Building Community Support for Public/Social Housing

A few weeks ago, Jubilee Housing, an organization in Adams Morgan that runs a portfolio of seven buildings providing affordable housing to lower income tenants, in properties located exclusively within that neighborhood, had its annual community work day, which was co-sponsored by Davis Construction, the Nixon Peabody law firm (they have a big practice in affordable housing and preservation, housing, and New Markets tax credits, and a blog on housing), Ruppert Landscaping (recently written up in the Washington Post here: “He learned to lead from his boss in the Chevy Chase Club's caddy yard”) and Enterprise Community Partners, the social housing financier and support organization.

The day is called the “Rouse Work Day” in honor of James Rouse, the real estate developer known for creating the planned city of Columbia, Maryland, and the “festival marketplace,” first through the restoration of Faneuil Hall in Boston as a public market, and then through the creation of similar marketplaces across the country.  A few weeks ago, the Baltimore Sun had a nice piece on ECP, “30 years of Enterprise Community Partners.”

It made me realize that social housing organizations can to do a better, more focused job on outreach, to build support for affordable housing policy and programs, amongst the broader publics who may potentially support, or not support, public housing programs.  (Note that Habitat for Humanity does a pretty good job with community volunteer engagement in association with their various programs.)

After all, too often, public housing developments are seen as problems.  To begin to change the perception and reality we must reach out and connect to the community outside of the lot lines of a building or site.
Programs could include walking and “house” tours, just like the house, garden, and art studio tours that are offered in historic districts or revitalizing neighborhoods, work days, but with a more focused outreach to community organizations within the neighborhoods where housing projects are located, and other actions, along with policy development and outreach (DC has a housing task force planning process going on right now).

Developing the “Home Matters” Campaign

The National NeighborWorks Association, affiliated with NeighborWorks, the national capacity building organization for the community housing field, has a engagement initiative going on right now, “Home Matters,” which aims to build public support for housing and community development programs nationwide.  Currently, they are gathering input for developing the program through an online survey.

The main concern of the program appears to be the maintenance of the various federal tax credit programs that support the production of public housing.  These programs are under threat (for example, the New Markets Tax Credit hasn't been authorized for the current fiscal year) because of proposals circulating to change the Federal Tax Code, amidst desires to reduce tax rates and add revenue.

But the program can be leveraged to help people make connections across household income tranches, by allowing us to recognize our common interests in having a safe, secure, and pleasant place to live, in a community that we call home, according to the Home Matters campaign brochure.

(The mortgage interest deduction and the house profit tax exemptions for single property owners are also under review for change in the face of the need to increase federal tax revenues.  For example see last week's piece by syndicated columnist Kenneth Harney, “Home-sale tax break might be at risk.“)

Photos: First, staging the start of the 20th Annual Jubilee Housing Work Day, October 13th, 2012.  Second, rebuilding a playground at a Jubilee property in 2010.

Richard Layman is currently Director of Business Development for BicyclePASS, a “bicycle facilities systems integration” startup firm focused on providing high quality support facilities for biking as transportation including parking, bicycle sharing, electric bikes and other programs. He is a revitalization advocate and consultant in Washington, DC, with experience in historic preservation, commercial district revitalization and transportation planning, and he blogs about various revitalization topics at “Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space.”


  1. Agree – it is critical to get neighbors both near and far to your sites and see the actual work you do. At Montgomery Housing Partnership ( we’ve been running tours of our properties for the last year and have had almost 200 people come through – local residents, County officials and staff, planning board and department representatives and more. Our tours include a brief history of the organization, a tour of the property including inside a unit, hearing directly from a resident and learning about the resident services we provide. We have found that it really makes a difference for people to get to see how nice an affordable housing unit can look and hear directly from the residents that live there.


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