With the recent release of the 2022 Continuum of Care (CoC) Program Competition Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has established nine policy priorities for local CoCs to help guide their efforts to end homelessness in their respective communities. One of these established priorities is Increasing Affordable Housing Supply.
When There Isn’t Enough Affordable Housing
The research and data are increasingly clear that a nationwide shortage of affordable housing is one of the most pronounced factors driving homelessness. This is most recently demonstrated in Gregg Colburn and Clayton Page Aldern’s new book, Housing is a Homelessness Problem, which argues that housing market conditions and the high cost of housing explain local homelessness rates more convincingly than other factors.
The shortage of affordable housing is further elucidated by a recent report from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes, which indicates that nationally, there is a shortage of seven million available and affordable rental units for extremely low-income households, and that there are only 36 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 extremely low-income households.
Supporting Housing Production on the Local Level
While CoCs do not construct affordable housing or control land use policies, there are a number of ways that CoCs can support the production of affordable housing. Chief among these is educating local elected officials about policies to increase affordable housing production and preservation, and how those policies would contribute to enhancing the CoC’s ability to prevent and end homelessness.
CoC leaders can and should take advantage of opportunities to educate leaders in their community and lend support to the following policies that may be under consideration:
- Financing New Affordable Development: Local municipalities can issue bonds and use local funding to leverage larger investments, such as state and federal tax credits, to build and preserve deed-restricted affordable housing. Where possible, CoCs should advocate for centering extremely low-income households in these efforts (at or below 30% AMI), as these households face the greatest challenges in finding available and affordable housing and face the greatest risks of falling into homelessness.
- Leveraging Existing Development: In jurisdictions where robust development is occurring, a large number of affordable housing units can be produced for people at the lowest incomes by leveraging existing development. CoCs should encourage leaders to explore policy mechanisms like inclusionary zoning, value capture ordinances, or linkage fees that fund acquisition or production of affordable housing units.
- Modifying Land Use and Zoning Policies: Local governments control an array of mechanisms that can either speed or slow efforts to create affordable housing for people at the lowest incomes. CoCs should encourage local leaders to consider:
- Streamlining ordinances for affordable and supportive housing that reduce barriers and costs for construction. Jurisdictions can consider making developments that meet certain thresholds of affordability ‘by-right,’ enabling them to avoid added, time-consuming hearings and processes that don’t apply to other developments.
- Reducing costly parking requirements that ultimately curtail the number of units in an affordable housing development.
- Allowing for development of affordable and supportive housing in zones that otherwise prohibit residential development, such as commercial zones.
- Allowing for affordable and supportive housing to build at densities greater than what is otherwise allowed.
- Making Publicly-Owned Land Available for Affordable Development: One of the most impactful steps that local governments can take to advance affordable housing production at the local level is to make publicly-owned land available to affordable housing developers, which significantly reduces the cost of producing new housing units and assists affordable developers to compete for state and federal tax credits.
- Partnering to Advocate for State and Federal Resources: Finally, cities and counties are critical voices at both state legislatures and with Congress. CoCs should ensure that their local mayors, county boards, and other leaders are advocating to their members of Congress to increase funding for programs like the Housing Choice Voucher program (also known as Section 8), the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, or the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), all of which help create affordable homes for people at the lowest incomes.
The ideas above are just a short list of ways that CoCs can advance affordable housing. There are many more ways for CoCs to use their voices on this. To discuss further how your CoC can get more involved in advancing the priority of affordable housing, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.