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Affordable Housing and the Importance of Cross-Sector Partnerships

Community Development
Affordable Housing and the Importance of Cross-Sector Partnerships

As someone who has always been passionate about addressing the affordable housing crisis, I was thrilled when I was asked to write this article for the HACC Housing website. Affordable housing is such a critical issue, and I firmly believe that the key to solving it lies in fostering strong cross-sector partnerships.

The Affordable Housing Landscape: A Complex Challenge

The affordable housing landscape is a complex and multifaceted challenge that communities across the nation are grappling with. In my home state of Kansas, the situation is no different. Johnson County, in particular, has been facing a severe shortage of safe, attainable housing options, and it’s been a real struggle for families and essential workers to find homes they can afford.

What I find most interesting, however, is how the local leaders in Johnson County have taken a unique, collaborative approach to tackling this issue. Rather than trying to go it alone, they’ve brought together a diverse group of stakeholders – from healthcare providers and service organizations to employers and faith communities – to address the problem head-on.

Assembling the Dream Team: Building a Cross-Sector Collaboration

The driving force behind this collaborative effort is Kristy Baughman, the executive director of United Community Services (UCS) of Johnson County. As she explained to me, “We wanted to think bigger, so we brought together health care and service providers, employers, business leaders, school districts, and faith communities. And involving the county from the beginning was important.”

This cross-sector approach is crucial because, as Jane√© Hanzlick, the Johnson County commissioner and co-chair of the Greater Kansas City Regional Housing Partnership, put it, “Ten percent of what makes us healthy or unhealthy is our physical environment. Where we live determines how easy it is to access jobs, what kinds of chemical agents we’re exposed to, and if we live in a community where we feel safe and have social connections.”

Crafting a Compelling Narrative: Connecting Housing to Community Well-Being

One of the key strategies that the Johnson County team employed was developing a compelling narrative around the importance of affordable housing. As Baughman explained, “We stressed the perspective of employers who have to recruit staff members from as far away as Lawrence, and the impact the housing shortage has on our economy and school districts. How do we replenish and strengthen our schools if families with young children can’t afford to live here?”

By framing the affordable housing issue as not just a social problem, but also an economic and community development challenge, the team was able to garner widespread support and buy-in from a diverse range of stakeholders. This holistic approach has been crucial to the success of their efforts.

Putting Theory into Practice: Innovative Affordable Housing Initiatives

The Johnson County team didn’t just talk the talk – they also walked the walk. They’ve implemented a range of innovative affordable housing initiatives, including:

The Prairiebrooke Townhomes

This development in Gardner, Kansas offers 76 duplex-style townhomes, with 60 of them being designated for households earning below 60% of the area median income (AMI). The county allocated $1 million in HOME funds to support the construction of this project.

Hedge Lane Apartments

This 144-unit garden-style apartment community in Shawnee, Kansas was funded in part by a $1 million, 15-year, no-interest loan from the county, using recaptured COVID-19 relief funds to cover a gap in project funding.

Habitat for Humanity of Kansas City

The county allocated $950,000 to support the site infrastructure for Habitat for Humanity’s development of 14 single-family homes in Olathe, Kansas. Qualified buyers would pay no more than 30% of their income.

These are just a few examples of the innovative ways that Johnson County is working to increase the supply of affordable housing units and make homeownership more accessible for low-income families. And they’re not stopping there – the county has also implemented programs to incentivize landlords to accept housing choice vouchers, offer a risk mitigation fund for landlords, and launch an eviction mediation pilot program.

Sharing Insights and Collaborating Regionally

What I find most impressive about the Johnson County team’s approach is their willingness to share their insights and experiences with other communities. As Hanzlick explained, “Housing is an economic development issue as well as a social planning and transportation issue. Addressing the affordable housing challenge collaboratively, whether locally or across the region, helps cities and counties gain a common understanding of the problems and potential solutions.”

Baughman echoed this sentiment, noting that “When we all come together, share our experiences, and help each other, that collaboration often leads to solutions we might never think of on our own.” This regional collaboration is crucial, as the affordable housing crisis is not confined to a single community or even a single state.

The Path Forward: Embracing Cross-Sector Partnerships

As I’ve delved deeper into the work being done in Johnson County, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that cross-sector partnerships are the key to solving the affordable housing crisis. By bringing together a diverse range of stakeholders, we can leverage our collective resources, expertise, and insights to develop holistic, community-driven solutions.

It’s not going to be easy, and there will undoubtedly be challenges along the way. But if we can follow the lead of the Johnson County team and approach this issue with a collaborative, innovative mindset, I’m confident that we can make real progress in addressing the affordable housing crisis and creating more equitable, thriving communities for all.

So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. The future of our communities depends on it.

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