Twenty years ago I directed a two-year community development project which had a heavy emphasis on housing – a mix of affordable, subsidized, market-rate, new builds, rehabs, etc.
At that time, everyone agreed that stable housing meant stable families, workers and communities. It was a challenging project, but two decades later that neighborhood continues to build off of its strategy's success and momentum.
Shortly thereafter – about fifteen years ago - my colleagues and I began predicting the foreclosure crisis that swept the nation and decimated urban and suburban neighborhoods alike.
Ten years ago we began to see the tip of the iceberg of the crisis emerge as five-year adjustable rate mortgages came due, houses were flipped multiple times, predatory lenders prowled through neighborhoods, and credible lenders tightened their purse strings – even as everyone continued to agree that housing stabilizes families, the workforce and neighborhoods.
After spending the afternoon reviewing a set of housing strategies and projects for a group of diverse communities. I have concluded that housing policy must change. The tool kit has been the same for decades. And, the same problem of a lack of quality and affordable housing remains as big as ever.
I commend local leaders who spend countless hours volunteering their time to figure out how to best unravel funding constraints and leverage private funds to support as many families and workforce members as possible. However, it isn’t enough.
It is time for a new approach to housing policy. It is time for workforce development, public health and infrastructure policy to reshape where we live, how we live and how we invest in our communities.
Housing policy needs to be reinvented and no stone should be left unturned. With the largest number of baby boomer homeowners set to retire and downsize, an imbalance in housing supply/demand across large swaths of our country, a large group of millennials holding different housing preferences and needs, and employers looking to attract and retain a qualified workforce – radical change is needed.
And, ten years ago a community predicted they would have a problem attracting and retaining their workforce. As predicted, the problem arrived with no place to call home.