County News

NACo, partners look for solutions to housing affordability

NACo CEO/Executive Director Matt Chase makes a point Feb. 6 at the National Association of Realtors Policy Forum on Housing Affordability, held at the National Press Club. Photo by Hugh Clarke

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Partnerships, innovation and aligning economic, political and social incentives are some of the solutions to the nation’s housing affordability issue, experts and policymakers said Feb. 6 at an affordable housing summit in Washington, D.C.

“We have to have intergovernmental partnerships — federal, state, local, tribal working together and we have to have public-private and non-profit working together,” said NACo CEO/Executive Director Matt Chase, who spoke on a panel at the National Association of Realtors Policy Forum on Housing Affordability, held at the National Press Club.

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“We really need to peel back the onion on what are the different roles and responsibilities of each level of government?” Chase noted. “The federal government plays a huge role in financing with the Fed, with interest rates, with HUD.”

“From a county level, our tools are typically around taxes and land use if we have that authority,” he said.

The sharing economy and global real estate development are also exacerbating the situation, he noted.

Steve Francks, CEO of the Washington Association of Realtors, explained how the association tried and failed to change laws in his state to open up home ownership to “the missing middle” trying to buy their first home.

While the first attempt at changing laws failed, a second attempt worked, with the state legislature passing 12 of 16 bills. Francks attributed the victory to educating state lawmakers, launching a multimedia campaign and getting help from the National Association of Realtors.

Innovation is going to be key in solving the affordable housing crisis, said fellow panelist Kent W. Colton, president of the Colton Housing Group and senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

Colton noted that the University of Utah’s Ivory Prize rewards those who come up with creative ways to solve housing problems, in several categories:

  • Technology that enables builders to build more homes for less.
  • Programs that enable preservation and production of affordable housing in existing neighborhoods.
  • Creating financing approaches that helps more people qualify for a mortgage.
  • Innovative use of lots and existing housing.
  • Removal of regulatory barriers at the local, state and federal level.

One of the finalists this year for the Ivory Prize for Housing Affordability is Community Action of Allegan County, Mich. Its board includes Commissioner Dean Kapenga.

Its Dual Community Development Program addresses education, employment and housing by offering a Pre-Apprenticeship Certified Training, a curriculum that prepares students for building trade careers.

The program is 20 percent classroom and 80 percent applied learning for actual home construction and remodeling projects.

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