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#2022APPAM Blog: Super Session - Navigating Minefields in Building Transformative Affordable Housing

Leah Register
Florida State University

Navigating Minefields in Building Transformative Affordable Housing: Lessons for the Field for Policy and Practice

The second day of #2022APPAM began with a Super Session exploring three case studies on transformative housing from Baltimore, Richmond, and D.C. James Riccio (of MDRC) led Jacqueline Alexander, Shanda Brown, Bart Mitchell, and Juan Powell (of The Community Builders) in sharing their experiences of working through “minefields” while trying to implement initiatives to create and sustain affordable housing in disinvested communities while centering the residents.

Alexander and Powell discussed the complex contexts of the different communities they have been involved in. They reflected on how history, specifically the legacy of segregation, impacted the communities. In wanting to honor the history of these committees, Powell mentions honoring the Armstrong high school which was one the heart of the community in Richmond by choosing the name “Armstrong” and incorporating materials from buildings into the new community.

While each community had unique needs, their goal was to create mixed-income communities through transformative housing. They explained how involved this process is. It requires long-term investments from all stakeholders and allies. The changing political landscape also presents challenges with different levels of support and buy-in from key positions. Mitchell, President and CEO of The Community Builders, asks the ultimate question: “How can you sustain yourself long enough to transform a community?”

The group identified important stakeholders and allies that are critical for continuous, ongoing support. Some expected allies include local health resources (like hospitals), families, and politicians committed to giving opportunities to disinvested communities. But the group also points to some more unexpected allies like local universities and members from the surrounding communities. Brown mentions involving and supporting the surrounding communities.

Brown also reflected on developing relationships with the communities: building trust, creating buy-in, and empowering residents. Engaging the community is not only about evaluating the community’s needs but continuously listening to and communicating with the community throughout the entire process. Ultimately, it aims to give residents their power back. Brown emphasized that these relationships did not only benefit the community, but those serving it. She reported that staff members had reduced burnout because, “the residents held their weight and held it well.”

The discussion led the panel to discuss what’s next. They mentioned bringing health to housing, explaining that we need to spend more on health than healthcare. This includes teaming up with the American Heart Association to give sessions on how to measure blood pressure and providing cooking demonstrations. They also considered how universities could better leverage their power to transform the communities they are in.

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