March 1, 2012: One of the most effective ways CPA communities can jump start their community housing effort is to fund the hiring of a “housing coordinator” for the municipality. By funding such a position under the “support” verb on the CPA allowable uses chart, even semi-rural communities, which often struggle with how to create community housing, are having great success.
The idea of using CPA funds to hire housing coordinators in Massachusetts municipalities, including Elizabeth Barnett in Carlisle, is relatively new. Elizabeth’s many roles show just how valuable a dedicated housing staff member can be for cities and towns. While working just 29 hours per week, she staffs the Affordable Housing Trust and supports the local Housing Authority, in part by monitoring the community’s deed restricted affordable housing units. Organizing stakeholders around local affordable housing developments, she also spearheads a local task force considering family housing on public land. For families facing foreclosure, senior citizens, and individuals with disabilities in need of literature and resources, Elizabeth is the contact person. The Housing Planner/Coordinator Network, a group that meets monthly, was also started by Elizabeth.
While she is quick to deflect praise onto elected town officials, there is no doubt that Elizabeth’s work has evolved into a crucial and increasingly important role in town.
“Developing affordable housing takes a complex tool kit,” says Barnett, who also helped to update Carlisle’s Housing Production Plan. “The housing coordinator needs to be someone who understands how it all fits together and can work with existing boards and committees.”
In Carlisle, the focus is on keeping existing, income-eligible residents in their homes, as well as creating new community housing options. Barnett, and housing coordinators in other communities, are knowledgeable about the latest local, state, and federal housing regulations, attend trainings, and work with local committees to find creative solutions to local housing challenges.
As a result, the housing coordinator can become a spokesperson for the housing needs of residents. Development projects are complex and sometimes options for affordable housing are overlooked. Fran Stanley, Housing Coordinator in Groton, points out that the housing coordinator can be the town employee who focuses on keeping the need for diverse housing options on the table. “In my role as the housing coordinator, I have helped the town realize small victories and progress on affordable housing, and hopefully there will eventually be a big success!” Fran's 19-hour per week position is also funded by CPA.
For communities that will fund the Housing Coordinator position 100% with CPA dollars, there's an important caveat: per the CPA legislation, the coordinator will be limited to working on housing issues for residents who earn up to 100% of the areawide median income (AMI). If the desire is to have the coordinator support residents or housing developments at income levels above 100% of AMI, their salary should be funded in part by non-CPA funds. Similarly, the Housing Coordinator, if funded solely with CPA funds, would be limited to working on projects eligible for CPA funding.
Given the complexities of affordable housing and the inevitable limitations of even passionate, effective volunteers, using CPA funds for a housing coordinator can make a lot of sense. When a town is committed to providing housing that meets the needs of a wide array of household incomes, a housing coordinator can be instrumental in moving solutions forward.