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Fair & Affordable Housing: Lessons and Challenges at the County, City, and Neighborhood Scale

Watch the recording of our May webinar and get answers to the submitted questions that we didn't have time to answer here!

Fourth Economy hosted an interactive conversation on housing with representatives from three different communities of varying scales, including:

  • Martha Faust, Redevelopment Manager at Ramsey County, MN - Addressing affordable housing and equity at a county scale

  • David Brewton, Senior Director of Real Estate at Hazelwood Initiative in Pittsburgh, PA - Managing affordable housing on a neighborhood scale while facing significant development pressure

  • Amy Snider, Assistant to the City Manager in Harrisonburg, VA - Addressing affordable housing in a college town with a large population of student renters

Christine Mondor, Principal at evolveEA, and Marjorie Willow, Principal at Mullin & Lonergan Associates, also shared their perspectives as consultants.

Watch the recording below:

We also wanted to provide answers to the questions that were submitted that we did not have time to answer on the call. If you have any other comments or questions, please email us [email protected].

Submitted Questions

I would love to hear the panelists' thoughts on the role that energy efficiency and healthy Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) play in affordable housing.

  • Ramsey County has incorporated a number of energy efficiency elements in our plan for the twin purposes of climate resilience and driving down energy costs for landlords, tenants, and homeowners.

What are best practices or case studies of working with cross-sector partners (e.g. healthcare or public health)?

  • Ramsey County is working on integrating principles related to access to healthy food + access to recreational amenities/trails for healthy living.

  • Louisville, KY: The Louisville Metro Health Dept was a key player in the creation of the 2019 Louisville Housing Needs Assessment. One of the recommendations in the housing plan was a health dept recommendation: "Utilize Health Impact Assessments for new neighborhood developments to evaluate their effect on the intended beneficiaries. Instituted by the Center for Health Equity, these assessments can be scaled according to the size and type of development, ranging from the installation of new park benches to a large mixed-income residential development. The Assessment includes an evaluation and monitoring component and, most significantly, would provide the public with a greater opportunity to comment on projects that may not require a public meeting before the Planning Commission."

Are you aware of any local governments that have successfully established and utilized a trust fund to fund affordable housing?

There are a number of resources on governments with trust funds:

With "workforce housing" shifting by community, what tools should be expanded/created to help the market?

  • Define what “workforce housing” means for a specific community. Many are surprised to learn how far down the income spectrum you need to go to reach the “working poor”–and they comprise workforce housing too. In the right markets, requiring an affordable housing set-aside for new developments can be very effective in generating new housing -- offer density bonuses in exchange for the affordable units if state law prohibits exaction of affordable units. Large institutional employers–universities, hospitals, etc.–can become partners in employer-assisted housing programs for their own employees who want to become homeowners.

To what extent might focusing more on income and wealth disparities fix the problem of affordable housing?

  • One of the most significant impacts on disparity in wealth-building has recently come to the forefront with the anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre. The city’s black middle class first lost their businesses and homes, not to mention many lives, in 1921 as a result of the massacre. Forty-five years later, many of the resident families’ descendants lost their re-built businesses and homes again when urban renewal wiped them out to build I-244. Without generational wealth-building, descendants of these Black families lost the advantage that long-term asset ownership and growth convey. Initiatives focusing on preserving ownership of homes and small businesses can work to reverse this trend in areas where they are at greatest risk for displacement due to development pressure–community land trusts, tax incentives to counter rising property values, preservation of affordable housing, provisions that require hiring local residents in developers’ agreements with local government, inclusionary affordable housing requirement in new residential development. The key is to work proactively and identify where these at-risk places are before they begin the transformation.

  • Low-paying jobs are at least half of the equation. From 2018 to 2028, the occupations that are projected to add the most jobs are overwhelmingly in the lowest-paying occupations. With U.S. Median Household Income of about $60,000 ($60,336 to be exact) the occupations that pay less than 50 percent ($30K or less) outnumber the jobs that pay 150 percent by 5:1. There will be 2.9 million jobs, where even if both adults are employed in these jobs, they will still earn less than half of all U.S. households. Even worse, many of these occupations are in health care and food services, occupations that also face higher health risks during the current crisis.


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