EJP works closely with PHAs such as Manistee Housing Commission to assess their portfolios to determine the feasibility of converting Public Housing units to the Section 8/RAD program, improve quality of life for residents, and preserve housing affordability.
"The units you had before were not horrible — they were just old, outdated, had some internal issues," said Naomi Byrne, senior associate of EJP Consulting Group, LLC. "... Now your residents get nice, brand-new units with new cabinets, with new floors, with upgraded bathrooms, upgraded features and fixtures."
Byrne spoke Tuesday during a city of Manistee Housing Commission meeting to discuss the Rental Assistance Demonstration at Century Terrace and Harborview Apartments, provide updates and look ahead to Phase 2 of the RAD conversion.
Byrne said Century Terrace originally had significant structural issues, including flooding on the property from the street runoff, an obsolete heating system and long corridors with inefficient lighting and sightlines. Harborview only needed updating in its units and common areas.
By switching the apartment complexes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program to Section 8 housing, Manistee's housing commission increased its access to financing to address those capital needs. The program is considered a payment in lieu of taxes program and allows housing authorities to use their properties and leverage them in conjunction with private investment to develop ways to fund repairs.
"RAD, while it's a new program, has been something that has been utilized over the last several years to help housing authorities who have good and decent units of operations move from what is an underfunded federal program to potentially another program where ... there's more stable funding and more ability to leverage what you have to do other things that you need," Byrne said.
She added that as a result, residents received substantially rehabilitated units with increased energy efficiency; continued long-term, affordable rental assistance through the RAD program; and increased flexibility to move through the Housing Choice Vouchers program.
"Today in public housing you can't transfer from the Manistee commission's public housing units to Traverse City or anywhere else. You have to get on a waiting list and go through their process," she said. "In the voucher program there's something called choice mobility. ... It gives tenants an opportunity to receive a tenant-based voucher for tenant-based rental assistance so they can transfer."
EJP Consulting Group "provides the expertise and support you need to revitalize neighborhoods and promote healthy, sustainable communities of opportunity," according to its website. "Around the country, we collaborate with government, foundation, private and not-for-profit clients to improve housing, strengthen human services infrastructure and access, and raise resident self-sufficiency and pride of place."
According to Byrne, tenants were moved to other units during construction, and some had to be placed in different units upon construction's end despite attempts to return tenants back to their original units.
"Sometimes it's hard to explain that the requirement is that you come back to the site. We can try to do more than that and get you back to your original unit, and I know that we tried to accommodate a number of people in their personal preferences," she said. "We definitely had to accommodate medical preferences, but I think we tried to accommodate 'are you a river-side view or a street-side view,' etc. ... We tried our best."
Despite tenants having to endure temporary displacement, Byrne said that Phase 1 of the RAD conversion was a success.
"You accomplished $11.4 million in total construction costs, or about $68,000 in upgrades per unit, at no cost to the housing authority," she said. "You didn't have to pay using capital funds, you didn't have to go to the city to borrow money, you didn't have to use a community development block grant or home funds.
"This was all done without any additional cost to the federal taxpayers or to the housing commission. That's huge."
The conversion preserved 167 units of affordable housing for Manistee's low-income population.
"There's a need for affordable housing across the nation, and that need is greatly magnified when you look at extremely low-income individuals and families," she said. "In a lot of cases, your elderly and disabled individuals are on fixed incomes. ... Century Terrace and Harborview are serving a demographic that's probably not really well served anywhere else within the community."
An additional 48 units of scattered affordable family housing will be addressed in Phase 2. Byrne said the housing commission is "in the sweet spot for housing authorities," having a number of different tools available for repositioning.
"Because the housing commission wants to continue the model they have where they're using project-based rental assistance and they're working through the management and managing it here locally, you really are looking at another RAD conversion, because that's the only HUD tool that results in a project-based rental assistance contract," she said.
Byrne said because the 48 units are in such poor condition, rehabilitation would not be feasible. EJP Consulting Group needs to work with the housing commission to identify opportunities to do a transfer of assistance, where the families and subsidies are transferred to a new property and the 48 units are torn down.
The housing commission would then have the flexibility to do what it wanted with the remaining property because it is released from HUD's oversight through a declaration of trust, according to Byrne.
"You could build more there, you could transfer it to Habitat for Humanity if they wanted to build a new housing complex for moderate income families, you could partner with someone else — there are a lot more options with what you can do," she said. "But you've got to protect the families that are currently in public housing there, which means you have to have new units for them to live in. You can't just kick those 48 families out and then take the property and do whatever you want."
Housing commissioner Karen Goodman said she wants Phase 2 to be less stressful to the families involved.
"The individual people, the stress, the strain, we know that persons in poverty have more difficulties and more problems and these RAD conversions are not easy on them," she said. "I want Phase 2 to move smoother and more responsive to people than the construction problems and everything that happened in Phase 1."
Dec. 15, 2022
By Kyle Kotecki