As we return to this great city for AHF Live: The 2006 Tax Credit Developers’ Summit, I am more optimistic than ever about our industry’s ability to meet pressing housing and community development needs.
The challenges we face are bigger than ever, including the recent downturn in prices for low-income housing tax credits. But where there is the will, there is a way, and I am hearing about more and more state and local government leaders who have the will to fight for affordable housing.
No doubt, the challenges are huge, but so are this industry’s accomplishments.
I call your attention to our announcement in this issue of the winners of our Readers’ Choice Awards. All the winning projects demonstrate how affordable housing sponsors overcome huge odds to realize bold visions for change.
Our staff selected finalists from the industry’s submissions and put them up for a vote. Our magazine’s readers then chose the winners, and I could not agree more with their choice for the grand prize: Maverick Landing in Boston.
I also want to recognize Roosevelt Square, Phase I, which won for best mixed-use project. It is part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation, which calls for redevelopment or renovation of more than 25,000 of the city’s worst public housing units.
These projects are providing quality communities for residents and an impetus for neighborhood revitalization. They are helping to erase the negative views of affordable housing that have contributed to NIMBYism.
The problem is that Roosevelt and Maverick are only two projects among thousands of public housing properties that badly need rescuing. And despite the tremendous success of such projects, the Bush administration still wants to kill HOPE VI, the program that funded them.
But eliminating HOPE VI is really only a small part of the problem. The federal government has been systematically starving public housing authorities (PHAs) of the funds they need to properly manage and maintain their properties.
Consider the fate of Gregg Fortner, who heads the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA). The agency has had its problems over the years, and now it faces a crisis.
Victims of a fatal fire in an SFHA apartment have won a $12 million judgment, and Fortner faces a hideous choice: Pay up and lose about 25 percent of his annual budget, or refuse to pay and risk going to jail for contempt of court.
Fortner said that he cannot pay the claim without the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) approval, but HUD has said the judgment is the housing authority’s sole responsibility.
t costs Fortner $47 million to operate 6,300 units while the authority receives only about $28 million in operating subsidies. During Fortner’s tenure, the SFHA has never received 100 percent of what HUD says it should get for operating subsidy.
Since he started in 2001, Fortner has cut his staff from 535 to 400, yet he still runs a deficit every year.
Fortner’s situation may be a bit extreme, but it illustrates just how precarious life is for public housing today. PHAs across the country are desperate to find ways to offset federal operating subsidy cuts. They are also gearing up for asset-based accounting, which will force them to take a hard look at the financial health of individual properties.
In future issues, Affordable Housing Finance will look more closely at the challenges facing public housing, and we welcome your input.