Local Housing Solutions: Tackling a national problem on a local scale
A growing number of places are grappling with housing affordability. As the problem spreads from famously high-cost areas like New York and San Francisco, it is becoming a more pressing concern for middle-income households. These trends have pushed housing affordability onto the national stage in an unprecedented way, with several presidential candidates releasing detailed policy plans, and speaking about housing frequently on the campaign trail. Yet despite its national prominence, housing remains an issue where local governments play an enormous role.
As Neighborhood Funders Group's Democratizing Development Program (DDP) has shown, new public and private investments in cities have triggered changes in property value, speculation, and development in neighborhoods—particularly those that suffer from long-term urban disinvestment. These neighborhoods experience rapid development, housing prices increase dramatically, and longtime residents can find themselves priced out with nowhere to go. As a result, low and moderate income households are driven away from urban centers, leaving many unable to access employment, education, or nutritious foods—exposing them to crime and other health hazards.
Although gentrification and displacement are felt most acutely by low-income individuals and communities of color, they affect more than just low-income renters. Essential professionals such as teachers, nurses, and first responders are being forced to commute by car from extreme distances, increasing carbon emissions. All the while, an increasing number of households live in areas suffering from persistent poverty and decline. The critical role that local governments need to play to collectively tackle the housing crisis is why DDP engages funders to invest in community organizing, advocacy, and powerbuilding strategies—all with the goal of catalyzing policy change.
DDP's approach to these issues is starting to show results, as state and local governments are responding more aggressively to these challenges through policy levers including more inclusive zoning and land-use, strategic tax incentives, and stronger rent regulations. But given the complexity of housing markets and community revitalization, as well as the dual but distinct challenges of gentrification and neighborhood decline which often co-exist within a city, these local governments need help developing and refining housing strategies that can successfully address housing affordability.
The critical importance of local housing policy is why Local Housing Solutions (LHS) was created. LHS is a comprehensive online tool generously funded by two Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) members, the Ford Foundation and MacArthur Foundation, and built in partnership by the NYU Furman Center and Abt Associates. It offers an array of resources to help cities, counties, and towns develop comprehensive and balanced local strategies to meet their individual housing goals.
NFG partnered with the Ford Foundation, NYU Furman Center, and Abt Associates to host "Empowering Localities to Address Their Affordable Housing Challenges," a thought-provoking event held at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice to highlight the Local Housing Solutions platform. Recordings of the event's inspiring discussions with leading practitioners, elected officials, and experts in the field are available below. The entire event is also available to watch.
Panel #1: The Crucial Role of Cities in Addressing Local Housing Affordability Challenges
Lourdes Castro Ramirez, Chair of the San Antonio Housing Policy Task Force
The Honorable Karen Freeman-Wilson, Mayor of Gary, Indiana; President of the National League of Cities
- Terri Lee, Chief Housing Officer of the City of Atlanta
- Vicki Been (moderator), New York City Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development and former Faculty Director at NYU Furman Center;
Panel #2: The Focus of the National Community of Practice on Local Housing Solutions
- Sheila Dillon, Chief of Housing and Director of Neighborhood Development for the City of Boston
- Robin Kneich, Denver City Councilmember and Board Member of Local Progress
- Sheryl Whitney, Partner at Whitney Jennings Consulting
- Jeffrey Lubell (moderator), Director of Housing and Community Initiatives at Abt Associates
Shape your housing objectives around the needs expressed by your community. Don’t start the policy-making process by bringing in an outside housing expert. Invite citizens to share their experiences and suggestions, and integrate that information into your formal plan.
Communicating your policies and efforts with the community is essential throughout the entire process. In addition to promoting your good work, a strong communications strategy keeps the public informed, helps to set reasonable expectations, and may facilitate helpful feedback from residents.
- Proper leadership is key. The responsibilities surrounding housing are often shared among numerous community agencies, and coordinating these agencies to execute a comprehensive affordable housing solution is tricky. The role of a leader to promote the vision and manage the execution is essential.
- Citizens care about implementation. It’s easy to get caught in “analysis paralysis” and writing perfect policies, but it’s better to start with small actions and secure early wins to show your constituents. Even better, set an implementation timeline, and work towards achieving those objectives in a timely manner.
- Keep detailed metrics throughout the entire process, and make that data available to the public. Not only will this assist you in tracking the results of your policies, but making the data public holds you accountable to your community. And, of course, public data helps other communities help to shape their own housing policies!
- Creating affordable housing policy that affects an entire region (like a city and its surround suburbs) is challenging – but it can be done. The increased geographic reach requires an increased understanding of the demographic, economic, and lifestyle differences of each sub-community. Keep in mind, people chose to live in certain areas for a reason – and those reasons must be respected!
- Collaboration is key! While it is true that no two communities are alike, learn from the successes and mistakes of other communities who are implementing their own creative policy solutions.
The event concluded with a detailed overview of the Local Housing Solutions website. LHS is a powerful learning and teaching tool for urban planning and policy to assist community leaders in addressing many of the issues we discussed above. Its framework organizes a library of 81 housing policies and 19 policy objectives under four pillars:
- Create and preserve dedicated affordable housing units
- Promote affordability by reducing barriers to new supply
- Help households access and afford private-market homes
- Protect against displacement and poor housing conditions
Resources on the site are designed to serve a wide audience, with content ranging from housing explainer videos for those new to the field to in-depth policy topics for more seasoned practitioners. In addition, LocalHousingSolutions.org offers guidance on how to evaluate housing strategy outcomes and make refinements accordingly. We encourage all NFG members to consider the importance of housing policy in their funding strategies and goals, and to contact us to further discuss the role of funders in supporting inclusive, comprehensive local housing strategies.
Thank you to all of the panelists who shared their knowledge and expertise! We are thrilled to have been able to play such a vital role in this event, as well as in developing the Local Housing Solutions platform.