To enhance local affordability. To foster inclusive communities.

5.1 Best Practices

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What Are Promising Practices for Communicating About Affordable Housing?

Although most Americans believe housing affordability is a problem, it can often be very difficult to communicate effectively about it. Part of the challenge is that many people have preconceptions about what affordable housing is and who needs it. Another issue is that some residents vocally oppose the development of affordable housing — and in some cases, any form of housing — near them. While challenging to assemble, a strong and vocal group of supporters for affordable housing can generate momentum for the adoption of local housing revenue sources like general obligation bonds or housing trust funds or effectively counter opposition to proposed housing that meets the community’s needs.

There are several communications resources available to local officials looking to build support for affordable housing in their community; each contributes differently to efforts to counter opposition and move towards action. Click on each icon in the circle below to learn more and access links.


Describe concrete, actionable steps for managing opposition and building public support for affordable housing, including guidance on crafting a message of support that resonates with residents.

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Provides insights affordable housing supporters and developers can reference to manage opposition through planning, communications, and relationship building.

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Include facts to dispel misperceptions and help make the case for affordable housing, including data sheets and reports linking housing to important outcomes in health, education, economic development, and more.

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Provide pre-packaged activities, messages, informational resources, and other support, like this video from ReThinkHousing to positively impact impressions of affordable housing.

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Frame the Message

Careful messaging can help increase support for affordable housing. FrameWorks Institute, in partnership with Enterprise Community Partners, has developed a playbook for affordable housing advocates to learn good tips and methods to achieve your communication goals. As they note, historically, affordable housing messaging has been rooted in an individual-centered approach that focuses on affordability and uses a consumerist lens, such as messaging that highlights the challenge low-wage workers have paying their rent.

Frameworks Institute’s research suggests that an alternative frame centered on fairness instead of affordability has a more positive effect on public perception.

A very helpful tip for framing your message on housing which most experts agree upon is to frame the issue as a community issue. Move away from highlighting a struggling individual’s housing story and explain how the issue impacts the community as a collective system. Example from the FrameWorks Institute’s and Enterprise Community Partner’s playbook:

We are all in this together. As rents rise but wages stay the same, workers that we all depend on are priced out. Without a diverse workforce, our economy suffers. Our region’s economic vitality depends on policies that lower housing costs.

Some of their specific recommendations for shifting messaging to focus on fairness are provided below. Review the messaging chart below from the FrameWorks Institute and Enterprise Community Partners to better understand how to talk about your community’s housing needs. This will help to a build stronger understanding within the community of why affordable housing and community development are matters of public concern. Review the complete playbook for affordable housing advocates for further explanation and tips.

Instead of This... Try This


1 Our community has a shortage of affordable housing units.


1 Our community’s housing costs have outpaced local incomes.


2 The housing market has spiraled out of control.


2 Our rules and guidelines for community development are out of date, causing housing costs to spike.


3 Our regional economy can’t compete given the scarcity of affordable housing. We need a multi-pronged approach, including subsidies, incentives, and increased supply.


3 Because our region’s rents and mortgages are out of step with wages, we need policies that make sure that good places to live are within the reach of our workforce.


4 People who work low-wage jobs often must spend more than half of their earnings on rent. In our state, there isn’t a single county where a single mother can afford a one-bedroom apartment on a minimum-wage job.


4 Housing costs are rising faster than income and earnings. We need to work on both sides of the equation, adjusting both housing and economic policies.


5 Because housing prices downtown are unaffordable on most incomes, many families are forced to live in the outer suburbs, enduring long commutes and losing precious family time.


5 If our community takes steps to sync local incomes with local housing costs, people will live closer to where they work. We’d likely see a range of surprising benefits, from less traffic to greater family involvement in schools.

In reviewing Framework Institute’s recommendations in the right-hand column, it is notable that their suggested messages do not include the term “affordable housing.” This is partly because they focus on fairness as the key goal, not affordability. This approach also helps to avoid the problem that some community members have a pre-conceived understanding of “affordable housing” and may think it means only public housing or Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers.

While we use the term “affordable housing” in this training, we generally agree with the recommendation to center other terms in public communications. Some groups recommend using “homes” rather than “housing.” Others emphasize that the beneficiaries are mostly “working families.” We like to say that “everyone needs a home they can afford” to emphasize that the need is a universal one and that the goal of public policy is to ensure that there are homes available for rent and sale at a range of price points to accommodate the needs of households of all incomes.

Link Housing With Other Important Goals

In addition to employing these messaging recommendations and using the resources identified earlier to build broad support for a community’s proposed housing strategy, a locality may wish to consider how it will link local housing efforts to other important initiatives underway to address related goals. This can be important for expanding the constituency that supports affordable housing. It’s one thing for affordable housing advocates to stand up and support a new proposed development, but if advocates for health, education, public transit, equity, and other social policies stand with them, their efforts will likely be more successful. Click on each icon in the circle for information on how affordable housing can help achieve social goals in other policy domains.



Investments in housing and neighborhood conditions can have significant impacts on health and reduce healthcare costs. By freeing up funds to spend on nutritious food and addressing physical conditions that contribute to asthma or injuries, well-managed affordable housing can improve residents’ health. Read a summary of research showing how housing and neighborhoods can shape many dimensions of health, from injury to respiratory ailments, obesity, and mental health.



Improving housing quality and affordability can enhance children’s learning. Living in an affordable home can increase residential stability and reduce the high rates of mobility that undermine children’s ability to learn.

Public Transit


Coordinating transportation and housing policy can help ensure that families of all incomes can afford to live near transit, boosting equity and ridership. Because lower-income households are on a tight budget, many rely on public transit. However, in many regions, public transit investments can lead to increased land and housing prices around transit stations, which can undermine environmental benefits by making it difficult for those who need transit most to afford to live near it. Learn how housing policy can help expand access to public transit.



Housing policy can help reduce residential energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. A locality’s housing and sustainability goals can complement each other. For example, energy-efficient building techniques that help reduce energy use and lower greenhouse gas emissions generally also make it possible for tenants or owners to have lower utility bills. Similarly, land use and zoning changes that promote higher-density, mixed-use development help to create walkable neighborhoods that reduce residents’ need to drive, leading to reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions associated with car use.

Healthcare and Housing Partnerships

Hospitals and healthcare systems across the country are increasingly investing in housing initiatives to support the health and well-being of the patients and communities they serve. Bon Secours Mercy Health is one of the nation’s leaders, taking a multi-pronged approach to housing interventions in communities across seven states. Bon Secours has been lauded for its Housing for Health program, an affordable housing program for renters with low incomes in West Baltimore, MD, that has produced a significant social return for the community. A recent evaluation of their eviction and foreclosure prevention program in Cincinnati, OH, has also shown positive impacts, protecting housing stability among participants.

Read this post on Housing Solutions Lab Notes, A Healthcare System Leader Reflects on Housing Partnerships and Investments, to learn more about how Bon Secours Mercy Health is tackling housing affordability and stability as key determinants of health.

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