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When you bring together a small group who is united by a passion for a particular topic and for finding solutions, it's incredible what they can come up with working together. On Wednesday morning, I hosted a conversation that included the voices of five community members who work in affordable housing, including area shelters and agencies, and those who are directly impacted by the need for affordable housing.
Our goal was to not only talk about the problem, but more importantly, solutions.
In a group exercise, we focused on having plentiful affordable housing throughout the community as our goal. What factors are needed to achieve this goal? The following are steps the community can take to ensure affordable housing is plentiful throughout the community, and how to make that happen:
- More housing for the extremely low-income, those who are below the 30 percent poverty line: These families often have a significant waiting list to get housing. Ideally, they will need to spend less of their income on housing.
- Create more permanent supportive housing options. This can be accomplished by potentially building more units or converting existing buildings into affordable housing units. Another option are tiny houses, which are literally very small houses meant for one to two people. Tiny houses have been successful in other communities.
- Identifying best practices in other communities and states across the country. What has worked when it comes to creating more affordable houses elsewhere? For example, there is a tiny house movement in Minnesota. How have these houses helped alleviate the problem? Can Eastern Iowa adopt similar practices? In addition, we should examine whether existing city policies on building such tiny houses might be preventing something that could be beneficial to the entire community. The city should be flexible and willing to adjust ordinances accordingly to allow for the best possible solutions and ideas to work.
- Decrease duplication of resources. There is a desire to coordinate between various offices throughout the community that are providing affordable housing resources and assistance. Central coordination would be beneficial. Decreasing overlap of resources will help strengthen niche resources.
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- There isn't any one person or agency designated to look at the whole system: No one is looking at the whole system to measure metrics. Every organization is measuring their own clients. There should be a hub system to track the entire community's needs and progress.
- There is competition between existing agencies: Pooling resources together could help to centralize efforts. There is also potential value added if all affordable housing and emergency shelter services came together. A cohesive group could help attract support from bigger corporate funders.
- Ensure those in need have access to supportive services. Sometimes, those in need of affordable housing could avoid emergency shelter if they get help and access to resources before they hit rock bottom. Ideally, they will make it to housing before they have a need for emergency shelter. That is the goal.
- Talk to landlords: It is in a landlord's best interest to keep tenants in units and paying rent on time. If a tenant is short on money and can't pay rent, that means less income for a landlord. It is therefore important to educate landlords on available resources so when a tenant comes to them in need, they can point them to the best possible place for assistance.
- Understand the true cost to the community of homelessness. Understanding this cost will help people better see why collaboration is critical to help prevent and reduce homelessness. In addition, homelessness is being worked on in a volunteer capacity. There is not necessarily a full-time person that is devoted to addressing homelessness in Linn County.
These were some of the key findings of the group. As one participant put it, "Everybody deserves housing." Once families get into homes, it is easier for them to wake up and get to work every morning, get their children to school and live happier, healthier lives. From an economic standpoint, it is better for the entire community that families are in stable homes. The goal is to move people into homes and out of emergency shelters. In addition, people need continued support once they are in homes and apartments so they can continue to stay there.