One of the best parts of my job as executive director of the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency is getting away from the office and out into our communities to talk to people about affordable housing. Often these trips are to help celebrate a grand opening or break ground on a new housing development or to attend a conference or meeting of a stakeholder group. Without fail, I find myself impressed by the impact affordable housing has in real life.
Working in the housing industry, we know what the numbers should look like on paper but it gives you a different perspective when you look across the closing table at a first time homebuyer or get to tour the apartment of a tenant in a new housing project. The excitement and pride is palpable and it makes all those hours of staring at paperwork worth it.
Whenever I talk to elected officials and other policy makers, I try to describe the immense impacts of the programs we administer. I know, despite my best efforts, nothing replaces seeing it for themselves which is why we invite city and county commissioners, local legislators, the governor and our congressional delegation to each of our events. It isn’t to celebrate what NDHFA has accomplished, but instead to help them see what affordable housing means for their constituents.
We know those officials can’t always be there which is also why we started our Faces of Home campaign. These one-page publications tell the story of some of the lives that are touched by affordable housing in their own words. Instead of abstract loan volume, unit numbers and construction costs, we are talking about people and their homes. Nearly all of the people we talk to express that sentiment; this isn’t just another house or apartment – it is home. And being able to afford “home” is huge.
There have been a number of studies showing the linkage between stable affordable housing and other positive outcomes like improved health, better grades and meaningful employment. So often it seems discussions of impact focus solely either on the social side or the economic side. But they aren’t mutually exclusive terms; when it comes to housing there is a lot that is intertwined. As housing professionals you see this every day.
For example, by providing affordable senior living, the impact ripples across the community. A grandmother was able to move out of her over-sized home and not have to worry about shoveling snow or mowing grass at her new apartment. She joined a morning coffee klatch in her building and thanks to the transit bus that stops there she can more easily go see her doctor.
When she moved out of her home, a police officer and his family purchased it which allowed each of his kids to have their own bedroom all the while the family accumulated value in their investment.
When the family moved out of their apartment for their new home, it opened the door for a recent graduate to accept a teaching job at the elementary school. That apartment gave her a great start to her career and filled a badly needed position for the school district.
With one move, three households got to stay in the community; they will spend money on groceries, furnishings and entertainment; and they will pay taxes which will help improve the city’s infrastructure.
Scenarios like that play out all over North Dakota, but oftentimes in the housing industry we don’t stop to think about all of the impacts our daily work makes. We do our jobs and hope for the best, but it is gratifying to know that what we do may have had some small part in effecting big changes for a whole community.
The Housing Incentive Fund has been an enormous catalyst in this regard. It is helping communities take care of segments of the population that the private market couldn’t feasibly do on its own like seniors, people with disabilities and essential service workers.
To make sure we can fulfill our commitments to the 24 HIF projects which were selected in July, we have to raise $30 million in contributions from taxpayers. We’ve come a long way toward that goal with more than $14 million raised so far, but that means we still have $16 million left to go. Time is of the essence so that those projects can begin work as quickly as possible.
But that time crunch isn’t just for the developer’s sake – it is for those tenants who are waiting for an affordable place to call home and all of those in the community who will feel the positive effect of it.