Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Innovation in ballot campaigns and rental development at NHC’s Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

Every month, NHC brings speakers to our Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force who discuss innovative strategies to empower comprehensive community development. I’m always excited to learn about what practitioners are exploring on the ground, and March brought two opportunities. Michael Bodaken, president of the National Housing Trust (NHT), shared information on their High Opportunity Pilot, where NHT is taking a market-oriented approach to give voucher holders access to high-opportunity neighborhoods. And Rhode Island Housing and the United Way of Rhode Island shared their success in a state ballot measure to create a $50 million state bond for affordable housing. Both initiatives required thinking about and messaging about affordable housing differently in order to make progress.

NHT’s High Opportunity Pilot acquires market-rate multifamily housing. The goal is to create a mixed-income community by opening up a portion of the market-rate units to Housing Choice Voucher holders over time, as opposed to trying to construct an affordable housing development in a high-opportunity neighborhood. This approach focuses on conversion of existing privately owned market-rate housing stock. On the surface, this may sound rather simple. However, this model requires partnership with public housing authorities, as well as with nonprofits who can help counsel voucher holders and certify their eligibility. It also requires access to equity and conventional financing that can be deployed quickly, and the ability to compete in a fast moving process. The affordable housing development process is not a quick one, so this model requires a different kind of engagement in the market.

Rhode Island Housing and the United Way of Rhode Island led an effort in 2016 to pass a statewide ballot measure that would create a $50 million state bond for affordable housing. The “Yes on 7” campaign focused its messaging on “housing opportunity,” a term that advocates felt did not invoke a negative frame among the public. The campaign also focused on highlighting beneficiaries of development; not just residents but also employers and businesses. The campaign took a strategic approach, recognizing the value of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as the importance of events like groundbreakings to build public support and engage community partners.

In an uncertain federal environment, seeing examples of new strategies being used to fund and market affordable housing confirms how housers can continue to be successful on the state and local level. Join us April 27-28 in Minneapolis for Solutions for Housing Communications to see many similar examples of successful approaches to building support for housing at the state and local level.

You can view both presentations from the March 2017 Restoring Neighborhoods Task Force meeting here. If you’re interested in learning more about the task force, please email me.

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