Healthy communities of opportunity are a key predictor of life outcomes. But, with skyrocketing housing costs, rising homelessness, and millions living in substandard housing, the nation is in the midst of the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression. At the same time, federal housing programs are facing severe funding cuts that threaten to undermine housing security for more households.
Since the Great Recession of 2009, the U.S. housing market has experienced categorical shifts in the way that real estate is distributed, financed, and marketed. Multiple housing pressures—including global capital investments in luxury real estate, private- and public-sector urban reinvestment, and short-term rental sites—continue to warp housing markets and threaten housing security for lower-income households and people of color.
Since its inception, PolicyLink has worked to anchor the fight for housing in communities of opportunity—from advancing inclusionary zoning to equity-focused post-disaster housing recovery to anti-displacement strategies to fair housing. Now, in the midst of economic struggles and political opposition, we have forged partnerships with frontline organizing groups and national legal organizations to advocate for the next generation of equitable housing policies at local, state, and federal levels.
The PolicyLink approach to housing has never been just about housing. We have always maintained that housing is connected to opportunities that include access to high-quality schools, safe and convenient transportation options, and healthy food. PolicyLink and the Kresge Foundation released Healthy Communities of Opportunity: An Equity Blueprint to Address America's Housing Challenges. It explains how health, housing, and economic security policies must be aligned to achieve equitable housing outcomes.
Anti-Displacement Policy Network
The hundred largest cities in the United States are now majority renters. And, a majority of those renters spend more than half of their income on rent. As rising housing prices continue to outpace wage increases, cities must take concrete steps to prevent the displacement of low-income residents and communities of color. City leaders are increasingly in need of tools to craft effective strategies for all residents to stay, participate, and thrive in their communities.
To address these threats, PolicyLink launched the All-In Cities Anti-Displacement Policy Network. The network comprises teams of local elected officials, city staff, and community leaders from ten cities: Austin, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; Buffalo, New York; Denver, Colorado; Nashville, Tennessee; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Portland, Oregon; San Jose, California; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and the twin cities of Minnesota (Minneapolis and Saint Paul). The first cohort of the network will work together with PolicyLink through May 2019. Read more here.
Across the country, movements for housing justice are defending communities against growing housing insecurity, displacement, and homelessness. In the face of an administration and Congress that are rolling back rent subsidies, affordable housing investments, and fair housing protections, PolicyLink has joined with Right to the City, Public Advocates, Poverty and Race Research Action Council, and Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights to form the watchdog platform of CarsonWatch. While lifting up local and statewide campaigns that are breaking new ground in housing protections and investments, CarsonWatch aims to protect federal investments and legal protections. Read more on CarsonWatch.org.
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Rule
Why are so many disinvested neighborhoods filled with blight, run-down parks, and low-performing schools? Why are people of color disproportionately affected? Redlining and other discriminatory practices are now illegal, but many of these historical practices have left a legacy of disinvestment that is now institutionalized and that continues to influence decisions about the allocation of resources. The AFFH rule, promulgated under President Obama's administration, requires housing authorities, cities, counties, and states to assess their racial disparities and, based on their analysis, to target federal resources in a manner that solves chronic, persistent disparities in housing choices and access to opportunity.
PolicyLink contributed to developing the framework of the rule and led technical assistance and capacity-building efforts for the 70 pilot regions; it now convenes a national working group to educate Congress and prevent the rollback of the AFFH rule under the current administration. PolicyLink developed a broad array of resources to support the success of the pilots and the following rule implementation that support opening up access to transportation, infrastructure, healthy food access, education, and reentry. Read more here.
Place-Based Housing Policy
Housing is the biggest cost in a household budget and the single biggest factor making the Bay Area inhospitable for many lower- and middle-wage workers. Bay Area businesses have ranked the high cost of workforce housing as their top concern with long commutes to more affordable housing stock impacting productivity and the environment. In response to these concerns, the Oakland City Council requested guidance on housing policy solutions. The city's Department of Housing and Community Development commissioned PolicyLink and Urban Strategies Council to work with the city to analyze the challenges and recommend comprehensive policy solutions. See A Roadmap to Equity: Housing Solutions for Oakland, California for details. This work led to unanimous adoption of a housing policy framework by the Oakland City Council, and contributed to the passage of $680 million in affordable housing bond financing, strengthening of renter protections, and development of a proactive rental inspection program.
- California state legislative
California is in an unprecedented housing crisis, which is contributing to a wide range of health and economic challenges. While the crisis affects all Californians, it is felt most by low-income renters and renters of color. Today, nearly 50 percent of California households are renters. Over 56 percent of these households pay too much for housing. Among low-income renter households this number is even higher—84 percent of households at or below 200 percent of the poverty line pay too much for housing. Almost 60 percent of Black and Latino households pay too much for housing, versus less than half of White households. To advance equity, we must recognize the foundational role of housing in supporting positive outcomes for communities and get serious about tackling our housing crisis head on. To this end, PolicyLink works with partners from around the state to advance statewide policy reforms that:
- preserve and expand the supply of affordable housing;
- increase tenant protections and remove barriers to housing for vulnerable populations, including individuals with criminal records, undocumented Californians, and low-income renters; and
- promote fair and healthy housing.
PolicyLink joined with Neighborhood Allies, Urban Innovation21, the UrbanKind Institute, and leaders across Pittsburgh to put forth an equitable development vision and strategy to ensure low-wealth Pittsburghers can benefit from the region's economic transformation through jobs, access to affordable housing, and neighborhood improvements. In 2016, more than 200 community leaders participated in creating a definition of equitable development and provided input into an action agenda, which is presented in the report Equitable Development: The Path to an All-In Pittsburgh. At the center of this work is a call for a comprehensive strategy to increase housing affordability and stability, and to unlock opportunity in the city's highest poverty neighborhoods. Find more on the Pittsburgh policy recommendations on the All-In Cities website.
- New Orleans, Assessment of Fair Housing
New Orleans was the first city to implement the Assessment of Fair Housing framework after the release of the AFFH rule. PolicyLink played a supportive technical assistance role with the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, Housing NOLA, the Housing Authority of New Orleans, and the City of New Orleans.