August 13, 2019

Tacoma, Washington Affordable Housing Action Strategy, Recipient of the 2018 Smart Housing Award

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Tacoma, Washington waterfront aerial view.

In 2018 the City of Tacoma, Washington (the City), in partnership with the project team led by Enterprise Advisors, worked to address challenges related to housing affordability within the City using a strategic and sustainable approach, thus creating the Affordable Housing Action Strategy (AHAS).

Through the AHAS, the City and other local partners seek to tackle these challenges:

  • A shortage of low-income homes, especially for vulnerable residents
  • Limited public resources to support housing activities
  • Changing market conditions, resulting in higher housing costs across the entire city
  • Barriers that residents face when looking for a place to live or maintaining their home

The AHAS was developed in collaboration with a diverse range of stakeholders, including a Technical Advisory Group, a stakeholder group made up of housing and planning industry professionals and an internal working group of city staff from across different departments and the City’s Manager Office.The strategy was initiated by the city and further developed in partnership with the City of Tacoma and a project team from Enterprise Community Partners (Enterprise Advisors, Pacific Northwest Market Office, and Knowledge Impact and Strategy); BERK Consulting; and independent contractor, Frances Wang. The city also worked directly with community members to gain insight from people directly experiencing housing challenges.

An Ambitious Goal for Housing Affordability in Tacoma 

The AHAS sets an ambitious goal for the City to build 6,000 affordable homes, preserve 2,300 housing units, and stabilize 2,200 households over the next 10 years. An investment of as much as $70 million in public, private and philanthropic dollars will be necessary to realize this goal. The AHAS recommends tracking and reporting the city’s progress in meeting these targets on a regular basis.

The AHAS plans to meet its goal through four objectives, which  were created based on overarching themes from the community’s responses. Outcomes will be tracked based on the number of homes produced, the number of homes preserved and the number of households served.

  1. Strategic Objective 1: Create More Homes for More People 
  2. Strategic Objective 2: Keep Housing Affordable and in Good Repair
  3. Strategic Objective 3: Help People Stay in Their Homes and Communities
  4. Strategic Objective 4: Reduce Barriers for People Who Often Encounter Them 

Due to the AHAS' innovative approaches to data analysis and wide-reaching community engagement, it recently received Governor Jay Inslee’s 2018 Smart Housing Award. 

A Data Drive Approach 

Project partner, BERK Consulting, developed the Housing Market Policy Dashboard, an online mapping tool used to model market-based housing incentives, such as upzoning which is a tool that changes a location's zoning classification to allow for higher-value use. This tool shows what housing incentives would work in different parts of the city, and its results informed recommendations in the AHAS.

The dashboard shifted policy development from a lofty idea to a concrete reality among city council members and other stakeholders. Having a clear-cut application of Opportunity360, where measures of opportunity were compared with the modeling results, and using local expertise to inform assumptions for the model comforted decision makers, particularly when recommending changes to existing policies and programs. 

Wide Reaching Community Engagement

Despite a short 6-month timeframe intended to move quickly to implementation, the City worked diligently to engage residents and key stakeholders throughout the process. Working quickly generated trust among local decision makers and residents and reinforced the urgency of addressing residents’ housing needs.

A strong emphasis was placed on reaching people who typically have unique housing needs, but often are not consulted as part of planning efforts. Both the City and Enterprise Advisors were able to build on existing local relationships, including those through Enterprise’s Pacific Northwest Market Office and developed through technical assistance provided to the City in 2017.

Engagement Method 

Engagement activities ranged from targeted focus groups and interviews to a communitywide survey to in-person listening sessions and community meetings held in three different locations within the city. The City also promoted an online survey for those who could not attend in-person engagement session.

Questions

The topics discussed during the community engagement activities included several key questions:

  • What do you think are the top three housing needs within Tacoma today?
  • What barriers have you or loved ones encountered when trying to find a safe, affordable home?
  • What is the most important thing the City of Tacoma could do to address these needs?

Results

Community members shared experiences about the problems they encountered accessing housing, including using rental assistance like housing vouchers, providing a large security deposit, or having the credit or rental history to qualify for a home. The engagement  reinforced the need to elevate access to housing opportunities as a key element in the AHAS. 

Community members expressed a strong trend in discrimination in terms of access - both overt and covert - which then became a key element in the assessment and developing the strategy.  The AHAS provides a summary of the main issues that emerged through the community engagement which included: 

  • Reducing barriers toward access and eligibility requirements
  • Policy reforms
  • External factors that affect the market
  • Access to transportation, jobs and community health services
  • Mending the relationships between tenants and property owners and management

Key Takeaways from Tacoma's Affordable Housing Action Strategy 

Throughout the project, it was evident that there was widespread and growing local support for affordable housing among city council, stakeholders, and community members. This project shows that communities can act urgently to develop a focused approach and move to implementation quickly without sacrificing rigorous data analysis and community engagement.

The AHAS reinforces the importance of working across city departments when no one department “owns” housing programs policies, and resources. This approach built on growing local support for affordable housing and helped increase political momentum to take swift action to address the City’s housing needs.

The City council recently adopted a more comprehensive tenants’ right policy, and as part of early implementation the City is considering changes to its tax abatement program and inclusionary housing policy, which shows positive progress. To read more about locally motivated changes sparked by the AHAS, click here

 

 

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