HAND members continue to do the hard work of ensuring individuals and families at all income levels have access to affordable housing throughout the region. In an effort to highlight these individuals and groups, we launched our series titled, “Five Minutes with” – an informal conversation with our members on their recent projects and the affordable housing industry. In the latest edition, we caught up with Milton Bailey, Director of the Frederick County Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Check out our conversation here:
HAND: Why is affordable housing important to you?
FC: Providing affordable housing is perhaps the most important means at our disposal to provide solid foundations for families and individuals, promote wealth building and in turn foster community economic growth.
HAND: What recent accomplishment(s) is your organization extraordinarily proud of?
FC: A recent accomplishment for which we are extremely proud was our successful partnering with United Way of Frederick toward helping more people become homeowners. As a result of our partnership, we were able to establish a program that has the potential of becoming a national best practice. By leveraging our down payment and closing cost assistance with the United Way’s Prosperity Center programs, we are able to offer the Prosperity Savings Homebuyer Program. This program offers a combination of zero-interest loans and grant funds to help first-time homebuyers pay for upfront costs and make consistent mortgage payments on their new homes. Specifically, the new program increases the income threshold for prospective participants based on the “survival budget” determined in the 2016 ALICE Report (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) by the United Ways of Maryland. Equally important, the United Way offers up to $3,400 in foreclosure prevention assistance for a period of three years. I believe the industry will come to realize this combination makes for stronger and more creditworthy borrowers.
HAND: Have you run into any challenges over the last several months? How did you and your team overcome them?
FC: There are many challenges related to the preservation and production of housing. However, the challenges and barriers our communities face today are no more daunting than they were 35 years ago. This is because dedicated professionals find creative ways of overcoming obstacles. I have no doubt, given our State’s leadership, diversity of advocates and the elevated public awareness generated by these supporters, we will indeed find ways to overcome any present-day challenges.
HAND: What lesson(s) did you learn?
FC: The lessons we learned are as simple as not taking defeat as a setback but an opportunity to evolve the discussion to where it resonates with even the most cynical.
HAND: What are you and your colleagues looking forward to?
FC: We are looking forward to the day when parochial beliefs give way to bilateral effort.
HAND: What do you enjoy most about your work and why?
FC: My work is my religion. I’m trying to make sure the next baby Jesus doesn’t have to live in a cattle stall.
HAND: What do you wish that you could change about our industry?
FC: I think it is critical that we (HUD, the IRS and Congressional policy makers) stop viewing housing cost burdens in isolation of the overall cost of living. While intuitively inseparable, by viewing the cost of housing in isolation of the cost of living, the two conspire to become negatives that impinge upon actual wealth building— and thereby a community’s economic growth.
Take the purchase of an automobile for example. When we buy a car, we instinctively think in the narrow context of whether or not the car payment will fit within our monthly budget. Rarely do we consider the cost of insurance, gas, oil, windshield washer fluid, maintenance, parking, traffic tickets and other budget consuming incidentals that go along with owning the vehicle. The same is true when it comes to purchasing a home or living in an apartment. Our families still need to eat, student loans still need to be paid and we still need to save for that unexpected family crisis or unforeseen medial expense.
Yet, because housing costs and the cost of survival are compartmentalized, our public policies inadvertently create financial imbalances that discourage wealth accumulation and encourage poverty. For example, when housing cost burdens are paired with ALICE report data, neither a family nor an individual can earn or save enough to meet housing costs, cover basic needs or stay ahead of inflation to avail themselves of the very educational opportunities that would pave the way to wealth building.
Life-costs, student loan expenses, the absence of equitable wages and support structures trigger financial disintegration even within families earning $75,700. Yet, neither under HUD’s housing programs nor under the IRS’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit programs can ALICE families or individuals in search of the full measure of the American Dream (food, shelter, clothing, education, health insurance, child care, savings, etcetera) avail themselves of the lower cost of housing these programs offer under current income limits. Consequentially, the American Dream becomes an illusion only the wealthy can afford.
Each of us have a stake in addressing cost burdens, especially when considering the social consequences caused by stifling poverty. From a balance sheet perspective, if people who are destined to spend more than they earn do not receive help, then foreclosures and rental unit turnovers will occur more frequently, with such instances leading to increased operating costs and thereby escalating rents and mortgage costs.
HAND: If you could describe your work in one word, what would it be?