1968: The Fair Housing Act
During a period of intense social unrest, President Johnson labors with Congress to put together the Fair Housing Act, a law aimed at curbing a system of tenant discrimination that encompasses race, gender, marital status, and disability. To develop affordable-housing options for Americans, the law also creates two organizations—the National Corporation for Housing Partnerships and the National Housing Partnership—that are financed by more than 260 institutional investors.
1986: Disastrous reform
The tables turn in the form of a change in the US tax code, which, in certain ways, promotes homeownership and cancels out a number of investment incentives in the rental market. “The death knell of the National Housing Partnership was the Tax Reform Act of 1986,” Burns explains, adding, however, that “it also provided tax credits for affordable housing, and that’s how the industry has grown from that point.”
1989: A new foundation
In response to the change in the housing market, The NHPF is created as a completely separate entity from the National Housing Partnership. (Their only link is that the CEO of the former organization sits on the board of the new one.) The goal of the foundation is not only to provide affordable housing but also to help its residents break out of the cycle of poverty through education and healthcare. “At the end of the cycle of homelessness, a person who’s going to succeed is someone who has been prepared with financial literacy and what I call alarm-clock skills: showing up and doing the work,” Vaccaro says.
1994–2001: a multistate Organization
After spending its first few years going over the logistics of how to provide wide-scale affordable housing, the NHPF purchases its first property, in Texas. From there it moves into other states, and by building up properties across the country, the foundation sets in motion an alarm clock for the 10-year tax credit established in 1986, ensuring that its first property will become eligible in 2004.
2004–2005: A short-lived victory
The NHPF becomes eligible to begin its use of tax-credit programs after completing the 10-year waiting period. “But just as we were getting ready to move into something new, disaster struck,” Vaccaro says. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina rips through the Gulf Coast, devastating many of the NHPF’s holdings. “We lost 1,000 units,” Vaccaro says. “We’d been in Louisiana since 1996, so not only were we victims of the storm; we were also trying to be part of the solution. We made as many of our Texas units as we could available for evacuees.”
2006–2007: Rebuilding New Orleans
The NHPF receives its first allocation of tax credit. “All of our focus had been on Louisiana because of the disaster,” Vaccaro says. “But this paved the way for our low-income housing tax-credit transaction in 2007.” The NHPF uses its tax credit in Louisiana to build the Forest Park apartments and, shortly afterward, the Walnut Square apartments. “It had been completely destroyed, but it’s now considered one of the jewels of New Orleans,” Vaccaro says.
2008: The Great Recession Strikes
The housing market crashes dramatically. “It completely devastated our industry,” Vaccaro says. “The other piece of this that is so important is that one of the things that led us to the bubble bursting was this push to end homelessness. And of course you can’t end it. The push for ownership inflates the bubble.” And when it popped, the lack of jobs in the poor resultant economy expanded the population in need of low-income housing.
2009–2010: St. Luke’s Plaza and Foxwood Manor
The NHPF rehabilitates a block of historic buildings in St. Louis. “It involved both regular tax credits and historic tax credits on the federal and state levels,” Burns says. “It was a very complicated deal to put together, but it really turned out to be a winner.” Dubbed St. Luke’s Plaza (below), the $24 million project provides 216 units and revitalizes a derelict area. Also, in Levittown, Pennsylvania, the NHPF completes Foxwood Manor (right).
2011–2012: The housing shortage continues
The NHPF continues to expand, moving into the Washington, DC, market with the Alabama Senior Living Community, a $16 million, 91-unit property. The organization sees the road ahead as long but not impassable. “There’s a shortage of five million units of affordable housing,” Burns says. “About a quarter of all renters are paying over half their income for rent, so you have a very unbalanced situation.” With the choppy economic waters ahead, Burns admits things might be tough for awhile, but the dedicated staff of the NHPF will continue working to make up the ground. ABQ