The Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) in Massachusetts has completed the conversion of its first 441 units of public housing to project-based assistance under the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, the agency will convert all 2,129 of its public housing units under RAD, triggering more than $200 million in needed construction at its developments throughout Cambridge.

CHA’s portfolio-wide RAD conversion was approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2013 and was at the time the fifth-largest RAD conversion in the country, according to the agency.

RAD is the centerpiece of HUD’s strategy to preserve at-risk public and assisted-housing developments. In a big victory for HUD, Congress recently approved an expansion of the first component from 60,000 to 185,000 units, a move that will allow the agency to convert a long waiting list of projects to RAD.

“The idea is to bring these units out of the public housing paradigm so they can leverage debt and make the improvements needed to remain affordable and available as good quality housing for years to come,” says Amy McClain, a partner at the Ballard Spahr law firm and author of Beginner’s Guide to Public Housing Conversion under RAD.

She has worked on more than a dozen RAD transactions, with several more in the works, including several large portfolio conversions.

McClain has seen deals use a variety of funding sources to finance their renovations. Most are using LIHTCs, especially 4 percent credits but 9 percent credits as well. Others have used strictly bond proceeds or other funding.

While RAD is a key piece of HUD’s overall preservation strategy, members of Congress have pointed out that the last word in its name is “demonstration,” adds McClain.

That means there’s still much to learn about the program. “There’s a time to step back and look at what impact these deals are having,” she says. “Is it working? Is it the best approach? Are there ways to fine-tune it?”

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