|"One of the most fundamental differences between a strategy and a series of efforts in the absence of a strategy, is that a strategy has a body of goals and a series of objectives through which those goals can be reached. |
It is the existence of those goals and objectives that enable all of the participants to see their role clearly, and to work together with the others to make them a reality. Without them, one may have a series of sound program elements or activities, but it is questionable whether one can call it a strategy."
--from An Affordable Housing Strategy for Stamford, CT
|Comprehensive housing strategies
are usually developed through inclusive, detailed planning processes
involving the following steps: |
1. Convening of multiple agencies and stakeholders. While some government agencies develop their housing strategies internally, many of the most successful plans are built on the foundation of broad input from a wide spectrum of stakeholders. The early and consistent involvement of the different government agencies whose collaboration is needed to address the many facets of a community's housing challenges is also important.
2. Clarification of the community's goals. One of the first tasks for communities seeking to develop a more strategic approach to housing policy is to identify the specific problems the community is trying to solve and to analyze the root causes of these problems. This analysis is often informed by a formal assessment of the community's needs as well as thorough discussion among stakeholders.
Most communities also have a document called a Comprehensive Plan which sets out their zoning and other land use policies. Roughly half of the states require the inclusion of a Housing Element within communities' Comprehensive Plans that explains how the expected demand for housing will be met. Some Housing Elements are very comprehensive and well thought-out. Others are more narrow or even perfunctory.
In some communities, the process of developing a Housing Element can serve as a foundation for developing a comprehensive housing strategy. In other communities, it may make more sense to separate the processes. In any event,
Plaza East, San Francisco CA - Photo courtesy of McCormack Baron Salazar
|3. In addition to affordability and quality, communities may wish to consider the location and energy-efficiency of housing. In its study, A Heavy Load: The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families [PDF], the Center for Housing Policy found that working families with incomes between $20,000 and $50,000 spend about as much on transportation costs as they do on housing costs. Furthermore, their expenditures for housing and transportation are linked. As families move further from job centers to afford the costs of housing, their transportation costs increase; in many cases, the increased transportation costs eat up all of the savings on housing. Moreover, they now have long commutes and less time with their children and contribute to traffic congestion.|
Mill Creek Apartments, Vancouver OR - Photo courtesy of Washington Mutual
Photo credit: Chris Palladino
|3. Input from practitioners and stakeholders. In addition to gathering quantitative (i.e., numerical) data on the nature and extent of a community's housing challenges, it is important to consult with stakeholders and practitioners to learn more about what they perceive the principal housing challenges to be, what obstacles they experience as they seek to address these problems, and what solutions they propose to resolve them. |
In many cases, developers working to build affordable homes can pinpoint specific problems that delay and drive up the costs of new development, as well as problems with current financing and funding mechanisms. Practitioners and stakeholders also may have ideas for creative solutions to expand the supply of affordable homes.
|The following are some of the factors to consider in analyzing the root causes of a community's housing problems:|
Westminster Place, St. Louis MO - Photo courtesy of McCormack Baron Salazar
|Inclusive is generally better|
For these reasons, it is important to involve a diverse array of stakeholders in the development of a comprehensive housing strategy by including representatives of the various practitioner and other stakeholder groups on the taskforce and by scheduling frequent opportunities for meaningful citizen input from the outset of the planning process.
Among other key groups that should be represented on a housing taskforce are: both nonprofit and for-profit developers and builders, lenders, community development corporations, housing counseling entities, employers, and representatives from a diverse range of government agencies (more on this below).
|In examining the policies of the city, county or state housing department, it will be useful to go beyond the question of whether the department is fair and thoughtful in how it distributes HOME and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds – two large HUD block grants – and consider more broadly whether the policies meet the most pressing affordable housing challenges. If there is a need for predevelopment and acquisition funding, for example, are policies in place to meet this need? To the extent that a community seeks to help working families move closer to their places of employment or to public transit, are there existing programs set up to help make this happen?|
In the course of this evaluation, many communities may determine that certain desired activities are not permissible expenditures under the main federal funding
Friendship Court, Charlottesville, VA - Photo credit: Jackson Smith
|These decisions can be controversial. Many affordable housing advocates will argue that all or nearly all of the funding should go to families with the lowest incomes – often known in housing parlance as "extremely low-income" or "very low-income" families – because these families are the most likely to be spending half or more of their incomes on housing. Some employers may argue for assistance for moderate-income families to help them find affordable homes closer to work, to boost retention rates. Some groups may want housing activities to be concentrated in particular neighborhoods, in order to stimulate community revitalization; others may argue for spreading affordable homes throughout the broader community to minimize concentrations and promote a mix of incomes.|
Before examining the specific questions that need to be addressed in targeting state and local housing funds, it may be helpful to consider some cross-cutting observations on how to reach common ground:
|The Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP)|
As federal funding for the production of new construction has waned, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) has become increasingly important to the developers of affordable homes. Each state develops a federally-mandated qualified allocation plan (QAP) that explains the standards and priorities against which LIHTC applicants will be ranked each year. As the importance of the LIHTC as a revenue source has grown, so has the influence of the QAP as a targeting statement.
Targeting by Location
In most cases, states use the QAP to establish preferences for development in specific areas, such as targeted improvement zones or rural communities. Recently, the Sacaramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency issued a proposal to increase the competitiveness of LIHTC applicants developing homes in new, master-planned communities, primarily by re-assessing criteria that require site amenities such as public transit and schools to be in place when the project is placed in service. Click here to read the proposal.
Targeting by Population
In other states, the QAP has been used to prioritize housing for particular types of residents, such as large families, elderly households, or people who have experienced homelessness. In its QAP, the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency established a threshold requirement that all LIHTC applicants reserve 10 percent of units for extremely low-income persons with disabilities. Click here to read a case study about North Carolina's QAP from the Corporation for Supportive Housing [PDF].
Erin Place, Eagan MN - Photo courtesy of LHB, Inc.
|If programs are costing more than expected, what is the source of extra costs? What additional changes do practitioners recommend to make programs easier to use and thus more effective?|
As communities consider updates to program rules, it is important to bear in mind that frequent rule changes may be counterproductive, unsettling existing expectations and forcing beneficiaries to change their business plans midstream. Ideally, programs should be well-designed from the start, reflecting feedback from practitioners before the programs are implemented, and thus minimizing the need for subsequent change. When data or other feedback demonstrate a need for program changes, by all means, make the changes; but again, it's best to solicit input on the specific changes before they are implemented.
|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, Atlanta GA -- Photo courtesy of McCormack Baron Salazar
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.
|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, Pittsburgh PA -- Photo courtesy of McCormack Baron Salazar
|In this section, we present profiles of 12 strategic housing plans that have been prepared -- and are in various stages of implementation -- by jurisdictions across the country. Plans were selected to represent different types of communities and levels of government, as well as to provide an indication of the diversity of approaches to development and implementation.|
Use the browse categories below to find specific types of housing plans, or simply click through the profiles to learn about how communities across the country are putting the pieces together to create a comprehensive approach to increasing the availability of homes for working families.
|Does your community have a strategic housing plan that should be highlighted on HousingPolicy.org? |
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More than 1 million
|500,000 to 1 million|
|100,000 to 500,000|
|Less than 100,000|