May 3, 2017

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Keeping Housing Affordable

by | May 3, 2017

Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA)

Colorado is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. The availability of affordable rental housing units is not in line with residents’ growing needs as rents escalate, the population increases, and Baby Boomers downsize. Compounding the problem is the risk of existing affordable units becoming unaffordable or outdated. Affordable rental housing developments have affordability restrictions placed on them that ensure their units are rented at low rates during periods of 30 to 40 years. When affordability restrictions expire, rents are permitted to convert to private market rates. Over the next decade, the affordability restrictions on approximately 22,000 units are set to expire. Given that Colorado’s median rent has increased 49 percent in the last five years, affordable units are highly vulnerable to market rate conversion. Additionally, affordable properties that are decades old need upgrades and repairs to extend their long-term livability.

A focus on preservation is key to addressing these issues. Preservation refers to ensuring that long term affordability is maintained by keeping rent restrictions in place and supporting renovations. Preservation brings several benefits to a community and its economy. It keeps low income families in their homes, helping to maintain neighborhood stability, character, and diversity. When compared to the cost of constructing new affordable properties, preserving a property can cost one half to two thirds less and doesn’t require new land or rezoning. Energy consumption and maintenance costs may also be reduced as energy efficient upgrades are made to aging properties.

In 2016, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) partnered with other stakeholders of affordable housing to form the Housing Preservation Network (HPN) to coordinate preservation efforts and implement a statewide strategy to preserve Colorado’s affordable rental housing stock. In 2016 alone, HPN partners helped to preserve 4,936 affordable rental housing units by supporting property improvements, and extending rental assistance and affordability contracts.

HPN is comprised of CHFA, Colorado Department of Local Affairs-Division of Housing (DOLA-DOH), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), USDA, local governments such as City and County of Denver, Adams County, City of Colorado Springs, City of Aurora, City of Golden, local housing authorities, Enterprise Community Partners, Mile High Connects, Gary Community Investments, Mile High Community Loan Fund, and many others.

CHFA and Mile High Connects have been collaborating on meeting mutual goals such as affordable housing preservation and reducing transportation costs. CHFA is an investment partner of Mile High Connects and participates in its steering committee, strategic planning committee, and advisory council. Mile High Connects has been a key partner of HPN from its inception. As part of its work with HPN, Mile High Connects is developing additional resources to support preservation through its Community Investment Platform.

Developing new preservation resources is among the many components of HPN’s strategic plan. One of the most important tasks was the creation and implementation of a preservation properties database. This tool aggregates data from multiple sources to report, analyze, and map the inventory of affordable units throughout Colorado. It promotes proactive, informed decision making by monitoring properties that are most at risk of losing affordability restrictions and rental assistance, thus flagging those of highest priority.

Other important elements of HPN’s strategic plan are engaging and collaborating with property owners and other stakeholders, targeting finance resources, and sharing best practices and policy options. A large majority—71 percent—of the tasks outlined in the strategic plan have been completed or are underway.

In addition to its work with HPN, CHFA is identifying more ways to support affordable housing preservation. A pilot program to support upgrades to single family and small multifamily properties on the Western Slope was recently launched in partnership with the Delta Housing Authority and DOLA-DOH.

We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to support the preservation of affordable housing throughout Colorado.


Special thanks to Beth Truby for contributing to this article.
Beth Truby is the Preservation Program Manager at the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and has 30 years of experience in affordable housing and community development.  At the Authority, Beth focuses on preserving existing affordable housing units statewide. 

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HEALTH:
HEALTH FIRST COLORADO (MEDICAID)

To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.

FOOD SECURITY:
SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)

Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.

FOOD SECURITY:
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN (WIC)

Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.

EARLY LEARNING:
COLORADO CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (CCCAP)

Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.