How Cities Can Address Affordable Housing’s Ripple Effect

The availability of affordable housing is a growing problem across the country. A consequence of economic growth in many cities across the country, lack of affordable housing options have forced many residents to move to more rural areas. But as the move to rural areas may offer a short-term solution for housing, other issues from living in a rural area may become problematic, outlined below.

  • Lack of employment opportunities in rural areas leads to longer commutes
  • Access to appropriate healthcare services — e.g. specialty care or mental health counselors
  • Social networks and community ties
  • Spaces for leisure and recreation

When these factors are combined with a longer commute, a sedentary lifestyle becomes status quo. Therefore, affordable housing, should be viewed as a public health issue.

So, how are we tackling this issue?

At this point, it seems like most cities are still in planning mode. “Best practices” to solve affordable housing are few, if any. Most of the solutions require policy (zoning) and/or money (appropriation funds) — two things that don’t necessarily lead to quick action. One solution that comes up in the discussion most often is a public-private partnership with the city and for-profit developers. The catch, however, is appropriated funding in the form of tax credits for developers to build new affordable housing complexes, which could take months to years to come to fruition. But while we wait, many more residents are displaced.

Are these the only solutions?

Problem-solvers unite

Earlier this year, the Impact Hub in Austin hosted a showcase to a diverse group of stakeholders — affordable housing advocates, legislative staff, investors, mortgage brokers, and other community members — for their issue-specific Affordable Housing Accelerator. In the course of three months, 9 ventures focused their attention on directing innovative problem-solving and entrepreneurship toward the city’s affordable housing problem. The 2017 cohort included startup companies focused on 3D-printed structures, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), and tiny homes, while other solutions offered innovative financing models or analytical tools to support data-driven decisions. Each of the 9 teams plan to continue building their companies at their respective stages, according to the Hub’s managing director. One company, Sprout Tiny Homes, exceeded expectations for the accelerator program and secured a $26m contract to provide 275 tiny homes in South Austin.

To recap, in a span of three months, 9 distinct solutions to Austin’s affordable housing problem were prototyped, tested, and refined during this issue-specific accelerator program.

Complex social issues like this one can’t be solved with a narrow perspective. City and state governments need to empower entrepreneurs to tackle social challenges and provide them with the resources to do what they do best — solve problems. And when synced with the work of public health and healthcare professionals, we have an opportunity to impact communities, and quality of life, in holistic and sustainable ways.