Friday, August 11, 2017

Pay for Success: Opportunities and Challenges in Housing and Economic Development

by David Luberoff
Senior Associate
Director
Pay for Success (PFS) initiatives have received widespread attention in the United States over the past several years. These outcomes-based projects – which generally do not pay service providers and government entities until and unless they achieve certain agreed upon outcomes – hold great promise in a variety of fields, including housing and community development, notes Omar Carrillo Tinajero in a new working paper jointly published by NeighborWorks® America and the Joint Center for Housing Studies. In the paper, Carrillo, a 2016 Edward M. Gramlich Fellow, notes that PFS projects may offer important opportunities to break down funding silos, devise innovative new ways to address pressing problems, and compel providers to focus on the results of an intervention. However, he adds, “because their complexity makes them at present difficult to structure and finance, PFS projects are likely to be useful only in limited circumstances, which means the PFS model should therefore be used judiciously and carefully.” Moreover, he notes, “the interest in and discussion about PFS projects has highlighted approaches that could be carried out by the public sector without the structure of PFS arrangements.”

To better understand how this approach could be used to address housing and community development issues, Carrillo examines three projects: 
  • The Denver Supportive Housing Social Impact Bond Initiative, which focused on providing supportive housing for individuals who are both frequently in jail and often go to emergency medical services in Denver.
  • The Chronic Homelessness PFS Initiative, which aims to provide 500 units of permanent supportive housing for up to 800 of the 1,600 people currently experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts.
  • Project Welcome Home, an initiative in Santa Clara County, California focused on providing housing and supportive services for 150-200 chronically homeless individuals in the Silicon Valley over six years.
In the paper, Carrillo reviews the goals of each initiative and describes the metrics that will be used to decide whether and how much providers will be paid.  He also offers detailed descriptions about how each initiative was organized, funded, and evaluated.

The initiatives, he writes, “are promising, especially as they promote an emphasis on outcomes and begin to streamline services from various government sources.” However, he also cautions that “it is not immediately obvious that their benefits outweigh their costs,” particularly the extensive time and resources needed to develop and oversee the initiatives. He adds that it may be possible for the public-sector to adopt many PFS approaches (particularly their focus on outcomes, and the need for better data systems to measure those outcomes) without developing the complex structures and systems needed to establish and oversee an effective PFS.

“Though PFS sounds promising,” he concludes, “putting a project together can entail logistical difficulties and substantial transaction costs. Because of these challenges, the PFS model should be used judiciously. In particular, it could be a promising strategy for situations in which addressing problems requires coordination of a variety of disparate sources of public funding which, for various reasons, are difficult to use in a coordinated fashion.”

However, he adds, “we should not lose sight of the overall problem that PFS programs address: the need to provide services to as many people as possible, in the most effective way possible. It seems difficult to conceive of increased funding for these much-needed resources from the federal government, and state and local governments will continue to find themselves pressed for solutions to deliver evidence-based services. The PFS movement has pushed public-sector entities to focus more heavily on outcomes and, in doing so, to consider more multi-pronged approaches for addressing key issues.”


Monday, August 7, 2017

Significant Improvements in Energy Efficiency Characteristics of the US Housing Stock

by Elizabeth
La Jeunesse

Research Analyst
Compared to 2009, single-family homes built before 1980 are now better insulated, have relatively newer heating equipment, and are more likely to have undergone an energy audit. These and other energy-related characteristics of the owner-occupied stock, shown in Table 1, are consistent with the expanding size of the home improvement industry over the past few years, with particular growth in energy-sensitive projects. Homeowners' annual spending for related projects—including roofing, siding, windows/doors, insulation and HVAC—expanded from $50 billion to nearly $70 billion over 2009-2015.



The transformation of the existing US housing stock toward greater energy efficiency also reflects a wave of energy-related incentives for HVAC and building envelope upgrades put in place following the rise of energy prices in the mid-2000s. At the federal level, one of the biggest initiatives was the Obama administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which extended and strengthened tax credits for energy improvements to existing homes, including insulation, windows, roofs, water heaters, furnaces, boilers, heat pumps, and central air conditioners.

Despite recent progress, there is room for growth. As of 2015, 17 percent of single-family homes built prior to 1980 were still reported to have ‘poor insulation’, and only 11 percent had received an energy audit. By comparison, a recent profile of newly constructed homes (built after 2009) showed only 1 percent of residents reporting ‘poor insulation’—an impressively low share. Moreover, nearly 90 percent of new homes come with double- or triple-pane windows. Bringing older homes up to this higher standard will require significant investments to the existing stock.
At the same time, only 5 percent of new homes have smart thermostats—a relatively inexpensive but potentially high-payoff upgrade—and a similar share have energy-saving tankless water heaters. These lower shares suggest room for growth in energy-efficient technologies in new and old homes alike.
Renewable technologies, particularly solar energy, are also showing signs of growth. As of 2015, nearly 6 percent of recently built homes reported on-site solar generation, a relatively small share, but nearly triple the incidence in older homes. Thanks to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, US taxpayers can still claim a credit of up to 30 percent of expenditures for photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies placed in service in their homes. Several US states also now provide consumers with credits for net excess energy generation, further increasing the payoff for installing renewable energy systems.
With recent declines in energy prices, however, there is some question of whether homeowners still have strong incentives to pursue energy-efficiency improvements. Since 2015, the consumer price index for energy has hovered around 10 percent below its average for the prior ten years (2005-2014). If this trend continues, further progress in energy-related improvements will probably depend even more on consumer preferences and finances, in addition to changing building and product codes, and evolving industry standards. 
Data used in this analysis comes from a newly released 2015 Energy Information Administration survey that tracks the energy-related characteristics of all US residential units. Further results detailing energy consumption intensity (or usage per square foot) will be released in 2018, enabling deeper analysis into the evolution of energy efficiency in US homes.