Creating Successful Neighborhoods
Successful housing development projects take the needs of the entire community into consideration. Any local government interested in affordable housing should solicit the input of a broad coalition of entities to explore how new projects will affect different segments of the population.
Whether your community is promoting infill development, redeveloping existing areas, extending its boundaries, or working on all of these, it is important to create well-functioning, successful neighborhoods that include sufficient safe and affordable housing.
Housing choice accommodates differing needs, ages, lifestyles, and family economic factors. Also important to neighborhoods are social and economic infrastructures that strengthen the workforce and provide community support.
Attributes of healthy neighborhoods include parks and open space, schools, pedestrian access, commercial or mixed-use areas, and access to transportation, community institutions, and the vibrancy of our main streets.
Local government involvement is often needed to intiate affordable housing projects. Active local government participation can lower the risk, reduce costs by streamlining some of the processes, and help to develop the best product to meet local needs.
One way to begin a housing project is to form a housing task force. The local government can work with the task force to clearly define its mission, activities, and responsibilities in the development process. The task force should be prepared to address the housing need priorities of the community, and to identify the groups and/or services that currently exist that could assist in meeting the established goals and objectives.
In determining how to structure the task force, the roles for each member should be considered, as well as how members can work collectively and individually to remove barriers and facilitate the development process. If the community does not have the capacity, a third party may be needed.
The task force can also establish what final product is desired, ensuring that the product or project effectively responds to or fills a gap in the housing needs of the community.
Rarely does a single entity have the resources and capacity to develop affordable housing independently. Consequently, partnerships bring together the expertise and resources needed to complete the housing development process and may enable a local government to work on solving different aspects of the local housing picture, without pushing any one agency beyond capacity or duplicating services. When deciding on a course of action to address community housing needs, local governments must first determine their internal capacity, deficiencies, and gaps in order to assess where partnerships may be required.
The following questions can assist local officials in assessing their capacity:
- Should we begin the process with the resources we have or hire professional help?
- If we begin on our own, at what point and for what tasks do we hire professionals?
- How much time and money are we willing and able to invest in exploring our options?
- Can we rely on our internal staff and funds to cover the initial expenses?
- Are there staff members with time and skills to undertake this process?
- Will we need this skill again in the future?
- Can community volunteers assist with critical tasks?
- Will the involvement of these community volunteers increase local support for the project?
- Are there other ways to accomplish or fund this project?
- Are we the most appropriate entity to get this project done?
- If there is funding for the initial project phases, how are these decisions affected?
- Use a Request For Proposals (RFP) to publicize needed services for interested parties to submit statements of qualification, services and prices.
- Hire a developer to manage the whole process.
- Assemble an initial project team that can carry out early activities without payment.
- Form a development committee as part of the project.
Selecting The Right Partners
No matter the nature of the partnership or housing project, local government officials need to ask questions about the capacity and role of potential partners. The participation of local government is critical for this process.
When seeking potential partners be sure to consider these questions:
- What is the work history and background of the potential partner?
- Do the references confirm what the partner is saying?
- Are the financial records organized and well kept?
- What is the organization’s experience in this particular form of development?
- Does the partner have experience in areas that are lacking by other members of the partnership?
Increasingly, non-profit organizations are becoming valuable partners for local governments in each stage of housing development. These organizations often have access to a substantial pool of volunteers as well as funding sources for pre-development costs, operating expenses, and construction activities specifically earmarked for non-profits.
When partnering with more than one local government, it is advisable to clearly delineate in a written agreement which is the lead government agency, what each government’s roles and responsibilities are, and, most importantly, the expectations of the project outcome. These are especially important in rural areas when a housing project may draw its clientele from many of the smaller communities.
Strengthening Neighborhood Dynamics
When planning for new or redeveloping areas, look at existing neighborhoods and analyze the characteristics that make them attractive and well-functioning. Determine which features promote successful interactions among the residents. Create neighborhoods that welcome a range of age groups, and ensure that both rental and homeownership opportunities are available. Consider policies that allow for mixed uses, both residential and commercial, with establishments that draw people in and may provide informal meeting space. Churches, service clubs, and other local institutions can help foster community engagement and participation. Non-profits and volunteer organizations can work with you on the development of programs to improve the physical conditions of older neighborhoods through trash pick-up, graffiti removal, landscaping, painting, and building repairs
The “Not In My Back Yard” syndrome, or NIMBY, is the tendency of neighbors to testify against a proposed project, often based on misconceptions or fears that property values, safety, or quality of life will be compromised. For affordable housing projects to be successful, outreach that builds and maintains community support should begin in the early stages of the development process.
Local officials should anticipate neighborhood concerns regarding the project and provide factual information on community issues such as design, density, crime, traffic, and parking. Housing developers should be required to contact and involve all neighborhood groups and constituencies to insure their inclusion in the process. Public discussions can be used as an opportunity to acknowledge and address people’s concerns, while promoting housing affordability as a positive and important factor in improving neighborhood conditions. Resistance to a development will be mitigated if local officials can demonstrate that affordable housing is a community asset, providing housing for the workforce and local jobs during and after construction, bringing in federal and state subsidies, generating sales tax revenue, and reducing traffic and pollution.
Colorado Main Street
Colorado Main Street is a program founded by the National Main Street Center (NMSC), a national organization committed to historic preservation-based community revitalization. The Colorado program is managed by the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) using the NMSC model to assist communities as they preserve and rejuvenate their downtown and commercial districts within the context of historic preservation. A town’s main street says a lot about the community, and bringing to life the history and unique aspects inspire creative energy and pride. Local residents are eager to share their heritage and visitors come to learn and enjoy.
Colorado Main Street has a tiered system for local programs to progress through as they achieve greater levels of self-sufficiency and success. The Affiliate tier gets limited services from DOLA, but it is a great way to connect to the Main Street network and/or begin the process of becoming a Candidate. Communities may remain an Affiliate as long as they desire. Main Street staff can work with your community to help explore the program and help you decide if it is right for your community.
Please see the Colorado Main Street Program Manual for more information on the prerequisites, requirements and available services for each tier.
- Funding Partner — Provides grants or loans to the project in return for long-term affordability.
- Project Developer — Manages the team.
- Construction/Project Manager — Day-to-day project oversight.
- Service Provider — Provides services for special needs populations once the project is built.
- Housing Authority — Provides section 8 vouchers and ability to exempt property taxes.
- Property Management — Manages the project upon completion.
- Neighborhood Partners — Engage community members in a positive fashion about the project.
- Lenders — Provide financing for project.
EVENTS AND ACTIVITIES
- Hold an affordable housing forum or town hall meeting.
- Host an affordable housing breakfast for citizens and housing professionals.
- Host a community affordable housing fair.
- Request affordable housing as a topic of a Chamber of Commerce retreat.
- Host community round tables on affordable housing.
- Provide information on the link between affordable housing and other aspects of community life.