This toolkit is the compilation of many hours of collective work from various parties. It will continue to be updated as more resources are identified. For more information, please reach out to the advisory board located at the bottom of this website.
The goal of the housing toolkit is to assist communities in discussing the importance of attainable housing. Attainable housing isn’t just an issue of lack of places to live-- it’s an issue with having a strong economy. In order to attract and retain jobs, there must also be a place for these employees to live. This toolkit will explain the issues surrounding attainable housing, as well as provide resources to guide communities through the journey to provide adequate housing.
Housing affordability supports sustainable economic development, representing a perpetual wage subsidy for local employers and net salary increase for working households—benefits which remain in the local community as long-term assets. Think of local housing stock as part of your community’s critical infrastructure essential to a recruitment and retention strategy for outside investment, good-paying jobs and a dynamic workforce. Employers know a stable labor force is important for productivity, planning, and competitiveness; they also know long commute times and financial strain can impact job performance and reliability.
To be sustainable, housing options must be affordable and accessible to all residents. Healthy housing infrastructure reflects the needs and incomes of real people. The aim is to support community housing choices within reach of all people.
When working households, retirees and others can comfortably meet basic costs associated with local housing, they have more time, money and energy to invest locally. Communities benefit from less traffic, more stability, and engaged residents. School and job attendance increase, while public costs associated with community health and safety go down.
What causes a lack of attainable housing?
Missing middle/workplace housing
The missing middle refers to buildings with multiple units, such as duplexes or triplexes. These buildings have typically been illegal to build since the 1940s so they are considered “missing” from new building stock. Some of the characteristics of this type of housing include walkability, smaller building footprints and smaller units. These housing types are typically more marketable because they are more affordable.
Age/condition of housing
Because the private sector struggles to construct new homes in the “missing middle”, the condition of the existing housing stock declines. Some of these problems can be addressed through code enforcement. Many towns have properties which are considered an eyesore. It may be that city officials are hesitant to give property owners a citation, or they just may not understand how to begin addressing the issue.
Shortage of homes to rent
Since new construction has halted on homes in the missing middle, there is more competition for rental properties and prices are higher for existing rental properties. In addition, developers are not constructing properties designed for renting, such as duplexes or multi-family dwellings.
Housing not a concern of politicians
This issue is seen as the domain of the private sector. Politicians have only seen housing as an issue of the government in the form of public housing. Constituents in communities nationwide are calling on county elected officials to reduce the burdens of housing costs that force residents to relocate to more affordable neighborhoods. Although housing affordability is a shared priority across the country, available options to promote affordability vary widely between counties.
What to do about the lack of attainable housing?
This issue is more complex than just involving housing. Therefore, attainable housing is so important in the overall picture of economic development. The discussion of job creation in communities must also involve the discussion of adequate housing for a community. Available housing for all income groups helps a community retain jobs and helps business owners retain quality employees.
One way to address the condition of properties is through proper code enforcement. This could be as simple as strengthening already existing property maintenance ordinances or it could be bringing in a code enforcement official. While this may take some training or recruitment on the front end, the long-term benefit of improvement of distressed neighborhoods and a long-term plan or guideline to maintaining properties will be beneficial to creating a sustainable community development plan.
This problem needs a multi-prong approach. It may involve a partnership with local developers, or individuals within your community. It may be that a non-profit within your community takes the lead on this.
Advocacy through local government, as well as non-profit statewide organizations is an important part of putting housing issues in front of politicians. National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) is the national organization for housing which provides many resources for advocacy.
A newer solution is developing a community land trust. A community land trust is a nonprofit organization that is the steward of community assets and provides attainable housing opportunities for families. Their primary goal is ensuring families can purchase affordable homes, these homes remain affordable should they go back on the market, and to offer educational opportunities for the families to help them maintain their properties and grow as homeowners.
This “shared equity homeownership” works through households who have an income below the local AMI but are still able to qualify for a mortgage. They purchase the home at an affordable price and lease the land from the Community Land Trust. If the homeowners decide to sell, they can keep all the equity plus a portion of the increase in value. The Community Land Trust manages the resale process, to ensure the home remains attainable. There are nearly 250 Community Land Trusts in the United States; 79% of residents are first-time homeowners, and 82% of residents report income less than 50% of area median.
What happens if a lack of attainable housing isn’t addressed?
If employees have no place to live where they work, it will be harder to draw business into towns. Job creation is strongest if workers reside in the community. Employees who can live near their place of employment are better able to report to work on time while also having time to improve their job skills, get an education, or spend time with their family.
Neighborhoods will continue to become distressed and community pride will decrease. For the continued success of your town, condition of housing and code enforcement is a vital part of the picture.