Affordable Housing Week has come to a close here in the Bay Area and I can’t help but reflect on my experiences from the week. We have always been proud to take part in the process of providing not just quality housing to those in need, but homes that provide a real sense of place. The events, openings and panels that transpired over the course of the week gave us a chance to reconnect with partners, meet new friends and honor those who have worked so hard to give deserving folks a home to live in which they can be proud. It’s impossible to come away without feeling like an evangelist for the amazing work that is being done. In case you are not aware, people who benefit from affordable housing are people you interact with in your community everyday, nursing assistants, security guards, cashiers, cooks. And there is a BIG need. According to the California Housing Partnership Corporation for every 100 low-income renters in Alameda County, only about 27 units exist. In one case, two developments with which we are very familiar and have about 150 units between them, received 9000 inquiries from potential residents! That’s a jaw dropping ratio.
Affordable developments, attitudes and mindsets have come a long way. Where once it was commonplace to limit amenities with the thought that it would encourage residents to better themselves, we now see developments with thoughtful, practical attributes that support residents and address community needs in a variety of ways. Where public housing was once separate from the community to maintain property value, developers now look for opportunities to build inclusive communities which are often within urban locations and connected to transit that, again, enhance resident’s lives. It appears “we” has replaced “us’ and “them.”
Where I have had the pleasure of contributing has been in the areas of integration, education and acceptance. On a tactical level, that includes naming, messaging—an identity—signage and wayfinding, artwork installation or other components that add value to the property in the literal sense. But what’s under the obvious? In a larger context, this work adds value by rallying the project team members around the core essence of the property and helps keep a unified vision. It connects residents with neighbors, it adds to a resident’s a sense of pride, and it engages the community by amplifying the history or unique qualities of a neighborhood. In a nutshell, it creates a “true sense of place.”
The impact of branding and design in this area can go even farther. While the highly visible naming, identity, signage and other applications create a strong connection between the development, the community and all stakeholders, branding also provides an opportunity to facilitate more efficient communication between stakeholders during the process of creating affordable housing. In every case, there is a set of entities and organizations that work together in varying capacities to get this critical work done to serve its future constituents. Providing solid brand communications creates a foundation from which to build upon and a sound point of reference throughout the process.
Affordable housing helps people in ways some may not have considered. According to the Center for Housing Policy, a stable home provided by affordable housing may prevent frequent moves which can negatively affect student outcomes and reduce overcrowded conditions which can make students more likely to fall behind and less likely to graduate. It can alleviate serious negative mental and physical health effects in adults and seniors like high blood pressure and helplessness that can be the result of living in overcrowded and/or unstable conditions.
It’s great to interact with professionals so passionate about solving the affordable housing problem we have here in the Bay area. I know that same passion exists elsewhere, which is heartening. And it’s incredible to witness the evolution of how the issue is approached and the amazing places that are created to serve people in need and empower their lives. While California has a ways to go to ensure everyone in the state has a quality home (not one county has a sufficient number of affordable rental homes according to the California Housing Partnership Corporation), I don’t see the enthusiasm for solving this complex issue waning. I offer a sincere thank you to those dedicated to pursuing a solution.