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Nonprofit Affordable Housing Developers

By Josh Sattely on October 10th, 2019

Nonprofit affordable housing developers are laying the foundations for equitable and sustainable communities.

As a board member for Healthy Places by Design who works on affordable housing at the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, I often tout the connection between health and housing. Luckily, and somewhat belatedly, society increasingly understands just how interconnected housing and health are when considering challenges related to access, affordability, location, quality, and racial disparities. (Healthy Places by Design offers an overview of those connections here).

My vantage point as an affordable housing lender has enabled me to see several solutions that are scalable if more resources were available. One I am most encouraged by is the work of nonprofit affordable housing developers. These organizations tirelessly strive to house and empower low-income community members while increasingly adopting strategies that also mitigate climate change.

Case in point is the nonprofit affordable housing developer Twin Pines Housing and its Tracy Community Housing project in West Lebanon, NH, which is addressing many of the negative trends in housing and health while also reducing the project’s impact on the climate.

Tracy Community Housing is environmentally friendly. Nestled in the Upper Valley region where apartment vacancy rates are below 1%, Tracy Community Housing will be the state’s first net-zero multi-family building, meaning it creates as much renewable energy as it uses. This is possible through photovoltaic solar panels on the roof, cornice, and south façade, as well as on a solar arbor. Airtight walls and triple-paned windows efficiently maintain desired temperatures, and an Energy Recovery Ventilation unit (ERV) pre-heats, pre-cools, and dehumidifies air coming into the building, creating year-round comfort. Being net-zero also stabilizes operating costs, protecting against fluctuating energy prices. This is important for nonprofit housing developers, which typically manage the properties they create for decades.

Affordability and access to services are prioritized. Of its 29 units, 18 are reserved for households living below 50% of the Area Median Income, and 11 units are for households below 60%. The building offers modern amenities and is situated across the street from two key community assets: the town library and a hub for Advance Transit, the Upper Valley’s free bus service. Twin Pines Housing provides essential supportive services that help residents remain healthy and housed. Their staff, in partnership with local agencies and nonprofits, coordinates case management, social services, and food programs; aids residents with personal budgeting; and helps tenants with paperwork and applications for assistance.

Residents are treated with dignity and respect. Twin Pine’s overarching strategy is to meet its residents where they are in order to build trust and increase connections that help them develop self-sufficiency in their housing, nutrition, and mental and physical health. When these basic needs are met, residents have a greater ability to invest in themselves, their relationships, and their community. So, staff create programs to fill gaps. Many of these programs address food insecurity by bringing resources to residents. This includes once-a-month and weekly on-site food pantries, community gardens, and a weekday summer lunch program.

These efforts are impressive considering the immense and complex challenges that organizations like Twin Pines Housing face, especially when it comes to access to funding. Launching affordable housing developments often requires a mix of government grants, tax credit programs, and other sources of capital. These critical resources are in perennial short supply and vulnerable to cuts. Applying for awards and ensuring ongoing compliance is mind-numbingly complicated, often requiring expensive consultants and attorneys. After a property is built, well-trained staff are required to support ongoing management and robust, supportive services and programs. In short, existing finite resources are helpful, but not enough to meet the demand.

So, what can we do? Here are a few ideas:

  • First, we all can educate ourselves about the local housing situation and recognize the link between housing and health. Tell your elected officials that you expect them to support actions designed to promote equitable access to housing, including directing much more money toward proven, holistic solutions. Then, tell them again. And again. Many states have advocacy groups, including Housing Action New Hampshire, that track legislation and mobilize the public. They’re great resources. Use them.
  • If you are able, donate to nonprofits that provide both environmentally sound housing solutions and real opportunities for their residents beyond housing. Or, leverage your money and invest in a local community loan fund that provides flexible capital to nonprofit housing developers. You’ll earn a rate of return and, importantly, this source of passive income creates real change for your community, often being used to fill financing gaps in complex affordable housing projects.
  • If your community is embarking on an intentional change process, such as creating a town plan or utilizing a collaborative framework like Healthy Places by Design’s Community Action Model, be sure to include your local nonprofit affordable housing developer throughout the process. Chances are, its staff are informed stakeholders who will offer valuable insights. If the need for affordable housing emerges as a priority (and believe me, it will), these developers, in turn, increasingly deploy creative and inclusive engagement tools called charrettes to design housing that is affordable, environmentally sustainable, and informed by the unique context of the community it will exist in.
  • And if you happen to work at a nonprofit affordable housing developer, it has never been more important to collaborate with peer developers and local stakeholders and to use resources like NeighborWorks to keep upping your game.

Organizations like Twin Pines Housing show that we already have many of the tools we need to improve housing and health outcomes. We’re all in this together—let’s advocate for and use these tools to improve health and wellbeing across the country!

Josh Sattely

Advisory Board Member

Josh is a Community Housing Lender at the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund and a member of the Healthy Places by Design Advisory Board.