Reducing Housing Insecurity + Homelessness
Housing equity is the fair and just distribution of housing opportunities and outcomes for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, income, or other protected characteristics. In the United States, achieving housing equity has been a challenging journey, with minority households disproportionately experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness.
To address the issue of housing equity in their communities, cities and towns have made the following breakthroughs:
- Increase the supply of affordable housing. This can be done through various strategies, such as inclusionary zoning, which requires developers to set aside a percentage of units in new developments for affordable housing, and by creating or expanding housing trust funds, which provide financial assistance to developers to build and preserve affordable housing.
- Protect tenants from eviction. This can be done through enacting rent control measures, expanding access to legal aid for tenants facing eviction, and creating eviction diversion programs.
- Invest in community development programs. These programs can help to improve the quality of life in low-income neighborhoods and make them more attractive places to live. This can include investments in parks, schools, libraries, and other public amenities.
- Address the root causes of housing insecurity — poverty, unemployment, and discrimination. By addressing these underlying issues, cities and towns can help ensure everyone has a safe and affordable place to call home.
What other cities are doing to address housing equity?
- Boston, Massachusetts, made history by becoming the inaugural major U.S. city to enact a fair housing amendment within its zoning code. This groundbreaking amendment mandates that prospective developments assess their potential impacts on residents who have historically faced discrimination. This proactive measure enables the implementation of strategies aimed at mitigating such effects, creating fresh housing prospects, and rectifying legacies of exclusion.
- Minneapolis, Minnesota, has enacted a citywide inclusionary zoning ordinance that requires developers to set aside 20% of units in new developments for affordable housing.
- Denver, Colorado, has created a housing trust fund that has helped to finance the construction or preservation of over 10,000 affordable housing units.
- Seattle, Washington, has implemented a rent control ordinance that caps annual rent increases at 3%.
- New York City has created an eviction diversion program that helps tenants facing eviction to stay in their homes.
- San Francisco, California, has invested heavily in community development programs in low-income neighborhoods.
Housing equity programs
The Continuum of Care (CoC) Program is a federal program that provides funding to local communities to support a range of housing and supportive services for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The CoC Program is designed to serve people experiencing homelessness at all points on the spectrum, from those who are living on the streets to those who are transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing.
The Built for Zero movement is a national initiative to end chronic homelessness. Built for Zero communities are working to coordinate their efforts to identify and address the root causes of homelessness, such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of access to healthcare.
Cities and towns can use the CoC Program and the Built for Zero movement to help address housing equity in their communities. By coordinating their efforts and focusing on the root causes of homelessness, municipalities can make significant progress in ensuring everyone has a safe and affordable place to call home.
Here are a few specific ways that cities and towns can use the CoC Program and the Built for Zero movement to address housing equity:
- Use CoC Program funding to support affordable housing development and preservation.
- Implement Built for Zero principles to coordinate efforts to identify and address the root causes of homelessness.
- Use data to track progress and identify areas where additional resources are needed.
- Engage with community members and stakeholders to ensure that housing equity is a priority.
By taking these steps, cities and towns can help to create more equitable communities where everyone has a safe and affordable place to live.
Spending ARPA funds. Does your city have a plan?
It’s been nearly two years since the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) — a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill including an allocation of $350 billion to help state, local, and tribal governments to address economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. While ARPA’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF) dollars offer flexibility, it is important for all municipalities to have a plan in place, and the time to act is now — as cities and towns must obligate their funding by December 31, 2024.
How can municipalities spend SLFRF funds?
Cities and towns have many options for using their ARPA dollars. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, there are four separate eligible use categories. Local governments may use SLFRF funds to:
- Replace lost public sector revenue, using this funding to provide government services up to the amount of revenue lost due to the pandemic.
- Respond to the far-reaching public health and negative economic impacts of the pandemic, by supporting the health of communities, and helping households, small businesses, impacted industries, nonprofits, and the public sector recover from economic impacts.
- Provide premium pay for essential workers, offering additional support to those who have and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical sectors.
- Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, making necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water, to support vital wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, and to expand affordable access to broadband internet.
As a municipality, it’s important to understand how you can use ARPA funding — but that’s only part of the equation. The more challenging element is determining how you should apply these dollars.
The goal for any municipality should be to capitalize on this tremendous opportunity for recovery in ways that meet the most prevalent needs of the community. The challenges many cities and towns face is — identifying those needs, and assessing the most effective pathways to meet those needs. Many communities are developing recovery and growth plans that involve:
- Constituent Communications — engaging with the people in their communities to assess needs and priorities.
- Data Analysis — Collecting, organizing, and analyzing data points to gain insights to accelerate community recovery and equity.
- Peer Evaluation — Reviewing what other similar communities have done and are doing with their ARPA funds, learning from their successes and challenges.
- Compliance and Reporting — Ensuring projects meet the Treasury’s requirements for suitability and that quarterly reporting requirements are met and timely filed.
- Project Management — Defining a plan and developing the roadmap to deliver the intended outcomes.
How are cities and towns using their ARPA money?
As it’s been nearly two years since ARPA’s passing, there is more and more data on how these funds — specifically those of the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund — are being allocated. The Council of State Governments published a database of all state-level allocations of SLFRF funding. Additionally, there is a Local Government ARPA Investment Tracker project developed through a partnership between the National League of Cities, Brookings Metro, and the National Association of Counties pulling in data from ARPA projects from cities and counties with populations of at least 250,000.
According to data from the Local Government ARPA Investment Tracker, as of August 31, 2021, 150 local governments submitted 2,577 projects involving $18.5 billion in SLFRF funds. Specifically, these projects involve a number of spending categories:
- Government Operations (37.6%)
- Infrastructure (12.5%)
- Housing (12.5%)
- Community Aid (12.3%)
- Public Health (12.2%)
- Economic and Workforce Development (11.1%)
- Public Safety (2.3%)
While information on how state governments and large cities are deploying their recovery funds is easily accessible, there is very little reporting on how small towns and medium-sized cities are making use of ARPA dollars. That’s why it may be beneficial for small-to-medium cities and towns to work with consultants and project managers to help ensure they are using these SLFRF funds in the most meaningful and efficient ways.