Low-income Americans have a hard time finding housing. When families learn that market-rate housing is unaffordable, they often seek help from a variety of government agencies — some local, some state, and some federal. Unfortunately, government efforts to provide housing assistance to low-income families are unable to fully meet the need.
A full examination of all of the problems related to low-income housing in the U.S. is beyond the scope of a single article, so I won’t attempt it. Instead, I’ll share my own experience working with a nonprofit developer of low-income housing, and I’ll summarize what I’ve learned from personal experience and research.
Cobbling together project funding
For four years in the mid-1990s, I worked as a project manager for Northern Community Housing Corporation (NCHC), a small nonprofit developer in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, with five employees. (The agency no longer exists.)
If I had to characterize the nature of the agency’s employees, I would say (at the risk of generalization) that we were all well-meaning liberals concerned with issues of social justice. We all believed that every low-income American deserves access to decent, affordable housing.
NCHC used three main sources of funding — community development block grants, funds from low-income housing tax credits, and appropriations from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) — to put together its development projects. Project funding was complicated, requiring many hours of work to secure.
Using these funds, NCHC purchased old multi-unit apartment buildings in St. Johnsbury, Lyndonville, and surrounding communities. Most were wood-framed buildings, at least 100 years old, with between three and five apartments per building.
We had an architect on staff, Ben Nickerson, who created plans and specs to rehab these older buildings. We invited contractors to bid on…