Saving Affordable Housing


The National Housing Institute, with funding from the Ford Foundation, has made available Saving Affordable Housing, a practical review of selected examples of community-based groups that have preserved and revitalized affordable housing. After a quick introduction and context, the report delves into the meat of six project case studies. These case studies illuminate and contrast what works for each group, along with the challenges they face. Each study explores what these groups have done to preserve and enhance not just housing stock, but also entire neighborhoods. The final chapters are the most useful, identifying the elements of success and the lessons learned by each provider.

Saving Affordable Housing is a good tool for housing practitioners, students of housing and community development, policymakers and planners, CDC boards, and resident groups. The report is full of great illustrations and practical experience. It is more useful than most case studies because it moves past the rhetoric of government programs and even the process of deal making and focuses on elements of success and the lessons learned. The report finds leadership and long-term commitment necessary to revitalizing affordable housing and neighborhoods where families can survive and flourish.

This report may be helpful to those interested in the specific construct of a deal or the specific financing tools for saving affordable housing, but that is not its best value. Nor is its best value the occasional observation of the role of a specific piece of legislation or government program in ensuring government commitment to saving affordable housing. In fact, as a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for FHA-Multifamily Programs, I might debate some of the observations about the motivations for proposed changes in federal policy in the last four years.

But I would not debate the valuable lessons this report clearly presents about the importance of a committed owner who is clear that the end product is good accessible housing that serves residents today and in 10, 15, and 20 years; the importance of good technical assistance, including asset and property management; and the opportunities to integrate technology and services that aid low and moderate income communities.

After 24 years in the affordable housing business, however, I have learned that a finance team, a technical assistance provider, and a “great deal” do not alone make good housing. Even a great owner is not the most critical element. The key, as this report recognizes, is that saving affordable housing involves building neighborhood capital. Saving Affordable Housing quickly creates a vision of a healthy neighborhood and highlights the role of residents in housing and neighborhood revitalization. And it encourages policymakers to recognize and support local assets. This point is illustrated by a comment on page 47:

    Where…entrepreneurial leadership and commitment is present, government policy should ensure that groups have access to the money and technical assistance needed to create or restore safe, decent affordable housing and make their cities more hospitable to capital investment, consumer confidence, and the poor and an aspiring new middle class.

Good urban entrepreneurs know that saving affordable housing must be done with a vision of a healthy neighborhood as the end product. This report will give you lots of insights into how to foster that healthy community.

National Low Income Housing Coalition


John Atlas is a founder of Shelterforce and board chair emeritus. He is the producer of ACORN and the Firestorm, a film directed by Reuben Atlas and Sam Pollard and author of SEEDS OF CHANGE: The Story of ACORN, America's Most Controversial Anti-Poverty Community Group. He is also the former executive director of the Passaic County Legal Aid Society.
Ellen Shoshkes is an architect and planner based in Hoboken, New Jersey. Ellen is was formerly director of housing research in the Architecture and Building Sciences Group at New Jersey Institute of Technology. She co-authored Saving Affordable Housing for NHI.


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