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As the housing market continues to grow and evolve, it's crucial that we prioritize advancing equity in housing to ensure fair and equal access to safe and affordable housing for all individuals and families.

The following resource provides guidance to support civic leaders in advancing equitable community planning by applying Fourth Economy’s Equitable Community Planning Toolkit. The toolkit is designed to help you and your community become stronger and more vibrant through equitable planning practices. It includes a step-by-step framework to approach systems change plus resources, activities, and tools to help communities advance their equitable planning processes.

A Framework for Equitable Community Planning

Identify and Engage Community Members

Identify, Evaluate, and Implement the Methods

Identify and Measure


Step 1

Establish a Baseline

A first step in planning for equity work is assessing current conditions and understanding historic conditions to establish a baseline and inform future approaches. Establishing a data-informed baseline not only informs the present needs of communities, but serves as a method to measure the effectiveness of interventions. See Identifying and Measuring Outcomes for suggestions of metrics to consider analyzing and tracking.

Local histories of inequitable housing systems – including urban renewal, redlining, and segregation – are still visible in communities through the built environment and economic realities like the racial wealth gap. Recognizing and addressing historical injustices and challenges like gentrification are essential to future community prosperity and successful economic development plans. Racially inequitable housing and development practices continue to manifest in many geographies and are still visible in the geographies of communities today. 

Addressing systemic challenges such as housing disparities requires understanding historical injustices such as urban renewal and housing discrimination. Mapping Inequality is a tool which makes accessible historic redlining maps making them available in a digital, map-based format. Another resource for understanding how government policies continue to impact communities of color in perpetuating racial housing disparities is The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein.

Identify and Understand the Work

Deploy Inclusive Planning and Implementation 

Diverse community engagement is critical to equitable planning. Including community members who represent a variety of backgrounds and lived experiences, particularly those who have been and continue to be historically marginalized, is essential to developing well-informed plans and achieving desirable outcomes. 

Participant categories may include but are not limited to:

  • Homeowners

  • Renters

  • Unhoused residents

  • Landlords

  • Senior Living Facilities Representatives

  • Neighborhood Associations

  • Housing Authorities

  • Developers

  • Builders

  • Zoning and Planning Representatives

  • Financial Institutions

  • Youth

Equitable development efforts should be localized and serve marginalized groups, including but not limited to women, LGBTQ communities, immigrants, people with disabilities, communities of color, low-income individuals, and families. While not a complete list, this can be a starting point for intersectional engagement in your community. 

Below is an example of how to engage with landlords in housing equity planning. It is important to think of all stakeholders and ensure you are reaching them appropriately. 

Engaging Landlords and Property Owners

Establishing working relationships with landlords and property owners can be challenging. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a large amount of emergency rental assistance was released into the market, but dispersal often bottlenecked at the landlord level. As a result, the US Department of the Treasury encouraged local governments to give rental payments directly to tenants in 2021. 

The Urban Land Institute offers four strategies to engage landlords when tenants’ housing stability is on the line: 

  1. Build a strong relationship and trust between landlords and government entities. 

  2. Reduce administrative burdens and incentivize participation, disincentivizing evictions. 

  3. Create enforcement mechanisms, which would give the emergency rental assistance process some teeth if something goes wrong. 

  4. Shift power from landlords to tenants by having direct-to-tenant payments or landlord-tenant mediation services.

Engagement should focus on landlords of all scales. The National League of Cities created a landlord engagement toolkit to guide these interactions. They also offer recommendations centered specifically around engaging small landlords. Recommendations include: 

  • gathering feedback from landlords and tenants, 

  • being realistic about goals and timelines, 

  • recognizing inequities across groups (as done in Matthew Desmond’s Evicted), and

  • evaluating and monitoring developments. 

This is just one example of a participant group to engage in housing equity planning. It is important to think of all stakeholders and ensure you are reaching them appropriately. 

Identify and Engage Partners

Anchor 2

Identify, Evaluate, and Implement the Methods

Develop Strategies to Advance Equitable Development

To advance equitable development, communities deploy various local and regional initiatives across public and private sectors through targeted programs, mandates, incentives, process improvements, financial investments, physical infrastructure, and/or partnerships. A few examples of Promising Practices follow.

Seattle’s Housing Seattle Now project consists of a two-pronged housing assistance investment. The project will see at least $50 million invested in housing for people experiencing homelessness alongside a renewed and improved Multi-Family Tax Exemption Program. Support was raised without increasing taxes through a new law (Washington HB 1406) that allows cities, towns, and counties to credit against the sales tax for 20 years starting in 2019. The Multi-Family Tax Exemption program is an incentive program to create affordable housing through a tax exemption for developers. This tax exemption is given for 12 years if 20 - 25% of their units are affordable. As of 2019, 4,500 low- and middle-income households have been provided with affordable housing. An additional 1,300 units were built between 2019-2022. To monitor progress, Seattle created an affordable housing stock dashboard. These efforts cumulatively show a commitment to equity in housing.  

Indianapolis, Indiana, is marrying housing with transit, recently launching its $15 million Equitable Transit-Oriented Development (eTOD) Loan Fund to enable equitable access to jobs, education, healthcare, and more. Months after the Loan Fund’s creation, two large buildings were acquired to be converted into affordable housing. As in Indianapolis, eTODs can be public-private partnerships to assure long-term residents share the benefits of new business development. Many other cities have eTODs, including Atlanta, Georgia, Seattle, Washington, and Chicago, Illinois.

Tools for Creating Long-term Affordability 

Policies such as inclusionary zoning legislation, community land trusts, pay-to-stay regulations, and legislation that forbids housing discrimination based on the source of income work to disrupt displacement by creating and maintaining long-term affordable housing. 

Inclusionary zoning requires developers to include affordable units in new housing developments in exchange for an incentive. The percentage of affordable units required and developer incentives (such as density bonuses or parking adjustments) differ across the country. 

A community land trust is a system where the land is owned by a non-profit or the city, while the housing on it can be sold at an affordable price to eligible applicants. The house stays affordable in perpetuity and gives low-income individuals an opportunity to own a home.  

Pay to Stay regulations are laws that prevent eviction as long as a renter has the money to repay late rent. 

A source of income ordinance prevents discrimination based on how a tenant attains rent money, as long as it is done legally. This is specifically to protect those with Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, that may be denied housing solely for being voucher recipients (more information here).

Policies such as inclusionary zoning,  land trusts, pay-to-stay regulations, and source of income protections can prevent current residents from incurring consequences of neighborhood change. 

The lasting legacy of racial housing practices remains visible across communities. Gentrification and displacement pose additional threats to equity and long-term housing affordability. Policy solutions like inclusionary zoning, community land trusts, and pay to stay regulations can be enacted at local levels to address specific community needs. Examples of comprehensive investments exemplify how to connect affordable housing investments to other needs, like transit in Indianapolis, or without higher tax burdens as in Seattle.

Anchor 3
Anchor 4

Identify and Measure Outcomes

Measure Effectiveness of Interventions by Tracking Indicators

Establishing a data-informed baseline not only informs the present needs of communities, but serves as a method to measure the effectiveness of interventions. Some metrics to consider analyzing and tracking include:

  • Severe rent/housing burden

  • Homeownership

  • Housing stock conditions/housing quality

  • Home loans

  • Heat/hot water access

  • Housing stability

  • Cost-burdened households

  • Building permits issued

  • Renters Assisted 

  • Homelessness to permanent housing 

  • Demographic changes 

  • Vacancy rate

  • Displacement

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