An audit of the District of Columbia’s Housing Trust Fund (HTF) found that the fund was significantly mismanaged over the 2001 – 2015 period. Rules about certifying income eligibility for affordable units were unclear or ignored. Below-market-rate units that were supposed to be built with HTF dollars were sometimes never built. DC’s trust fund–and local housing trust funds around the country–can only be successful if the community believes resources are being used efficiently and as intended.
Tracking data on local housing programs and funds is critical not only for ensuring transparency in local programs, but also to be able to demonstrate the impact of initiatives. Making the case for affordable housing is really challenging, especially when there are so many competing needs and local budgets are almost always stretched. Why should local tax dollars support housing affordable to low-income residents when schools need resources, roads need fixing, parks need attention, and so on? If a local jurisdiction tracks data on the number of housing units produced or preserved with public funds and, especially, if they can monitor outcomes for individuals and families that are served by housing programs, then it can be much easier to build consensus for public investment in housing.
But even taking a step back from that, it is surprising to me how many local jurisdictions do not have a good handle on the current stock of affordable housing–both subsidized and unsubsidized–and the characteristics of households living in that housing. Sometimes the data are collected by different local government agencies, for example a Planning Department and a Housing Authority. Sometimes nonprofits are collecting data on families living in assisted housing. Often no one knows how much naturally occuring affordable housing exists in a community.
It’s challenging though not impossible to compile all of this data in one place and to report on it to the community. But it involves dedicating resources to the task, which is hard to do when resources for housing are so limited and local jurisdictions want to use what they have directly for housing programs.
Let me know if you have examples of local jurisdictions that are doing a really good job collecting housing data and sharing it to build support for local initiatives!