Building Public Support For Affordable Housing: A New Toolbox

The nuts and bolts of winning community support for affordable housing is the subject of a new Institute for Local Government (ILG) publication, Building Public Support for Affordable Housing: A Toolbox for California Officials.

The Toolbox for California Officials is a product of ILG’s Land Use and Housing program. It was produced with generous support from the Bank of America Foundation and the League Partners program. The Toolbox has been distributed to city and county planning directors throughout the state and has been the topic of several League conference sessions.

Why a Toolbox on Affordable Housing?

State law imposes a variety of obligations on all communities to provide housing for people of all income levels, but when a developer proposes to build new housing, the neighborhood’s existing residents may have concerns. This can be particularly true if the housing is designed to meet the needs of families and individuals with lower or moderate incomes.

Sometimes existing residents react to new development, particularly housing, with skepticism or opposition. While local officials can’t keep their communities from changing, they can help residents better understand the changes they face. Local agencies can work with their constitu ents to address fears and concerns about change. This ILG publication is designed to help with a six-step process:

  1. Survey the Landscape: Conduct an Initial Assessment. This involves gaining an understanding of the specifics of a given proposal for affordable housing and appreciating the community context within which decisions about the housing proposal will be made. Understanding the stakeholders is also important. In the broadest sense, a stakeholder is anyone — whether part of an organized group or not — who would be affected by the proposal or whose interests might be advanced or damaged.
  2. Building to Code: Law, Procedures and Public Hearings. Complex legal requirements govern planning and land use decisions related to afford able housing. Scrupulously following the law’s substantive and procedural requirements is critical when making planning and development decisions. Public hearings are one way to involve residents and address community concerns.
  3. Nuts and Bolts: Address Legitimate Community Concerns. Local agencies play a pivotal role in finding solutions to common community concerns regarding affordable housing proposals. Local communities can employ effective approaches to address concerns related to design, neighborhood compatibility, traffic, safety and a number of other important issues that arise when affordable housing projects are proposed.
  4. Blueprint for Success: Designing the Public Participation Process. When making local land use deci sions, designing a public engagement process tailored to the unique circumstances of the local situation means going beyond the legal public partici pation requirements. The required process alone may not be enough to build civic confidence and trust when controversial issues arise that prompt public anxiety or animosity.
  5. Choose the Right Tools: Applying Methods of Community Engagement. Selecting the most appropriate methods to carry out a public participation strategy is another critical step. There are many tools and techniques available to help local officials engage the public.
  6. Lay a Foundation for the Future: Implementation, Oversight and the Framework for Planning. Once a housing proposal has been approved, it is important to ensure that the proposal is implemented well and commitments made to the community are kept.

Perhaps the most effective way local agencies can build public support for affordable housing over the long term is to ensure that the community’s plans for the future provide for it. By integrating affordable housing into the planning framework that guides the development of the community, local officials can avoid misperceptions and conflict at the outset.

To Obtain a Copy

Check with your planning director about reviewing the copy sent to your city. The Toolbox is also available free online in electronic form at . Additional hard copy versions may be purchased for $30 through ILG’s publications unit at Proceeds from hard copy sales help support ILG’s Housing and Land Use Program.

This article appears in the September 2007 issue of Western City
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