Housing affordability is the foundation for equity and prosperity.
Housing is both the largest expense and the greatest asset for many households. As the cost of housing has risen more rapidly than incomes, a growing number of households across the nation struggle to afford to rent their homes or achieve homeownership. This trend undermines the economic security of individuals as well as the growth and prosperity of entire communities. Moreover, the shortage of affordable housing contributes to racial segregation and intensifies economic inequality.
Through its 40 years of history, HR&A has advised local governments, developers, philanthropies, advocates, and community stakeholders on how to develop and implement effective housing policies and development projects.
CREATE HOUSING PLANS AND STRATEGIES THAT ADDRESS LOCAL NEEDS AND PRIORITIES
Our housing plans assess local needs and priorities through robust quantitative analysis and local stakeholder engagement. They culminate in a phased set of strategies to address the most pressing housing challenges—from housing shortages and displacement to disinvestment and lack of access.
DESIGN POLICIES THAT ALIGN COMMUNITY GOALS WITH MARKET CONDITIONS
Drawing on decades of expertise, we design and implement housing policies that balance the public interest with economic feasibility. We work on the full range of potential housing policies, including local public funding, land use and regulation, tenants’ rights and infrastructure investment.
DEVELOP AND PRESERVE AFFORDABLE HOUSING
HR&A draws from its deep real estate advisory expertise to advise developers, landowners, local governments, and housing authorities on site-specific strategies to build, preserve, and reposition affordable housing developments.
Community Housing Plan
As affordability challenges emerge across the nation, regions and cities must adopt comprehensive approaches to address housing affordability. Our housing plans provide long-term approaches that are grounded in a thorough understanding of market conditions. We conduct an analysis of underlying economic and demographic trends (demand) and development pacing and pipeline (supply) to determine the factors driving local housing challenges. Based on the local drivers of a community’s housing challenges, we recommend a comprehensive set of housing tools including land use, public subsidy, tenants’ rights and infrastructure development. In places such as Atlanta, Detroit, and Wake County, HR&A’s engagements have led to the adoption and implementation of effective housing plans.
Housing Gap Analysis
To prepare for the future, cities need to know the scale and nature of the gap between available housing and the housing needs of residents. HR&A provides this diagnosis by drawing from an understanding of current and historical conditions, and by projecting future housing conditions based on demographic and economic trends. HR&A has a unique approach that uses Census microdata to allow for nuanced assessments of housing needs by custom neighborhood and demographic group—such as by individual school district, for the City of Atlanta.
Community and Stakeholder Engagement
Diligent consensus-building is necessary for any plan or strategy to be effectively implemented. HR&A’s engagement process serves to educate on issues and to build consensus around solutions, for two types of critical stakeholder groups:
Local leaders: HR&A facilitates steering committees and advisory boards, typically composed of policymakers, nonprofit leaders, and advocates, who are tasked with providing guidance and oversight on the implementation of housing programs. For example, in Wake County, we engaged a 35-member steering committee through a year-long process of creating an actionable roadmap to guide their affordable housing efforts over the next 20 years.
Community members: At a community level, HR&A engages residents through interactive and collaborative workshops that move away from the ineffective traditional townhall method. For example, we developed a workshop format in Atlanta that immersed each community member through the process and implications of introducing new housing policies.
Housing Nonprofit Business Plan
As nonprofits grow and evolve, they often require an outside assessment of how they can be more effective in achieving their mission. Drawing from far-reaching experience in working both with nonprofit organizations, HR&A evaluates a community’s opportunities and needs, and helps nonprofits plan to build the business capacity required to access new opportunities and meet new needs. For example, HR&A worked with Atlanta Habitat for Humanity to create a new five-year strategic plan to guide the organization’s growth.
Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy
While many cities have thrived in recent decades and have experienced commensurate growing pains, the narrative is much different in other places. For cities such as Battle Creek, the great housing challenge is not that there is too much demand or not enough supply, but that there is not much of a market at all. HR&A advises on strategies to rebuild housing markets, beginning with the policy interventions required to help activate and “restart” the market.
In cities such as Milwaukee that are experiencing new pockets of growth, or in areas that anticipate a major investment (such as the addition of a light rail), emerging market pressures can threaten to displace longtime residents. HR&A helps to design policies that retain and build wealth for existing residents and retailers. For example, in Detroit, HR&A explored ways to preempt and prevent displacement in areas of the city experiencing increased investment in recent years.
Inclusionary Zoning Policy
HR&A has designed and assessed inclusionary zoning (IZ) policies across the country, including in New Orleans, Detroit, Cambridge, Columbus, and New York City. IZ is an important tool for generating mixed-income housing in areas of opportunity. To be effective, IZ policies must be carefully designed to balance affordability goals against market feasibility requirements. HR&A conducts detailed market analyses to ensure that IZ policies maximize the level of required affordability without undermining the housing market needed to generate the housing.
Housing Trust Fund
HR&A designs approaches to both fund and operate housing trust funds (HTFs). HTFs are local pools of public funding for housing that have emerged in response to inadequate and declining federal funding. Because they are inherently local, HTFs provide an opportunity to design and fund locally relevant programs and to use funding in more nimble and novel ways.
For example, HR&A supported Pittsburgh in implementing its new Housing Opportunity Fund (HOF), by both facilitating the inaugural funding allocation and by drafting program guidelines and scoring criteria. In the cities of Los Angeles and Irvine, California, HR&A analyzed two mechanisms of funding HTFs—linkage fees and developer fees—to promote policy adjustments that would maximize public benefit and increase policy responsiveness.
Preservation funds invest in properties to preserve the quality and affordability of existing low-rent units, including both subsidized units such as low-income housing tax credit properties and “naturally occurring” affordable housing.
For example, HR&A supported the Westside Future Fund in evaluating different types of loan products to support the preservation of affordable multifamily and single-family housing.
Affordable Housing Gap Funding
Local governments often provide low-interest loans or grants to multifamily affordable housing development projects to make the projects feasible and to support local policy goals, such as deeper income targeting. Gap funding programs are typically designed to leverage both 4% and 9% low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC) allocated by state housing finance agencies.
HR&A has designed and implemented gap financing programs in several places, such as Wake County and Pittsburgh. In Los Angeles, HR&A has designed a $25M loan program targeted to families with young children, deployed over $116M through the Mental Health Services Act Housing Program over a period of ten years, and implemented the Industry Fund affordable housing development loan program for the LACDC and LA Housing Authority.
Accessory Dwelling Units
Increasingly, cities across the U.S. have adjusted their zoning codes to allow for accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which are small, secondary housing units typically located in a backyard or basement of a single-family home. ADUs are a cost-effective and flexible way to increase the supply of housing, including in areas that would otherwise be difficult to build in. In Washington, D.C., which has recently permitted ADUs, HR&A is involved with a working group led by the Coalition for Smarter Growth to promote and accelerate the adoption of ADUs in the city.
By-Right Development & Land Use
HR&A evaluates how different land use, zoning, and development-related regulations can support or harm housing affordability. Land use is a critical non-monetary lever to support housing affordability.
For the Up For Growth National Coalition, HR&A has created a calculator that measures the impact of policies, such as by-right development and land use, on housing production and affordability at both a project level and citywide. HR&A also helped create a new incentive zoning system in Downtown Los Angeles, to be implemented through by LADCP’s new zoning code.
HR&A evaluates and advises on effective incentives to support the development, redevelopment and preservation of housing of all types. These can include regulatory incentives, such as density bonuses, reduced parking requirements, flexible design standards, and accelerated approvals; or funding incentives, such as reduced fees, public land, or tax incentives.
For the National Multifamily Housing Council, HR&A assessed the nature and trade-offs of affordability incentives, considering both their public good and their effects on the development community. For the Westside Cities of Los Angeles (including Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Culver City, Santa Monica, and Malibu), HR&A modeled an affordable rental housing production program by identifying the policies and financial mechanisms that would maximize the production of affordable rental units.
Rent regulations are contentious but oft-revisited policies that seek to directly soften the rent burden in high-cost cities by capping or restricting rent increases. On behalf of Los Angeles County, the City of Los Angeles, and the City of Beverly Hills, HR&A has provided recurring analytical support to determine the historical and potential outcomes of rent regulation policies. We advised on issues such as the formula for the maximum allowable annual rent increase, the amounts and beneficiaries of relocation fees that landlords must pay in “no cause” evictions, and whether to exempt certain building types from regulation. As part of this process, HR&A engaged and facilitated dialogue between a wide range of stakeholders including tenants, landlords, mobile home park owners and residents, and city officials. HR&A has also worked with the National Multifamily Housing Council to assess and articulate the nuances and challenges of implementing non-distortionary rent regulations.
Public Subsidy Underwriting
HR&A provides underwriting services to local governments and housing authorities for multifamily affordable housing developments. We underwrite projects to ensure that public investment secures the maximum level of affordability and that the projects invested in align with public policy goals set by the local government. For example, in Wake County, HR&A is helping to implement the city’s new revolving loan fund by reviewing and underwriting developer applications.
Public Housing Redevelopment
Many housing agencies face an inventory of aging and obsolete public housing inventory in need of significant capital investment or redevelopment. Agencies often seek to address these challenges without displacing existing residents while creating more balanced mixed-income communities. For housing authorities in places including Washington DC, New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Norfolk, HR&A provides strategic planning assistance, transaction support services, and real estate advisory for key projects throughout housing agency portfolios, with the aim of helping agencies meet their goals by leveraging assets and limiting funding to the greatest extent possible.
Affordable and Mixed-Income Development
HR&A provides master planning, capital investment advisory, and feasibility study services to often highly complex mixed-income developments, such as Starrett City, the largest affordable housing complex in the U.S. Through these developments, HR&A assesses and advises on site development potential and on investments in public space, connectivity, and programming that would meaningfully improve conditions for current and future residents. In cities such as Phoenix, Pasadena, and Azusa, HR&A has designed incentives that will motivate developers to build affordable housing, and then evaluated and selected developers best qualified for the task.
Long-Term Affordable Housing Plans
Wake County, NC
Wake County is the second-fastest-growing county in America and faces a growing housing crisis. Wake County sought to identify strategies that would help preserve existing affordable housing while also incentivizing the production of new affordable housing. As the level of federal support for affordable housing programs continues to decrease, Wake County needed unique strategies to solve challenges ensuring long-term affordability of housing within the county.
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Housing Transaction Advisory
Like many housing agencies, the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) is faced with an inventory of aging/obsolete public housing inventory that is in need of significant capital investment or redevelopment. Additionally, DCHA seeks to create more balanced mixed-income communities without displacing of existing residents. In an era of decreasing Federal support for public housing, the agency must achieve these goals by leveraging its assets and limited funding to the greatest extent possible. Learn More →
Los Angeles County Community Development Commission Loan Program
Los Angeles, CA
Since 1999, HR&A has provided on-call advisory services to the CDC and the Housing Authority of the County of LA. The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health has worked to design and implement the County’s Mental Health Services Act Housing Program. Among its many initiatives is a funding allocation to each county to provide pre-development, permanent financing, and capitalized operating subsidies for new, permanent supportive housing for persons with serious mental illness who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Learn More →