Secretary Ben Carson Visits Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority

[The following article was submitted by the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority about HUD Secretary Carson's recent tour of CMHA properties, the fourth stop on his national listening tour.]

The HUD secretary tours communities, observes innovative work, and praises public-private partnerships.

United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson continued his national listening tour with a stop in central Ohio from April 26 - 28, spending Thursday, April 27, meeting with the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) to discuss the innovative housing strategies CMHA is deploying in the Columbus community. CMHA demonstrated to the new administration how it is transforming into a strategic, catalytic, and strength-based organization— showing how it is able to identify ways to use resources, form strategic partnerships, and target opportunities that expand affordable housing options for Columbus.

With possible deep budget cuts looming, CMHA wanted to ensure that Secretary Carson was well-informed about some key programmatic issues, and that he had an opportunity to observe how certain HUD-sponsored programs are working in the field. CMHA emphasized to Secretary Carson the importance of three main topics: 1) Promoting policies that support local innovation and outcomes, 2) Using housing as a platform for systems alignment, and 3) Reducing the cost of doing business while advancing HUD’s mission.

CMHA supported Secretary Carson’s remarks during the listening session when he said that he prefers to focus on outcomes, which will promote local innovation and decision-making. Working with Secretary Carson and the new administration, CMHA believes there is a unique opportunity to implement positive changes to affordable housing policy at the federal level. Together with the leadership of policymakers in Congress who support the flexibility to pursue unique and innovative approaches to preserve and increase the amount of affordable housing, CMHA believes it can better meet the needs of its community. If intermediate costs between the end-user (PHAs) and HUD can be reduced, CMHA believes that PHAs can house more people with little to no increase in program appropriations.

Sticking with the local innovation theme, CMHA discussed how it plans to convert its entire portfolio of over 1,400 public housing units through the Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD). CMHA will be converting to the more stable Project-Based Voucher funding platform. CMHA also emphasized to Secretary Carson the importance of eliminating the cap of 185,000 units, in addition to extending or eliminating the 2018 deadline for RAD. (Subsequently, the FY2017 omnibus appropriations bill included language raising the cap to 225,000 units and extending the deadline until 2020.) Along with more flexibility, CMHA stressed to Secretary Carson that Congress provide adequate funding for public housing operating and capital accounts (through the annual appropriations process or a public infrastructure investment bill) to allow RAD projects in the pipeline to successfully convert.

Throughout the listening session, CMHA staff and the secretary also discussed possible local innovation opportunities available through the expansion of the Moving-to Work program and the proper implementation of the Housing Opportunities Through Modernization Act (HOTMA).

By promoting housing as a platform for systems alignment, CMHA drove home the point that a child’s zip code should not determine whether he or she thrives in this county. Housing advocates can break this cycle by promoting safe, decent, and affordable housing as a platform for access to healthcare and healthier living; for a more stable education environment for young children; and for revitalizing neighborhoods beset by concentrated poverty and decades of neglect.

Secretary Carson also toured three CMHA communities that demonstrated the idea that housing as a platform can increase the quality of life for residents and help them gain independence to improve their lives. The first stop was the historic Poindexter Village community on Columbus’ Near East Side where CMHA is developing over 430 new units of mixed-income, multi-generational housing. CMHA received a $30 million Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grant to as part of this redevelopment effort and is working closely with strong community partners, such as the City of Columbus and the Ohio State University (OSU) to complete the project. With the help of the Choice grant, CMHA has leveraged over $250 million in local funds for revitalization of the Near East Side. Secretary Carson toured three housing units and the innovative Champion Intergenerational Center located onsite, which unites an adult daycare for seniors, an early learning center for young kids, and clinical research from OSU students. (See before and after photo, above left.)

Columbus Scholar House

Next, the secretary made a visit to Columbus Scholar House, which is just one example of how CMHA is using housing as a platform to eliminate generational poverty and elevate the lives of residents by giving them an opportunity to get a college degree. Columbus Scholar House provides housing to capable and motivated single-parent students, many of whom come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and are at risk of not completing their degree. CMHA is able to do this through the allocation of Project Based Vouchers, which provides the foundational resource (the basic need of housing) and allows the single-parent student to focus on school while raising their family. (See photo, right.)

Secretary Carson’s final stop was a visit to Franklin Station, which combines affordable housing with healthcare services. When paired with healthcare services, affordable housing investment significantly increases access to primary care and reduces emergency department visits, which can substantially lower Medicaid costs. CMHA supports efforts that seek to reduce Medicaid and other healthcare costs through investments in affordable housing.

CMHA also had the opportunity to discuss with Secretary Carson how the cost of doing business can be reduced while advancing HUD’s mission. President Trump has issued three executive orders regarding reducing regulations and reforming government, and he established the White House Office of American Innovation to propose changing the way the government does business. HUD could benefit from a top-to-bottom review based on these themes. CMHA has urged HUD to review every regulation to determine if it is necessary and pursue broad regulatory reform. HUD staff should focus on incentivizing PHAs to achieve outcomes while complying with “best practices.” CMHA also promoted the idea of HUD expanding its use of blanket waivers to allow local problem-solving and local decision-making among high performing housing authorities, which could unleash innovation and to promote cost effective problem solving.

Overall, Secretary Carson expressed that he was very impressed with the innovative work being done in Columbus. He emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships to better leverage HUD and local dollars to improve communities by providing much needed affordable housing. He also took note of the way CMHA is using housing as a platform to eliminate generational poverty and helping to advance the lives of its residents. CMHA heartily endorses the administration’s goal of achieving better outcomes while creating greater efficiencies within HUD and the PHA community. They believe that through improved business processes and regulatory relief PHAs can make progress toward achieving that objective.