Next week, after NHC’s Annual Gala and Policy Symposium are in the rearview mirror, I’ll participate in a roundtable convened by National Governors Association, “Building Healthy Communities: How to Support States in the Development of Community-Based Solutions and Sustainable Infrastructure.”Affordable housing is an essential part of healthy communities, so I thought of actions states can take to create affordable housing opportunities, which can help make residents healthier and communities stronger.
- Commit state resources to creation and preservation of affordable housing.Nothing speaks more clearly about a state’s priorities than the commitment of its own scarce resources. Committing funding to affordable housing draws investment from the private sector and leverages public investment from local and federal sources. States have many means by which to commit resources: property tax abatements or exemptions for affordable rental properties; direct appropriations for loans, grants or rental assistance or supportive services (as New York announced last month); state tax credits that work in concert with the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit; bond issuances (like Rhode Island did in 2016) and financial resources generated by state housing finance agencies.
- Empower better land use policy. States can empower localities to make zoning, permitting and other land use decisions that encourage greater density, smarter growth and greater availability of affordable housing (both subsidized and unsubsidized). In some cases, state law should be changed to remove a restriction on such inclusionary housing policies, as Oregon did last year. In other cases, state law can grant authority, provide a model or establish a baseline inclusionary standard. All of these steps are ways to help market forces generate more unsubsidized affordable housing within existing communities and make it easier to create and preserve subsidized housing.
- Establish strong connections between housing and other agencies in state government.Partnerships that address the linkages between housing and other issues allow housing to better meet community needs. For instance, when housing agencies and health and human services agencies work better together, it is easier to create permanent supportive housing to prevent and end homelessness (Virginia is one example among many). Energy or environmental protection agencies can encourage energy and water conservation that simultaneously make homes healthier and more affordable, but they need connections with housing agencies to do so effectively, especially for multifamily rental properties. When housing and transportation agencies cooperate, it becomes easier to create and preserve affordable housing near transit lines. Leadership at the state level can make these partnerships possible.
Committing state attention, resources and regulatory powers to affordable housing has a benefit beyond the direct housing help. It shows policymakers in Washington that the state is serious about solving housing problems. During tough budget battles in D.C., showing that all levels of government are sharing the burden makes a much stronger case for federal help. Truly achieving our shared goal of an affordable home in a thriving community for all in America will require efforts by many, with states playing a key role.