Housing Policies for Belonging

The decisions that shape access to healthy, dignified homes and neighborhoods often are cloaked in complicated jargon and made in exclusive spaces. The structures and systems that result from these actions are frequently unseen and yet they deeply impact our lives. During the foreclosure crisis, for instance, many of us learned about securitization and subprime loans only after the damage had been done. Many decisions made about what kind of development can happen and where it can happen often move through administrative channels that are not easily accessible. Housing policy is most effective when it addresses these structural forces, advancing structural inclusion. From a policy perspective, structural inclusion means that social, legal, and economic structures are designed to provide everyone access to resources essential for a full sense of belonging and well-being.

In analyzing and developing ideas for policy, the Haas Institute uses a framework we call targeted universalism. "Universalism” refers to the idea that there should be a universal goal that will be achieved—for instance, making housing affordable for all residents. But for all to reach that universal goal, the policy must also be “targeted,” meaning it must include strategies specific to the particular barriers that some people face and others do not. For example, ensuring that the goal of affordable housing is achieved for seniors on a fixed income will require different strategies than reaching the goal for middle class homeowners. Richmond’s Health in All Policies ordinance reflects a targeted universalism framework:

Health equity entails focused societal efforts to address avoidable inequalities by equalizing the conditions for health for all groups, especially for those who have experienced socioeconomic disadvantage or historical injustices.91

Often, the benefits of a targeted strategy also reach beyond the targeted population, such as how affordable housing for seniors creates stronger intergenerational communities and lessens medical costs. 
The universal goals for housing policy must recognize that housing is about much more than just shelter. The home that you live in ties you to place, and this has a profound effect on your access to safe and healthy environments, economic opportunity, education, essential social networks, and other resources. These neighborhood environments can have substantial long-term economic and health effects.92,93

In the US, owning a home is the primary way most working class families build wealth, which can protect them from a temporary loss of income or major expense like surgery or college tuition.

There is growing consensus that a comprehensive approach to housing issues must include strategies that cover “the four Ps”:

  • Protection: protecting tenants and socioeconomically disadvantaged residents

  • Production: developing appropriate additional housing

  • Preservation: preserving existing affordable housing

  • Power: strengthening the power of residents to ensure responsive and equitable housing decisions

Protection policies ensure that residents who are most impacted by housing issues like homelessness, discrimination, or unsafe housing have the rights and support they need. Existing Richmond housing policies that expand protection include rent control, just cause for eviction, and the fair chance housing ordinance. A new policy that advances protection and is discussed in the following section is the ordinance to prevent source of income discrimination. This policy would protect residents with Section 8 vouchers and other subsidized incomes from being discriminated against by landlords. Another policy that could expand protection is a reusable tenant screening report—a measure that provides tenants with an accurate and affordable report that they can reuse with multiple landlords. This saves tenants the money that each landlord typically collects for credit reports and background checks, and also protects tenants from having inappropriate and inaccurate information shared with landlords.

Housing policies that advance production lead to the development of additional housing units to meet the needs of existing residents, a growing population, and any mismatches in the affordability of housing produced. For instance, a housing linkage fee generates additional funds for affordable housing by charging a fee to new commercial, market-rate housing, or other development projects in the city. An affordable housing bond also expands production by using revenue from an increase in property taxes to fund the construction or preservation of affordable housing. A public lands policy can expand production by directing the city to lease or sell its surplus public land in ways that facilitate development of affordable housing and other community goods. Investments in transitional and supportive housing expand housing for residents who would often otherwise be homeless.

Preservation policies support the stability and quality of existing affordable and public housing. Preservation policies can fund needed rehabilitation of dilapidated affordable housing, and change ownership structures or contracts to ensure that affordable housing does not get converted to market-rate housing. The affordable housing bond can help preserve affordable housing by generating funds for rehabilitation of units that are in disrepair. The ordinance to prevent source of income discrimination can also advance preservation by making it easier for Section 8 voucher holders to secure housing on the private market. When voucher holders are discriminated against and cannot find a landlord to accept their voucher, they may lose the voucher, and unused vouchers often lead to the housing authority receiving less funding for affordable housing.

Housing policies that further the power of residents create new pathways and platforms for residents’ voices to be heard and shape housing decisions. For example, the creation of a Community-owned Development Enterprise (CDE) would put residents in the driver’s seat of designing and carrying out housing development projects. A housing anti-speculation tax curbs and deters speculative investment, increasing the power of moderate-income home buyers and tenants in the housing market. The process itself can build the power of residents when they participate in developing, advocating for, and passing policy.