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Building Communities As We Build Affordable Housing

Written by Claire Altman, Executive Vice President, Capalino+Company

At Bisnow’s October symposium on Affordable Housing Development, Capalino+Company Executive Vice President Claire Altman urged developers, not-for-profit leaders, and government representatives to focus on affordable housing as only one part of a larger community building effort.

Altman noted some good news: New York City and State have committed billions of dollars to support the construction and preservation of affordable housing. However, Altman also pointed out that “unfortunately, against the backdrop of increases in chronic diseases, opioid addiction, maternal mortality, homelessness, and crime rates, more affordable housing units are not the complete solution. We have to be looking at not just putting a roof over people’s heads, but a floor under their feet.”

In a similar vein, NYC’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development Deputy Commissioner Molly Park emphasized the importance of “coalition building” to get affordable housing built.  Leading developers such as Gotham, Jonathan Rose, L&M, and Tahl Propp Equities all shared the view that land, construction, and labor costs make “going it alone” to develop affordable housing virtually impossible. Instead, developers, community groups, lawyers and architects agreed that the most viable way to develop affordable housing in NYC today is through joint ventures between for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. Not-for-profits, often faith-based organizations, may contribute land and development rights to the deal. And not-for-profits often have strong community relationships that help gain necessary governmental approvals for projects.

The importance of community is being recognized on many fronts. “It could be that the neighborhood, not the individual, is the essential unit of social change,” said New York Times columnist David Brooks in an recent op-ed. Stanford economist Raj Chetty has led extensive research that shows that children who grow up in a neighborhood with a strong sense of community can have drastically different life outcomes than people who grow up in demographically similar neighborhoods but ones without a real sense of community. Brooks concludes that “human behavior is contagious, networked ways. Suicide, obesity, and decreasing social mobility spread as contagions.”

Brooks explains what neighborhood connectivity means when he calls for “a radical realignment in how you see power structures. Does the neighborhood control its own networks of care or are there service providers coming down from above?

Certainly, the next challenge is to build community infrastructure to support affordable housing that connects people to each other and the services they need. In the long run, these connections will provide a sustainable and lasting safety net.

To learn more about how Capalino+Company can help you with your affordable housing and development goals, contact Claire Altman at 212.616.5839 or claire@capalino.com.

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