Meet the Govie Increasing Access to Public Housing

Access to low-income housing across the United States has decreased significantly in recent years. More and more affordable units are becoming uninhabitable because of neglect and aging, with little infrastructure in place to ensure that these units are maintained.

The Rental Assistance Demonstration project is one plan that aims to reverse this trend. Approved by Congress in 2012, the project works to bring private investment into public housing to revitalize dilapidated but affordable housing units without federal funding.

The Rental Assistance Demonstration project is spearheaded by Thomas R. Davis, Director of the Office of Recapitalization at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As a result of his efforts, Davis is a finalist in the Management Excellence category for the Partnership for Public Service’s Service to America Medals, or SAMMIES—an award that recognizes achievement in the federal government. He recently sat down with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER to discuss how he was able to generate private investment to renovate public housing.

Davis explaioned that the problem started with a capital backlog in public housing. “In 2010 there was a study that indicated that there was a backlog of $26 billion of capital work just to repair things that should have already been repaired or replaced and we were losing about 10,000 units a year from the housing portfolio,” he said.

Congress quickly identified this as a problem and gave Davis and his team the authority to rework housing authority rules – but stipulated that they couldn’t have any extra money to do so. “By allowing house authorities to shift from the public housing to the Section 8 platform, by accessing mortgage debt, and by working with investors to get tax benefits from investing in these properties, we were able to leverage over $4 billion worth of construction in these properties,” Davis said. “My favorite thing about this project Is that at the funding levels that the housing authorities were getting previously, it would have taken them 46 years to do what we’ve done in four.”

Davis saw so much success in such a short amount of time because he leveraged public-private partnerships effectively. Balancing priorities of the two sectors in a mutual project is key to both groups benefiting. Davis leads a team that works to foster this partnership to use private funds to implement housing rehabilitation.

While Davis has made this look relatively easy, there’s a lot that goes into building the trust that is required for the project to succeed. “It takes a lot of conversation, a lot of working hard to understand what everyone’s concerns are so that they can rely on their partner office,” he explained. “We’ve been really focusing streamlining operations and have been able to reduce the time it takes to review transactions and handle the increase in volume of work.”

Through these efforts, Davis and his team have been able to make affordable housing available to many low-income renters that would not have had access previously. And at the end of the day, Davis said that’s what keeps him going. He concluded, “We are really driven by the mission of providing stable homes for families because that is a foundation for everything else that a family wants to do in terms of driving its potentials. So in my view, it’s one of the most basic things we can pay attention to.”

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