New Developments: Delivering For Our Residents

4 min read

Mother Theresa once observed, “A life not lived for others is not a life.”

I suspect Mother Theresa’s quote resonates with many in affordable housing and community development. There are many easier ways to make a career in real estate but time and time again, when I talk to National Housing & Rehabilitation Association members, the reason they get out of bed in the morning is because they are part of a community of practice that does more than just house people. They also provide critical services and resources that help provide comfort and care to families, older adults and persons with disabilities and break the cycle of poverty. Now I love the built environment and take pride in the creativity of our members in the design and financing of their communities, but the impact of the work we do at NH&RA and, in particular, the success stories of residents who have transformed their lives for the better because of the work of NH&RA members has sustained me through the ups and downs of the economic and political cycles and the difficult days we all experience from time to time at work.

Over the past several years, we have collectively witnessed a paradigm shift in the scale and scope of resident services at affordable housing communities. Services have always been an essential feature of permanent supportive housing (PSH) projects, but, in recent years, I have been pleased to see more and more of NH&RA’s “conventional” affordable housing operators implement robust programs and partnerships focused on resident outcomes. Once considered a “nice to have” at many organizations, resident services are increasingly becoming a way for innovative developers to distinguish their organizations.

As environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investors and lenders enter our space, services will only become a higher priority. Furthermore, there is also a growing body of evidence that demonstrates that robust services aren’t just good for residents, but also make good business sense for the asset. It is my belief that when we some day get a chance to reflect back post-pandemic (whenever that glorious day may be) we will see that organizations with resident service coordination programs will have had stronger financial performance, fewer evictions and, generally, lower resident turnover than their peers without defined service programs. Whether assisting families in applying for emergency rental assistance or helping them enroll for the expanded Child Tax Credit, interventions by resident services coordinators have provided a lifeline for low-income Americans and have helped sustain revenues at apartment assets, even when residents have lost sources of income due to the pandemic.

While there are never enough resources to do everything we might like to do, in the coming year I think we are going to see a further transformation of resident services that will allow organizations to reach more residents. For starters, the pandemic has shown us that we can serve many residents effectively through virtual interventions. With most of the nation now fully accustomed to Zoom, and broadband access continuing to be expanded in many jurisdictions, resident services will likely be opened up to smaller or more remote properties that previously weren’t scalable. Resources and best practices collected and developed by groups, like Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF)2 through their Certified Organization for Resident Engagement & Services (CORES) Certification, provides a template and path for organizations to develop and strengthen their programs.

Recent expansions of government programs, like HUD’s Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) program, provide resources that can supplement best practices with resources. As I write this column, the House of Representatives is poised to pass legislation that would further expand funding and resources for resident services programs. Even though this is by no means a “done deal,” it is remarkable to see how these issues and resources have been elevated in the national dialogue.

We are only just beginning to truly see the scope of distress our residents have endured as a result of the pandemic and ensuing economic crisis. As we slowly come out of these twin calamities, we collectively need to double down on expanding our resident services programs. Our residents need it, our properties will be sustained by it, and the success stories of services done right will help us continue to make the case for the expanded funding we desperately need from Congress.  

Thom joined National Housing & Rehabilitation Association (NH&RA) in 2004 and currently serves as its as Executive Vice-President and Executive Director. NH&RA is a national trade association and peer-network for affordable housing and tax credit developers and related professionals including: investors, lenders, public agencies and professional advisers. Thom directs the association’s day-to-day operations including legislative and regulatory advocacy, committee activities, conferences and events, publications, financial management and strategic planning. Thom also serves as the Executive Director of the Tennessee Developers Council, a state-wide trade association for affordable housing developers and professionals active in Tennessee. In 2013 he spearheaded the launch of NH&RA's Preservation through Energy Efficiency Project, a major educational initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Thom also serves on the Board of Directors for International Center for Appropriate & Sustainable Technology (iCAST) as well as the Advisory Board for its ResourceSmart program, a turn-key, cost-effective, green rehab provider for multifamily affordable and market-rate housing communities and nonprofit facilities. Thom is a frequent speaker at affordable housing, sustainable development and tax credit industry events and has been published in a variety of industry journals including Tax Credit Advisor, Independent Banker, and the Novogradac Journal of Tax Credit Housing. Thom also serves as the Associate Publisher of Tax Credit Advisor, a monthly magazine for tax credit and affordable housing professionals and is an Executive Vice-President at Dworbell Inc., a boutique association management and communications firm in Washington, DC. Thom was previously employed at a national lobbying firm focusing on financial services and technology issues. Prior to moving to Washington, Thom worked in media relations in the New York State Assembly and as a research assistant for New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Thom graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University with a double major in Political Science and History.