Journal of Housing & Community Development

Promoting Equity: Five Strategies Public Housing Agencies can Use to Improve Resident Outcomes

July 28, 2023
by Kelly McElwain, Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation

Developing policies, practices, and partnerships that support equitable resident outcomes is a continuous goal for many public housing agencies (PHAs). While it can be challenging to implement these initiatives when faced with hardships, –from funding constraints to a lack of community partners–many organizations are making this happen.

The Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation (PAHRC) recently surveyed PHAs across the country to learn about their equity programs, with this data serving as the basis for its latest report, How PHAs are Addressing Equity. Read on to learn about five strategies discussed in this report that organizations can use to make a positive impact.

1.      Evaluate needs, challenges, and outcomes between groups

Identifying populations in the community who are experiencing greater difficulties achieving successful outcomes can illuminate barriers to housing access. For instance, Portland, Oregon’s Home Forward analyzed its eviction history and was able to pinpoint specific populations that were struggling to remain stably housed. From there, the organization strategized how its policies could better support these households. If the capacity to collect and analyze data is limited, informal feedback from staff, resident advisory boards, and community partners also can be beneficial.

2.      Review policies for opportunities to improve equity

Thoughtful admission criteria, waiting list administration, and occupancy requirements can help families with the greatest needs access housing. For instance, Tacoma Housing Authority revised its criminal background screening policy to remove categorical bans beyond those required by law, established shorter lookback periods, and started conducting individualized applicant assessments for those with criminal convictions. In Ohio, Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority established a waiting list preference for families participating in the city’s Full Term First Baby program.

Additionally, adjusting voucher payment standards to Small Area Fair Market Rents (SAFMRs) or 110% of FMR can make it easier for families to use their vouchers in amenity-rich neighborhoods with transit access, job opportunities, and quality schools. And developing procurement policies that establish goals for awarding contracts to minority-owned businesses can diversify this pool and increase access to culturally sensitive service providers.

3.      Integrate equity into your agency’s existing strategy

Agencies can incorporate equity initiatives into their existing strategy by investing in accessible homes, introducing health and safety programs, revitalizing their communities, and promoting housing choice. For instance, Boston Housing Authority incorporated Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices and healthy design principles into their development efforts to improve resident health outcomes. The Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee included universal design principles at their Victory Manor property to expand housing options for people with mobility limitations. And over 20 agencies across the country are leveraging Faircloth-to-RAD to build affordable homes in their community to assist more families in need. PHAs can also be strategic in where they build affordable homes, such as in amenity-rich neighborhoods or in a community that is being revitalized, as another avenue to expand resident access to community resources.

4.      Develop partnerships with trusted community providers

Agencies can partner with local health care, education, employment, and social service providers to further uplift their residents. For instance, after residents asked to establish a math resource program in their community, North Carolina’s Ashville Housing Authority partnered with UNC Ashville and Ashville City Schools to facilitate the Marvelous Math Club at Pisgah View Apartments. And Seattle Housing Authority partnered with InterimCDA to help voucher holders find a landlord willing to accept their voucher in a location that meets their needs.

5.      Develop a culture of inclusivity

Encouraging resident engagement, welcoming people with diverse backgrounds, and building a leadership team representative of the community and accountable to equity goals are essential to growing an agency’s equity strategy. San Francisco Housing Authority, for instance, developed an internal racial equity plan to improve staff diversity. Personnel policies that situate organizations to attract and retain diverse talent and train staff on trauma-informed care, racial biases, and peer-network building can also help PHAs improve relationships with their residents and create policies and programs that advance equitable outcomes.

Share Your Story

Interested in sharing the policies, programs, and strategies your organization has implemented to improve equitable outcomes for your community? PAHRC would like to hear from you! You can schedule a one-hour informal virtual conversation with PAHRC here. We will discuss the needs of your community, the strategies your agency has explored to improve equitable outcomes, and advice for agencies just getting started or expanding this work. Your insight will help us develop case studies that feature examples of big and small strategies PHAs can adopt to improve housing access, health outcomes, economic mobility, and justice reform for the most vulnerable members of their community.

To learn more about implementing equity initiatives at your agency, access PAHRC’s report and download companion resources.

Kelly McElwain is the Manager of Research and Industry Intelligence of the Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation

More Articles in this Issue

key Member Content
Volume 80, Issue 1

Spring/Summer 2023

In March 2023, the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) awarded 20 prestigious Awards of…