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August 23, 2021

Local Housing Strategies in the Wake of the Pandemic

Photo showing a row of houses and blue sky in the background.One housing challenge faced by places like Chicago is the displacement of
residents due to increases in land value. Credit: istockphoto.com/andyKRAKOVSKI

In June 2021, the national housing development and advocacy nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners hosted HUD officials and local government executives from around the country in a webinar to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on housing, the vital importance of federal resources, and plans to ensure that affordable housing is equitable. The event, “Innovative Partnerships for Affordable Housing: Working Together to Respond, Stabilize and Recover,” featured a recorded keynote address by HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge in which she outlined the Biden administration’s planned housing and infrastructure policies and announced a new interagency initiative to better enforce the Fair Housing Act in the area of home appraisals. This new initiative targets the racial gap in homeownership — a policy motivation frequently echoed by the featured local leaders, who spoke about their respective cities’ pre- and postpandemic efforts to advance housing equity.

 

Strategies From Localities Big and Small

Priscilla Almodobar, president and chief executive officer of Enterprise Community Partners, underscored the disproportionate impact that the pandemic-induced economic recession has had on communities of color and the importance of housing to racial equity generally. “Homeownership is at the core of this country’s racial wealth gap,” she noted. Jacqueline Waggoner, president of Enterprise’s Solutions Division, moderated the discussion and directed questions to the local leaders and three HUD representatives on the panel. The five local leaders represented three large cities, a small college town, and a body responsible for Hawaiian trust lands — localities that have their own unique backgrounds and challenges but have all touched by the COVID-19 pandemic and the housing affordability crisis.

Asked about the unique housing challenges that Chicago faces, Mayor Lori Lightfoot described a long-term issue that predates the pandemic: the displacement of residents living in the Woodlawn neighborhood near the planned site of the Obama Presidential Center. Woodlawn, on the city’s South Side, is a low-income, majority African-American neighborhood that experienced a sharp increase in land values after plans for the development of the presidential library were announced, leading to community fears that the area would become unaffordable to longtime residents. To avert this outcome, the city passed the Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance in 2020. The ordinance reserved 52 city-owned lots for developing low-income housing, made Woodlawn residents eligible to apply for $20,000 home improvement grants and committed funding to the program, and dedicated additional funding to housing-related efforts in the area. “We put together a $10 million package designed to help support long-term homeowners…. We also put some specific heightened restrictions on affordable housing developments to make sure that renters were also protected,” said Lightfoot.

Representing a decidedly more rural constituency than Lightfoot, Robin Puanani Danner, chair of the Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations, expressed a sentiment she felt would resonate with other local leaders: “The pandemic revealed the resiliency of our communities when longstanding challenges were heightened to crisis levels.” Everything on the homesteads — Hawaii’s lands held in trust by the federal government for use by native Hawaiians, equivalent to Native American reservations — became more difficult, she says, and federal partnerships became more valuable to implement solutions. One distinct challenge that exists alongside COVID is the phenomenon of redlining on trust lands, a problem Danner is confident that sovereign councils can address with the assistance of a responsive and knowledgeable HUD administration.

In Denver, city leaders drew from lessons learned during the response to the housing crisis that followed the Great Recession, a period that saw some neighborhoods experiencing rapid gentrification and displacement, as they navigated the housing challenges that the pandemic had intensified. “In 2011, it became very apparent that when we emerged from the [2008] recession, we were in the midst of a housing crunch,” explained Mayor Michael B. Hancock. “We had to first create a knowledge and awareness of the history and patterns of housing in Denver. We had to be thoughtful if we had intentions of going in and investing in some neighborhoods, knowing that when we did, it might trigger gentrification and involuntary displacement.” Denver implemented its Neighborhood Equity and Stabilization division in 2018 to prevent displacement by connecting local businesses and residents in rapidly developing neighborhoods with public and private resources, including grants. During this same period, Denver developed its Temporary Rental and Utility Assistance Program to keep people housed through short-term hardships such as a job loss or illness. The program is remarkably similar to the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which uses federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds to deliver assistance to households impacted by COVID. In 2019, the city launched its Department of Housing Stability to address homelessness. Hancock credits these existing efforts for the city’s effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were able to respond quickly in a very, very challenging time.”

Los Angeles approached the pandemic housing crisis with a similar priority to prevent homelessness, becoming the first city in the nation to adopt a moratorium on evictions. José ‘Che’ Ramirez, the city’s deputy mayor, reports that when the pandemic first hit, Los Angeles moved 8,000 unsheltered people into temporary hotel and motel accommodations through Project Roomkey. “Our affordable and permanent supportive housing projects, which use local Proposition HHH funds, continued construction throughout the pandemic,” said Ramirez. “The only long-term solution to homelessness is permanent affordable housing.” But, Ramirez added, “[o]perating subsidies are also important. Of the 10,000 units in the development pipeline, about one-fifth lack the operating subsidies they need to move forward.” Los Angeles also assembled $700 million in local, state, and federal assistance for its residents.

In stark contrast, Oxford, Mississippi, is a small college town with approximately 27,000 permanent residents; when the University of Mississippi is in session, the population nearly doubles to 50,000. Mayor Robyn Tannehill explained that, despite Oxford’s small size, its housing costs are similar to those of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The town has responded by making affordable housing a priority, annexing nearby underdeveloped land to make way for more development and reworking local ordinances to encourage private developers to use tax credit programs. “Our goal is to foster smart growth in the city without pushing [our] workforce to the fringes.”

HUD’s Role

As elected officials in our nation’s cities, towns, and tribal areas tackle ongoing housing problems — often made more acute by the pandemic — HUD seeks to support them with technical assistance and funding. Arthur Jemison, principal deputy assistant secretary for HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development, explained that his office will communicate with local leaders to help them set housing goals. Jemison added that HUD is planning to have its Field Offices provide technical assistance to localities applying for grants so that they can pursue projects such as converting hotels and motels into permanent housing, replicating the success of Los Angeles’ Project Roomkey. Dominique Blom, general deputy assistant secretary for Public and Indian Housing, indicated that HUD plans to expand project-based vouchers in 2022, which will provide localities with another tool to expand affordable housing.

Source:

Enterprise Community Partners. 2021. “Innovative Partnerships for Affordable Housing: Working Together to Respond, Stabilize and Recover,” webinar, 22 June. Accessed 22 June 2021; Enterprise Community Partners. 2021. “About.” Accessed 4 August 2021.

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Source:

Enterprise Community Partners. 2021. “Innovative Partnerships for Affordable Housing: Working Together to Respond, Stabilize and Recover,” webinar, 22 June. Accessed 22 June 2021; Enterprise Community Partners. 2021. “Jacqueline Waggoner.” Accessed 4 August 2021.

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Source:

Enterprise Community Partners. 2021. “Innovative Partnerships for Affordable Housing: Working Together to Respond, Stabilize and Recover,” webinar, 22 June. Accessed 22 June 2021.

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Source:

Enterprise Community Partners. 2021. “Innovative Partnerships for Affordable Housing: Working Together to Respond, Stabilize and Recover,” webinar, 22 June. Accessed 22 June 2021; City and County of Denver. n.d. “Rent and Utility Assistance.” Accessed 28 June 2021; City and County of Denver. 2019. “Denver Launches New Department of Housing Stability,” news, 23 October. Accessed 28 June 2021; City and County of Denver. n.d. “Community Benefit Agreements.” Accessed 24 June 2021; City and County of Denver. n.d. “Neighborhood Equity & Stabilization.” Accessed 24 June 2021.

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Source:

Enterprise Community Partners. 2021. “Innovative Partnerships for Affordable Housing: Working Together to Respond, Stabilize and Recover,” webinar, 22 June. Accessed 22 June 2021; County of Los Angeles. n.d. “Project Roomkey.” Accessed 28 June 2021.

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Source:

Enterprise Community Partners. 2021. “Innovative Partnerships for Affordable Housing: Working Together to Respond, Stabilize and Recover,” webinar, 22 June. Accessed 22 June 2021.

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Source:

Enterprise Community Partners. 2021. “Innovative Partnerships for Affordable Housing: Working Together to Respond, Stabilize and Recover,” webinar, 22 June. Accessed 22 June 2021.

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