“Do we believe housing is a right and that affordable housing is part of what it should mean to be an American? I say yes.”
Our homes are foundational. More than just a roof over our heads, they have been forced to become our workplaces and our classrooms.
Where we live creates connections to neighbors, communities, education, and, for too many, determines our lifetime outcomes — including how much we will earn as adults and how long we will live.
Zip code is still destiny in the United States and the public health crisis has exposed what was already a crisis in our country’s neighborhoods – communities segregated by race and income through years of deliberate policy and practice. In the daily onslaught of distressing news about the growing challenges to find housing for those experiencing homelessness, keeping people healthy, employed, and our children educated, it can seem impossible to see a path to being part of the solution.
Fortunately, ULI Washington members are uniquely positioned to make a difference in providing the housing options our region needs.
In my work at the Council of Governments (COG), we began 2020 with the wind in our sails. In September 2019, the COG Board unanimously passed a resolution adopting regional housing production targets, which set goals for the amount of housing the region needs to create during the next ten years, including the affordability levels needed to meet the needs of future residents.
Then COVID-19 landed and we were suddenly faced with an immediate and seemingly bottomless recession. Collectively, we were all faced with the very real possibility that people could lose their homes. And our neighbors who were already experiencing the worst possible form of housing crisis – homelessness – were living in conditions that made them especially vulnerable to the pandemic.
Where do we go from here? – Housing First
Members of COG’s Homeless Services Committee are among the many at COG who have increased the depth of their communication and collaboration. During the early days of the shutdown, when the situation on the ground was changing daily, this group made time weekly to share their experiences and troubleshoot all aspects of their Continuum of Care (“CoC”) program responses to prevent widespread infection and keep people safe.
Although the region’s CoCs have worked hard to provide socially-distanced emergency shelters, the housing first goal of moving people into permanent housing as quickly as possible has remained the top priority.
Here, too, ULI Washington members have insights into how to connect not just the physical residential real estate landscape but the human one, such as through partnerships with landlords who understand the importance of a home.
The Need for Increased Housing Production
During the pandemic, housing prices have risen and sales during the second quarter exceeded the rate of sales during the same period in 2019. Low interest rates coupled with demand for larger homes has helped drive inventory to new lows.
What is the solution? It will take an all-hands-on-deck approach across sectors to ensure that we are able to not just provide enough housing for the people who already live here, but also the next decade’s residents of our region.
It’s important to remember that not all pre-pandemic approaches are irrelevant now. ULI Washington’s Increasing Housing Supply and Attainability report contains lessons that are just as pertinent now as when it was first published. We need to work proactively in our communities to build the trust necessary to increase acceptance for more housing.
The Need to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing
Equally important as the need for more housing is the location and types of housing we produce. Our region is still segregated by race, the legacy of redlining and long-term neighborhood disinvestment.
In the midst of our current racial reckoning is a collaboration that COG is managing to develop a regional fair housing plan. Our region’s local governments have maintained their strong support for examining data for patterns of bias and discrimination and to create a plan for concrete actions that moves us closer to achieving truly integrated and inclusive communities.
While the fair housing plan is in its early stages of development, some of the same solutions that will support our housing production goals can help address our racist housing policy history. Eliminating exclusionary residential zoning practices, and incentivizing the production of housing affordable to low and moderate-income households near transit are just two solutions that help further our vision for the region.
Coping during these challenging times has reinforced for me the importance of partnership and collaboration. While our individual efforts matter, together, I know we can do hard things. And I’m grateful to be part of ULI Washington, working with all of you, to create a future where everyone has a place of their own to call home and become who they are meant to be.
Housing Program Manager, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments
Former ULI Washington Housing Initiative Council Co-Chair
Former ULI Washington Initiative Council Steering Committee Co-Chair
In ULI Washington’s new Leadership Insights column, ULI Washington will regularly feature member leader’s thoughts and insights as we adjust personally and professional to a “new normal.”