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Chicago-area model relies on regional collaboration to create new affordable rental homes

NHC invites guest authors to write on important housing topics. The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of NHC or its members.

Most people choose where to live. Often, we begin our search in specific towns or neighborhoods because of their reputation. They’re safe. They’re fun. They’re close to shops or work or good schools. For low-income families and those using rental assistance, the choices are slimmer. Often the most affordable places to live are in neighborhoods with high violence, poor quality schools and few amenities or transit options.

Breann Gala

The Housing Choice Voucher program, created in the 1970s to help low- and moderate- income households afford quality rental housing and to make progress to deconcentrate poverty, has not yet achieved its goal of helping low-income families advance beyond poverty. According to the recent report Creating Opportunity for Children by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, only 15 percent of children in families that receive Housing Choice Vouchers live in low-poverty communities.[1]

One reason for this is the lack of affordable rental homes in communities with access to transit, good jobs and quality schools. Chicagoland has grappled for decades with concentrated poverty and a lack of housing choices for low-income families.

To address the region’s growing housing challenges, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), Illinois Housing Development Authority and eight regional housing authorities created a collaborative called the Regional Housing Initiative (RHI) to support affordable and mixed-income rental housing developments in communities near transit, job centers and quality schools.

Since 2002, the public housing authorities participating in this initiative have pooled a portion of their rental assistance vouchers to provide long-term support for the rehabilitation or construction of affordable apartments in great communities across the region. By allowing eight housing authorities to pool their resources, the Regional Housing Initiative creates a mechanism through which a suburban housing development can receive subsidies even if the local housing authority lacks resources. The effort also helps Chicagoland balance the effects of federal funding formulas that provide the lion’s share of resources to the City of Chicago, but have not kept pace with the rest of the region’s demand for affordable rental homes. By pooling and transferring subsidies, the Regional Housing Initiative has supported 406 apartments in 28 affordable or mixed-income developments in 19 communities.

Through its success in the Chicago region, this effort has positioned itself as a national model. MPC is proud to be a part of a regional initiative that the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development is working to replicate in Baltimore, Denver and the Bay Area, to improve the lives of hundreds of families.

In an era when government inefficiencies and gridlock color our national and regional discourse on so many issues, it is refreshing to see government banding together productively to help families improve their lives. When it comes to housing, MPC’s philosophy is to provide people with more housing choices, not fewer. That’s what this collaborative is all about. We urge other metropolitan areas across the country to consider new regional solutions that break down the barriers that hold people in place and waste our precious housing resources.

Watch this video to learn about the initiative and find out why HUD is interested in replicating it.

For 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area’s toughest planning and development challenges. Guest author Breann Gala is a Project Manager at the Metropolitan Planning Council in Chicago where she manages a range of housing and community development initiatives across the Chicago region.

[1] Communities where less than 10 percent of residents have incomes below the poverty line.
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