New Developments: The Delicate Balance

4 min read

The rapid escalation of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic is having a deeply unsettling impact on how we live and how we work. It is testing our disaster response system in unanticipated ways and will require a new kind of resilience from us. Perhaps our most critical issue right now is balance: how to be stewards for some of the most vulnerable members of our society while, at the same time, navigating our own personal uncertainties and business obligations.

Already susceptible to underlying health conditions, the homeless and the underhoused will be particularly unshielded from this public health crisis and in need of protection offered by safe, sanitary and affordable housing. Beyond the immediate fear of contracting the coronavirus, the residents of the high-quality affordable housing our members operate have very limited resources to deal with the economic dislocation brought about by the crisis. Some will lose portions of their incomes, others will lose their jobs. Telework is not an option for residents that are hourly employees in lower-wage sectors, like retail and restaurants. Furthermore, many businesses are cutting back hours and/or temporarily closing due to social distancing recommendations. With schools in many jurisdictions on hiatus for weeks at a time, child-care will become an additional strain, even for those who can telework. Those without a car of their own have few options other than public transportation. All of this is to say, our residents, most of whom have very limited savings, will be forced to make difficult family budget decisions.

How do we as operators of affordable housing balance being compassionate towards our residents, who may have limited ability to pay rent during this period of economic dislocation, while meeting our own financial obligations? How do we balance the requests from our residents, who will continue to require maintenance in their apartments and/or critical assistance provided by resident service coordinators, with the needs of our employees, many of whom fear health exposures from both working and commuting?

Other aspects of our business will also be impacted. How will construction sites be impacted as states ban gatherings of more than 50 people? As the economic impact of social distancing is felt more broadly across the economy, will credit tighten in the coming weeks? How will profitability in the overall economy impact investor demand for tax credits? Will social distancing create bottlenecks for third-party reports, like market studies or appraisals? In a deadline driven industry, how will this impact closing schedules?

These are difficult questions, some we have not had to confront previously, many without obvious answers. It is times like these when we have to come together as a community and leverage networks, like the National Housing & Rehabilitation Association, to share our challenges and brainstorm solutions. In the wake of this crisis, NH&RA has expanded our mission beyond affordable housing advocacy and transaction-oriented education. We are dedicating resources across our platforms where affordable housing professionals can share operational best practices, strategies and collective solutions to the unique set of circumstances we face today. We will be hosting dedicated sections in our newsletters and website to explore and address the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. We will be hosting a series of virtual town hall meetings for our members to discuss challenges and paths to solutions. We will be adjusting our conference schedule in the short-term to accommodate today’s social distancing imperatives and offering new virtual events to better reach our members where they are today. As an association, we will face this adversity together. With today’s communication tools, we can stay connected. As an active network, we can be resilient.

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.