Huntsville among 5 communities selected for housing workshop

The City of Huntsville was recently named one of five localities in the U.S. to participate in the Housing Solutions Workshop, a program to help small and midsize communities develop and implement comprehensive local housing strategies.

The NYU Furman Center’s Housing Solutions Lab, Abt Associates and Lincoln Institute of Land Policy selected Huntsville; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Gallatin County, Montana; Kalamazoo County, Michigan; and Pasco, Washington. Senior officials from key housing agencies and regional partners in these communities will take part in a series of virtual sessions led by prominent housing experts and researchers.

Dennis Madsen, manager of Urban & Long-Range Planning for the City, is eager to get more in-depth information regarding municipal approaches to affordability.

“What [is] really attractive was not just the expertise offered by the Center, but also the chance to talk with other communities that are facing similar challenges,” he said. “I think we learn best from our peers.”

Application process

The selected communities were chosen following a national call for applications, a process that included written submissions and an interview round with applicants.

Candidates were ultimately selected to build a cohort of communities at similar stages of the planning process, while also representing a broad national geography.

“The application process was very rigorous,” Madsen said. “They wanted a diverse team in terms of organizations, and they wanted some level of evidence that the community was in fact interested in addressing affordability concerns.”

What [is] really attractive was not just the expertise offered by the Center, but also the chance to talk with other communities that are facing similar challenges. I think we learn best from our peers.”

Finding solutions

The program selected cities and counties that are grappling with a wide range of challenges and housing market conditions.

Huntsville and Gallatin County, for example, are growing rapidly and confronting housing cost pressure that comes with high demand. Other participants like Bethlehem and Kalamazoo County have seen more modest population growth since 2000, but nonetheless face affordability issues, particularly for low-income households, as rent and home price growth outpaced income gains.

Pasco is planning for future growth, which cannot be accommodated under current zoning. The Housing Solutions Workshop, which runs through Nov. 18, will provide technical assistance, peer learning opportunities and policy guidance for all of these challenges.

“The biggest benefit is the ability to confer with similar communities who are dealing with similar issues,” Madsen said of the workshop. “I’m a huge proponent of crowd-sourced solutions, and, in this case, I think the opportunity to connect with other cities can help make our planning even better. And in the long run, we want to develop an approach that is viable and effective.”

Future planning

Affordability and a competitive cost-of-living are crucial to Huntsville’s success in attracting and retaining new industries and workers.

Manager of Community Development Scott Erwin is hopeful the workshop will help the City gain new ideas and improve its approach to affordability.

“The City is honored to be able to participate in this workshop to get a fresh perspective that better informs our direction moving forward,” he said.

To learn more about the four-week workshop, click here.

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