Thursday, September 28, 2017

Successful Collaboration in Community Development: Easier Said Than Done

by Alexander Von Hoffman
Senior Research Fellow
What are the keys to successful collaborations of nonprofit housing organizations? A remarkable attempt to form a novel alliance by five such groups in western New York State reveals several keys to an effective collaboration. Each of the five organizations -- NeighborWorks® Rochester, West Side (Buffalo) Neighborhood Housing Services, Niagara Falls Neighborhood Housing Services, Arbor Housing and Development, and NeighborWorks® Home Resources -- were long-established in their geographic areas. Moreover, each belonged to the network of NeighborWorks® America, a congressionally chartered nonprofit corporation that provides grants, technical assistance, training, and organizational assessment to housing and community development organizations. Their experiences, which are documented in a recent Joint Center case study, shows both the problems and the possibilities of putting the idea of collaboration into action.

Buffalo, New York

Before going into details, it bears mention that it has become almost an axiom in the community development field that nonprofit organizations must "collaborate" if they are going to survive, much less transform low-income communities. And the idea of collaboration is appealing: two or more organizations agree to coordinate activities in a systematic way -- as opposed to carrying out a one-time joint venture. Such collaborations can range from a temporary partnership to outright mergers (or anything in between). But many practitioners and scholars believe such initiatives can address a host of serious problems. For most community development organizations, money is always short, and especially so in recent years as the federal government has reduced funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. In addition, many nonprofit groups appear to be financially weak, undersized, relatively unproductive, organizationally stagnant, or some combination of the above. By sharing business lines, programs, and administrative functions, smaller and financially weaker groups could become more efficient and possibly tap the resources and knowledge of stronger organizations. If so, they could stabilize their finances and begin to grow, which would allow them to devote more time and attention to serving their low- and moderate-income constituents effectively.

But as the new case study documents, putting these ideas into practice can be difficult. After extensive discussions, in 2012 the leaders of five western New York State groups devised the concept of a "collaborative merger." In this structure, each organization would become a subsidiary division of a new central organization. As subsidiaries, the five groups would maintain their separate identities, offices, and geographic service areas while increasing their capabilities and expanding the types and volume of business. The central organizations, which would be overseen by board members from each of the participating groups, would provide core administrative functions, and, in doing so, bring the efficiency and resources of a large organization to the work of what had been separate smaller groups.

Just as the groups were about to create the new entity, however, the alliance came to an abrupt halt. Many factors contributed to the breakdown of the process. The biggest obstacle was the difficulty of bringing five disparate groups together under a common structure. The organizations covered starkly different kinds of geographic territories. Three of the organizations (NeighborWorks® Rochester, West Side Neighborhood Housing Services (Buffalo), and Niagara Falls Neighborhood Housing Services) were rooted in cities. The other two (Arbor Housing and Development, and NeighborWorks® Home Resources) were rural entities with geographically extensive service areas.

Moreover, there were significant differences in the organizations' programmatic offerings. Arbor, the largest of the five groups not only provided residential services for people with special needs and victims of domestic violence, it also developed and managed low-income housing. The other four groups were traditional "neighborhood housing service" groups that emphasized homeownership counseling, lending, and community engagement. Over time, key staff and board members of the housing service organizations became increasingly concerned that if the alliance went forward, their organizations would lose their identities and be less able to perform their core functions. Ultimately, the concerns became so great that the groups' leaders decided not to proceed with the planned alliance.

That was not the end of the story, however. Following the original idea, albeit on a smaller scale, the three urban-oriented neighborhood housing service groups (NeighborWorks® Rochester, West Side Neighborhood Services, and Niagara Falls Neighborhood Housing Services) merged to form a new organization called NeighborWorks® Community Partners. Meanwhile, Arbor, which continued to be a NeighborWorks® member, has not only thrived, but has also expanded its service area as far as Pennsylvania and Albany, NY. The fifth organization, NeighborWorks® Home Resources, remained in business under the name Rural Revitalization Corporation, but has left the NeighborWorks® network.

The experiences of these five organizations not only underscores the importance of building trust among partners in any collaboration, it also offers several lessons for those interested in collaborating with other entities. First, prospective collaborators might do well to begin by collaborating on actual programs before they start building a grand organizational structure. Second, collaborators should take time to develop a common vision, which means wrestling honestly with with the differences that separate the participating groups. Third, and related to the above, communication - open and constant - is essential, as is the full and committed participation of all of the involved parties. The leaders of such efforts must go to great lengths to ensure that everyone - including staff and board members from all the organizations - understand and support the collaborative effort.

Finally, everyone must understand that bringing existing groups into a new organizational arrangement is not business as usual. It is an act of creation that will change the status quo. Such a collaboration requires extraordinary care to ensure that the participants recognize the process and the outcome as legitimate. And this in turn means it is essential to tackle difficult questions about management, sharing leadership, and the roles and responsibilities of staff and board members sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Are Integrated Neighborhoods Becoming More Common in the United States?

by Jonathan Spader and
Shannon Rieger
The share of the population living in racially and ethnically integrated neighborhoods in the US has increased since 2000, according to our new Joint Center research brief. However, most Americans continue to live in non-integrated neighborhoods, and evidence suggests that some of the recent increases in integration may be the temporary byproduct of gentrification and displacement.

The new brief, "Patterns and Trends of Residential Integration in the United States Since 2000," assesses whether the nation's increasingly diverse population is fostering the growth of integrated neighborhoods or whether the choices people make about where to live are reinforcing existing lines of segregation and exclusion. Specifically, we use data from the 2000 Census and the 2011-15 American Community Survey (the most recent data available at the census tract level) to describe the number, stability, and characteristics of integrated neighborhoods.

Because there is no single measure for identifying integrated neighborhoods, our analyses applies two commonly-used definitions to define integration. The first approach—which we refer to as "no-majority neighborhoods"—defines integrated neighborhoods as those where no racial or ethnic group accounts for 50 percent or more of the population. While this definition identifies neighborhoods with a plurality of races and ethnicities, it may exclude some neighborhoods with relatively high levels of integration relative to the median neighborhood in the United States. For example, under this definition, a census tract that is 49 percent black and 51 percent white would be classified as non-integrated.

The second definition—which we refer to as "shared neighborhoods"—uses a broader definition of integration, identifying neighborhoods as integrated if any community of color accounts for at least 20 percent of the tract population AND if the tract is at least 20 percent white. While this definition might be expanded to include neighborhoods in which any two groups account for at least 20 percent of the tract's population, this definition requires that the neighborhood population be at least 20 percent white because of whites' long history of exclusionary practices as well as attitudinal surveys suggesting that, on average, whites are less willing that other groups to live in integrated neighborhoods.

Both definitions suggest that the number of integrated neighborhoods—and the share of the US population living in integrated neighborhoods—increased between 2000 and 2011-15 (a time when the white, non-Hispanic share of the population fell from 69.1 percent to 62.3 percent). The number of "no-majority neighborhoods" increased from 5,423 census tract in 2000 to 8,378 in 2011-15, and the share of the US population residing in such tracts increased from 8.0 percent in 2000 to 12.6 percent in 2011-15 (Figure 1).

Similarly, the number of "shared neighborhoods" increased from 16,862 tracts in 2000 to 21,104 tracts in 2011-15, and the share of the US population residing in "shared" tracts increased from 23.9 percent in 2000 to 30.3 percent in 2011-15. These figures are higher than the estimates for "no-majority" tracts, reflecting the broader definition of integration used to define "shared neighborhoods." Nonetheless, both definitions show increases in integration between the 2000 Census and the 2011-15 ACS.

Notes: "No-majority neighborhoods" are census tracts in which no racial or ethnic group accounts for 50 percent or more of the population. "Share d neighborhoods" are census tracts in which whites account for 20 percent or more of the population and any community of color accounts for 20 percent or more of the population. 
N=71,806 Census tracts.

While the share of the population living in integrated neighborhoods has increased since 2000, most Americans continue to live in non-integrated areas, with white individuals the least likely to live in integrated areas. While 12.6 percent of the total US population lives in one of the 8,378 "no-majority" tracts, these neighborhoods include just 7.2 percent of the nation's whites, compared to 20.3 percent of blacks, 20.3 percent of Hispanics, 30.9 percent of Asians, and 19.5 percent of individuals of other races and ethnicities (Figure 2).

A similar pattern is present within "shared neighborhoods." While 30.3 percent of the total US population lives in one of the 21,104 "shared neighborhoods," these neighborhoods include just 22.9 percent of the nation's whites, compared to 43.0 percent of blacks, 42.8 percent of Hispanics, 44.8 percent of Asians, and 36.5 percent of individuals of other races and ethnicities.

Note: Estimates show the percent of each group that live in integrated neighborhoods. White, black, Asian, and Other are non-Hispanic.

The research brief provides more specific details about the relative composition of integrated and non-integrated neighborhoods by race, ethnicity, and other demographic characteristics. Additionally, it describes the stability of integrated neighborhoods between 2000 and 2011-15, as well as the geographic distribution of integrated neighborhoods across central cities, suburbs, and non-metropolitan areas.

Taken together, this evidence offers support for the conclusion that the number of integrated neighborhoods has increased in recent years. However, it also highlights that this conclusion is subject to two important caveats. First, some portion of the increase in integration reflects neighborhood change processes associated with the gentrification and displacement pressures affecting the central areas of many cities. While some of these neighborhoods may become stably integrated areas, it is not yet clear how many of the newly integrated neighborhoods will become stably integrated and how many will eventually become non-integrated areas.

Second, integrated neighborhoods remain the exception rather than the rule in the United States. The 2011-15 ACS shows that fewer than one in three Americans lives in a shared neighborhood, with just 12.6 percent living in "no-majority neighborhoods." As the country moves toward a population in which people of color are projected to be a majority by the middle of the century, further growth will be necessary for such changes to produce a more inclusive society.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Rebuilding Housing in Harvey’s Aftermath: Two Lessons from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

by Jonathan Spader
Senior Research Associate
As floodwaters finally subside in Houston, and as Florida residents prepare for Irma, residents, civic leaders, and policymakers can glean two important lessons from the intensive efforts to rebuild homes and communities after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, two devastating storms that hit the U.S. in back-to-back succession in 2005. 

First, rebuilding residential properties is a lengthy process likely to take several years. Second, the rebuilding process will be especially lengthy for rental properties (as compared to owner-occupied homes), which could greatly affect the 950,000 renters (who account for 41 percent of households) in the greater Houston metropolitan area, as well as additional renters affected by Hurricane Harvey in elsewhere in Texas and in other states. The slower pace of rental rebuilding is due to several factors including both renters’ dependence on property owners to rebuild rental housing units and historical differences in the availability and terms of federal aid for rental property owners as compared to homeowners.

To be sure, the need for emergency assistance and shelter for displaced residents will continue for weeks to come. Nevertheless, Congress is already starting to discuss an aid package. Moreover, the extensive damage (and the need to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program before September 30) may spur new efforts to develop policies and programs to support housing recovery in the wake of future natural disasters. As policymakers, civic leaders, and local residents begin to focus on the rebuilding process, they might want to keep the following in mind.

Extensive flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Southeast Texas. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez

1. Rebuilding residential properties takes time.

An initial lesson from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is that the rebuilding process takes time, with many properties continuing to show observable damage several years after the storms had passed. In early 2010—almost five years after both hurricanes made landfall—a HUD-commissioned study that I worked on surveyed the exterior conditions of properties damaged by those storms. The survey produced representative estimates of the rebuilding outcomes of properties that experienced “major” or “severe” damage—defined by FEMA as $5,200 or more in storm-related damage—that were located on significantly-affected blocks—defined as a city block on which three or more properties experienced “major” or “severe” damage.

The survey found that 17 percent of hurricane-damaged properties in Louisiana and Mississippi still showed substantial repair needs as of early 2010, almost five years after the storms had hit. Almost half these properties did not meet the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of a “habitable structure,” a housing unit that is closed to the elements with an intact roof, windows, and doors and does not show any positive evidence (e.g. a sign on the house) stating that the unit was condemned or was going to be demolished. Only 70 percent of hurricane-damaged properties in Louisiana and Mississippi were rebuilt by early 2010, and 13 percent contained cleared lots in which the damaged property had been removed from the parcel (Figure 1).

In the case of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the properties that still were damaged included some whose owners had received rebuilding grants through federal programs designed to aid housing recovery. The largest source of assistance following the 2005 hurricanes was the $18.9 billion special Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) appropriations passed by Congress between 2005 and 2008. Some portion of the properties with remaining damage likely also reflect abandonment by owners who moved elsewhere in the wake of the hurricanes. For such properties, funding for demolition, rehabilitation, and land banking may be necessary to transition the properties to a new use, and potentially to support efforts to encourage residents to rebuild in areas with lower flood risks.

Notes: Sample is representative of properties in Louisiana and Mississippi that experienced major or severe hurricane damage and that were located on significantly-affected blocks. Rebuilt structures are residential structures that do not show substantial repair needs as defined in Turnham (2010). Cleared lots contain an empty lot or a foundation with no standing structure. Damaged structures are residential structures that show substantial repair needs—and include all uninhabitable structures. Uninhabitable structures are residential structures that do not meet the Census definition of habitability. 

2. Rental properties were rebuilt more slowly than homeowner properties.

A second lesson from the rebuilding process following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is that rental properties were rebuilt more slowly than owner-occupied homes. This likely was due to several factors. While homeowners directly control the rebuilding progress of their home, renters are dependent on landlords’ rebuilding decisions. Smaller “mom-and-pop” landlords may also be slower to rebuild investment properties if their own home is also damaged. And policymakers have been wary of providing rebuilding assistance to rental property owners who did not purchase sufficient insurance.

Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, both Louisiana and Mississippi used the CDBG special appropriations for disaster recovery to create rebuilding assistance programs for homeowners and small rental property owners. (Texas, which faced less damage from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, created only a homeowner program.) In both Louisiana and Mississippi, the homeowner programs covered much of the difference between the estimated cost to rebuild and the amount available to the homeowner from insurance and other rebuilding-assistance programs. Conversely, the grant programs for 1-4 unit small rental properties included a more complex set of eligibility requirements that included commitments for the rebuilt units to be rented to qualifying low- and moderate-income tenants. The result was that few rental property owners applied for and received rebuilding assistance, compared to widespread take-up of the homeowner assistance programs. While concerns about the incentive effects associated with bailing out under-insured investors are reasonable, a secondary effect was to reduce the number of rebuilt properties available to renters.

Figure 2 displays the share of hurricane-damaged properties on significantly-affected blocks that received a rebuilding grant through the CDBG-funded homeowner and small rental programs, along with the share of homeowner and small rental properties that were rebuilt by early 2010. The results show that 58 percent of hurricane-damaged homeowner properties in Louisiana and Mississippi received a rebuilding grant, compared to 10 percent of small rental properties. While this rental figure is limited to 1-4 unit small rental properties, a GAO report similarly found that federal assistance through CDBG, the Individual and Households Program, and the Home Disaster Loan Program together reached only 18 percent of all damaged rental units (including units in larger multi-family buildings), compared to 62 percent of damaged homeowner units. The rebuilding outcomes documented in the HUD-commissioned survey also showed sizable gaps, with 74 percent of homeowner properties rebuilt by early 2010 compared to 60 percent of rental properties.

A final question for policymakers is whether to use this opportunity to create a permanent program to support housing recovery following natural disasters. While Congress has relied on the CDBG program for this purpose since the early 1990s, its role is currently defined by the special appropriations legislation drafted following each individual disaster. Making disaster recovery a permanent function of the CDBG program (or creating some other permanent program for housing recovery) would allow HUD to develop permanent regulations and program guidance in anticipation of future disasters. While it is too late for this change to benefit victims of Hurricane Harvey, it might improve preparedness for the next disaster.