When a person turns 75 years old, he has generally hit an age where slowing down–at least a little–has become more of a fact of life than a vacation indulgence. And as much as baby boomers (and, I'm sure, Gen Xers such as myself) want to deny it, such a milestone birthday also marks how the timeline of one's life has changed. No longer does the future extend in front of us with an endless stretch of years. We have realized that there is an endpoint, however unknowable it may be, making our 75th year a time of reflection as well as celebration.
Perhaps the process is not so different for organizations. This year, the National Housing Conference will turn 75, commemorating three-quarters of a century of providing a meeting place for housing advocates, executives, and public servants on shelter issues. Celebrations are on the calendar, of course; the group planned to host a gala in early June at (where else?) the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Reflection is also on the agenda, with conferences during the year.
After 75 years, the Washington-based nonprofit has much to consider, both in terms of its own work and housing issues. Founded in 1931, NHC predates the creation of HUD (1965), the Federal Housing Administration (1934), and numerous pieces of housing legislation. As such, much of NHC's work, especially at first, revolved around government programs. "Look at its history. The earlier annual reports and stories were all about–and I say this affectionately– 'numbered programs,'" says Nicolas Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard.
Today, though, NHC is known best for its efforts on behalf of working families, whose struggles to find decent and affordable places to live have gotten harder and harder in recent years. "In the U.S., we have managed to create quite a bell curve. These people are not making enough money [to keep up with rising housing costs], but they are not getting any subsidies either," says Shekar Narasimhan, managing partner of Beekman Advisors, who credits the NHC for drawing attention to the issue. "'Working family housing'–they almost coined that term," he says. That "resonated" with the affordable housing expert, who now serves as secretary of NHC. Among the group's most successful efforts: its annual "Paycheck to Paycheck" study, which compares wages and housing costs (for-sale and for-rent) around the country. Just as important, Retsinas says, NHC has also made the case that affordable housing is not only a social concern but an economic issue worthy of corporate attention. "There is more interest in the business community as they realize that a lack of affordable housing is detrimental to them," acknowledges Conrad Egan, NHC's president and CEO.
This year, NHC is highlighting the connections between housing and other critical questions, from rising land costs to household incomes.
"The challenge of transportation and housing is next," says Egan, who wants to see more affordable units included in transportation-oriented developments. Indeed, the work has already started: NHC co-hosted a conference on the intersection of shelter and transportation this spring. Sounds like one active septuagenarian.
The National Housing Conference will host several special events in 2006:
- June 7: 75th Anniversary Gala, National Building Museum, Washington, D.C.
- Oct. 11-12: "Fulfilling the Dream: Shaping Housing Policy for Future Generations," Chicago
- Dec. 11-12: New York Housing Conference and NHC Conference, New York
For more information, visit www.nhc.org.