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September 6, 2022

Local Action To Increase Affordable Housing Supply

Photo of three two-story houses.Creative policymaking at the local level has been key to addressing the housing shortage and its impacts. Photo credit: istockphoto.com/eyecrave productions

On June 23, 2022, the Bipartisan Policy Center hosted the Terwilliger Center Summit on Housing Supply Solutions in Washington, D.C. One panel, “Local Solutions for More Affordable Housing Supply,” focused on tactics local governments throughout the country are deploying to preserve and expand the supply of affordable housing. Moderated by Henry Cisneros, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the panel included Flora Arabo, national senior director of state and local policy at Enterprise Community Partners; Michael Liu, director of the Miami-Dade County Public Housing and Community Development Department; and Philip Mangano, president and chief executive officer of American Round Table to Abolish Homelessness.

The Local Housing Toolkit

The panelists acknowledged the ongoing challenge of maintaining housing affordability across the United States and reviewed the wide-ranging work of local governments to address the issue. Efforts focus on zoning reform, rental assistance, tenant-landlord relations, and targeted funding, among others. Increasing supply is important, said Cisneros, to prevent outcomes such as increased experiences of homelessness, displacement of longtime communities from gentrifying neighborhoods, and displacement of older residents who struggle to keep up with rising property taxes in rapidly appreciating areas.

Arabo identified removing zoning barriers such as single-family exclusive zoning or lot size requirements, which serve to limit low-income residents’ access to certain areas. Beyond removing land-use barriers, jurisdictions can be proactive, agreed Liu, in creating dense, transit-oriented zones, as is being done in Miami. Increased density will allow for more housing to be built, increasing supply and putting downward pressure on costs. Liu reports that over the past several years, Miami-Dade County has become one of the nation’s least affordable places to live for both renters and homeowners, a trend that has accelerated because of relocation activity during the pandemic.

Arabo described a zoning overlay in two rapidly gentrifying Chicago neighborhoods that prohibits developers from transforming three-unit multifamily structures into single-family residences, helping to preserve existing housing stock. This move echoed Cisernos’ concern that a loss of existing affordable units, whether through deterioration or displacement, remains a significant challenge for local governments.

Panelists also discussed efforts beyond zoning. To help address mounting affordability challenges, Liu described measures taken in Miami-Dade to raise the area’s Fair Market Rent, which helps voucher holders by effectively increasing the number of units that vouchers are able to cover; utilize Emergency Rental Assistance Program funding to help both renters in arrears and those experiencing rent increases of up to 20 percent; and doubling, to 60 days, the required advance notice period for rent increases.

Arabo elaborated on initiatives aimed at preserving existing affordable units. San Francisco, for example, gives tenants and nonprofit housing organizations a right of first refusal to buy small- to medium-sized rent regulated buildings at risk of market conversion. In Seattle, a rapid acquisition loan fund allows nonprofit developers of permanent supportive housing to better compete with well-capitalized developers of market-rate housing.

Local Action With Broader Support

Many of the programs and initiatives panelists described, while locally focused, nevertheless depend on state and federal policies to achieve maximum impact. Liu described the pressure that many owners of manufactured home parks face to redevelop their properties as market-rate apartment buildings unaffordable to current residents; he saw the potential for federal-level incentives to encourage these owners to redevelop their parks in ways that maintain their affordability.

Regarding homelessness, the panelists agreed that having an inadequate supply of affordable housing options is a key factor in determining whether people in a given area will experience homelessness. Mangano discussed ongoing efforts in California, many springing from the pandemic and related state and federal funding, to increase the supply of housing targeting individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Thanks to $5 billion in state funding and funding from the American Recovery Plan Act of 2021, along with existing funding sources such as HUD vouchers, Mangano reports that the state developed 20,000 new units of supportive housing targeting people experiencing homelessness, with resources available to bring another 15,000 online. These units are possible, he says, thanks to the on-the-ground efforts of local entities statewide.

Inadequate housing supply is an ongoing national challenge. Local governments and their state and federal partners have been developing wide-ranging strategies to build supply, preserve existing affordable units, and mitigate displacement. As the panelists showed, creative policymaking at the local level has been key to addressing the issue of, and fallout from, the housing shortage.

Visit HUD User’s Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse archive of articles on state and local solutions to increase the supply of affordable housing here.

 
 
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