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Affordable Housing and the Future of Community Development: Trends and Insights

Community Development
Affordable Housing and the Future of Community Development: Trends and Insights

Uncovering My Passion for Affordable Housing

My journey towards a career in affordable housing started with the women who shaped my life. It began with my grandmother, a single mother who worked tirelessly to support her family, yet found herself struggling to afford a decent place to live in her golden years. Witnessing her frustration fueled my mother’s passion, as she became a fierce community advocate and then an affordable housing developer, determined to ensure others didn’t suffer the same fate.

Growing up, I saw firsthand the challenges of providing quality, affordable housing. I remember accompanying my mother to town meetings, where I was dismayed by the “not in my backyard” mentality that often greeted proposals for affordable developments. The vitriol and resistance to the idea of making housing accessible to those with limited means was heartbreaking.

Although my academic interests initially led me towards international relations, I could never truly escape the pull of affordable housing. It was a constant presence in my life, a topic that dominated the dinner table conversations. It wasn’t until a pivotal moment during my time at Georgetown, when a visiting scholar challenged me to consider the impact I could have in my own backyard, that I started to truly embrace my passion for this crucial issue.

I began writing policy pieces on the pressing need for affordable housing, and I realized the profound influence that policymakers can have in creating and preserving places for people to call home. This realization led me to my current role at Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF), a national collaborative of nonprofit affordable housing developers. Here, I have the privilege of working alongside mission-driven organizations committed to providing healthy, equitable, and affordable housing.

The Challenges and Strategies of Affordable Housing

The affordable housing crisis in this country is dire, and it’s finally starting to garner the attention it deserves. As the Senior Vice President for Policy at SAHF, I’ve witnessed firsthand the multi-faceted challenges and the innovative strategies being employed to address them.

One of the biggest challenges we face is the sheer dearth of affordable housing options. For years, we’ve been sounding the alarm, advocating for more affordable units. Now, with the increased media spotlight, policymakers are beginning to take notice. But the problem is deeply entrenched, and it will take a concerted, sustained effort to make a meaningful impact.

Beyond just building more units, we also need to consider the services that help residents stay stably housed and connected to their communities. Digital inclusion, for instance, is a critical issue – residents of affordable housing are about half as likely to have broadband access as the general public. Ensuring that our residents can stay connected, especially during the pandemic, is essential for their well-being and access to opportunities.

The spectrum of affordable housing needs is vast, from veterans with mental health or substance abuse challenges who require wraparound services, to seniors who need to be closely integrated with their communities. Addressing this diversity of needs requires a multi-faceted approach, one that considers the entire spectrum of resident support.

Elevating Effective Policies and Practices

At SAHF, we’re dedicated to finding and elevating effective policies and practices that can truly move the needle on affordable housing. Through the power of our collaborative, we’re able to draw insights from the experiences of our 12 member organizations, which collectively own, operate, and manage 145,000 affordable rental homes across 49 states.

By fostering candid peer exchange, we’re able to identify what’s working on the ground and the challenges our members are facing. We then take those learnings and engage with policymakers and partners, often at the federal level, to advocate for solutions.

Some of our key focus areas include the preservation of existing affordable housing, addressing climate and sustainability concerns, and promoting more equitable, resident-centered management practices. We recognize that the preservation of affordable units is just as critical as building new ones, especially given the significant loss of affordable housing in recent years.

Equally important is our emphasis on resident well-being and opportunity. We work to ensure that our affordable housing not only provides a roof over people’s heads but also fosters equity, wellness, and pathways to economic mobility. This holistic approach is essential for creating truly thriving communities.

The Relentless Pursuit of Impact

As a nonprofit leader in housing policy, I’ve encountered my fair share of challenges. One of the biggest is maintaining a balanced, sustainable pace in the face of the ever-growing list of issues to champion. It’s all too easy to fall into a constant sprint mentality, trying to do it all, which can be physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting.

The pandemic exacerbated this challenge, as we found ourselves needing to respond to a multitude of urgent needs – ensuring residents remained stably housed, providing resources for property owners to keep their businesses afloat, and adapting to the blurring of work and home life. It was a relentless effort, but one we knew was essential.

Despite the challenges, the most rewarding aspect of this work is seeing the real-world impact of the policies and practices we’ve championed. Whether it’s making it easier for seniors to age in place, ensuring that affordable properties remain affordable, or reducing barriers to critical services like broadband, witnessing the tangible difference we can make in people’s lives is truly gratifying.

The Power of Community and Collaboration

My time at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy and the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership equipped me with invaluable analytical and communication skills that have served me well in my career. The courses in social advocacy and public leadership, in particular, have been instrumental in shaping my approach to this work.

Perhaps most importantly, my experience at the Center instilled in me the value of community and collaboration. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to connect with mentors and peers who have helped me navigate the complexities of the affordable housing landscape. And I’m excited to pay it forward, sharing my insights and experiences with the next generation of housing policy leaders.

If there’s one piece of advice I’d give to those considering a career in affordable housing or the nonprofit sector, it’s to seek out those connections and build a supportive network. The challenges we face are formidable, but by standing together and learning from one another, we can drive the change our communities so desperately need.

As I reflect on my journey, I’m reminded of the profound impact that a few remarkable women had on shaping my path. Their stories, their struggles, and their unwavering commitment to creating a more equitable world continue to inspire me every day. It is with their spirit that I approach this work, determined to be a champion for affordable housing and the future of community development.

Source: Insights from HUD User
Source: Insights from Georgetown University
Source: Insights from the City of Saint Paul

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