Housing affordability is sometimes seen as a big city issue, or at least a city issue. The National League of Cities has found that housing tops the list of priorities for city leaders, along with the related issues of economic development, infrastructure and public safety. Housing has not been a priority in surveys of county elected officials. In fact, in a 2017 report on top county challenges issued by the National Association of Counties (NACo), housing is not mentioned.
There are, of course, many counties that have been concerned about housing challenges for a long time and that have taken dramatic steps to attempt to expand housing options, alleviate homelessness and increase affordable housingas part of market-rate development. There is growing awareness from County leaders that there is an important role for them to play in working with towns, cities, and states in making it easer for residents and workers to find housing they can afford.
I moderated a panel earlier this month at NACo’s annual conferencein Nashville/Davidson County, Tennessee. On the panel were representatives from Davidson County, TN; King County, WA; and San Miguel County, CO; as well as the Housing Assistance Council.
Some of the key takeaways from the panel and the conference, generally:
Counties across the country have different relationships with the state, as well as with the incorporated towns and cities within the counties. As a result, it can be difficult for County leaders to know what the opportunities are at the County-level and what role counties can take in creating policies to increase the production of affordable and workforce housing.
A key asset counties have is land. Figuring out how to make use of County-owned and County-controlled land to help promote the development of affordable and workforce housing was seen as a key strategy by many County representatives.
While there is increasing understanding of the need for housing affordable to individuals and families all along the income spectrum, for many counties, the primary housing issue is homelessness. There is an opportunity to better make the connection between homelessness and general housing supply and affordability.
Generating local resources for housing is something that County leaders are interested in exploring, knowing that resources from the federal government will never be sufficient to meet local housing needs. Finding the right source of funding, and the right structure for a local housing trust fund, is a goal for many County leaders.
Having this conversation with County leaders at the NACo conference was a great opportunity and I look forward to following how counties—rural counties, suburban counties, urban counties—become more involved in local housing solutions. If you are doing innovative work on housing issues in your county, I’d love to hear from you!