Public Housing and City Partnerships: How Collaboration Can Lead to Development

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In part I of this series, I gave 6 compelling reasons why your city should be working with housing authorities for development. Outside of the reasons given, there are more advantages to working with a public housing authority.

The Housing Authority Advantage:

Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) in America are often in a unique position to help municipalities navigate development in general, and the housing market specifically. PHA’s often attract very mission-oriented staff who are familiar with the creativity required to balance the needs of a community with funding requirements. Because their employment is often less reliant on the voting cycle, they are able to ride through multiple waves of a housing market’s success. This can result in using tools that may or may not be reliant on fluctuations found in the private market. More often than not, their experiences with federal funding have taught them to embrace a high degree of flexibility in order to layer sources of funds and aid projects through to completion.

The City Advantage:

Perhaps important to note here is the reality that municipalities do not come empty-handed to a collaboration with a PHA. Even cities with relatively few resources often have access to land. This land may come in a variety of forms, and may have been acquired previously to fight blight. Land may have been set aside for a future purpose that was not determined at the time of acquisition, or dedicated for a specific use that has not yet been fulfilled. In fact, this particular scenario can offer opportunities for the highest levels of creativity. While land may be dedicated for a specific city function (e.g., police substation, maintenance shop, library, and so on) the air above it may not be accounted for. In cities where three- to four-story apartment buildings are typical, a number of opportunities for partnerships may exist to develop a mixed-use building in order to leverage a municipal building with a housing opportunity.

Cities can also assist in funding gaps in financing. PHAs are familiar with compliance standards and reporting. While PHAs may not receive CDBG or HOME funds directly, they may be excellent receivers of these funds because of their culture and experience with tracking and monitoring compliance. Finally, cities can (and, arguably, should) advertise how they support housing authorities in their pursuit in providing affordable housing. Such advertisement can affect both political will and political capital. If a city is perceived to be supportive of long-term affordability in the housing sector as a whole, people may consider settling in a place, rather than try to earn a high enough income to Relocate.

Partner, Communicate and Build:

Regardless of what gets built, and who is involved, it is paramount to communicate with the community in clear, consistent, and compassionate ways concerning development decisions. When a community needs to be engaged about how a city will be shaped, developers should do it in an engaging way. When a neighborhood needs to be consulted about what will be built, expectations should be managed, and messaging should be consistent. When a need for new development must be imposed on a community it should be done in a compassionate way. Good housing authorities have experience with this kind of development due to a long history of community opposition to low income housing. City governments should utilize this experience as an asset and PHA’s should collaborate to support the desires of the municipalities where they serve.

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