Archive for category: HAND Thought Leadership

Five Minutes With Ronette “Ronnie” Slamin

March 7, 2023
March 7, 2023

The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. In this edition, we had a conversation with Ronette “Ronnie” Slamin, founder of Embolden Real Estate. Check out our dialogue below to learn about her development firm, what she believes women leaders of color in the real estate industry can do to move the needle in a different direction, and the importance of explaining the multiple levels of housing affordability.

HAND: Can you tell us about Embolden Real Estate and about how you landed in the real estate development industry?
RS: Embolden Real Estate is the company that I founded in 2021, a development firm with consulting services related to project management, entitlements, and community engagement. The name of my company came to me when I was reading a book on education, as I’ve always wanted to work at the intersection of housing and education to improve educational outcomes.

I landed in the industry of real estate by way of an undergrad professor Joseph E. Corcoran at Boston College, who was a successful developer and a pioneer of mixed-income housing. I had returned from a summer service trip to Jamaica and was interested in ways to improve the infrastructure in the remote town I volunteered in. Coincidentally I took his class and realized that real estate development was a great tool to address infrastructure issues such as roads, homes and schools.

HAND: What excites you about working in the real estate development industry?
RS: I am excited about how every day in real estate development is different and how many hats you must wear, from project management, financing, design, construction, property management and sometimes even a social worker. As a person who gets bored easily, I love that it’s always changing and keeps you on your toes. I also love that you can see the result of your hard work just by walking past projects you have completed. 

HAND:  Keeping in mind the history of racism and its impacts on housing, how can leaders of color or, more specifically, women leaders of color in the real estate industry move the needle in a different direction?
RS: The history of racism in the housing industry is a painful reality with deep-rooted impacts that continue to be felt today. I think as an industry, we can move the needle in the right direction by being intentional about creating diverse work cultures and pushing for affordable housing to be in high opportunities neighborhoods.

As a woman of color, I believe we need to be intentional about creating a welcoming space for women and people of color, and by doing so, we will create a welcoming space for all. Research shows that women usually take on more family and household responsibilities. As an industry, we can make an effort to support women by scheduling events at different times (not always in the evening), offering better benefits, and flex work from home. To support people of color in the industry, I think it first starts by increasing exposure to the field. The real estate field is an unknown industry to many, so I think we will start seeing more diversity by creating that exposure and awareness of the opportunities.

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability and creating more equitable communities in our region? If so, what do you think that is? What do you think is the most significant obstacle?
RS: I don’t think there’s a secret sauce, but I would say I think it requires creativity and collaboration. Housing affordability is a huge issue that will not be fixed overnight and requires different tools based on the deal. I think if we can work together we will be able to have a huge impact. I would consider the largest obstacle to be marketing and optics. I think the word affordable housing has just become such a loaded term, and with many definitions, we often do not realize that we may not be talking about the same thing. When you mention the word affordable housing, you can sometimes raise red flags where, even if many in the community would qualify for that affordable housing. So, I think marketing needs to explain the affordability levels, the quality, and the great positive outcomes that can come from affordable housing.

HAND: What is your “why”? What keeps you motivated to continue your work in this space?
RS: I stay motivated to work in affordable housing because of its impact on residents and communities. Knowing that you’re providing families a home, a place to create memories, a place to feel safe, and a place to grow is very rewarding and motivating.

HAND: What might you be doing if you weren’t working in this industry?
RS: I would probably be in the sports industry if I were not in real estate. I was working towards being a sports broadcaster or agent before taking that real estate development class in college.

Five Minutes With Christy Zeitz

March 15, 2022
March 15, 2022

The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. In honor of Women’s History Month, we are excited to share this special edition of Five Minutes With. In this edition, we had a conversation with Christy Zeitz the CEO of Fellowship Square. Check out our dialogue below to learn more about Fellowship Square’s farewell tour, Christy’s advice on how to make affordable housing projects work, and her words of wisdom for the next generation of female leaders!

HAND: As CEO of Fellowship Square, you bring extensive leadership experience in management, fundraising, marketing, and program development. Can you tell us about your journey to this point?
CZ: I do my best work when interacting with others, so I’ve always sought opportunities to meet new people, learn from them, and take the next step forward in my career. Along every step along my way to my current position as CEO of Fellowship Square, I’ve proactively learned from others, embraced challenges, and worked hard to attain stretch goals. Those priorities have served me in every position I’ve ever had – across all the organizations I’ve worked with and functions that I’ve had. The guiding focus of my professional life has been to make a measurable difference in the lives of others, and this is truly the most rewarding part of my journey.


HAND: What strategic financing and collaboration strategies can you share to ensure that affordable housing providers like Fellowship Square can continue to serve vulnerable residents with dignity over the long term?
CZ: To make affordable housing projects work, it takes smart, creative people working collaboratively. Fellowship Square is one of the leading providers of affordable housing and services to low-income seniors in the region, operating 670 units and serving roughly 800 residents. We’ve put structures in place so that the rental cost is never more than 30% of a resident’s annual income – making our communities some of the most affordable in the region for seniors. The key strategies that underly our work: collaboration, creativity, and openness to new approaches. Whether for the benefit of an owner, investor, residents, or the community as a whole, there are news ideas and options that must be uncovered and teased out in some way. If we go into a project thinking we are going to do it the way we’ve always done affordable housing projects, there will be a missed opportunity somewhere. Openness to new ideas is key. We and other housing nonprofits like us have the unfortunate challenge of competing against the for-profit developers for things like land and construction costs. These costs can be staggering – and create major barriers to building more affordable housing. We must be open to new ways of thinking, new partnerships and the unexpected twists and turns that get our projects done. Sometimes the “right” approach requires writing a new playbook.


HAND: Fellowship Square has launched a “farewell tour” of the 1970’s Lake Anne Fellowship House in preparation of moving 300+ residents from the original 50-year-old building to a brand-new state-of-the-art residence across the street. Can you tell us more about this undertaking, why it’s important and any challenges you may foresee?
CZ: Lake Anne Fellowship House, originally built in 1970, was the first senior housing and first affordable housing developed in Reston. Over the past 50+ years, the property has provided housing to more than 1,300 low-income seniors. Yet the building was showing its age and upkeep of the property was exceeding the amount residents pay in rent and the subsidies received from HUD. About seven years ago, our Board decided that the best path forward was to replace the existing 240-unit building with a new facility. 

This is where creativity and openness to new approaches came in. We embarked on a joint venture with Enterprise Community Development with whom we were able to craft a novel solution: instead of relocating the residents temporarily until a new building was built on the existing footprint, we would construct a new building on an underutilized portion of the current site. This would substantially reduce logistical demands as well as the number of relocations our residents would need to make. Under this creatively structured deal, once our residents are moved into the new building this spring, Fellowship Square will demolish the original building, market rate townhouses will be developed, and the land sales proceeds will be reinvested as part of the overall financing package. 

Of course, financing for affordable housing is never simple. The development team needed to secure project based rental vouchers for 100% of the units and create the right mix of financing for such an ambitious goal. In addition to our partnership with ECD, financing also came from diverse arrangements with Virginia Housing and the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, Virginia Community Capital, Low-Income Housing Tax Credit equity provided through Enterprise Housing Credit Investments by Capital One, Enterprise Community Loan Fund, Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority, and, of course, HUD. In fact, much time and effort were expended convincing HUD as to the critical need to preserve the deep subsidies for the existing very low-income residents and making sure they would be eligible to move to the new building so that all residents who wished could be accommodated.

All of this was accomplished. We broke ground in 2020 (in the middle of the pandemic!) and residents will relocate this spring to the newly built Lake Anne House. The property comes with some of the best amenities, services, and environmentally sustainable features. Residents will appreciate its gym, arts room, game room, wellness clinic, beautiful outdoor terraces, wifi throughout the building and more. We will also continue to have a full time Service Coordinator onsite to serve our residents.

But the grand finale is bittersweet – for the residents who have lived at Lake Anne Fellowship House for many years, for long time staff who have worked in that building for years, and for Reston community members who have visited the property, strolled through the hallways, and visited friends and family there. This is a major change, and I know there will be some tears shed. Sometimes it’s hard to say good-bye even when a bright new future lies ahead. We have a ”farewell tour” of programs to communally and collectively celebrate our community, this building, and our memories here as we prepare for the move to the new residence.


HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability and creating more equitable communities in our region? If so, what do you think that is? What do you think is the largest obstacle?
CZ: There’s no “secret sauce” to housing affordability. In my mind, it’s more like a “Las Vegas buffet” of options, opportunities, considerations, and collaborations – and the plate for each region may be filled quite a bit differently. In the Washington DC Metro area, our housing needs span the spectrum of price points, amenities, services, and financing. The affordability factor is a core fundamental part of supporting the local workforce. As such, creating more affordable housing has to be a community effort – it can’t just be left to the housing advocates to fight for. The community as a whole has to come together to embrace housing affordability for all.  The more collaborators at the table, the more varied our buffet of options and the more success we can have.

The type of affordable housing will vary community to community, but collaboration across organizations will always be key.  For example, very low-income residents, especially those below 30% AMI, require significant subsidies.  Beyond rental assistance, this often includes the need for the provision of services including transportation, healthcare, food assistance, healthcare, mental health services, and more.  This means that affordable housing management must also be able to access public and private resources to augment standard housing management activities.  Fellowship Square accomplishes this by building a deep network of resources within our local community to plug into. Our vulnerable residents can access care managers who can provide or refer the residents to appropriate services in our community. This is important to build and foster.


HAND: In March we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. Given your extensive leadership experience, what advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders? What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership, and how have you overcome those barriers?
CZ: Few things make me prouder than to see young women asserting themselves and stepping up when they have an opportunity to lead. There are so many valuable traits and perspectives that we all benefit from when women are in leadership positions. For today’s emerging female leaders, they cannot sit by and wait to be asked to lead – it’s much more important that they seek out and even create those opportunities.

Sometimes the biggest barrier to reaching the next level in our careers is how we hinder ourselves. Whether through self-doubt or even other commitments, it comes down to priorities and having a vision for our own professional futures. Nothing will be handed to us on a silver platter – nor should it. Working hard and getting ahead is where you learn to grind it out and become a true inspirational leader. Leadership comes from experience, it comes from perspective, and those both come from hard work. But hard work that results in great leadership cannot be achieved in the shadows!

Women must always put themselves at the table – and in my experience, there’s always a way to have your voice heard in those circles, whether directly or indirectly. Regardless of someone’s position on a staff flowchart, each individual person can be a leader in some respect. Young women who may feel they aren’t in a position of leadership can still have an important impact on the trajectory of projects, assignments, teams, and workplace culture. Show initiative and you will be rewarded.

As you can tell, I’m very much an optimist. I always believe that what I want to happen can happen, it’s up to me to figure out how to make it happen. And the only thing holding me back is my own ideas of what I can and cannot accomplish. I hope other women can learn from this.

HAND: What is your “why”? What keeps you motivated to continue your work in this space?
CZ: Working in the affordable housing space is a little like making dreams come true. For too many people today, having a safe, affordable, and stable home can seem out of reach. Being a part of helping to make this dream of housing happen is a daily motivator for me. Nearly every week, I get at least one call from one of our 800+ residents who wants to tell me about what’s going on in their life. They never hesitate to say how thankful they are that they live at Fellowship House. This is what keeps me motivated every day. I am so proud of the work my organization does, and really appreciate the time and effort the Board and staff put into our mission.


HAND: If you weren’t working in this industry, what might you be doing?
CZ: I’d be living in the Caribbean, working on my side hustle as a fiction writer…and helping anyone who asked!




Five Minutes With Gregory Hare

January 27, 2022
January 27, 2022

The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. In this edition, we had a conversation with Gregory Hare, who has recently transitioned to his new role as the Assistant Secretary and Director, CDA, for Maryland DHCD. Check out our dialogue below to learn about Gregory’s journey in the affordable housing space, what he believes is the “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability, and his views on how leaders of color in the real estate industry can tip the scales differently.

HAND: Congratulations on our new role as the Assistant Secretary and Director, CDA, for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development! What excites you about your new role? Do you foresee any challenges?
GH: Thank you, I appreciate all the well wishes. There are so many things that excite me about coming into this role. First, I have the opportunity to work with talented and high-performing people – who’ve I’ve grown and learned alongside since I’ve been with the Agency. This position gives me the freedom to incorporate new perspectives into CDA’s approaches. I realize the potential and the opportunity in front of us – to intentionally do more – and knowing how we can positively transform communities excites me. 

Like any organization, if you want to be effective in today’s environment, you have to be innovative, open to new ways of doing and new ways of thinking; and that’s not just from an operations perspective; it has to be deeper, which takes time with any organization, but especially in State government.

HAND: You have extensive experience in the affordable housing space – can you tell us about your journey to this point?
GH: Like many things in life, your spark is often your frustration. I wanted to impact the community, so after college, I joined Baltimore Housing, working in various capacities before ultimately serving as the Administrator for the Rental and Assisted Housing division. Early in my career, I recognized the power of policy and its impact on our communities. When I joined DHCD in 2014, I quickly realized that if you listen to people, they’ll tell you what’s at the heart of problems, and, in most cases, they’ll also share how to fix them if you keep an open mind. So, my journey has really centered around what people say their needs are and creating or improving programs to respond to those.

HAND: What is one thing you wish you would have known at the beginning of your career?
GH: At the beginning of my career, I wish I’d known to narrow myself before looking to expand. Being really good at one thing will serve one well throughout an entire career. So, taking my time to reach mastery in one space has been significant. Subject matter expertise will serve you for a lifetime.

HAND: Keeping in mind the history of racism and its impacts on housing. How can leaders of color or in the real estate industry tip the scales differently?
GH: I think we’re fighting a trillion-dollar problem with a one-hundred-dollar mindset. Leaders often take what is happening in the world today, and they don’t look back. They look at the surface-level ways to help disadvantaged people and think they’ve fixed the problem, but the deeper issue to solve is why they are disadvantaged. And when you start to understand those institutional issues, you realize this work won’t move until we work intentionally and collectively to tip the scales.

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability and creating more equitable communities in our region? If so, what do you think that is? What do you think is the largest obstacle?
GH: The activist Jane Jacobs’ quote, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” If you have a goal you can do by yourself, it’s not big enough, so we must change our mindset and come together on solutions as big as our problem.

HAND: What is your “why”? What keeps you motivated to continue your work in this space?
GH: People are my why. Everything I do is to serve people in a way that makes circumstances better for them.

HAND: If you weren’t working in this industry, what might you be doing?
GH: If I weren’t working in the affordable housing industry, I would probably be an inventor. Over twenty years ago, I built a device to measure “how well” one was driving, like today’s insurance devices that reward good driving. During a presentation of the concept, I glanced down at the executive’s notepad and realized he was drawing stick figures, so I canned that idea.

We Thank You For Your Life’s Work, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.!

January 18, 2022
January 18, 2022


Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
– Letter from a Birmingham Jail

On Monday, January 17, 2022 we commemorated the birthday, life, and work of one of the most prominent African-American civil rights activists, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many remember King as a Civil Rights Movement leader, but fewer are familiar with the role he played in the fair housing movement. During King’s time, black Americans were systematically excluded from living in certain areas. This process of redlining relegated black people to low-income areas with poor quality housing. In his role as a Civil Rights leader, King recognized that housing was a core component of racial injustice in the United States and decided to take action!

In the late 1960s, King began leading a campaign to advocate for open housing, to grant black Americans to buy homes anywhere. After King’s assassination, The Fair Housing Act was enacted in honor of his work and made it illegal to discriminate in the buying, selling, or renting of housing because of a person’s race, color, religion, or national origin. It has been over 50 years since the passing of The Fair Housing Act and there is still a lot of work to be done. While we have made strides, the need for such advocacy has far from disappeared – especially within black and brown communities. As we wrap up our celebrations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. let us not leave behind some of the lessons he taught us. Let’s carry King’s message of “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Let that message frame how and why you work to aid the people who are living in the communities that we collectively serve.

Five Minutes With EagleBank

September 27, 2021
September 27, 2021

Pictured:Rich Devaney and Dara Koller 

The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. In the latest edition, we have a conversation with EagleBank‘s Rich Devaney, Senior Vice President and Dara Koller, SVP & Deputy Director. They chatted with us about their extensive experience in the affordable housing and community development industry and how they landed in this space. Rich highlights past challenges, lessons learned, and his advice to emerging leaders seeking to make an impact. Dara shares key takeaways from her experience, what she is bringing into her new role, and other her interest outside of affordable housing. Check out our dialogue below:

HAND: Both of you have extensive experience in the affordable housing and community development industry  – Can you tell us about your professional journey and how you landed in this space?
DK: I have 20 years of industry experience, working in leadership roles at Freddie Mac and agency lenders supporting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac multifamily executions, primarily focused on affordable rental housing executions for both agencies, including new construction and preservation of affordable rental housing properties.  While at Freddie Mac, I was also involved in the development and roll-out of  a few new products supporting the affordable rental housing industry as well.  When I first began working on affordable rental housing transactions, it was not the most well understood or popular asset type in the industry compared to market rate rental housing, but I always believed it was extremely important and I was excited to be part of an industry focused on solving the growing need for affordable rental housing in the U.S.  
RD:  I began my career just after the passing of the CRA legislation and immediately prior to LIHTC legislation being rolled out, working with and for some of the most respected and innovative industry icons in the DC market.  It was an exciting time, fusing the tension between regulatory pressure in the banking industry and innovation and expansion of and in the community development and non-profit sector intent on increasing its impact in significantly underserved neighborhoods.  My focus and vision was grounded in building high-impact community development and affordable housing businesses within and with large institutions (Bank of America, Fannie Mae, top 5 Life Companies) under the rubric of profitability, sustainability and scalability.  My experiences took me through the capital stack and from neighborhoods to national presence.  Throughout, my greatest experience to date was setting up this FHA business within EagleBank, coupling the best of financial strength, innovation and flexibility in its ability to deliver capital within the community it serves. 

HAND: Rich, you launched EagleBank’s FHA Multifamily Lending Division in 2015, in addition to several other investment initiatives for the bank. Can you tell us about one of your largest challenges over the past six years and what you have learned?
RD: Our FHA Multifamily business is a product line that falls squarely within the Bank’s commercial real estate span of lending.  As such, our task was to integrate this business in a collaborative way, not competitive, with the balance sheet lending activity, getting the buy-in from the line lenders and alignment in goals and objectives…..”Enlightened self-interest”.  Having set up multiple businesses over my 35- year career, this one presented unique challenges, including how to integrate.  It took a solid 3 years of repetition, “proving the thesis” and trust building to get to the point where the value chain is clear and tangible.  Presently, every single transaction within the FHA pipeline will touch the Commercial Real Estate balance sheet.  Lesson learned was that you can get buy-in strategically at the highest level, but you must get buy-in tactically where the rubber hits the road with the people who make the business happen. 

HAND: Dara, you are fairly new to the bank – what key takeaway(s) from your experience thus far are you bringing into your new role?

  • There is a continuing need for safe, decent affordable rental housing and supportive services in our local communities and EagleBank has made a significant contribution to the growth across the Washington D.C. market and in communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic over the last 20 years. EagleBank continues to play an important role in financing affordable multifamily rental housing, which has helped build and maintain safe and economically stable communities which significantly improve the quality of life for its residents. 
  • We have a tremendous opportunity to continue to make a contribution to the local community to provide much needed affordable rental housing through our deep relationships with affordable housing developers and investors, as well as EagleBank’s FHA multifamily business, which allows us to do business anywhere in the U.S. We are a community bank, with national capabilities with our FHA multifamily licenses.  I think that is a powerful combination.
  • My strong affordable housing and multifamily experience will augment EagleBank’s growing FHA multifamily business. In this new role, I will be dedicated to FHA loan originations, business development as well as serving as a resource for the Bank’s focused efforts on affordable rental housing. 

HAND: Rich, do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability and creating more equitable communities in our region? If so, what do you think that is? What do you think is the largest obstacle?
RD: I believe the private financing vehicles and resources are readily accessible and in sufficient amounts to have great impact.  There needs to be, and always has been, focus on equity in the delivery and availability of affordable housing.  One of my greatest mentors emblazoned in my mind “you are what you measure”, so to solve issues related to equity, we need goals, transparency and accountability….period!  My perspective is that the largest obstacles in the production of affordable housing are the public entitlement process, zoning, planning, and permitting.  Some municipalities have processes that take up to 3-5 years which infuses risk, uncertainty and viability to the process. 

HANDRich, what advice would you give to emerging leaders who are seeking to make an impact in this space?
RD: Be flexible – issues are rarely binary choices, every situation is a learning experience – accept set-backs as a gift and surround yourself with diversity – holistically.

HAND: Rich and Dara, what are you most looking forward to over the coming months at EagleBank? Are there any projects or programs that you are particularly excited about?
RD & DK: Furthering the synergies within the Bank, our investment in the Washington Housing Initiative and further coupling our balance sheet and FHA business. 

The FHA Multifamily Group is an emerging contributor to the strategic goals and objectives of the CRE Group and EagleBank. 

EagleBank financed a handful of key affordable housing projects in the Washington D.C market including:

  • More than $81 million in financing to support a key affordable housing project in Bethesda MD, which includes 401 multifamily housing units situated on five separate land parcels.
  • Phase I of Addison Row Apartments, Capital Heights, MD a planned community consisting of a 321 unit multifamily building. The project is currently in lease-up. The community caters to workforce housing needs and in addition to affordability, offers large unit sizes compared to new construction in Washington, D.C. Phase II will add 327 units. 
  • A construction loan used in conjunction with 4% LIHTC to rehabilitate a 60 unit LIHTC affordable community located in the Barry Farms neighborhood of Southeast Washington, DC. After completion, a HUD FHA Section 223(f) refinance application to exit the bank construction loan.
  • A $50 million construction loan for a to-be-built low income housing project above retail space located in the Capital Hill area of Washington, DC. The project will utilize 4% LIHTC and a long-term rental subsidy contract with the DCHFA.
  • EagleBank is currently working on a few notable affordable housing transactions, including the renovation and recapitalization of a project-based Section 8 property located in the Anacostia neighborhood in Southeast Washington DC utilizing 4% LIHTC.

HAND: Rich and Dara, if you weren’t working in this space, what might you be doing?
DK:  I have always been interested in architecture and design, focused on creating and transforming spaces to meet the needs of a building’s occupants and looking for solutions to present and future issues, such as climate change.  Incorporating sustainable and green building design in construction projects is increasingly important to reduce the carbon footprint and use our energy and water resources more efficiently.
RD: I have been consistent in responding to this question when asked over the past 30 years.  I would be dedicating 100% of my time working in programs that focus on disadvantaged youth, focusing on education and financial literacy.  To me, one of the biggest gaps we have racially and socio-economically is knowledge of and access to financial tools, products and services. 

COVID-19 and Health Equity: It’s Deeper than Preexisting Conditions

April 21, 2020
April 21, 2020

This blog post was originally posted by American Public Health Association.

Author: Tia Taylor Williams, Director of APHA’s Center for Public Health Policy

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought more attention to the field of public health. Every day, people are seeing and hearing from epidemiologists, clinicians, laboratory scientists, researchers and more. While the spotlight is on the field, we should seize this moment to bring national attention to our greatest imperative: reducing health disparities and advancing health equity

The public health field has an opportunity to shape the discourse about COVID-19 inequities to ensure that the root causes of the problem are acknowledged and addressed within, and well beyond, the pandemic.

As calls for race and ethnicity data in COVID-19 morbidity and mortality are heeded, we’re learning more about the communities and populations being disproportionately impacted. The prevalence of preexisting conditions — such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease — among people who are dying from COVID-19 is also being emphasized.

As public health professionals, we know these same chronic conditions plagued low-income and communities of color at alarmingly high rates for decades before the current pandemic. We also know that these health disparities are the result of years of intentional disinvestment in communities. Lack of access to basic services, living wage jobs and affordable quality housing, education and health care are all veiled by a system that assigns value and structures opportunity based on how a person looks, i.e., racism.

At the same time, we know that as a country we are reluctant to understand, acknowledge and address how America’s legacy of racism, discrimination and exploitation has created present-day conditions of racially segregated and under-resourced neighborhoods.

If history is a predictor, as the pandemic persists and more data are collected, our suspicions about who is being hit hardest will be further substantiated. We can also expect that there will be many different arguments used to downplay or detract from the real issues. 

As health equity champions, we have to be ready to redirect those diversions. By applying an equity lens, we can shift the narrative to focus on the root causes of COVID-19 disparities:

  • Racism, not race. Yes, it is important that disparities in COVID-19 testing, treatment and death rates are identified so that resources are funneled to where they are most needed. However, it is not being black, Hispanic, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian or Pacific Islander that causes poorer health outcomes; it is how individuals and communities are treated because of their race or ethnicity. 
  • Social and economic factors, not genetics. There may be some genetic differences among those who are able to recover from COVID-19 and those who succumb to it. However, until the research is definitive, we should avoid overemphasizing the influence of genetics on COVID-19 outcomes and disparities.
    What we do know is that overall health status is heavily influenced by socioeconomic factors, including place of residence, educational attainment, income and wealth. While there’s not much we can do about genetics, we can change socioeconomic factors through policies and systems changes.
  • Environment and neighborhood conditions, not just behaviors. Health behaviors are important. They are also shaped by environment and access. Asking communities to eat healthily is futile if there are no affordable options — or healthy options at all — in their neighborhoods. This may seem like a no-brainer to those of us who live and breathe this work, but it’s important that this message is conveyed to broader audiences. 

At a time when family resources are dwindling and being spread even thinner, we must avoid finger-pointing and placing the blame on the behaviors of individuals in marginalized communities. We know racism is a driving force for the social, economic and environmental conditions, i.e., social determinants that influence health. For example, black and Hispanic communities have higher rates of exposure to air pollution, which has recently been associated with increased risk of COVID-19 death

We are public health. Social justice is in our roots. We look upstream to identify the causes of the causes. It is critical, during the pandemic and after, that we bring attention and action to addressing systemic and structural factors that shape who has power, where and how people live and, ultimately, what access and opportunities they have for good health.

For more on health equity and COVID-19, visit APHA’s COVID-19 and Equity page.

PODCAST: Grant Funding for Affordable Housing via the Federal Home Loan Bank

January 3, 2020
January 3, 2020

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Listen to this Areaprobe podcast which details financing affordable housing using grant funding from the Federal Home Loan Bank.

You can also listen to it in segments here:

About the Speaker
Megan Krider started working at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh in 2013 in the Community Investment Department and now serves as Manager, Affordable Housing and Community Development. In this position, Megan has the responsibility of managing the Affordable Housing Program which has supplied more than $263 million in efforts to support affordable housing development. Additionally, by managing the Bank’s Blueprint Communities® initiative, Megan has been able to support community development and the capacity building for communities. Megan received her Bachelor of Arts in Communications from John Carroll University as well as a Master of Public Management from Carnegie Mellon University.

Urban Institute features HAND’s Annual Meeting & Housing Expo

July 9, 2018
July 9, 2018

(left to right) Gustavo Velasquez of Urban Institute, Ernst Valery of SAA | EVI and Nicky Goren of Meyer Foundation discuss the causes and consequences of redlining at HAND’s Annual Meeting & Housing Expo.

On the heels of HAND’s Annual Meeting & Housing Expo, the team under the How Housing Matters Initiative at Urban Institute was inspired to author a piece reflecting on some of the policy changes that would be needed to address issues of housing discrimination and equity. An excerpt from the piece titled, “Rethink Housing and Community Development to Advance Racial Equity and Inclusion” is as follows:

In the US, descriptions of housing affordability challenges and differences in wealth, health, and education need to include a racial equity lens, or the picture is incomplete. Legally authorized and mandated housing discrimination through federal lending and investment policies laid the cornerstone of complex socio-spatial issues that historically segregated communities continue to face. Many of the inequities within and between neighborhoods, particularly in large metropolitan areas, trace their roots to redlining.

Such discriminatory lending practices have left a legacy of disinvestment predominately in black and brown communities. Although the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 sought to undo forced inequalities within neighborhoods by creating strong incentives for positive investment activity, the ramifications of housing segregation and economic exclusion will take additional policy attention to address…

…Meaningful and inclusive community revitalization can break down some of the barriers instituted through disinvestment and discrimination. This can be done through equitable development, but it requires intentional engagement and community input. Community development corporations (CDCs) and community land trusts (CLTs) have facilitated this engagement. While CDCs and CLTs usually have residents on their boards, CDC leadership often does not represent those they serve, which can leave residents feeling disengaged.

At the annual meeting of HAND, a membership organization for housing providers in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, Ernst Valery, founder and president of EVI Equity, addressed this challenge. He said, “We think so much about renovating the building, we need to also renovate the people.” EVI purchased Essex Village, an apartment complex in Henrico County, Virginia, that was far from providing its residents with a platform for success in life; according to Valery, it has been deemed the county’s worst apartment complex. EVI and the property manager CAPREIT quickly formed a tenants’ association to ensure that Essex Village residents were involved early in the planning process. Residents expressed excitement that the new owners wanted to hear their voices and to collaborate on creating lasting change in the housing development. When tenants are offered a seat at the table, they are eager to get involved, but developers need to provide the space to be heard.

You can read the article in full here.

Residential Construction Activity in the Washington Metro Area

February 6, 2017
February 6, 2017
Photo courtesy of Scott Lewis

Photo courtesy of Scott Lewis

By Lisa A. Sturtevant, PhD

In the aftermath of the recession and housing market downturn, residential construction activity has been increasingly fairly steadily. However, the pace of new housing construction remains below long-term levels and the types and prices/rents of new housing being produced does not sufficiently meet demand. As demand for home ownership increases, the population of younger renters grows more slowly, and the number of lower-wage workers expands in the region, there is a great need for lower-priced home ownership opportunities and apartments and other rental homes with lower rents.

Some key findings from the residential permit data released from the U.S. Census Bureau:

Residential construction activities to grow steadily but still remains below long term levels regionwide. Over January through November of last year, there were about 22,000 permits issued for the construction of new residential housing units. The 2016 residential permitting activity included 4,321 building permits in the District of Columbia, 5,806 building permits in Suburban Maryland, and 11,739 building permits in Northern Virginia. Residential permitting activity in the region has been increasing steadily since 2009, but remains below the 2000-2016 annual average (~25,000), suggesting that new home construction has not been sufficient to meet the demands associated with population growth.

[Figure 1]


One-fifth of the residential construction activity in the region was in the District of Columbia in 2016. While residential construction activity has increased throughout the region, the District of Columbia still accounts for one-fifth of new permits. About a quarter of the permits were for housing in Suburban Maryland and a little over half were in Northern Virginia. By contrast, before the recession, only about five percent of permits for new residential units in the Washington DC region were in the District of Columbia. The District’s share of new permits has slipped slightly, to 20 percent in 2016 from 23 percent in 2015.

[Figure 2]


Multi-family construction remains strong though new single-family construction is on the rise. In 2016, 44 percent of permits for new residential construction in the Washington DC region were for multi-family units, including nearly all (93 percent) of the permits in DC, 35 percent in Northern Virginia and 28 percent in Suburban Maryland. Historically, over the past 16 years, about 38 percent of permits in the region were for multi-family units so the current share remains higher than average. However, over the past two years, the share of multi-family units has declined somewhat, generally because of a slight decline in the share of permits issued in DC.

[Figure 3]


Home prices and rents in the Washington DC region continue to climb. Recent data from MRIS have shown that home prices in the metropolitan area have now matched the record high set during the housing market boom. The median sales price in December 2016 was $410,100, slightly higher than the previous record high price of $408,000 in 2014. As typical, there is wide variation in home prices throughout the region that reflects location as well as home types. For example, in the District of Columbia, the median sales price was $550,000. In Fairfax County the median home price was $470,000 and in Prince George’s County was $265,000.

Rents have also been on the rise, and new multi-family construction has skewed substantially towards luxury, higher-rent apartments. Even as concessions at new apartment buildings have increased, rents in buildings, particularly in DC and in the closer-in suburbs, are often only affordable to very high-income renters. According the 2015 American Community Survey data, the median rent in DC was $1,417 in 2015; however, the median rent for units built in 2014 and 2015 was $2,334. A household would need an income of more than $93,000 in order to afford the median rent in a new apartment building in the city.

Homelessness remains an intractable problem in the District of Columbia. Even as new residential construction increases, there remains insufficient housing affordable to all residents in the region. A recent survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that Washington DC has the highest rate of homelessness among the nation’s 32 largest cities. The ability for the region to expand the housing supply will depend not only on land use and zoning changes that encourage more housing, but also policies that promote the development of housing for our region’s most vulnerable residents.

Outlook for Meeting Housing Needs in the National Capital Area in 2017: Action Items for Local Jurisdictions

January 3, 2017
January 3, 2017

By Lisa A. Sturtevant, PhD

Nearly 400,000 renter households in the Washington DC region—about half of all renters—are cost burdened, spending 30 percent or more of their income on housing costs. For many individuals and families paying high housing costs can mean there is too little for other essentials, such as food and health care. In the Washington DC area, more than 12,000 homeless individuals were identified in this year’s point-in-time homelessness count, though we know the number of people without stable housing is much higher. Despite the efforts of countless housing advocates, non-profits, and local governments, the housing affordability challenges in the DC region continue to grow. What can local jurisdictions do to stem the rising affordability challenges?

Housing is a growing concern in the region. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000, about 220,000 renter households in the Washington DC metropolitan area were cost burdened. In 2015, that number had grown to about 380,000, an increase of 160,000 households. In 2000, 33.2 percent of renters were cost burdened. In 2015, that share was 48.5 percent. The overall number of cost burdened renters has increased in jurisdictions throughout the region. For example, there were about 25,600 more cost burdened renters in DC in 2015 than there were in 2000. In Montgomery County, the number of cost burden renters grew by more than 31,000 over the 15-year period between 2000 and 2015. Fairfax County added 24,200 new cost burdened renter households over the same period.



These increases are not because local jurisdictions have ignored the problem. Just in the last few years, DC has dedicated $100 million to its Housing Production Trust Fund. Montgomery County has increased efforts to use public land for affordable housing. The City of Alexandria continues to look for opportunities to partner with developers to expand mixed-income housing. Fairfax County has made housing affordability a key component of its Strategic Plan to Facilitate Economic Success. Arlington County is working to adopt at Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) process to more efficiently and effectively allocate local housing resources.

But, as the cost burden numbers show, it hasn’t been enough. And things probably are not going to get easer in 2017. Even without specific affordable housing proposals, the new Presidential administration could weaken key Federal programs that local jurisdictions have come to count on for the production and preservation of housing affordable to lower-income individuals and families.

Tax reform. No specific proposals have been discussed by the incoming Trump administration related to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. It seems very unlikely that the credit itself will be eliminated since there is generally broad bipartisan support for the program. However, there has been a lot of talk about the likelihood of tax reform under the new Trump administration. Some affordable housing finance experts have suggested that there could be “substantial” indirect effects of proposed tax reforms on the LIHTC, making the tax credit less valuable to investors. Reduced capacity of the LIHTC could mean a growing need for local resources to fill financing gaps and to make projects feasible.

Cuts in Nondefense Spending. President-elect Trump has indicated that he intends to cut nondefense spending, at one time saying he wanted cuts of one percent every year. This would mean cuts to key HUD programs that serve some of the lowest-income and most vulnerable individuals and families in our communities—programs like the Housing Choice Voucher Program and CDBG and HOME. Historically a target of cuts, these programs could be at significant risk under a President who has indicated little interest in supporting HUD programs. Even now, federal housing programs currently serve only about a quarter of eligible households. Reductions in federal funding would means that local jurisdictions will lose critical resources to support a wide range of housing and community development programs and the losses would disproportionately impact the lowest-income and potentially the most vulnerable households.

Rising housing challenges and declining federal resources are not new phenomena; local jurisdictions have been taking on increasingly active roles in housing policies and funding for decades. However, in 2017, the role for local action on housing will be even more critical in our region. What can local jurisdictions to do differently to move the needle?

Communication is key:

Make the case. Throughout our communities we need to continue to make the case for why housing is important. And there is not just one argument. Whether it’s because increasing housing supply is good for the local economy. Or that education and health outcomes are better for families with access to safe and affordable housing. Or that poor children who live in higher-opportunity neighborhoods go on to make more money—any pay more taxes—than those left behind.

Document the need. At the local level, it is important not only to quantify housing needs in the community, but also to relate those numbers to actual people. Combining hard data with descriptions of hypothetical—or real—individuals and families is important for demonstrating the need.

Explain how housing finance works. Make sure that the community understands why government is necessary when it comes to building housing affordable to lower-income households. Tools like the Urban Institute’s affordable housing simulator can help show in black and white that gap that often needs to be filled by public resources.

Communication can be hard but other important steps are even harder:

Prioritize housing. Public resources are limited and local jurisdictions have competing demands on those resources. In general, however, local communities have not been explicit about prioritizing housing, and then about prioritizing particular goals within housing programs and policies. Prioritization—linked to specified and dedicated funding sources—seems especially important to having an impact.

Innovate on the funding side. To meet housing needs when federal resources are on the decline, it is going to be necessary to identify new sources of funding. Local jurisdictions need to commit to looking for innovative funding sources and partners.