Representatives from several cities gathered recently at the Housing Solutions Lab to address local housing issues
By Shannon Flores
The Housing Solutions Lab recently convened city housing officials from six small and midsize cities, creating a forum for senior housing and planning staff to share housing policy challenges, learn promising practices, and develop action plans to implement in their respective localities. City teams included officials from Jersey City, NJ; New Orleans, LA; Oakland, CA; Pittsburgh, PA; Salt Lake City, UT; and Stamford, CT.
During the two-day convening at NYU School of Law, each city worked with peers and policy experts to strategize on priority issues. These included financing new affordable housing, implementing inclusionary zoning, preserving naturally occurring affordable housing, and developing homelessness prevention programs. Housing Solutions Lab staff and partners from the Center for Community Progress, Community Solutions, and Bennett Midland provided presentations and facilitated strategy sessions.
While each city came from a unique context, they shared common themes that cut across specific policy issues. Several cities described a desire to integrate more equity focused approaches and metrics into their housing policies and programs.
Representatives from Oakland, CA shared the equity approach that guides their housing efforts and indicators to measure progress.
Cities also looked for strategies to increase access to amenities such as quality child care, health facilities, and wraparound services in under-resourced low-income areas.
Participants from Stamford, CT shared their experience with redeveloping public housing to include more affordable, mixed-income developments that offer supportive services. They also discussed how they created public parks and access to the waterfront as a way to revitalize the area and improve quality of life.
Data sharing and transparency also emerged as a common theme, especially, among Jersey City and Pittsburgh, as cities looked to increase efficiency and transparency on new housing projects among developers and the public.
City representatives exchanged ideas during the convening that would help them create actionable housing goals
Perhaps the most consistent theme among cities was a desire to improve community engagement. Participants shared challenges with combating NIMBYism, engaging residents most impacted by affordable housing plans, and integrating lived experience into strategies. Several cities described the need to reset their community engagement processes through several strategies, including communicating with residents in multiple languages, working with trusted community-based organizations to reach communities, and prioritizing community engagement more regularly rather than just doing so when a specific land use decision is on the table.
Participants expressed appreciation for the opportunity to learn and strategize with similarly situated peers.
Moving forward, the Lab will facilitate quarterly conversations with participating cities to help sustain the connections among cities and provide a continued forum for the exchange of ideas and best practices. Many cities will also continue to receive technical assistance from the Lab as they progress toward their housing goals.
To learn more about peer learning opportunities with the Housing Solutions Lab, please contact Jess Wunsch, peer cities manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.