One of the Largest Housing Authorities in the Country Peels Back the Curtain
Real estate investors often cringe at the words “local housing authority.” While the term has a long, storied, and often strongly negative connotation, most of that negativity is due to decades of miscommunication between real estate investors and these organizations which are, in truth, dedicated to providing affordable housing resources to the same households many real estate investors serve: tenants. Furthermore, the AHA’s tenant population is often among the most reliable and responsible of its kind because housing authorities enforce rigorous standards when it comes to caring for the residence and paying rent on time.
“One of the biggest misconceptions we face is that we serve non-working families when, in fact, we serve working families, the elderly, veterans, and the disabled,” said Karen Young, the business development leader for the Atlanta, Georgia’s housing authority (AHA)’s most expansive program, the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP). Think Realty Magazine sat down with Young to learn more about how real estate investors can get involved with their housing authority and what every real estate investor should know about housing authorities and the affordable housing resources they provide.
Think Realty Magazine: So, tell us a little bit about the AHA.
Karen Young: AHA is one of the largest housing authorities in the nation, providing and facilitating affordable housing resources for more than 22,000 low-income households. That’s approximately 50,000 people! These resources include a variety of developments and services, including AHA-owned communities, AHA-sponsored mixed-income communities, the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP), our project-based rental assistance program called HomeFlex, supportive housing arrangements, and homeownership programming.
Think Realty Magazine: How does that translate to affordable housing in the community?
Karen Young: Our strategic plan, Vision 2022: LIVE. WORK. THRIVE, charges the agency with finding innovative ways to increase affordable housing options and developing quality communities while also creating opportunities for the advancement of working families, children, seniors, and persons with disabilities. AHA is also leveraging a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant from HUD to revitalize three Westside communities and redevelop a former public housing site.
Because Vision 2022 employs AHA’s signature model of using public/private partnerships to preserve affordability and create mixed-finance, mixed-income communities, we need investors and developers to accept Housing Choice Vouchers at new and existing properties. We also want them to participate in our HomeFlex program, which provides rental assistance on a determined number of units at their multifamily properties, and to engage as innovative development partners.
Think Realty Magazine: How can investors get involved in this type of opportunity?
Karen Young: AHA would like property owners to consider the AHA business models as part of their investing strategy. HCVP and HomeFlex are rental assistance programs that provide solutions for investors and developers who understand the balanced economic need for affordability and also the need to generate cash flow that keep their properties profitable.
AHA is a Moving-to-Work (a designation issued by HUD) agency, so the housing authority has some flexibility in its program structures [that other, similar agencies may not have]. For example, AHA utilizes rent comparable reports on each property through Georgia Multiple Listing Service (GAMLS) for single family residences and the Yardi Matrix, a proprietary housing management software, for multifamily communities. Through this method, we are able to pay market-influenced rents.
Think Realty Magazine: Market rents are definitely important, and a lot of investors don’t realize that some housing authorities can pay them. Are there other misconceptions about AHA or housing authorities in general you’d like to clear up?
Karen Young: One of the biggest misconceptions about AHA is that we serve non-working families, when, in fact, we serve working families, the elderly, veterans and the disabled. AHA has a work requirement in our subsidized housing programs. The “LIVE” thrust of our strategy emphasizes the need for family independence and focuses on addressing the barriers that our families face in achieving it.
Our rental assistance programs and mixed-income models of development help to mainstream our families, allowing them to choose the home, the community, and the schools that work best for them. In return, we require that in all non-elderly, non-disabled households, at least one adult works 30 or more hours per week. All others must be working 30 or more hours, in school full-time, or a combination of both.
Families are responsible for contributing 30 percent of their monthly income toward housing expenses, and the AHA makes up the difference. [This means] investors can realize their returns and our families can afford to live near work, amenities, and, most importantly, solid-performing schools for their children.
Think Realty Magazine: Lastly, you’re probably closer to the affordable housing “crisis,” as it’s being called in the media, than anyone. What’s your take on the situation in Atlanta?
Karen Young: Atlanta is booming, attracting multinational companies, the film industry, tons of skilled workers who are flooding the city with great salaries, and developers who are responding to the demand for luxury housing and amenities. This drives all the new construction we are seeing and is raising rates for existing property. That, in turn, renders most housing within city limits out of the financial reach of working-class families.
Between 2010 and 2014, Atlanta lost more than 5,300 housing units renting for less than $750 a month, and that number is increasing. AHA’s role is to find ways to preserve affordable housing already in place and to create means for low-income working families to maintain access to quality, amenity-rich housing close to jobs, transportation, and high-performing schools, so they can also benefit from all the great things happening in the city. Our innovative programs allow developers and property owners to earn the cash flows they need to make their projects profitable [while accommodating affordable housing needs]. If every new multifamily community took just two families, the impact would be enormous. It would also help relieve areas that currently provide the bulk of affordable housing, which in turn helps to provide a sustainable solution to workforce housing.
Karen Young is the business development leader for the Atlanta Housing Authority’s Housing Choice Voucher Program. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 404.541.6759.