Resources and Tools
Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Local Assistance and Training Planner
In the January edition of Planning Practice Monthly, we introduced the Maryland Housing Needs Assessment & 10-Year Strategic Plan (Needs Assessment) and how it can be of value to Maryland jurisdictions in developing the required Housing Elements in their comprehensive plans. In February we summarized Section 2 of the report, dealing with proposed statewide priorities and in March we covered Section 3, which addressed the state of housing in Maryland. Last month, we took a look at Section 4, Needs by region & core actions to address them.
This month, we are reviewing Section 5, Maryland Housing Toolbox and finally, this summer we will launch a series of “how-to” articles for local governments seeking to incorporate the information and recommendations found in the Needs Assessment into the required housing element section of their comprehensive plans, as specified in HB 1045 (2019).
The Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) is seeking input from jurisdictions that have already employed the Needs Assessment in developing their housing element, or that are embarking on the process, and would like to partner with us on an informative article on this topic. Interested readers will find contact links at the end of this article.
Section 5. Maryland Housing Toolbox
Beyond merely identifying the issues, the Needs Assessment was created to function as a resource for Maryland’s counties and municipalities seeking to take action to improve the availability of and equitable access to affordable housing across the state.
The Maryland Housing Toolbox (Toolbox) is “designed to equip local and state decision-makers and their partners to better meet the housing and community development needs in their communities.” The Toolbox provides a matrix of strategies to address these needs with actions that will “expand the solutions available…in tackling complex housing issues” (p. 73/PDF p. 78).
The Toolbox is an interactive, downloadable document with nearly 70 suggested actions (displayed on the vertical axis of the matrix) in response to five main challenges facing Maryland homeowners and renters to affordable housing identified in the Needs Assessment (on the horizontal axis). (Note the link to the downloadable document can be found as a hyperlink in the Needs Assessment beginning on p. 80/PDF p. 85.) For each action, the Toolbox asks:
- Does it serve renters, owners or both?
- What primary outcomes will it advance?
- What special population will it serve?
- What income group will it serve?
- Does it assist with housing needs related to COVID-19?
Potential actions include those that support homeowners and renters directly, as well as indirectly, addressing both supply and demand side concerns, as discussed throughout the Needs Assessment. Some examples of direct/demand side support include:
- Expanding emergency rental assistance programs;
- Creating employer-assisted housing programs;
- Strengthening partnerships between the Maryland Department of Disabilities and public housing authorities to support people living with disabilities;
- Increasing the availability of homebuyer education programs;
- Creating a first-time homebuyer credit to offset costs related to maintaining a home; increasing tenant protections and access to legal, mediation and other support;
- Expanding fair housing laws; and
- Creating or expanding existing “dollar house” programs.
Some examples of indirect/supply side support include:
- Creating housing trust funds and housing preservation funds;
- Offering operating subsidies for affordable housing developments;
- Leveraging state resources for transit-oriented development;
- Offering below-market financing for housing and community investments;
- Expanding use of project-based vouchers;
- Reducing or waiving parking requirements, impact or other development fees; and
- Targeting infrastructure investments to support affordable housing development and neighborhood revitalization.
Despite what might seem like the inherent limitations of using a matrix/spreadsheet-type of format for the Toolbox, each action is described in detail. In addition to answering the five questions, specific keys to success are identified. Organizing the relationships between the many affordable housing issues facing Maryland’s communities and the actions or responses in such a concise fashion makes for a highly flexible tool that can help local governments, agencies, and non-profit partners assess those that are most relevant to and, therefore, most likely yield the greatest positive outcomes for their communities.
Planning recommends that planners and others interested in affordable housing in their communities reference the Housing Element Models & Guidelines’ (M&G) Housing Practices and Affordable Housing Resources sections to learn more about high leverage policies, practices, and resources to consider in their comprehensive plans. The M&G also includes a link to the Local Housing Solutions website, which includes a wealth of information on affordable housing strategies.
For more information about the 2020 Maryland Housing Needs Assessment and 10-Year Strategic Plan, please contact Bernice Mensah, Director, Housing Economic Research Office, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Joe Griffiths, Planning’s Local Assistance and Training Manager at email@example.com.