REWRITE THE REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS

Carol Lamberg

The affordable housing industry has mushroomed. Many qualified organizations compete whenever a government agency invites proposals and announces that subsidies or tax benefits are available. Typically, developers spend six months preparing responses to requests for proposals (RFPs). This has never been easy, but in recent years, the requirements have become extremely complex, arduous and expensive. Losing competitions is painful.

Typically, approximately 30 documents are required, including detailed architectural submissions and financial projections. The developer must show combinations of subsidy and tax abatement to achieve affordable rents, and many sources are only sporadically available. Because it is challenging to document all the funds, an alternate “as-of-right” proposal is required. Many unfeasible proposals are submitted. Government agencies take a long time to select a winner. Construction and operating costs rise. Design changes and new financial arrangements are inevitable. 

It is time to streamline the process. An applicant would provide the track record of the development team, a zoning analysis, a short narrative, schematic plans and a preliminary financial projection. City agencies would provide a preliminary commitment to the winner and subsequently require advanced drawings, firm cost estimates, disclosure statements and community approvals. The developer would complete arrangements with banks, other funders, and investors, and would add amenities and programs, if appropriate. The architect would complete construction drawings and obtain a permit. The closing celebrations would come next.

If the RFP process were simplified, we would have more time to advocate for funds and create more affordable housing and better programs.

Carol Lamberg is the Executive Director of the Settlement Housing Fund. She has over 40 years of experience as a housing professional, and is an expert at conceptualizing new projects and programs in housing legislation. Lamberg also co-chairs the New York Housing Conference and is Regional Vice President of the National Housing Conference.

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