USICH Blog

11/21/2013 - Houston Partners Dedicated to Ending Chronic Homelessness

In my work as a Community Affairs Officer at the OCC, I travel throughout the South and Southwest helping banks create meaningful community reinvestment partnerships. As a Houstonian, I was especially proud to participate in an exciting roundtable held at the Federal Reserve on October 16, to discuss the challenges, opportunities, and roles that banks can play in helping combat homelessness in Houston.

On behalf of Barbara Poppe, Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH)—who could not participate because the federal government shutdown—I joined my colleagues from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas - Houston Branch, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the City of Houston, and Funders Together in thanking USICH for its leadership and welcoming a diverse group of nearly 80 participants to the event.

Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker kicked-off the roundtable with a moving account of her personal commitment to end chronic homelessness in Houston by 2016, and spoke about the community’s efforts to support passage of the Greater Houston Plan to reach that goal. The Mayor reported that many Houstonians were surprised to learn that their city has one of the highest homeless populations in the nation. She stated that the city estimates that it spends over $100 million annually in public resources on people experiencing chronic homelessness. She also stated that the entire community is working together to reduce those expenditures, relieve the burdens placed on taxpayers, and also provide services to people experiencing chronic homelessness.

The roundtable featured  a presentation on the plan’s development and implementation by Mandy Chapman Semple, special assistant to the Mayor, and a discussion led by Neal Rackleff, Houston’s Director of Housing and Community Development, on how investors, developers, and service providers can play a role in financing, developing, and owning permanent supportive housing. Both were inspiring and inclusive in their desire to engage and work with the community.

An accomplished panel followed these discussions with in-depth presentations describing the needs of people experiencing homelessness, and examples of how their organizations are helping provide permanent housing and critical support services. Toby Lieberman, Senior Loan Officer with the Corporation for Supportive Housing in Los Angeles, and Blanca Ramirez, Assistant Vice President with Hudson Housing Capital in New York, detailed projects that utilized a variety of financing tools that can make and keep projects affordable and sustainable. These tools include tax credits and pre-development loans.

Mahesh Aiyer, Executive Vice President of CommunityBank of Texas, NA, provided local examples of how banks can participate in these types of projects through equity contributions, construction and permanent financing, and serving on the boards of nonprofit housing developers and service providers. All of these bank activities may receive positive consideration under the Community Reinvestment Act.

Joy Horak-Brown, Executive Director of New Hope Housing and Tim Cantwell, Jr., President and Director of Cantwell-Anderson, Inc. (CAI), and its Cloudbreak Development family of companies, described their organizations’ growing involvement in providing permanent affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness in Houston. New Hope anticipates developing supportive housing for at-risk families and seniors. CAI and Cloudbreak Development are developing land for additional housing in Houston and a number of other cities. 

Dr. Patricia Gail Bray, PhD, Executive Director of Episcopal Health Charities, closed the meeting with a call to action, urging those attending to join together to achieve greater impact. After the roundtable, my OCC colleague from Washington, D.C. Hershel Lipow and I spent the afternoon touring Cloudbreak’s Midtown Terrace Suites and Travis Street Plaza Apartments for Veterans who are homeless or were formerly homeless. 

Once a Days Inn Motel, Midtown Terrace now features 328 beds in 286 units, which have housed nearly 3,000 veterans since it opened in 2003. The adjacent Travis Street Plaza includes studio apartments, common rooms, and more than 3,000 square feet of store-front facilities. Tim added that program and support services, such as counseling and job assistance, are available onsite to help residents gain the skills they need become and remain self-sufficient. Together with an adjacent worker housing development in the works, Cloudbreak envisions creating a full-service campus with easy access to jobs, transportation, and services.

The following day, Hershel and I visited Marilyn Brown, Executive Director, and Eva Thibaudeau, Director of Programs, for the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, which serves as the primary support organization for the Continuum of Care. We had a spirited discussion all agreed that banks, government, and the private sector have important roles to play and that creating more opportunities to bring these groups together with nonprofits would be mutually beneficial.  

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