On March 16, I joined elected officials and housing policy thought leaders for the NewDEAL Affordable Housing Forum on “Improving Access to Affordable Housing.” It was illuminating to see HUD Special Advisor Richard Cho review the most innovative housing solutions from our federal government. Also, to reconnect with leaders like Mayor Quinton Lucas of Kansas City in discussing private-public partnerships for a positive impact.
The conversation centered on policies and solutions created in response to the pandemic, and how leaders have gotten creative with funding from the American Rescue Plan. It’s a balance of what can be done now for those experiencing housing insecurity versus what needs to be done in the long-run to restore generational wealth and increase the supply of affordable housing.
Here are my three key insights from the NewDEAL Affordable Housing Forum:
When asked about tiny homes as temporary shelter for those experiencing homelessness, HUD Special Advisor Richard Cho clarified, “While I firmly believe in a housing-first approach, and that we need to figure out how to get people into permanent homes, for many that are struggling with addiction, many people who are in a flight or fight mode, who are sleeping outside, many of them need a place to stabilize.”
Cho went on to say that during his time in Boston, he saw the positive impact of providing a room per person or family, and not requiring people to stand in line. “It helps people calm down and recover from the initial trauma of being outside. And helps them then engage in a conversation about permanent housing.”
I agree that communities need to provide more than just temporary shelter to those experiencing homelessness, but Cho really focused on interim housing as a necessary factor to shuttle people from homelessness to a permanent home.
Senator Rebecca Kwoka of New Hampshire reported that their state has introduced landlord engagement programs, offering up to $1,000 incentive to landlords to accept emergency vouchers and help with rental assistance.
Senator Kwoka also believes in inserting necessary checks and balances between renters and landlords: “Last year, we extended the date for the payment of rent that is due to the date of the eviction hearing, increasing the number of days to pay from seven up to 120.” They’re also giving renters more transparency into the cause and notices of eviction, trying to crack down on what’s called “renovation evictions” - in which landlords raise rent without upgrading their units.
When the American Rescue Plan was launched, many local leaders used federal funds to engage the private sector, and strike up new partnerships to support vulnerable populations. Massachusetts Rep Andy Vargas spoke about how Massachusetts used funding from the American Rescue Plan to produce more housing for vulnerable communities in its major cities. The Commonwealth Builder Program incentivizes or requires developers to build more single-family homes and condos that are affordable to moderate incomes. MA funneled $100 million into the Commonwealth Builder Program. “The program is set out to build generational wealth. We’ve built so many units across the state, including in my community Haverhill.”
This is a perfect example of policymakers partnering with the private sector to decrease homelessness and set families up for success generation after generation, something that can be rolled out at the same time as immediate action plans, or tools like Rhino. Rhino security deposit insurance offers renters swift financial relief, by saving them the cost of the security deposit upfront, but can also help them save long-term, or help redistribute their money back into their local economy.
Boiling down this forum into three insights was tough! I was grateful to be surrounded by such skilled policy-makers, each reviewing their efforts to solve the housing crisis, from a federal level to the work being done to assist people in their specific municipalities. What they all shared in common was the belief that a puzzle as complex as housing unaffordability requires multiple solutions. With both private and public sectors coming together to help, the future of housing in America holds promise.