Maurice Barry, Protecting Residents and Owners

8 min read

What Maurice Barry does for a living is complex. It involves interpretation of often arcane laws and regulations, wending his way through dense and sometimes conflicting rules, working with owners and tenants to get them what they are legally entitled to, restructuring FHA loans and monitoring a broad spectrum of compliance issues. But his constant goal – his professional mission in life – is quite simple. It is to keep as much affordable housing in place as possible and to keep that market stable enough to achieve this. In pursuit of this goal, he employs a vast knowledge of how the system works and is never afraid to use new and creative approaches to a constantly changing economy and affordable housing landscape.

Maurice, who has been with HUD for close to 30 years, is Chief of the Asset Resolution Branch in the Department’s Multifamily Boston Satellite Office, where he focuses on a wide range of affordable housing preservation activities. He has worked tirelessly on transactions to preserve and rehabilitate HUD multifamily properties, including prepayments and decoupling of Section 236 projects; refinancing of Section 202 developments, Mark-to-Market transactions and underwriting Section 223(f) loans through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Pilot program, among others.

As his HUD colleague and supervisor Joe Crisafulli says, “Maurice is one of the most dedicated and hardworking individuals I have ever worked with, and continues his outstanding preservation work on behalf of both the residents and owners.” This equal concern both for affordable housing tenants and owners has been the hallmark of Maurice’s career and personal outlook.

In 1987, Maurice was working for a mortgage company in Framingham, Massachusetts, but didn’t feel he was fulfilling himself as much as he could. When he heard that HUD was hiring in the area, he decided to go in for an interview. “It wasn’t a conscious decision. I wasn’t going anywhere with the company and was looking for a change. I didn’t know a lot about what HUD did, but I thought it might be something interesting. It must have been, because I’ve been at it almost 30 years.”

What he didn’t know at the time was that the government was nearing the end of its fiscal year. He received a job offer and was instructed to report by September 30, having read all the numerous and weighty handbooks and official notices that applied to areas with which he would be dealing.

The only problem was that Maurice was getting married on October 18, so he asked if there was any possibility that he could start after the wedding. He said if the Department mailed him the handbooks, notices and regulations, he would have them read by the time he reported for work. Fortunately, his new supervisor arranged for him to start the job later. Even more fortunately, she declined to send the printed material, saying it could wait until he was at work.

“When I did get to it, I realized it was not great honeymoon reading,” Maurice comments.

His first position was in loan servicing, reviewing financial statements and management and occupancy reports, and monitoring owners and agents to make sure they were complying with budget-based rent increase requests. “There was constant communication with management agents who operated these affordable housing properties to make sure the FHA insurance fund was being protected and, with project-based Section 8 contracts – to use the official terminology – make sure there was no fraud, waste or abuse.”

This compliance monitoring laid the groundwork and developed the experience and resources to, in Maurice’s own words, “insure at-risk properties keep their affordability.” So by the early 1990s, he was part of a HUD preservation team that included architects, appraisers, engineers and financial experts, established to review requests for owner incentives to extend the affordable nature of properties under consideration. This is an often-overlooked aspect of HUD’s affordable housing work. It is an almost universally accepted premise that the United States needs more affordable housing. But it is equally critical not to lose existing units if there is any way to keep them in the program. Maurice has explored virtually every possibility.

One of the greatest challenges to keeping a large number of residential units in the affordable program came in the late 1980s, when many HUD-guaranteed mortgages on affordable buildings reached the 20-year mark and owners began prepaying the balance in cases where taking the facility out of the program could yield greater returns. In response, Congress passed the Low-Income Housing Preservation Act (ELIHPA), superseded a few years later by the Low Income Housing Preservation Homeownership Act (LIHPRHA), both of which essentially prevented owners of low-income housing projects from early conversion to market-rate properties by not allowing the prepayment of government-backed mortgages.

“So we had to come up with incentives for them to stay in the program,” Maurice recalls. “To prevent substantial loss, we would have to come up with ideas leading to use agreements that would sustain them both for the remaining years of the mortgages, and also the useful life of the properties – usually 50 years.”

To make maintaining affordable housing attractive to owners, Maurice and his associates examined and instituted a variety of counterbalancing measures, including increased distributions, equity take-out loans and increased Section 8 vouchers. Eventually government money for the incentive programs dried up, but during their active life, approximately 110,000 affordable units were preserved!

In addition to working with owners to keep their properties in low-income housing programs, Maurice worked with owners and residents to maximize tenant vouchers. That meant that when LIHPRHA-motivated incentives were no longer on the table, there would still be ways to protect low-income housing on an individual unit basis in addition to the building-wide efforts.

One of the results was a Section 8 “enhanced voucher” program through which, even if an owner was able to prepay the government-backed mortgage and transition the building to market rate, the low-income tenant could remain through a voucher that compensated for the new, higher rent.

There has been a good deal of debate over the years about the practicality and social viability of market-rate and subsidized tenants living “happily” in the same property, given their differing needs, stores, circles of friends and other factors of the disparate groups. But Maurice believes the track record and experience speak for themselves: “I never heard one story or one complaint from, say, a market-rate tenant that a subsidized tenant living in the development was causing any kinds of problems. So whatever stereotype you might have, I never heard of any problems.”

Under MAHRA – the Multifamily Assisted Housing Reform Act – HUD received the authority for Portfolio Engineering, commonly referred to as Mark-to-Market. “A lot of these properties have FHA mortgages and we came up with a program that involved project-based subsidies and restructuring FHA loans to insure sufficient funds would be available to meet the debt. In doing so, we got extensions of affordability and additional use restrictions. The whole point was to bring Section 8 rents back in line.” Effectively, this meant subsidies could be marked up or down to market, depending on the situation and geographic area. HUD could also retain Section 8 subsidies from one project and transfer them to another property, or another owner whose building meets the requirements.

Maurice also worked on the Section 236 Interest Reduction Payment (IRP) program that wrote down interest payments to one percent, allowing the significantly lower debt service to keep rents down and use some of the funds for property upkeep. “We continue to watch the situation all the time and try to make adjustments and find new ways to keep affordable housing in place.”

Maurice has worked mostly in Massachusetts, but under a recent HUD restructuring, he now has responsibility for five New England states. He lives in Brighton, Massachusetts, with his wife Mary Jane, who is activities director of Rogerson House assisted living facility in Jamaican Plain. They have two daughters, Caitlyn and Courtney, both of whom attend college.

“There are few people within HUD more adept at creatively utilizing HUD Multifamily programs in concert with LIHTC and various state and local government funding sources,” says Joe Crisafulli.  “Maurice has long been the go-to person for complex preservation transactions, both inside and outside the Department.

“He approaches his work with the mindset that while HUD program requirements must be met, they should support and never impede or detract from any worthy affordable housing preservation transaction.”

Anyone who suggests that creativity is neither encouraged nor possible within the framework of government regulations and practices has not encountered Maurice Barry.