Emerging Policy Wins for the Affordable Housing Crisis

The Affordable Housing Crisis continues to dominate the headlines in both the United States and Canada. While this is an indication that the crisis is still escalating in some cities, there are also encouraging indicators that the public policy response to the crisis is starting to achieve some sustainable and beneficial impacts across North America.

With jurisdictions of all shapes and sizes trialing every conceivable policy response mix from ‘magic bullets’ to an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach, the housing crisis has showcased the ability and agility of modern governance to develop, implement, measure, and refine housing policies in rapid response. As these responses have continued to roll out, a handful of policy levers are achieving widespread adoption across municipalities of all sizes—a strong indication that these specific policies are proving especially effective in creating and sustaining the growth of sorely needed affordable housing stocks. To get a better sense of how and where these housing policies are truly moving the needle, let’s take a closer look at the early policy winners in the battle for more affordable housing.

Early Consensus Housing Initiatives

Community Land Trusts (CLTs)

Defined as nonprofit organizations that acquire/manage land for community benefit, Community Land Trusts (CLTs) have gained traction as effective affordable housing initiatives by virtue of their ability to guarantee affordable housing in perpetuity. Housing costs are stabilized via homeowners holding long-term renewable leases with the CLT, which essentially separates land ownership from building ownership. This model ensures that housing stays affordable even as property values increase, thus preserving the diversity and stability of the community.

A proven example is the Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington, Vermont, the largest CLT in the United States. By leveraging public and private funding, the trust has successfully facilitated affordable housing for thousands of families.

Modular/Prefabricated Housing

By manufacturing housing components off-site and assembling them on-site, modular (or prefabricated) housing is increasingly gaining adoption as a proven tactic for producing cost-effective, high-quality housing units at scale. In addition to significantly accelerating the construction process whilst simultaneously reducing costs, modular housing also minimizes waste and undesirable environmental impacts.

With modular housing proving particularly effective as an expedient solution for the housing needs of low-income families and homeless populations, government leaders are increasingly evolving city planning and zoning initiatives to maximize the utilization of prefabricated housing where applicable. Working at the forefront of this innovation in housing products, companies like Factory OS in California and Volumetric in Philadelphia are crucial resources for government leaders. Through an open dialogue that exposes City Planners to ongoing private sector innovations in lean manufacturing, supply chain management, robotic construction and more, community development leaders are quickly incorporating the latest advances in construction science into pertinent housing policies. The end results are civic planning initiatives designed to fully leverage the emerging capabilities of construction automation to supply affordable housing stocks at scale—safely, efficiently, and cost-effectively.

Inclusionary Zoning Policies

To attack the problem of affordable housing at its source, inclusionary zoning policies are continuing to gain widespread acceptance as effective levers to simultaneously increase affordable housing stocks and mixed-income communities. By requiring developers to include a set percentage of affordable units in new residential developments, cities like Vancouver, Washington, Boston, and San Francisco, have all implemented inclusionary zoning policies to varying degrees of success.

For example, Vancouver’s Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program requires new developments to allocate a portion of units to households earning between 30% and 80% of the median income. By mandating developers to produce affordable housing as a core portion of their inventory, government leaders embracing inclusionary zoning policies are also progressing towards the goal of promoting increased socioeconomic diversity within new neighborhoods, thereby addressing a common complaint plaguing gentrification projects of the past.

Housing First Initiatives

Housing First policy initiatives look to provide permanent housing to homeless populations without preconditions, such as sobriety or employment. In tandem with comprehensive support services including mental health care, addiction treatment, and job training, Housing First initiatives seek to help individuals sustain stable housing by addressing the root causes of homelessness via a holistic support system.

Proven effective in reducing homelessness and improving overall quality of life for vulnerable populations, Housing First initiatives have been widely adopted across North America, with cities like Salt Lake City, Houston, and Calgary, reporting significant reductions in chronic homelessness.

Public-Private Partnerships

Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) maximize the strengths and resources of both sectors to create innovative housing solutions. PPPs attract private investment through tax incentives, grants, and subsidies, thereby making it financially viable for developers and builders to engage in affordable housing projects. By fostering a collaborative approach that spurs innovation and scalability, PPPs have become instrumental as effective policy tools to incentive the financing and development of affordable housing projects.

For instance, the City of Toronto’s partnership with the private sector in the Regent Park revitalization project transformed a deteriorating public housing complex into a vibrant mixed-income community.

“Along with new buildings and space, revitalization offers Regent Park residents with new pathways for jobs and training — a critical part of the revitalization of a community, made possible through Community Economic Development (CED) funds. TCHC works closely with its developer partners in Regent Park, Daniels Corporation and Tridel, who mobilize trades, consultants and other commercial partners to create employment opportunities for Regent Park residents. These efforts extend to trade unions and social service agencies that offer training programs for youth, apprenticeships, and other initiatives that help lead residents, including youth, into successful careers.” (Source)

Taking Action

From the land management of CLTs to the evolving building codes of new modular inventory; from the administration of inclusionary zoning policies to the multi-stakeholder collaboration of Public-Private Partnerships—a handful of initiatives are now emerging as the most effective and widely adopted policies for addressing the affordable housing crisis. Working in tandem with these housing policies is the ability of the jurisdiction to mesh such policies efficiently within its building and development communities on a timely basis. Doing so requires an agile Community Development and Regulation (CDR) software system with the ability to quickly configure and deploy permitting, licensing, and code enforcement processes to dovetail with arising changes to planning legislation, building codes, stakeholder collaborations, zoning processes, and funding models.  

The ability to seamlessly align numerous policy infrastructure changes with the efficient workflows required to expedite the resultant planning and permitting processes is the balancing act required to turn smart housing policies into practical application on the ground.

With your jurisdiction’s unique zoning, building code, and permitting requirements ‘baked’ into your POSSE PLS configuration and civic permitting portal, a firm foundation is established to quickly transform the strategic aims of your affordable housing initiatives into the powerful automation assisted workflows required to turn paper policies into concrete results.

Interested in finding out more, including how POSSE PLS can support your community’s strategic goals?

Contact us today for a no-obligation Discovery Demo.