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Building A Strategy Heading
Ingredients For Success
Twelve ingredients for success

1. Exercise leadership
Securing and maintaining collaboration between multiple agencies that are not used to working together will require strong leadership, both as programs get started and in an ongoing capacity. Ideally, there should be both high-level commitment to the development and execution of a plan and someone playing a more hands-on role to keep the process moving and monitor results.

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2. Know your market
The housing needs of working families, and the resources available to meet those needs, must be judged in the market context, which means it is essential to understand the dynamics of the market. For example, at what price point can private or nonprofit developers build different types of homes? What is preventing them from producing homes at lower costs? Do for-profit and nonprofit developers have ready access to financing for new projects? Do existing rental property owners have access to financing to maintain their properties? Is there a high-quality older rental stock that could be preserved as an affordable resource for lower income families?

Understanding the housing needs the private sector is already meeting, or could meet with some relatively modest changes in state or local policy, will help identify the gaps that could be filled by the government or nonprofit sectors. This process also may uncover policy changes that could be made to reduce the costs of market-rate homes.

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3. Get ahead of the curve by proactively planning for the future
In developing and implementing a strategic housing plan, it's critical to stay ahead of the curve. In particular, it's important to understand where future growth is likely to take place as it will generally be easier and less expensive to intervene in the market before a neighborhood has "taken off" rather than afterwards. Planning for future growth also involves coordinating housing, transportation and economic development plans so that working families can afford to live near (or with good transportation access to) employment centers.

For example, some communities have taken steps to make sure housing affordable to working families is available in neighborhoods adjacent to proposed mass transit stations. These areas can accommodate greater residential density and allow development with
Centennial Place
Centennial Place, Atlanta GA -- Photo courtesy of McCormack Baron Salazar
fewer parking requirements—conditions that ease the development of affordable homes. At the same time, however, these areas are vulnerable to speculation and skyrocketing land prices as transit plans are finalized.

By exercising some measure of control over adjacent land very early in the process – through acquisition, establishing a tax increment district, or inclusionary zoning incentives or requirements – communities can help to ensure that affordable homes are well located near transit. For example, in 2003 the City of Minneapolis implemented the Corridor Housing Strategy, a small area plan intended to ensure the continued availability of affordable housing along a newly-established light rail line. In addition to a robust community outreach and engagement process undertaken in partnership with area developers and neighborhood groups, the initiative involves City acquisition of smaller, strategic parcels of land to be reserved for mixed-income development along transit corridors.

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4. Be comprehensive
In constructing a housing plan, it is important to realize that there is not generally going to be one single answer to meeting families' housing needs. Rather, it is likely that a combination of strategies will be needed – for example, combining expedited permitting to reduce the time and expense of development with mechanisms for generating additional capital for homes affordable to working families and strategies for strengthening families' capacity to obtain a reasonably-priced private mortgage.

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5. Be inclusive
The housing challenges facing most communities are long-standing, substantial, and multifaceted. By building a broad and inclusive coalition of stakeholders and agencies, communities can ensure they have the widest possible input into how to solve these problems, a deep and diverse base of support for their adoption, and a large arsenal of partners and allies who can assist with their implementation. Click here for more information on assembling a taskforce to develop a comprehensive housing strategy.

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6. Create open lines of communication
In a rapidly changing business like housing, it's essential to stay in close contact with practitioners in all sectors of the business, including nonprofit and for-profit developers, lenders, mortgage servicers, rental property owners and managers, low-income advocates, and architects and planners.

Most communities have provisions for one or two formal public input sessions per year, often in connection with the HUD-mandated Consolidated Plan, but these meetings generally are not conducive to the kind of intensive, fact-gathering, iterative analysis and open exchange of views that are necessary to improve housing policy. In addition to these formal sessions, state and local governments should consider establishing open channels of communication with practitioners throughout the year – perhaps as part of the housing strategy taskforce process – to review and refine public policy to provide maximum support for practitioners' efforts to expand the supply of affordable homes.

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Bungalow Court
Bungalow Court, Minneapolis MN -- Photo courtesy of LHB Inc.
7. Insist on excellent design
Like any other form of housing, affordable homes can be designed well or designed poorly. Governments should insist that any affordable homes they support be well-designed – both to ensure that they remain durable assets for the residents and the community and to minimize public opposition.

The City of Boston has taken design recommendations a step further; the City's housing strategy not only promotes good design that fits with the surrounding neighborhood, but indicates that design standards will be modified to incorporate construction practices that help reduce the incidence of asthma. In addition, authors of the report note that the Mayor's Green Building Taskforce will recommend greater use of green building techniques and high energy performance technology in new construction and major renovation projects.

View the Gallery section of this site to see examples of housing that is attractive and affordable to working families. The Affordable Housing Design Advisor provides a good primer on both attractive design and principles of environmentally sustainable design.

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8. Promote a mix of incomes

There is a general consensus among practitioners that neighborhoods that include families with a mix of incomes tend to be more successful over the long-term than those that include very low-income families exclusively. This does not necessarily mean that every single development of affordable homes must include families with a mix of incomes. In general, however, jurisdictions should aim to ensure that their investments help to facilitate the creation of healthy, vibrant neighborhoods that provide homes affordable to families across the income spectrum. Tools like inclusionary zoning policies and zoning codes that allow accessory dwelling units and other types of lower-cost units help local officials achieve an income mix in new and established neighborhoods.

Click here to leave this section and learn more about developing mixed-income housing through cross-subsidies.

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9. Preserve and recycle resources

In a world of limited public resources, it is essential to maximize the value of public subsidies to ensure they provide long-term benefits to the community. In the housing context, this can be accomplished by requiring that homes made affordable through public subsidy or large implicit subsidies – through density bonuses, for example, or the donation or the below-market sale of publicly-owned land – remain affordable for an extended period of time, and even in perpetuity, where appropriate.

On the rental side, many states now require that developments funded through the low-income housing tax credit remain affordable for 50 years or more. Some even require permanent affordability. Many of the early tax credit developments and federally assisted properties did not have these long-term affordability requirements, so efforts are now underway to preserve their affordability. These preservation efforts are another important way to maximize the initial investment in those properties, but of course it would have been less costly and more effective to build long-term affordability in at the outset. Click here to learn more about rental housing preservation.

On the homeownership side, there is a trend toward recycling downpayment assistance so that a single investment of public funds can be used to assist multiple families, but many communities still provide downpayment assistance in the form of a grant or a forgivable loan. As the amount of assistance required to assist any given homeowner has grown, some communities have turned to shared equity solutions that preserve the buying power of public homeownership subsidies in the face of rising home prices.

Debates about how to structure homeownership assistance can sometimes be contentious, with advocates on the one side arguing that homeownership policies should maximize individual opportunities to build assets, while advocates on the other side argue that the only important goal is to preserve the affordability of assisted homes to future buyers. In reality, there is much ground in between these two extremes and successful strategies for advancing both goals at the same time. Click here to learn more about how to balance ongoing affordability with individual asset-building in designing a homeownership subsidy program.

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10. Consider a demonstration
In some cases, adoption of strategies on a demonstration basis can help test assumptions and reduce risk when policy outcomes are uncertain. Boston's housing plan, for example, includes an increase in the inclusionary housing requirement, from 10 percent of total units to 15 percent of market-rate units (equivalent to 13 percent of total units) in new development. Because of concerns about future market conditions, rather than introducing a permanent shift in the inclusionary development formula, this change was implemented on a temporary demonstration basis. Adopting this change on a provisional basis allowed the City to assess its impact on private development before making a permanent adjustment.

This approach may also help in the implementation of politically sensitive or controversial strategies that initially meet with community opposition. Successful introduction of programs on a demonstration basis allows sponsors to address NIMBY concerns, setting the stage for broader acceptance of programs related to housing affordability.

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11. Think locally and regionally
Like labor markets, housing markets are regional in nature. While most families live in the same metropolitan area in which they work, they do not always live in the same city or even the same county as their workplaces. For this reason, the housing policies that one community adopts may affect other communities in the same metropolitan area. For example, when one community restricts new development or sets up conditions that effectively preclude the development of affordable homes, other communities end up picking up the slack. Since the housing policies of communities are rarely coordinated with one another, the end result is often sprawl: affordable homes get built in the areas of least resistance – often on the fringes of the metropolitan area – and traffic increases as these families travel long distances to and from work.

While each community can and should develop its own local housing strategy, it is important to open a dialogue with other nearby municipalities to determine the optimal role of each in addressing the broader housing needs of the region. To reduce sprawl, for example, communities may want to focus energy on infill development in areas with existing infrastructure and on areas with good access to public transportation. Rural areas on the fringes of growing metropolitan areas can work with nearby city officials to make sure that if and when annexation occurs, development proceeds in a well-planned manner. Cooperation between different jurisdictions can help regions develop coordinated housing strategies to meet needs that transcend political boundary lines.

In addition to the development of complementary housing strategies, another benefit of regional cooperation is the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other jurisdictions. Included in the housing action plan of Provincetown, Massachusetts, for example, is a recommendation to create a roundtable forum for nearby communities facing similar housing affordability challenges. While development of a regional approach to common housing issues is an eventual goal of this group, the forum is also presented as a venue for participants to share successful strategies and develop ways to work together on funding applications and other projects.

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12. Build public support for affordable homes
Public opposition to new development is one of the biggest obstacles to expanding the supply of homes affordable to working families. State and local leaders can help expand public support for new or rehabilitated homes by working to educate the public about their benefits for the community, as well as the importance of providing homes for essential workers.

Encouraging public involvement throughout the planning process is a powerful way to build a strong base of support, but efforts should not end once the plan has been officially accepted. Fairfax County’s affordable housing plan includes a recommendation for the establishment of an ongoing advocacy and public education campaign to promote the need for affordable and workforce housing and advocate for full funding of related programs.

Among other things, members of the committee that developed the plan will serve as "ambassadors," speaking to civic organizations and the media about housing. Similarly, as part of the development of its housing strategy, Provincetown, Massachusetts created a Community Support Work Group,
Crawford Square
Crawford Square, Pittsburgh PA -- Photo courtesy of McCormack Baron Salazar
charged with the task of finding methods to educate the community about housing needs and progress made. In addition to coming up with key messages to use in its public education work, the Group proposed the initiation of regular meetings with other community groups, in order to build support for housing-related activity.

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