In 2008, the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) board approved the creation of the Housing Investment Fund (HIF) to support affordable housing initiatives that do not qualify for existing funding sources. Agency staff developed the idea for the fund after carefully examining the housing needs of the state and how those needs were being met by current programs. The fund provides more unique, flexible guidelines than those of federal programs such as the low-income housing tax credit and HOME programs.

Eligible uses of the fund include:

  • Acquisition, holding, and disposition of residential real estate for public benefit; pre-development, construction, and/or permanent financing for rental or for-sale property development;
  • Capitalized operating subsidy;
  • Funds for Individual Development Accounts that are linked to homeownership projects in which OHFA is a partner; homeowner loans for refinance, new purchase, or renovation offered through participating lenders or nonprofit partners;
  • Planning grants for comprehensive community redevelopment; and
  • Matching funds for federal or private foundation housing grants or loans.

Specific parameters helped to ensure that the chosen initiatives serve households at or below 120 percent of the area median income (to fit within the OHFA’s existing First-Time Homebuyer Program guidelines) and that funding requests were greater than $100,000.
OHFA acted strategically, quickly moving from conception of the fund to its actual implementation. The energy developed during its creation carried over into the review and processing of applications. In a short time, based on a team approach, dozens of applications were reviewed for consistency with program requirements. After selecting projects most aligned with the purpose of the HIF, a select group of applicants was asked to participate in a telephone interview to provide OHFA reviewers with an opportunity to further explore each proposal. Staff had specific questions they wished to address, and the project sponsors were given the opportunity to discuss any issues they thought would assist OHFA in making its decision.

The initial application process was very limited. Staff members quickly found that more information at the initial review stage was actually necessary. Future applications, given the competition for the funds, will request more information during the initial application. Nonetheless, the focus will be on limiting the amount of work required with the application. Even with some drawbacks, the application provided enough information to guide staff in making a decision about whether to seek additional information about a proposal.

The development of the fund guided policy objectives for the agency, aligning priorities and investments with OHFA’s annual plan. Strategically allocating funds to meet needs not addressed by existing programs helps to create comprehensive affordable housing options for Ohio families.

One of the most critical outcomes of the HIF is OHFA’s identification of possible new markets. A significant number of applications involved the capital limitations of existing affordable housing communities. This fact points to the need to establish a program that can directly impact these projects.

OHFA was able to identify future partners throughout the award process, strengthening current working relationships and highlighting the organizations with a similar interest to resolve housing issues.

Projects and initiatives awarded funds through the HIF include:

  • The city of Youngstown is redeveloping its citywide zoning code to focus on redevelopment, achieving stability and encouraging the strategic redevelopment of vacant properties and affordable housing.
  • Dayton-based CityWide Development Corp. will receive a grant to provide loans for families that are unable to get a loan through traditional lenders for health and safety repairs. Families who need help purchasing a home that needs major repairs will also be able to access the grant funds.
  • The Corporation for Supportive Housing will receive a grant and a loan to create permanent supportive housing through training opportunities, technical assistance, and predevelopment loans to sponsors.
  • Enterprise Community Partners will receive a grant for energy audits and a loan to perform retrofits through the Ohio Green Communities Retrofit Fund to help multifamily developments achieve operating savings through energy efficiency.
  • The Famicos Foundation will receive a grant to make improvements to 83 lease-purchase homes, helping residents prepare for homeownership in Cleveland.
  • Hocking Metropolitan Housing Authority will receive a grant to provide at least 27 Individual Development Accounts for families in Athens, Hocking, Perry, and Vinton counties that are not otherwise eligible for such programs that help with down payment and closing costs.
  • Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing will receive a grant to target roughly 7,500 households in multifamily housing communities across the state for energy-efficiency retrofits through the Ohio Affordable Housing Energy Conservation Initiative.
  • The Ohio CDC Association will receive a grant to provide 60 Individual Development Accounts in five lease-purchase housing credit developments to encourage tenant investment in their homes, provide case management services, and help with down payments.

As a new program at OHFA, the HIF will be under close scrutiny. Staff members will work closely with grantees to help them measure success in using the funds provided and to identify additional improvement opportunities for the HIF.
The second round of the HIF is scheduled for Feb. 22. With revisions to the guidelines, such as limiting the number of applications that can be submitted to two applications per entity, increasing the information required in the initial application, and removing capital improvement projects from eligibility, the HIF applications received and the projects eventually awarded funding should meet or exceed the first round of the HIF.

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Brian Carnahan is director of  OHFA’s Office of Program Compliance, where he manages the monitoring of tax credit, Sec. 8, and HOME-funded projects. Kelly Taylor is director of the OHFA Office of Communications and Marketing. Previously, Taylor served as a manager in the Office of Program Compliance, where she managed the compliance reporting team.