Strategy #6a: Give displaced residents and residents at risk of displacement higher priority on waiting lists for affordable housing programs in their neighborhood.
• Community preference policy
Several cities and nonprofit organizations across the United States utilize community preference policies for their affordable housing programs to redress prior racial injustices (such as displacement precipitated by urban renewal and freeway construction), further their displacement mitigation goals, and help stabilize communities. These policies are typically created at a neighborhood scale and provide priority placement for affordable units in a neighborhood or group of neighborhoods to low-income applicants who have been displaced from their neighborhood, are current residents at risk of displacement, or are descendants of displaced residents. The City of San Francisco has several community preference policies; its HUD-sanctioned preference policy for a federally-funded senior apartment complex gives preference for 40 percent of units to low-income seniors living in census tracts at the greatest risk of displacement.
A preference policy must be carefully crafted to avoid violating the Fair Housing Act by ensuring that the policy does not perpetuate segregation or have a disparate impact on persons of color or other protected classes, such as families with children or persons with disabilities. For example, if a preference policy prioritizes current residents of a neighborhood and the residents who qualify for the affordable housing program are more likely to be white compared to a program serving applicants drawn from a larger geographic area, the policy would have a disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act. To avoid disparate impacts in gentrifying neighborhoods that are becoming predominantly white but were historically communities of color, a city should consider giving preference to low-income residents who are at the highest risk of displacement (such as renters), have long ties to the community, or have already been displaced. But again, to comply with the Fair Housing Act, each policy needs to be tailored to the particular community and analyses need to be regularly updated to ensure the policy is not having a disparate impact or perpetuating segregation.
Considerations: Preference policies do not actually produce affordable units but instead only provide preference for units that are produced by other means. Preference policies also do not ensure eligibility for a particular affordable housing program, which can lead to confusion among program applicants. If structured improperly, a preference policy can illegally restrict housing choices for persons of color or perpetuate segregation and thus be vulnerable to legal attack.
Strategy #6b: Improve vulnerable residents’ access to information about affordable housing opportunities and streamline the application process.
• Single-entry, online affordable housing application portal
Residents trying to secure a rent-restricted unit in a particular neighborhood have to be able to identify the available affordable housing opportunities and then navigate a morass of different eligibility requirements, applications, and waitlists. Residents can pour precious time and hundreds of dollars into applications only to find they do not qualify or units are unavailable. Cities can reduce these barriers by providing an online portal that includes all income-restricted affordable housing funded or incentivized by the city (such as density bonus units) as well as other housing programs, and that also includes a mechanism for determining eligibility. Portland, Oregon, recently funded a start-up app, OneAppOregon.com, to help residents identify affordable apartments they qualify for and to streamline the application process. Residents submit one application online and view a listing of all properties they are qualified to rent. New York City also operates a single-entry application process.