What are some of the key characteristics of a healthy housing system? And how can the success of these features be measured?
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Key to a healthy housing system, and our focus here at Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), is the long-term preservation of the existing affordable housing stock. It is somewhat perplexing that protecting the housing we’ve already created is not a given in our resource-stretched housing system. Preservation is common sense: it costs much less to preserve an existing unit than to replace it by building new. Preservation is “greener”, too, since it uses less energy and building materials, and reinvests in existing buildings instead of sprawling development into greenfield sites. Perhaps most important in the current economic climate, studies have found preservation creates more jobs per development dollar than new construction.
It’s essential that the federal government continue to provide resources and support for the preservation of affordable housing – given the relative cost of replacing what’s lost, we can’t afford not to support preservation. But amid the current, mounting pressures on federal budgets, it’s also essential that the public sector approach the problem with flexibility and progressive thinking, and especially that it work collaboratively with responsible purchasers to ensure good preservation outcomes from a limited base of resources.
Too often, the layers of regulatory restrictions on most existing assisted affordable housing often present a significant impediment to long-term preservation, since they can conflict with the requirements of present-day financing sources, or create perverse incentives for owners or purchasers. The current HUD administration has recognized the challenge that outdated regulations can mean for preservation, and has made some good progress in eliminating some of the regulatory deterrents to preservation, but there remains a great deal to do in this area.
As HUD and its fellow public agencies pursue preservation goals, it’s critical that they recognize the effectiveness of partnerships with high-capacity, mission-driven preservation owners. We have learned through experience that the long-term viability of our subsidized housing stock relies very heavily on the financial strength and social objectives of its owners. Looking ahead, the health of the affordable housing system must be built on partnerships between the public sector and responsible, stable, high-capacity housing owners, jointly pursuing the shared goal of providing healthy, sustainable affordable housing for low-income households.
Amy Anthony is President, founder and Executive Director of Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH)
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