to Paycheck study, between 2008 and 2009, home prices rose or held steady in 90 (44 percent) out of 207 metropolitan areas. Over the same time period, the income needed to purchase a median-priced home decreased in 193 of these metro areas (93 percent).

As well known to NAEH, we have made great strides in ending chronic homelessness, but many still are without a home. People are also living in substandard housing and families often are doubled- and tripled- up, which adds to the affordable housing crisis.

We must work with the Administration and Congress as one national community to implement measures to halt foreclosures, increase and expand new and affordable housing options, and fund theHousing Trust Fund. We must also continue to attack homelessness, which is the most visible sign of our housing crisis. It is essential that we raise our voices together to highlight the need for safe, decent and affordable housing for all Americans.

What is the most important innovation or development in the field of affordable housing that you’ve seen in the last decade?
I have seen extraordinary commitment and increased capacity from the nonprofit community to develop quality multifamily housing projects that integrate private and public financing. These developments, financed with private equity, primarily through the Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit, show that public private partnerships are effective and create solutions that work for our neighborhoods.

There are wonderful examples across the country – in rural, urban, and suburban settings. They incorporate mixed financing, as well as green and sustainable initiatives, and ultimately create high quality, affordable housing that is viable in the long-term. I also applaud the housing solutions that help successfully integrate people with disabilities and special needs into neighborhoods and affordable housing developments. As a result, we are moving away from housing people in isolated communities and making a variety of options available like never before.

What are a few of your most important policy priorities for the year?
NHC’s policy priorities for this year include, first and foremost, preventing foreclosures and stabilizing impacted neighborhoods. This includes developing better tools and improving the implementation of federal policies to stem foreclosures. We have been particularly active on this front through the NHC-sponsored National Foreclosure Prevention and Neighborhood Stabilization Task Force.

In addition, NHC is focused on helping low- to moderate-income working families meet their housing challenges through rental preservation, employer-assisted housing and workforce housing. NHC also plans to help improve the coordination of housing, transportation and energy. Specifically, through NHC’s advocacy at the local, state and national levels we hope to create incentives to preserve and expand the availability of housing that is permanently affordable to low- and moderate-income families near transit, job and retail centers, and develop the incentives necessary to improve the energy-efficiency of existing residential dwellings.

What brought you to NHC and what do you hope to accomplish there? 
I am tremendously excited to be the new NHC president and CEO after 14 years of building the Supportive Housing Network of New York into an effective advocacy organization at the state and local levels. I am very interested in working on federal policy because it is the foundation on which most housing policy is developed.

With its nearly 80-year history, NHC is the oldest housing advocacy organization in America. Our membership comprises every segment of the housing industry. Given that we have just experienced the most dramatic housing crisis since the Great Depression, NHC has a tremendous opportunity to make an impact in helping fix this crisis and developing creative solutions to address future housing needs.

Known as the United Voice for Housing, we plan to build on our role as a convener by collaborating with our membership and drawing upon their strengths to craft and promote ideas for improving government programs, financial opportunities, and expanding the dialogue on housing solutions.

In addition, NHC will be increasing the presence of affordable housing as a first-tier national priority through our new Center for Housing Communications (CHC). The primary mission of the CHC is, ultimately, to improve collaboration between the housing and related industries in order to better communicate the need for, and benefits of, affordable housing.

NHC is also actively engaged at the state and local levels through its regional forums. We act as a clearinghouse to provide information on best practices for preserving affordable rental housing, foreclosure issues, and the connection between housing and transportation. I am delighted to be working in partnership with our research affiliate the Center for Housing Policy and our other national partners to be an effective and proactive voice on these issues.

I truly believe that by working collaboratively and diligently, change is possible. We can make affordable housing a first-tier national priority.