For every 100 families that need a home, only 36 affordable housing units are available in the U.S. As one can imagine, we are experiencing an unprecedented affordable housing challenge. In fact, the National Low Income Housing Coalition states there are 11 million extremely low-income renter households in the U.S.

Additionally, a deeper data dive reveals how racial and wealth disparities continue to be an impediment to affordable housing: according to the 2020 U.S. Census, African-American homeownership stood at 44.1%, whereas the rate of white homeownership was 74.5%. Additionally, homes in Black neighborhoods are priced approximately 23% less than those in white neighborhoods. This disparity shows a difference of nearly $50,000 per home, which totals to about $156 billion in lost assets.

What is even more unsettling — racial inequities exacerbated by disparate property appraisal values between Black and white people. According to the Brookings Institute, there are an estimated four million incidents of housing discrimination each year; yet there are less than 30,000 reported actual incidents. Why? It’s quite simple: Many people of color are too afraid or unsure of how to file a complaint, and many others have been silenced by those with power. This is unacceptable and we must take action to abolish this immoral and unprincipled approach.

Solving our nation’s housing challenges will require leaders at all levels to work in a collaborative manner. Now is the time to speak up and become affordable housing allies to the families, children, seniors, veterans and the disabled in their respective communities.

There are a number of practical steps local and national housing authorities can take to drive needed change in communities across the country, including:

Collaborative Partnerships

Local housing authorities must work collaboratively with their city counterparts. While housing authorities are federally funded and can sometimes feel separate from city initiatives, they are most effective when they work together. Why? Housing authorities work with and often understand well the populations that require support. They are aware of the tools and programs available to municipalities, such as programs to incentivize developers to build long-term affordable housing.

Such a collaborative effort can strengthen and unify communities, cultivate opportunity and build trust. But this relationship requires concentrated effort from both sides. In Houston, we make sure the city and the Houston Housing Authority collaborate consistently. It has helped us reap benefits on behalf of our communities and should be implemented as a best practice in every city.

Engaging Developers and Landlords

Developers and landlords need to be engaged by joint city-housing authority teams. It is critical joint city-housing authority teams collaborate with market-rate developers in order to build high-quality, affordable housing. Contrary to popular notions, developers are often unaware of the affordable housing opportunities and tools at their disposal. Educating them on these issues has many potential benefits. This teamwork keeps accountability between cities and housing authorities in front of them. After all, developers can receive valuable tax breaks to provide affordable housing options when the right tools are used.

Cultivate Mixed-Income Communities

Mixed-income housing is an innovative model that allows families in need to live in one community. Therefore, it is imperative that cities and mixed-income communities champion and encourage this cause.

According to the Urban Institute, the benefits of mixed-income housing include increased property values, a more diverse community and a greater potential for higher quality homes and services. And when cities champion this housing model, they break down systemic barriers and build more unified communities.

Inevitably, this helps everyone. The learning process is essential.

NIMBY Behaviors Need to Change

The “Not in My Backyard” (NIMBY) mentality often dominates housing conversations when a city or housing authority plans to build an affordable housing development in established neighborhoods. In response, we must dedicate efforts to educate against such behaviors. Opponents of affordable housing often use distraction to direct attention away from the real issues at hand. Thus, stereotypes, misconceptions and racially-charged statements from ill-informed citizens proliferate.

Furthermore, some offer short-sighted commentary: how affordable housing would turn their neighborhood into “a ghetto with increased crime.” Other coded statements include, “I’m not against affordable housing, I just don’t want it in my neighborhood because it will decrease my property value.” False stigmas around affordable housing not only harm people; these untruths lead to unfair judgments toward an already vulnerable population.

Numerous studies show that affordable housing has either a positive or neutral impact on property values. Moreover, having more affordable housing options can lead to reduced crime rates. That’s the reality, and it’s good news for everyone.

Local and Housing Leadership Needs Broader Leadership

Cities must ensure there is broad representation in housing leadership. Diverse perspectives and representation in their staff, appointed leadership, vendors and boards involved in housing departments and programs are crucial. It’s an ideology often overlooked, but an obvious need that will lead to better and fairer policies.

Affordable housing is crucial to our nation in many ways. It plays a central role in the health and wellness of our people, often determining access to education, nutrition, and job opportunities. Segregation and the lack of affordable options for people of color are still deeply rooted in our housing systems, and this is unacceptable. By taking these and other actionable steps, we can make impactful and meaningful changes in our communities.


LaRence Snowden is Chair of the Houston Housing Authority. He is also Assistant Vice President for Corporate-Community Partnerships at Texas Southern University, where he leads engagement efforts for university enhancement.