Why aren’t there enough affordable housing for individuals with autism and developmental disabilities?
With rising rents and one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country, California is experiencing a major housing crisis, not just for people with developm
ental disabilities, but for millions of Californians who are forced to spend the majority of their income on housing. According to the New York Times, “more than one-quarter of the total homeless population nationwide lives in California.” Every major city in the state has seen a dramatic increase in the homeless population over the past decade.
What happened to the government funded programs? How about Section 8 Vouchers?
The closure of Redevelopment Agencies across California has resulted in less availability of public funding for affordable housing and increased competition for other essential public sources of funding including 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credits. The vast majority of new public funding sources prioritize housing projects for people who are chronically homeless, mentally ill and veterans. Furthermore, out of 106 housing authorities in California, only a very few actually have open waitlists for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. According to www.affordablehousingonline.com, on February 21, 2018, there were “15 Section 8 waiting lists that were open, opening soon or always open.”
Also, the Frank Melville Supportive Housing Investment Act of 2010 limits the number of HUD’s Section 811 funded units in a multifamily development to 25% of all units, discouraging new housing developments for people with developmental disabilities. As a result, many traditional affordable housing developers are less motivated to build disability-housing units, especially beyond the 25% aforementioned threshold.
What are our options?
Yes, it is becoming more challenging to build affordable housing for individuals with developmental disabilities in California. Nevertheless, there is still hope, but you’ll have to be creative and willing to do the hard work. Here is a high level hypothetical scenario of a non-profit organization pursuing land and development financing through government-owned land, Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), and other public sources of funding.
Mobilize and Advocate for Housing
· Mobilize your community - families, supporters and volunteers. There is strength in numbers.
· Incorporate and become a 501(c)(3) organization.
· Contact your city (or even neighboring cities) and county. Meet with your city council members, mayor and county supervisors. Your city or county might own an ideal parcel of land and development capital. Sometimes market rate developers donate land or pay fees in order to fulfill the low-income housing inclusionary requirement. You never know until you ask. It will take months or even years, but just keep asking. Share your story. Share your dreams.
Partner with an affordable housing developer
· Once you find land to develop, find an affordable housing developer to partner with. Due to California’s tax credit (LIHTC) regulations, if you don’t have enough qualifying experience to apply for LIHTC, you’ll have to partner with an affordable housing developer who does.
· As with everything in business, your partnership with an affordable housing developer of your choice will face challenges as soon as the honeymoon period is over. Make sure you clearly map out your partnership before you sign anything. What does the partnership structure look like? What are your shared goals, roles & responsibilities, and most importantly, exit strategy? How will you resolve dispute and hold each other accountable?
· What is your development strategy? What will you build, how will you fund it, and how will you sustain it for the next 30 years?
· Is your vision feasible?
· What does your program look like? Will your non-profit organization provide on-site service coordination or support services or both?
· What is your program budget? Where is the money?
· How does your program tie to the design of the community?
Achieve Design Development and Entitlement and Apply for Public Funds
· What will this look like? How many units/stories? Common areas (lobby, gym, public kitchen and bathrooms, etc.)? How many elevators? HVAC? Property management offices, program offices and/or workstations, parking?
· Be realistic and practical. Distinguish between what you want vs. what is feasible.
· Your project manager, architect, engineers, consultants, and city planner will be your close allies.
· Depending on your location, you will have access to various public funds. You will have to work diligently with your developer to explore all opportunities including, but not limited to: LIHTC, Section 8 project vouchers, HOME, AHP, County Bond, City funds, State funds, various charitable funds. These public sources of funding will come with many terms and conditions, and you’ll have to be prepared for them all. For example, your city or county could require you to select tenants off of their centralized wait list through lottery, and there could be a city or county preference issue that you may or may not be willing to accept.
· Once you secure financing for your development, you can start construction.
Break Ground, Screen Tenants, Implement Program
· Marketing & Fundraising. Raise more money for programming.
· Hire employees
· Select your tenants.
· Tenant orientations
· Coordinate with Regional Centers and various support service providers
Grand Opening – Beginning of the Second Act
You’ve powered through the First Act. The community is built. It’s time for the Second Act. What is your operation plan? How will you implement your plan? What is and isn’t working? How will you be sustainable? Will you build more?
After reading this, you might want to rethink about affordable housing. Who knows, you might go with a market rate or private option instead. After all, why sacrifice so much of your time and resources when there is no guarantee for your child and you can’t offer any guarantees to your donors and volunteers? However, not everyone can afford private models. Given that California serves almost 330,000 individuals with developmental disabilities, we need to maximize housing options in various ways. Private investment? Sure. Public funding? Let’s do it. Public and Private Partnership? Yes, please! How can we make it happen? It starts with you.