Improving Housing Options Requires a Collaborative Effort

November 8, 2018

Kim Skobba and Sharon Liggett Interim Co-Director, Georgia Initiative for Community Housing

This article appeared in the November 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
H ousing is a cornerstone of com­munity and economic vitality. Af­fordable, adequate housing is cen­tral to school achievement, physical and mental health and access to em­ployment opportunities. Housing also serves as an important source of community capital and is a key asset for economic development. Despite its importance, providing an ample range of housing that is affordable, in adequate condition and that matches consumers’ needs and preferences is a great challenge for most com­munities. Many cities across Georgia struggle to address housing issues, whether it is the need for new workforce housing, more suitable housing for an aging population, finding the next generation of homeowners or how to improve an aging housing stock that has fallen into a state of disrepair. Solu­tions to local housing problems are not initiated in isolation.
Improving and increasing local housing options requires a collaborative effort that brings together the critical players needed to organize and imple­ment a strategy. Recognizing the value of collabo­ration in addressing local housing problems, the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing (GICH) was developed nearly 15 years ago to provide com­munities with the resources necessary to improve local quality of life and economic vitality. Collab­oration is the heart of the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing program. The program was founded and continues to operate as partnership between the University of Georgia’s Housing and Demographics Research Center in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, the Georgia De­partment of Community Affairs, GMA and Georgia Power. In addition to the primary partners, the pro­gram is supported by UGA’s Cooperative Extension Service, two units within Public Service and Out­reach: The Archway Partnership and Carl Vinson Institute for Government, who assist with program planning, foster connections to local communities and provide expertise as community facilitators. The GICH program uses a collaborative model to support communities in the development of lo­cally based housing and revitalization strategies that address deteriorating neighborhoods, identify affordable housing options and provide financial and home buyer education to residents in Georgia communities. Participating communities learn from university experts, long-time practitioners and suc­cessful cities and towns about tools available to im­prove and develop local housing and neighborhood conditions.
The secret sauce of the GICH program lies in col­laboration at the local level. While funding is often touted as the greatest barrier to affordable hous­ing, there would be no change without a motivat­ed group of local stakeholders. Engaged networks are a necessary condition for community and eco­nomic development. Prior to starting the program, participating cities and towns form a housing team comprised of representatives from businesses, city and county government, faith-based organizations, housing authorities, non-profit organizations, real estate professionals, lenders, school districts and residents. These housing teams are then paired with a trained facilitator to build community consensus while designing a locally-based housing plan. Local teams work year-round to implement their hous­ing plans. Twice a year approximately 200 housing team members from 15 communities come together during a three-day retreat to develop new ideas, learn about approaches and available resources from expert guest speakers and resource represen­tatives and network with program partners, other team leaders and community development experts. Communities give progress reports designed to fa­cilitate sharing, collaboration and accountability. Many communities stay engaged through the bi-annual retreats even after completing the program by serving as retreat speakers and mentors for new communities.
Through participation in the program, team members expand partnership opportunities with statewide networks, improve access to higher edu­cation and state agency resources, build a sustain­able local work team and develop successful grant applications to bring about meaningful change. As a result, Georgia Initiative for Community Housing communities have secured millions in housing and community development grant funds from federal and state governments and private organizations; developers of multi-family housing units working in these communities have been awarded millions in housing tax credits. These awards have trans­lated into tangible change in the construction of new homes and the rehabilitation or removal of substandard and dilapidated homes. Through the collaborative efforts of the more than 70 communi­ties that have taken part in the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing, families across the state are living in new homes and experiencing better neigh­borhood conditions.

For more information about the Georgia Initia­tive for Community Housing Program, visit our website.

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