Housing Choices & Affordability

A Foundation for Great Places

Housing is a basic human need. But it becomes much more than that in the context of community. Our homes provide a safe space to grow our families, get to know our neighbors, and build a sense of community. These simple elements are the key to maintaining civic health and a dynamic and vibrant place to live. It’s imperative that our towns and cities provide a choice of affordable housing options to maintain a diverse and prosperous community.

The High Cost of Housing

However, housing costs are reshaping communities throughout the American West— transforming the way people live. In a growing number of markets, residents are increasingly priced out of their communities in the face of housing shortages and rapid price escalation.

These high costs are putting a strain on residents around the region, affecting their overall health and quality of life. Many are pushed into “bedroom communities”—towns or cities that exist primarily to house a regional workforce. When people can’t afford to live where they work, they’re driven to commute greater distances, spending more on transportation costs and less time on recreational activities or with family.

Because of this, the communities themselves are becoming hollowed out. Fewer locals can make ends meet and are moving out. Young professionals and their families are turning down opportunities or leaving good jobs due to the high cost of living. These realities are transforming the health and character of our communities in deep and lasting ways.

To sum it up, we’re paying even greater prices due to the high cost of housing. The effects are far reaching, ranging from depressed job and business growth to declines in school performance and educational attainment. It creates regional sprawl, which leads to longer commutes, more traffic, and increased greenhouse gas emissions. It also creates concentrated poverty and decreased economic mobility.

Responding to the Changing Market

The need to rethink housing extends beyond affordability, though. It’s increasingly important that communities offer greater housing choice—a variety of types, locations, and price points—due to evolving market demand. Changes in consumer preference, along with significant demographic shifts (smaller households, retiring Baby Boomers, millennials entering the market), underpin a growing need to diversify housing options to meet the varied needs and desires of our communities.

As household sizes shrink, the demand for smaller housing types grows. More consumers want the convenience, accessibility, and sense of place that walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods provide. And they’ll make tradeoffs, paying more to live in these locations. However, many communities in the American West aren’t positioned to respond to the changing demands. Regardless of the data, walkable mixed-use neighborhoods and smaller housing types are surprisingly difficult to find.

How We Help

Expanding housing choices and affordability—and doing so in ways that strengthen neighborhoods and communities—is difficult and complex work. It requires better policy, strategic investments, new partnerships, and perhaps most challenging, expanded public and political support.

Fortunately, a growing movement of local leaders–from town officials and citizen advocates to forward-thinking developers—are stepping up to the challenge. And, we’re here to help them. We offer direct technical assistance, training, tools and insights, and compelling success stories to provide communities and local leaders with the resources and support to take action. Working with state, local, and national partners, we’re focused on the following opportunities.

The reality is, many communities have unwittingly erected barriers to housing choices and affordability through outdated plans and policies. From DIY tools and leadership trainings to on-the-ground assistance, we help communities create plans and policies that address local housing goals while creating stronger more livable places.

Some of the most exciting efforts to address local housing needs are innovative community-driven projects that stem from public-private partnerships, local housing organizations, or locally-funded initiatives. We help communities and local organizations identify what approaches work best for their needs and how to build the resources and capacity needed to act.

When it comes to local politics, it’s tough to find a more hot-button issue than housing affordability. Among the many barriers to expanding housing choices and affordability, few are more powerful or difficult to overcome as political opposition. Moving forward, communities need to address the political dynamics of affordable housing with an eye on the long-term, with a focus on changing how we talk about, plan for, and make decisions about the housing needed by our local residents and workforce. From designing more effective engagement and guiding real community conversations to providing tools and resources to increase awareness, we’re here to help.