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Phase A: Lay the groundwork for a successful local housing strategy


To be successful, a local housing strategy process needs a solid foundation. Key stakeholders – both within and outside of local government – must understand the need for the strategy. Localities will want to assess whether they have the capacity to create a local housing strategy in-house and, if not, develop an approach for building or acquiring that capacity. They will also need to consider different agencies’ and stakeholders’ roles in the process, the funding available for this effort, and the desired timeline and structure for the final deliverables. 

In this initial phase of the housing strategy development process, localities will create a work plan that clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of different actors and the anticipated timeline for preparing the strategy.  Subsequent phases involve preparing the local housing strategy (Phase B) and monitoring progress and periodically updating the strategy (Phase C).

The following are the four steps of Phase A:

A1. Build support for developing a local housing strategy

If there is not already sufficient interest in affordable housing to secure the resources and buy-in needed to invest in a comprehensive local housing strategy, localities may need to work on elevating housing as an important policy issue. Public outreach and media coverage can bring attention to housing issues and housing’s importance for the health and well-being of residents, the local economy, and other community priorities. Engaging different stakeholders through conferences, convenings, and stakeholder meetings can help increase support for housing investments and policy initiatives.

Strong community interest in affordable housing can help lay the groundwork for securing the approvals and funding needed to develop a local housing strategy. Explaining the importance of a local housing strategy and how it can help meet the locality’s needs can help build support for initiating the strategy among various stakeholders. Many different actors, including local agency staff, the mayor, the city/town manager, the city/town council, private actors, and community groups, play an important role in developing a local housing strategy. Buy-in from senior levels of local government can help align interagency staff under a common approach and facilitate the funding needed to develop and implement a strategy.

A2. Assess and build local capacity

Once there is sufficient interest from city leadership and key stakeholders in developing a local housing strategy, localities will need to decide exactly how they want to produce the strategy. For example, localities will want to consider staff capacity, whether a consultant is needed, their role, and the availability of resources to hire them. They must also determine the time and funding commitments the locality can make toward developing the local housing strategy.  

Assessing existing capacities and readiness for preparing a local housing strategy can help localities identify their strengths and areas for improvement and anticipate potential challenges. They can strengthen their preparedness for a local housing strategy process by reaching out to and learning from peer cities that have developed their housing strategies. They can also encourage their staff to attend trainings and workshops to improve capacity. Localities will also have to set the parameters that will determine the overall structure and scope of the strategy effort, including the timeline, budget, staff resources, and leadership structure.  

  • Timeline: Setting a tentative timeline for preparing a local housing strategy can help visualize the process and gauge scope and resource commitments. Localities should consider local and state election terms, grant-spending windows, and the process for other major local plan updates, such as the comprehensive plan, housing element, etc., as they set these timelines.   
  • Budget: Localities must decide how much budget they can dedicate to preparing their local housing strategy by accounting for both direct and indirect costs. Some direct costs include costs for outreach and public consultations, information dissemination, consultant fees, and the purchase of private datasets to supplement publicly available data. Indirect costs may include staff hours and material costs redirected from other pursuits. Localities may be able to use a combination of local, state, and federal grants to prepare their local housing strategies. For example, Washington provides state funds to prepare local Housing Action Plans.
  • Staff resources: Localities will need to identify the partners, stakeholders, and interagency staff involved in the development process and determine their roles and the leadership structure for guiding the local housing strategy.  
  • Consultants: Many factors could influence a locality’s decision to involve a consultant(s) in developing their local strategy outside of staff shortages. Suppose existing staff capacity/availability is limited. In that case, localities may want to expand in-house staff capacity, contract out portions of the strategy to external consultants, or reassess their project timelines and schedules. Consultants can bring specific areas of expertise, outside perspectives, and a technical skillset that can be valuable for a local housing strategy.  
  • Leadership structure: Localities may have multiple groups working together to create their local housing strategy. Two groups, however, are critical to this process: a steering committee providing oversight and guidance to the overall strategy and a technical group responsible for collecting, analyzing, and presenting the information necessary for developing a housing strategy.  These groups must also work together to engage the broader community, including key stakeholders and the public.

A3. Set process goals and scope

To ensure their local housing strategy process produces their desired results, localities can set preliminary goals for what they hope to achieve, conceptualize the project scope, and identify when and how other outside parties might need to perform the required activities. Localities can engage a steering committee of key stakeholders for feedback. Based on the locality’s budget and priorities, they can also conduct extensive locality-wide surveys or targeted approaches, like focus-group discussions or a housing summit, to collect stakeholder input on what the housing strategy process should accomplish.

When developing a local housing strategy, it’s important to establish preliminary goals that will guide the process. These goals help determine the scope of the strategy and the steps that will be taken. Ultimately, the budget and time estimates will be set according to the parameters approved by elected leaders. Preliminary goal setting is important because it is:

  • Useful in developing the project scope, next steps, and a request for proposals from consultants, if needed.
  • An opportunity for localities to summarize local housing issues, coordinate housing priorities with other local plans and reports, streamline deliverables, and avoid duplication of data collection and analysis efforts.
  • A time for local leadership to affirm or adjust the allotted budget based on necessary evidence and the need for an expanded scope or timeframe.
  • An opportunity to engage community members, give them a voice, and build consensus. 

A4. Create a work plan for developing a local housing strategy

To stay organized, focused, and efficient, it can be helpful to create a work plan for the local housing strategy development process that:

  • Identifies the specific steps involved in preparing the strategy
  • Establishes process milestones, deliverables, and an approval process
  • Maps out a community engagement process
  • Sets the project timeline
  • Outlines who will be responsible for each step

To identify specific steps for preparing a local housing strategy, localities can start with the ones outlined in this brief and below in Phase B; then, build on and adapt those steps to fit local needs. Once localities identify key steps, they can determine what milestones they must achieve and the deliverables they must produce. They can also estimate how long each will take to develop the project timeline. 

Localities will also want to plan for community engagement opportunities, identifying when they’ll take place; what tools they’ll use (e.g., virtual engagement, in-person focus groups, community pop-ups, a housing summit); and each opportunity’s target audience (e.g., engaging local employers, philanthropic organizations, or the general public). 

Determining who will be responsible for each of the process’ key steps will be beneficial in this phase. Localities will also want to plan for the strategy’s approval by necessary parties (e.g., the community, local leadership, or steering committee). Other important considerations for developing a project work plan and timeline include:

  • Are there any state or additional regulations (e.g., funding requirements) that the strategy should adhere to?
  • Does the locality need to complete the strategy by a particular time?
  • What does local staff capacity allow for in terms of facilitating the process over time?
  • Are there holidays to schedule around or local events taking place that provide opportunities to facilitate community engagement (e.g., farmers market, festival, or resource fair)?
  • What other planning or housing efforts are taking place to leverage?
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