CEDAM Blog

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3 Reasons to Attend the Small Town & Rural Development Conference

Written by Jessica AcMoody, Senior Policy Specialist at CEDAM

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Every year in April, the Michigan Rural Council hosts the Small Town and Rural Development Conference. The conference attracts everyone from city managers to Chamber Directors to local economic development professionals who are interested and passionate about small towns in Michigan and the great potential of our rural areas.

Here are three reasons to attend the 2016 conference:

  1. Our lunch keynote speaker, Paul Costello, the Executive Director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development will talk about how America’s rural roots influence the larger process of where we are going as a state.

  2. The City of Mt. Pleasant worked with developers to facilitate redevelopment of properties without mandating full conformance with current standards, resulting in transformed downtown residential areas that are safer, more aesthetically pleasing and with significantly raised taxable values. Learn how they did that.

  3. Learn about an innovative Talent Retention Program in Michigan’s Thumb area in which a group of community foundations are incentivizing their college-educated youth to return home after obtaining a college degree.

2015RuralConferenceAnd, of course, you won’t want to miss the Tuesday night dinner which will include food made with Michigan ingredients and a beer pairing from North Peak Brewery.

The conference provides an opportunity to showcase topics critical to rural development in a way that facilitates discussion of new ideas and moves ideas to action. You will be inspired to see the innovative ways that rural areas across the state are finding ways to drive economies, increase wealth of rural areas and improve the lives of rural residents. We hope to see you there! Register here.

Follow updates on twitter throughout the conference using #Miruralconf

Voices of AmeriCorps: Danielle Harvey

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Danielle Harvey serves with Community Housing Network in Troy

My name is Danielle Harvey, and I am an AmeriCorps member serving at Community Housing Network in Troy as a Foreclosure Prevention Intake Specialist. I receive calls from clients who need help with delinquent property taxes and/or mortgage payments. I point eligible clients to the Step Forward Michigan Program, and help them keep their homes. I enjoy every single minute of being an AmeriCorps member, I wish I could have been involved in AmeriCorps even sooner than my start date 3 months ago!

The Step Forward Michigan Program assists homeowners with their delinquent property taxes and/or mortgage payments. Before starting my service term, I had no idea that a program like Step Forward even existed. The Step Forward Michigan Program is one of those programs that should be around for everyone to give monetary relief for those in need of help. It saddens me not to able to send clients to Step Forward Michigan and give them relief of stress about losing their home.

So far being an AmeriCorps member has taught me to be stronger and to keep striving for greatness. I assumed that only low income people would need assistance from Step Forward but I have spoken with people from a wide variety of income brackets. A lot of these clients have run into hard times: one small change in their income or misstep in their plan causes their whole world to unfold. For example, a divorce or a spouse who has been diagnosed with cancer can be an unforeseen financial stress, or for seniors their income becoming social security can be an issue. As an intake specialist I answer the phone and do intake with clients, assess the situation and try to help. I realize these are people just like me who are looking for an ear, looking for someone to listen to their story, looking for someone to care. By providing that customer service, I am able to assist people through their crisis and make an impact in their lives.

Being an AmeriCorps member has also taught me the importance of planning and following through when it comes to buying a house. I was not aware of the enormous process that goes into buying a home prior to AmeriCorps. There are so many moving parts and people involved. It is important to know and understand all players of the game, like the servicer, investor, insurer and others. You need to know what you are getting yourself into and know that owning a home may not always be what is best for everyone.

Danielle Harvey is an AmeriCorps member at Community Housing Network in Troy.

This post is part of a blog series highlighting the viewpoints of Michigan AmeriCorps Foreclosure Prevention Corps members serving at different foreclosure host sites around Michigan. View information about the program or see more stories in this series.

Strategies For Revitalization: City of Westland

Written by Lisa Assenmacher, Communications & Training Specialist

When faced with population decline and disinvestment, many communities struggle to find the key dynamics that will help them revitalize. Safe and affordable housing is really only one, albeit important, piece of the process.

Nonprofits and municipalities across Michigan realize that in order to solve the issues within their communities and support the needs of their residents, a bigger, more comprehensive strategy must be executed. Made up through partnerships, complex funding sources and foresight, it can be a struggle to successfully drive a vision into fruition.

Thinking Outside of the Box

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Photo credit Hometown Life news

In January, the National Community Development Association awarded the City of Westland the Audrey Nelson Community Development Achievement Award for the Jefferson Barns Community Vitality Center project in the Norwayne community. The challenges faced in this community are not dissimilar to others in Michigan, nor is the fact that they repurposed a vacant building.

However, Joanne Campbell, Community Development Director, and Mayor William R. Wild of the City of Westland maximized the benefits of their loan from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Using insight, experimentation, partnerships and knowledge gained from memberships with organizations like MCDA, the team envisioned a space that could enable multiple functions to exist under one roof.

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Volunteers help bring books into the new library. Photo from Jefferson Barns facebook page

Volunteers help bring books into the new library. Photo from Jefferson Barns facebook page

The City of Westland began efforts to stabilize the neighborhoods through rehab, community garden development and infrastructure repair several years ago. However, people need more than just a place to live; they also need places to thrive where there are opportunities for people to connect for entertainment, exercise, education, job skill development and more.

Jefferson Barns accomplishes all of this. Wayne Metro Community Action Agency and the Housing & Community Development Department have offices in the building. People can access financial literacy classes, a library and community space for both public and private use. A Learning Lab offers classes in code and homework assistance. After-school activities are available for kids, and an athletic complex with two baseball diamonds, a basketball court, a play structure for handicap children and a pavilion will be constructed this year.

Most importantly, this space has filled a gap that residents needed to feel a connection to a place where they are living and provided tools that can help empower them to build a good life. Moreover, people are deciding to stay put rather than leave the neighborhood – a huge success.

Working Together For a Better Future

Identifying the individual strengths, assets, challenges and needs of each community and using that information to devise a strategy to bring the community together is the ultimate path toward revitalization. This approach provides a landscape to foster successful and empowered residents who feel a sense of place and connection to their home rather than simply seeing it as a temporary place to live.

The City of Westland has hit the ground running and is witnessing the benefits unfold.

Additional reading about the project:

Jefferson Barns Community Vitality Center facebook page
Detroit News article
Press Release
Hometown Life article

 

 

 

FREE Quality Income Tax Returns

Written by Ross Yednock, Program Director of the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition

taxes-646511_640We are smack dab in the middle of the 2016 tax filing season. Whether or not you will receive a refund, you could end up losing some of your hard-earned money by paying an unqualified and unregulated person to file your tax return.

Unfortunately, in the multi-billion dollar tax preparation industry, all things are not equal.

While some tax professionals register with IRS and are credentialed – enrolled agents, certified public accountants and attorneys are required to meet professional standards – sixty percent of paid tax preparers are unregulated and have no training or educational requirements.

This lack of regulation combined with the tax forms’ intimidation factor means hard-working Michigan taxpayers are spending hundreds of dollars to have simple tax returns prepared.

stamp-143799_640According to the National Society of Accountants, the average American family pays anywhere from $159 – $447 on tax preparation. Many pay far more as I have learned in my annual MEIC Client interviewsThe reality is that there is also no price disclosure requirement like you have when you get a loan or have your car served, leaving many taxpayers with sticker shock after the preparer has finished their return.

Most big-box companies charge by the form and tack on additional fees or hard-sell services such as offering same day “refunds” or issuing the refund on a debit card. The same day refunds are particular troublesome, as they actually refund anticipation loans (RAL) which are predatory loans using the projected refund as collateral. RALs often cost more than 200% interest rate just for the chance to receive money a few days sooner than the week or so it typically takes the IRS to issue a refund (nine out of ten refunds are issued by the IRS within 21 days with many coming in just a few days). And, if the refund doesn’t cover the loan (again, it’s a loan, not the actual refund), you must come up with the difference or risk even more fees from the preparer.

There is good news, though. Most people can keep more of their hard-earned money and file for their taxes for free!

MichFreeTaxSiteIf your household brings in under $62,000 you can file your federal taxes online for free. Those earning less than $54,000 and you can get in-person help through a voluntary income tax assistance (VITA) or a tax counseling for the elderly (TCE) preparer.

TaxTime1Even better than having your taxes done for free, every tax preparer at a VITA or TCE site is certified by the IRS and trained to do federal, state and local taxes. This keeps file return rejection rejection rates as low as 2-10 percent, which is much lower than those from paid bigger box companies (the U.S. Government Accountability Office found were riddled with errors in a 2014 report on its undercover investigation) and doesn’t cost you hundreds of dollars, either.

Last year 105,000 Michigan residents utilized these free tax services. If you’re among the 70 percent of Americans who will receive a refund this year, consider giving a free tax preparer a try. It won’t cost you anything and, chances are, it’ll be as good (if not better) than the paid service and will enable you to keep your money where it belongs – in your pocket.

For more information, go to Michiganfreetaxhelp.org or dial 211.

Voices of AmeriCorps: Mandy Barlow

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Mandy Barlow serves in the City of Grand Haven

Since I began my AmeriCorps term in October of 2015, I have come to learn a lot about the community in which I reside, volunteer, raise my family and plan on growing old. Being the mother of two teenage sons, I am incredibly aware of the need for financial literacy of our youth. However, it was not until my first meeting with a group of young ladies within the juvenile detention center that I came to realize that basic money management skills were not taught in every home.

During our first session of the Money Smart curriculum we began with basic personal finance. Speaking one-on-one with these young ladies made me realize that they had no idea how much they had to make to live the lifestyle they dreamt of, how to open and run a bank account or even how to cash a payroll check. These young ladies are within 2 years of legally becoming adults, so this was incredibly eye opening for me. Throughout the 8 week course, I was able to see major changes in the way these girls looked at their future employment opportunities, money management skills and overall comfortability with finances. They were all released from confinement with a better understanding of what they future paths may be and how to gain the things in life in which they dream of.

Although I have only been an AmeriCorps member for a few months, this short period of time has truly opened my eyes to what an impact a single person can have on their community. While I am already attending college, I have researched and decided to continue my education, further so, in an effort to gather the means to assist more of our youth in growing up to be successful members of our community. I feel that these life changes that I am making would not be possible without AmeriCorps offering me this incredible opportunity.

Mandy Barlow is an AmeriCorps member at City of Grand Haven Housing Neighborhood Services in Grand Haven.

This post is part of a blog series highlighting the viewpoints of Michigan AmeriCorps Foreclosure Prevention Corps members serving at different foreclosure host sites around Michigan. View information about the program or see more stories in this series.

Food Forward MI: Food Safety

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Have you ever watched the news and heard of a spinach recall or wondered how a melon could hurt you?

This past weekend my family and I went out to a restaurant and after staring at raw meat on the main floor through most of our meal, I finally had to ask for a server to clear it before we reached the dessert course. So what are food safety precautions and is hand washing and sanitary food preparation technique enough? How much trust can Michiganders place in those who grow or raise our food (let alone prepare it) and what does this have to do with community development?

Food safety is an important piece of local food system development with not only health implications, but also economic consequences.

Making a purchase at a local farmers market is good for the vendor and typically good for the consumer. There is an implied trust and intangibles are exchanged such as sense of community and goodwill. However, there are not many food safety standards present other than Cottage Food laws. According to Cottage Food law, as long as food items are “low risk” – for example unprocessed fruits and vegetables, farmers may sell to whomever they wish, whether at market, farm stand or other. However, should a small producer want to go full-time and scale up, precautions and tracking procedures become significant and can actually inhibit business growth. Today, there are at least 339 farmers markets of all varieties in Michigan – imagine if one half of those vendors wanted to enter retail markets. While USDA has found that 5.4 jobs are created per farmers market, this is typically not enough to pay for additional farm management, safety plan implementation and record keeping.

Ultimately, food safety standards will continue to tighten in coming years. This can create a bottle neck for those wishing to access local, healthy foods at large volume. However, Michigan has made significant headway over the last several years to help farmers share risk and cost (positively affecting our health and our wallet) as one of six pilots across the country implementing GroupGAP (Good Agricultural Practices). Through the pilot findings of the MI GroupGAP study, researchers noted that on-farm and quality management system audit expenses can be shared amongst group participants, thereby reducing barriers to wholesale market entry for small farmers. As of the end of 2015, the USDA is currently working to unveil GroupGAP nationally in 2016, which will allow for more small farmers to scale up their sales.

How does increased food safety improve community well-being?

As customers have less time to seek out groceries, local food aggregation and distribution will become more important. Trust bonds will be replaced with food safety certification so that foods may be traced down to the date and row of harvest. Ultimately, this will help reduce the bottle neck for local food procurement and allow more farmers to enter the market, additionally improving local access for institutional sourcing. This supply chain development is the necessary foundation from which to get a locally grown apple to a child’s plate within the K-12 system or in a senior center’s cafeteria. However, it is not possible without supporting policy and decision making at the governmental level. Check back next month for federal and state actions adopted to help build local food infrastructure and access.

For more information on the impacts of food safety on local purchasing, please contact Farm to Institution specialist, Colleen Matts at matts@msu.edu. If you’re a farmer interested in becoming GroupGAP certified or an organization looking to buy MI GroupGAP certified products, please contact Cherry Capital GroupGAP coordinator, Phil Britton, at phil.britton@cherrycapitalfoods.com. For more information and to read the complete Food Forward MI blog see: http://cedam.info/policy/food/

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mary-zumbrunnenAbout the author: Mary ZumBrunnen is the Director of Talent & New Market Initiatives at Prima Civitas, a statewide economic development non-profit catalyzing Michigan. She holds a BS in agriculture and natural resource communications from Michigan State University (MSU) and an MS in community, agriculture, recreation and resource studies, also from MSU. Currently she is pursuing a master of business administration. A small business owner and backyard farmer, Mary energetically works to facilitate sustainable development through citizen engagement. Connect with Mary on Twitter @Mary_ZumBrunnen and learn about other development projects onwww.primacivitas.org today.

Historic Resources in Michigan Jeopardized by Bill to Amend 1970 PA 169

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On January 26, Rep Chris Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids, and Sen. Peter MacGregor, R-Rockford introduced identical bills which were referred to the Local Government Committees of the House and Senate. HB 5232 and SB 720 will have a detrimental impact on historic resources and local historic districts through proposed amendments to Michigan Local Historic District Act, PA 169 of 1970. The bills jeopardize protection for Michigan Historic resources.

This legislation would have a huge impact on Michigan Communities. Local Historic Districts are the ONLY way for a community to protect areas of historic significance from insensitive development, inappropriate alterations, and demolition.

Redevelopment should be done in honest and fair terms while weighing the impact that it can have on our Historic Districts. The bills not only aim to eliminate Michigan Historic districts over time, but would require that local legislative bodies vote to reinstate each district, even those long-standing, every 10 years.

One of the problems with this legislation is that community landmarks would be made vulnerable when there is a sudden need for development or demolition. The legislation requires a 2/3 majority support of petition from property owners before the local historic district would even be placed under a study committee for review. Once this occurs it would eliminate grant funds that are available for preservation. This would create a tremendous burden on communities that are trying to establish local districts.

Another area of concern is that the appeal process would only be heard through local level where political and development pressures could affect the outcome rather than at a neutral, state board of appeals.

The whole process would be a dismissal of nationwide standards and guidelines that historic commissioners utilize to base their review upon and it would deliberately leave the current process open interpretation. You can find out more information about the bills here.

Take Action: Voice opposition to HB 5232 and SB 720 by contacting  your local representatives and senators.

4 Opportunities to Increase Economic Stability

Written by Lisa Assenmacher, Communication and Training Specialist

Financial instability is the root of many of the challenges that community economic development organizations work with on a daily basis when serving clients. You can help your community address economic instability in four ways.

1. Call attention to economic disparity in your community by showcasing data from the CFED scorecard

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Excerpt from the CFED Scorecard. Click to view the full report.

We all understand our communities and their unique dynamics, needs and opportunities. CFED provides data that allow us to confirm what we know, highlight economic disparity and prove the need for more financial capability services. It also provides a consistent metric for comparison with other communities across the country. Data is always a useful tool to leverage additional funding or adaptations in programs, and CFED provides this scorecard and a host of other information for free.

Explore the CFED Scorecard for Michigan and the rest of the country and explore some of the other resources available to help you navigate your work. scorecard.assetsandopportunity.org/latest/state/mi

2. Bring attention to predatory lending practices and help your community understand that there are alternatives

shark-soloPredatory loans are intended by design to take advantage of vulnerable populations who feel trapped and without options. The best way you can help your clients protect themselves is to understand the situation yourself, talking to your legislators (and telling them to vote no on predatory product expansion legislation) and sharing alternative products with your clients. While predatory lenders had a prior advantage, many credit unions, organizations and others are fighting against them and offering alternatives that can actually empower people rather than harm them.

A good place to learn more about the subject and alternative products is with Predatory Lending Toolkit available for free on CEDAM’s website: cedam.info/policy/payday

3. Market and attend a Show Me the Money Day event

ShowMeTheMoney-Logo-2016Show Me the Money Day is a community resource fair filled with opportunities to help your clients access financial education and resources. Whether your organization is hosting an event this year or not, it’s a great idea for you to both market and attend the event in your community. Doing so will provide opportunities to network with peers, discover new resources and provide year-round support to your clients. If there is not an event in your community this year, consider joining forces with new potential partners and hosting an event in 2017!

Learn more at ShowMeTheMoneyDay.org

4. Market free tax preparation sites and educate taxpayers of their rights

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 2.43.15 PMWith free tax preparation sites across Michigan and free online resources, every eligible person should be able to access services that help them claim all they should when filing their taxes. However, more than simply sharing information about these sites with your clients, help them to understand their rights as taxpayers and identify practices that are predatory should they seek alternative resources. Understanding what resources are available, what fees are reasonable and when to say no will position a person to be well-informed and make good decisions.

MichiganFreeTaxHelp.org is a great place to gain more information about free tax assistance, important tax credits and free tax preparation sites. A Taxpayer Bill of Rights is also available and updated through the IRS: irs.gov/Taxpayer-Bill-of-Rights

Using these free and accessible tools is a great place to start to resolve local challenges and empower your clients. If you already have programs in place, these resources can enhance and leverage their success even further. CEDAM has a host of additional resources beyond these, which you can view at anytime at cedam.info.

Voices of AmeriCorps: Brian Rakovitis

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Brian Rakovitis is serving with the United Way of Washtenaw County

In early December I attended an after-school program at a local Elementary in Washtenaw County. Every Thursday the after school program has its club sessions, which are designed to expose youth to a wide and diverse range of topics, including music, art, dance, reading, math, languages, business and more. On this particular night I was observing the business club with the goal of understanding how financial literacy and the FDIC Money Smart program could be included in the club’s content.

I entered the elementary school through one of the side doors. Children were excitedly hurrying in and out of the school building; many were bolting for their parents cars, looking to leave the school day behind. The school was a standard, rectangular, tan brick building. Inside the hallways were narrow, and the chairs were child size. Papers, hats, coats and school supplies were strewn about and art projects dressed the walls. Uncertain as to where I needed to go, I asked the first adult I could find. Luckily, the first person I asked, Mr. A, was part of the program. Mr. A is a taller gentleman in his late twenties. He wore his hair in dreads and a Jamaican inspired green, red and black striped knitted cap. In a friendly manner, he shook my hand and told me I was in the right place when I asked where the after-school program was. We located my contact Ms. K.

Ms. K was the site coordinator and was already hard at work trying to wrangle the children who were running to and from the small classroom. Ms. K is a blonde woman in her mid-twenties. She stood barely taller than many of the children she cared for, yet you could tell she was the boss and all the children knew it. She persuaded the students to sit down at the short tables and have an after school snack. Many of the kids were less than pleased about the meal situation. They groaned at the thought of eating raw vegetables and many only ate the chips and salsa. I found out later that the salsa was sometimes replaced with pizza sauce when the school’s money was running low. I felt a slight nauseous feeling at the thought of eating chips and pizza sauce. Ms. K invited me to sit and chat with the students until they were finished with snack time and club started.

Chatting with the students was a bit awkward initially. They were noticeably cautious about interacting with a random adult. However, after a few minutes of talking and asking questions, as well as the realization that I was not going to leave, the students seemed to ease up and speak more freely with me.

I began to have a conversation with a 3rd grader name Timmy. Timmy happened to be in business club last semester and was excited for another semester of the club. He described how they created a business, made goods and sold them to other students in a market at the end of the semester in order to earn after-school bucks!

Mr. A and Ms. K called attention to the front of the room. The children were less than attentive until Mr. A. called out, “Ok everyone, if you can hear my voice raise your hand.” Very few did. He called out again, “Ok everyone, if you can hear my voice and your butts are in your seats, raise your hand.” More students took notice this time and raised their hand. Once more Mr. A called out, “Ok everyone, if you can hear my voice and your butts are in your seats, and you are quiet, raise your hand.” By then most students had heard his calls and finally settled down.

Ms. K took over calling out the club assignments, and shuttling kids to different rooms for their club activities. Business club, however, stayed in the room and Ms C. began with a get to know you exercise. Ms. C was an undergrad with the local University. She was patient and persistent as many of the children were still focusing. We said our names and some food we didn’t like to eat. Timmy stood next to me, showing me the ropes of different games and activities. Occasionally he would lose focus and act out, like some of the other kids. These moments were typically brief, but more frequent with some students.

Finally, we got to the main activity of business club; the students, alone or in pairs, were to develop a business plan. Timmy asked if I would like to be part of his business and I accepted. I also accepted two or three more offers. I think perhaps the students wanted help with understanding the instructions.

We found ourselves brainstorming company names and products we would make and sell. Timmy and I thought about what we could make in this classroom. Timmy was only interested in one thing. Ice Cream! I said, “Ok Timmy, what will be our name?” Timmy was stumped, I said Timmy, “What is a super cool name?” Timmy looked up and excitedly said “Super Cool Ice Cream Store! And we will sell strawberry flavored ice cream.” I asked Timmy if he wanted any other flavors he responded “Only strawberry, and maybe honey.”

Then I was asked by the club leader Ms. C to lecture the students on banks. I froze for a moment, I wasn’t prepared to lecture that day. I had not even given my first workshop. Sure I had made notes, but I didn’t have any of them. Ms. C thankfully threw me a lifeline, and said that I would be the bank. Each company had to ask the bank for a loan using their business plan. Bingo I thought! I would work the “bank on it.”

I sat with several students discussing what a bank does, what a loan is, and how banks can help you protect and save your money. Then it was Timmy’s turn to sell his business idea to the bank for a loan. I asked Timmy, “Do you know what a bank does?” He said, “It keeps your money safe.” I told him he was correct, but I then told him banks do other things. He asked what? I asked him if he knew how banks made money? He said he didn’t know. I told him banks give out loans and collect interest on the loans. I told him banks will pay you money in the form of interest for keeping your money in the bank and not spending it. Timmy was so surprised and excited by the thought of having his money make more money. He wanted to know more about banks and how to open bank account; he wanted to know how much money he could make from interest. However, before we could answer all these questions club time ended.

After the club session I chatted with Ms. K. We discussed how we might be able to work personal financial literacy in the business club. I turned to leave, but before I could go, Timmy came up and asked “Mr. Brian?” I said “Yes, Timmy?” Timmy asked, “Will you be here next week?” I said, “I don’t know Timmy. We have to ask Ms. K.” Ms. K said, “I don’t know Timmy, should Mr. Brian come back next week?” Timmy smiled and nodded his head yes. And I told Timmy that I would see him next week.

I of course did return next week to see Timmy and work on the Super Cool Ice Cream Store. But it was amazing to see the spark in Timmy’s eyes as he learned about something he really had not had much exposure to. Timmy was excited to get a bank account and start to save money. He wondered how he could make more money using his business model. And while the FDIC Money Smart program may not have been developed for this kind of use, its information and content may have just sparked a young boy in Ypsilanti to become an entrepreneur.

Brian Rakovitis is an AmeriCorps member at United Way of Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor.

This post is part of a blog series highlighting the viewpoints of Michigan AmeriCorps Foreclosure Prevention Corps members serving at different foreclosure host sites around Michigan. View information about the program or see more stories in this series.

FY16 Omnibus Spending Bill Released

Written by Linda Couch, Senior Vice President for Policy at the National Low Income Housing Coalition

Congressional leaders released the text of the omnibus spending bill at about 1:30 am on December 16. The omnibus bill funds all 12 appropriations bills, including the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies bill, for FY16. The text of a tax extender package was also released just after midnight.

Congress is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR), which will keep the government funded until midnight December 16. Sometime on December 16 Congress will pass another CR to avoid shutdown until December 22. It is possible that both the House and Senate could take up the omnibus and be done by December 18.

The omnibus spending bill is not perfect, but we know that it could have been a lot worse if we were not successful in raising the sequester spending caps and then convincing Congress to put some of these increased resources into key programs.

Highlights of the omnibus spending bill related to homeless and housing programs:

  • National Housing Trust Fund – No NHTF funds were raided!!
  • HOME – $950M for FY16; $50M increase from FY15 level
  • Vouchers – Appears short on renewals by about $369 million; only new vouchers are VASH vouchers.
  • Homeless Assistance Grants – Increase over FY15’s $2.135B to $2.250B.
  • Project-Based Rental Assistance – Appears short on renewal funding by about $200 million.
  • Public Housing Operating and Capital Funds – Small increases for both
  • Fair housing policy riders – None!
  • Moving to Work – Reduces the Senate’s proposed expansion from 300 to 100 agencies and adds research protocols, as well as some modest reforms.

The omnibus spending bill would not raid any funds from the National Housing Trust Fund, which is set to deliver its first resources to states in 2016 for the production, preservation, and operation of predominantly affordable rental housing for extremely low income households.

The omnibus bill would provide a $50 million increase relative to FY15 for the HOME program, bringing HOME funding to $950 million, a major victory for HOME program advocates. The House bill would have cut HOME to $767 million in FY16; the Senate bill would have effectively eliminated funding for the HOME program by cutting it to $66 million in FY16.

The omnibus bill would fund the overall Housing Choice Voucher program at $19.629 billion, providing $17.681 for voucher renewals and $65 million for new vouchers (all of the new vouchers are Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers). This renewal amount is expected to be sufficient if the voucher program continues to be administered in a bare-bones way, with very little rent increases / tenant income decreases, but further analysis is necessary. Renewal numbers are very mercurial things to pin down.

The omnibus bill would fund HUD’s Homeless Assistance Grant programs at $2.25 billion. The President’s budget request would have increased funding to $2.48 billion in FY16 to support efforts to end veteran homelessness in 2015, end chronic homelessness in 2017, and end homelessness for families, youth, and children in 2020.

For the renewal of Project-Based Rental Assistance contracts, the bill would provide $10.62 billion, which appears to be about $200 million less than the latest renewal need numbers. The renewal costs for FY16 increased significantly over FY15 levels because of a shift implemented in FY15 to calendar-year funding for the contract renewals. The shift resulted in savings for FY15 but meant appropriators would need to increase funding for FY16, a big challenge in a year of constrained resources. The FY15 appropriation for PBRA renewals was $9.73 billion.

Funding for Public Housing operating and capital funds remains insufficient overall, but the omnibus did increase the two public housing funding accounts compared to FY15 levels. In FY15, the operating fund received $4.44 billion and the capital fund received $1.875 billion. For FY16, the omnibus would provide $4.5 billion for the operating fund and $1.9 billion for the capital fund.

The House version of the THUD spending bill included three dangerous anti-fair housing provisions that are not included in the omnibus spending bill. The House bill would have prohibited HUD from implementing, enforcing, or administering the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule or its related Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Assessment Tool; prohibited HUD from implementing or enforcing the disparate impact standard of the Fair Housing Act; and prohibited any Fair Housing Initiative Program (FHIP) funds be used for the Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI). PEI grants support local, private fair housing groups’ testing, complaint intake, and investigation efforts. These are agencies that are critical to enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. The provision in the original House bill did not cut total fair housing funds but transferred the FHIP funds to the public agencies that engage in fair housing activities.

The Senate Committee bill would have required the HUD Secretary to expand of the number of Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) that can participate in HUD’s Moving to Work (MTW) demonstration by 300 agencies; the omnibus authorizes 100 new MTW agencies over seven years. The omnibus includes some significant research protocols, a big improvement over the Senate Committee’s bill. But key reforms remain missing such as retaining income targeting standards and protecting voucher funds from being emptied by MTW agencies.

Within Rural Development, the omnibus would provide $1.38 billion for Section 521 Rental Assistance, a significant increase compared to FY15’s $1.167 billion, which proved significantly insufficient to meet FY15’s renewal needs. The omnibus bill would also increase funds for the rural housing voucher program. 

Other notes regarding the omnibus:

  • HOPWA is increased slightly from $330 million to $335 million.
  • HUD’s Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control is level-funded at $110 million (the House bill would have cut it to $75 million).
  • The Section 811 Housing for Persons with Disabilities program is funded at $151 million, an increase compared to FY15’s $135 million.

The tax extenders package would make the 9% minimum Low Income Housing Tax Credit floor permanent, and make it retroactive to January 1, 2015. The House is expected to consider the tax extender package separately from the omnibus. Both will be merged into one vehicle prior to subsequent Senate action.

Background and Resources:

The House passed its THUD bill on June 9 but the Senate never took up its version of the bill after the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved it on June 25 (see two NLIHC articles on the House bill, Bill Raiding NHTF Passes House, Defense Moves to Senate and House Narrowly Passes THUD Bill with Anti-Fair Housing Provisions and two articles on the Senate Committee bill, Senate Committee Passes Sequester-Constrained THUD Bill and NHTF Spared in Senate THUD Bill).

You can find an updated budget chart here.