Many of our communities are facing complex housing issues that require sufficient diagnosis of local and regional conditions as well as capacity to address them. There are many different public agencies, private firms, non-profits, and public-private partnerships attempting to address housing issues using a variety of tools and processes. Below you will find some of those tools and examples to develop an analysis of housing in your community.
A Resource Guide
The Housing Preparedness Index (HPI) is aimed at providing a framework to help local officials and concerned citizens think through the strengths and weaknesses of the local housing market. The specific intent is to help identify potential policies and strategies to address housing issues within the community. There are no necessarily correct or wrong answers. The HPI has two objectives: (1) a tool to help inform a broader discussion around housings issue within the community, (2) insert specific policy or strategy options related to housing. In the end, the insights gained from the HPI are from the conversations that occur when discussing each question. Upon completion of the HPI local officials and members of the community are encouraged to think about the next steps in improving the housing market for residents of the community.
The HPI is designed to elicit conversation around a series of housing-related issues including:
- Existing comprehensive plans that address housing.
- Enforcement of existing policies related to housing.
- Does the community have a sufficient understanding of the local housing market?
- Local Capacity to Address Housing Issues.
- Resources for Addressing Housing Issues.
Within each block are a set of “yes/no” questions that are aimed at initiating a conversation about sound public policy practices or housing-related strategies at the local level. The questions are not aimed at addressing specific public policy questions, such as how land-use zoning laws should be structured but rather the environment that is necessary for effective identification and implantation of housing-related policies and/or strategies at the local level. The questions are often ordered in a manner to build off the prior question. At times, the primary question may be answered “no” which means that the subsequent questions in the block may be unsuitable. Alternatively, one view the subsequent questions as how the community might proceed in addressing the initial question.
The intent of this document is to provide an overview of the “teaching objectives” behind each specific question. This is a “living” index and can, and should be, altered for specific educational settings. The knowledge of the local educator must help inform which questions to include or remove. It is also important to keep in mind that while the questions are phrased in a manner that the greater the number of questions answered “yes” the more effective local housing policies. The overall intent of the HPI is to stimulate discussion amongst elected local government officials and concerned citizens while injecting ideas about housing policy/strategies into the conversation.
Existing Comprehensive Plans
Many communities have Comprehensive Plans in place that cover a range of topics including land use policies (e.g., zoning regulations) and housing elements. The effective of these Comprehensive Plans, however, are not always clear. This block of questions is aimed at helping structure a conversion around the Comprehensive Plan and how it may, or may not, relate to local housing issues. If the community has a Comprehensive Plan in place, how well known is the plan, and/or how up to date is the plan? If the community has no Comprehensive Plan in place, it may be a starting point for the community. If a Plan is in place, people are aware of the Plan and it is considered up to date, what insights about addressing housing issues can be gained by revisiting the Plan? If the community does not have a Comprehensive Plan and is reluctant to undertake comprehensive planning, or at a minimum land use planning, the community may not be in a position to address housing issues.
Enforcement of Current Policies
Many communities’ concerns around the local housing market can be grouped into two broad categories: (1) availability of affordable housing and (2) quality of the existing housing stock. This block of questions is aimed at ensuring minimum quality standards for existing housing. If the community has a set of up-to-date policies concerning housing within the community, are those policies enforced? If the policies (e.g., building codes) are not enforced, then the policies are ineffective at maintaining quality housing. If the community is unwilling or reluctant to enforce current housing policies, the community may not be in a position to address housing issues. The set of questions is also aimed at suggesting what a set of housing quality policies might contain (e.g., building codes).
The housing market is a complex one that is not necessarily easy to understand. How well understood is the actual housing market: are discussions based on perceptions or a true understanding of the market? Do perceptions about the housing market match the realities of the market? While Housing-CEA program is aimed at providing a broad overview of the local housing market, the overview might not be sufficiently detailed to address specific housing issues. Does the community need to further explore the housing market to make more informed decisions?
Local Capacity to Address Housing Issues
What are the existing resources available in the community to address housing issues? Are the available resources being used to their fullest advantage? If the community responds “no” to these questions, potential future policies/strategies might be identified. Notions such as “land trusts” [land owned by the local government or nonprofit that can be leased, long-term, at reduced rates to builders to reduce the costs of land] and “land banks” [the local government purchases key parcels of land to ensure a critical mass of land for future residential development or public use] are introduced.
Resources for Addressing Housing Issues
To what extent is the community pursuing financial resources to leverage housing issues? There are numerous program (grants) at the federal and state level that are available to communities to address a wide range of housing issues. To what extent are communities tapping into these resources? Are there community nonprofits or foundations that are tapping into resources to assist the community in addressing housing issues?
The Housing Preparedness Index is available as a PDF that can be printed and distributed, but compilation with this method of completion can be time-consuming.