After decades of disinvestment, Detroit has experienced a building boom in recent years. The boom has brought a much-needed boost to the city’s tax base, but it has raised concerns about who has access to regenerating neighborhoods. City officials have sought options to achieve more equitable and inclusive development in the city and selected Grounded Solutions Network to help guide and inform the city’s efforts through a competitive RFP process.
Working with a team of other consultants, Grounded Solutions Network conducted an intensive scan of the existing housing policy landscape. This involved reviewing work that had already been done and policies that were already in place. We also reached out to dozens of local housing experts, nonprofit developers and community leaders to understand their concerns and preferences. We then provided the city with a set of best practice policy options suited to the unique needs and challenges the city faces. These included recommendations for:
- an affordable housing fund
- an inclusionary housing policy
- preservation of naturally affordable and deed restricted housing
- use of tax benefits as an incentive for mixed-income development
- anti-displacement measures for at-risk tenants and homeowners
The city has pursued many of these policy recommendations. It has adopted an incentive-based inclusionary housing policy, committed to historic investments in affordable housing through a $250 million Affordable Housing Leverage Fund (AHLF), and developed a comprehensive multi-family affordable housing strategy.
The city also turned to Grounded Solutions Network to help it move from planning to action on its affordable housing preservation goals. We worked closely with Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department to create a detailed and implementation-ready preservation action plan. The plan will guide a cross-sectoral, multi-million-dollar effort to preserve the affordability of 10,000 units of housing by 2023. Today, our consulting services to the city continue. We are developing a set of strategies to help the city leverage its vast holdings of land and structures to ensure lasting affordability in some of Detroit’s fastest-growing neighborhoods.
“In their most recent phase of work with us, Grounded Solutions developed a Preservation Action Plan to take preservation-related goals in our Multifamily Affordable Housing Strategy and translate them into detailed, implementable strategies. They balanced incorporating best practices from around the country with addressing the specific local dynamics and needs of our city. I was impressed with the team’s dedication to thoroughness; for example, they interviewed dozens of stakeholders in order to fully understand the local context and what strategies and solutions would be the best fit for Detroit.
“I came to think of Grounded Solutions as a partner in this work. They care about the work and that shows in their work product and process. Grounded Solutions can be counted on to communicate clearly, provide deliverables on schedule, plan and manage meetings with multiple stakeholders, and deftly incorporating feedback on documents. We would hire Grounded Solutions Network again in a heartbeat.”
-Julie Schneider, Associate Director for Policy Development and Implementation, City of Detroit Housing and Revitalization Department
In 2016, Pittsburgh faced a large and growing affordability crisis, particularly for its poorest residents. The city estimated that it needed more than 17,000 units of housing to meet the needs of those earning 50 percent or less of area median income. Happily, the city was in the midst of a building boom. Unhappily, that building boom was only exacerbating the city’s affordability gap. This building boom also gave rise to concerns about gentrification and displacement, particularly in historically poor, African-American neighborhoods like East Liberty, Lawrenceville, and the Strip District.
The city organized an Affordable Housing Task Force and charged it with crafting the city’s response to these housing challenges. Grounded Solutions Network provided technical assistance to the Task Force. With our assistance, the Task Force crafted a set of smart and responsive strategies, including:
- A commitment to deep targeting – with policies aimed at reaching those earning as low as 30% of Area Median Income.
- A set of tenant protections to guard against displacement
- Inclusionary policies to ensure that the city’s building boom led to greater housing opportunities for all city residents
- The establishment of a housing trust fund to provide resources for the city’s affordability initiatives
Layered across all of the Task Force’s recommendations was a policy shift to favor affordability terms of 30 years or more.
The Task Force submitted its report to city council in 2016, and council has been working to implement it since then. Notably, in December 2017, council established a Housing Opportunity Fund with $10 million a year of funding from real estate transfer taxes.
Building on the Task Force’s work, Grounded Solutions was hired again, this time to provide facilitation and technical assistance to an Exploratory Committee tasked with researching and offering recommendations on incentive zoning and inclusionary housing policies. Grounded Solutions Network convened eight meetings of the Exploratory Committee, resulting in policy recommendations for inclusionary housing requirements paired with cost-offsetting incentives including density bonuses and tax abatements. Following the Exploratory Committee meetings, Grounded Solutions developed a report for review by the mayor and city council with recommendations for an inclusionary program tailored to Pittsburgh's housing goals and market conditions.
“Grounded Solutions played a key role in providing Pittsburgh’s Affordable Housing Task Force, as well as the Inclusionary Housing and Incentive Zoning Exploratory Committee, with a clear path to recommendations incorporating national best practices and Pittsburgh’s specific challenges to arrive at policy and programs to improve housing opportunity. The team’s technical knowledge of the field and experience working with governments across the country, as well as their insights in modeling affordability, were matched by their skills in coordinating deliberation among diverse stakeholders, yielding forward-looking meetings, reports, and recommendations.”
-Ray Gastil, Director of City Planning, City of Pittsburgh
Twin Cities and Minneapolis
From 2015 to 2017, Grounded Solutions Network partnered with the Urban Land Institute of Minnesota, the Family Housing Fund, and the Metropolitan Council to promote mixed-income housing in the Twin Cities region. While skyrocketing housing costs were becoming an urgent problem in the Twin Cities region, policy talks about inclusionary housing were continually derailed by both negative myths and unrealistic hopes. These three regional leaders in planning, land use and affordable housing realized that they needed objective information to move the conversation forward; they hired Grounded Solutions to conduct market research and disseminate best practices.
Our initial work included adapting Grounded Solutions’ Inclusionary Housing Calculator for the Twin Cities region. We collected local data on development economics and financial feasibility for common development prototypes in the Twin Cities. In focus groups with developers and community stakeholders, we explained the results of our economic analysis using the Calculator. Responding to a groundswell of interest, Grounded Solutions was then asked to lead training sessions for government staff responsible for zoning updates and TIF negotiations on how to use the tool in practice. Lastly, we summarized key takeaways from our market research in two reports: an introduction to mixed-income housing report and a report on policy and funding recommendations for the region.
These regional reports laid a foundation of knowledge about best practices and development economics. However, inclusionary housing policies work best when they are narrowly tailored to market circumstances at the neighborhood or city level. Consequently, from 2017 to 2018, Grounded Solutions was hired to offer specific policy guidance to four cities (Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Shoreview and St. Paul) on mixed-income housing policies.
In Minneapolis, we conducted an in-depth financial feasibility study for inclusionary housing and did significant policy research and exploration. The results of that work, and our recommendations for an inclusionary housing policy for Minneapolis, are summarized in this report. In December 2018, the Minneapolis City Council adopted a framework for an inclusionary housing policy based on our recommendations. When the policy goes into effect, it will create an estimated 275-550 affordable homes every year.
“We were fortunate to partner with Grounded Solutions Network for our Mixed Income Housing Feasibility Education and Action Project where, as the Housing Policy Analyst for the Metropolitan Council, I saw the project directly benefit from their ability to connect with people and leave lasting positive impressions. They have vast technical knowledge about economics, housing policy, and the public sector, and have always displayed professionalism while keeping the important social relevance of the work close to heart. Simply put, Grounded Solutions uniquely navigates the spaces between people and policy in a way that rivals or surpasses any other consulting firm I have worked with. And in a complex public policy environment that was not always willing to think ‘outside the box,’ their ability to build excitement around shared solutions and win skeptics over with their solid expertise is one of the many reasons I am a repeat client.”
-Tara Beard, Housing Policy Analyst, Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities