While NAA’s Apartmentalize conference isn’t known for delivering exceptional Affordable Housing content, the organization is trying to up its game in this area. Thursday’s session, “Affordable Ain’t All Bad. YIMBY From a Young Company’s Perspective!” presented by Karla Burck, EVP Development at KCG Companies and Kimberly Hurd, EVP, Property Management, KCG Residential, LLC, provided some great insights into how Affordable Housing developers can work with “NIMBY” (Not in My Back Yard) communities and gain support for desperately needed new affordable housing.
During the session, Karla and Kimberly walked through two case studies – one in Anderson, SC and the second in Ellenwood, GA, sharing detailed information about the opposition they faced and how they were able to change minds and gain government, industry and community support for the projects. They talked about how it’s critical to understand constituents and what their concerns and priorities are and then work to address concerns and structure the project in a way that it addresses some of the communities’ priorities, so it becomes a win-win for everyone. Below we cover three types of constituents that KCG worked with and how they were able to move them from NIMBY to YIMBY.
In the case of KCG’s Anderson, SC project, the local government knew they needed affordable housing in the city to attract more businesses but faced opposition from the community. The government also knew that they had an issue with the water system (a concern that was shared by the community) and desperately needed funding for improvements. The water system issue presented an opportunity to build alignment and make the project a win-win.
For the Ellenwood, GA project, the local government was opposed to “Affordable Housing”, but at least one councilman understood that there was a need for apartments since the area had become unaffordable and many workers were being forced further and further out of town. A priority for the councilman and the local government in general was to bring medical offices to the community, something that KCG knew would be difficult to do without housing available nearby for those that would work in those offices. To get the councilman on board, KCG was able to show that many of the area workers (bus drivers, custodians, government employees, etc.) had salaries that were at or below 60% AMI and they would qualify to live in the planned affordable housing community. KCG also recommended that the councilman call the medical providers he was hoping to attract to the community to understand what was keeping them from coming. It turns out housing for their employees was a top concern. Getting that one councilman on board was a key turning point.
As with most LIHTC projects, communities worry that when affordable housing comes to the community, it will bring murderers, thieves, rapists, child molesters, and poor people with problems that will burden the community. Property values will drop, schools will decline, and the community will be less safe. Quoting studies that disprove these concerns generally isn’t effective because constituents don’t believe those studies are relevant to their specific community. KCG focused on working directly with community leaders and influencers by being very open and transparent with them. They took them through the tenant selection plan so they understood the profile of someone who would qualify (and not qualify) to live in the community – income levels, criminal history, etc. They also compared salaries that qualified with salaries of workers that were already in the community so they could see that it was housing meant for them and not poor people from somewhere else.
In Anderson, SC in particular, Section 8 housing experience shaped their perception of affordable housing, and KCG was able to demonstrate that Section 8 vouchers only accounted for 10% of tenants in communities that they managed. They also shared the requirements they put in place in the affordable properties they manage to ensure the grounds and buildings are well-maintained and consistent with what the community would expect. They talked about how they enforce policies and the consequences if tenants violate them.
Beyond addressing concerns, KCG also went a step further to understand what needs the community had. In Anderson, SC, residents were concerned about the water system, and KCG allocated $1,000 per unit to improve the water system – funding that the water company desperately needed. In Ellenwood, GA, the community wanted restaurants. KCG brought in restaurant owners and operators to talk about what is needed to make a community a viable place to open a restaurant – number of households and housing for workers were key criteria.
Perhaps those with the most at stake are those whose property borders the affordable housing community. KCG met with neighbors to understand their specific concerns and what they could feasibly do to address them. In the case of the Ellenwood, GA property, the neighbors hadn’t realized that the vacant land had been rezoned to be commercial, so it was helpful for them to understand that regardless they were going to have neighbors that were not single family residences. The neighbors were most concerned about preserving trees and minimizing traffic. KCG was able to preserve an area on the property where the trees would remain, and they agreed to put a gate at the second entrance that would only be accessible to emergency personnel.
KCG believes that the approach they have taken in engaging the local government and community in dialog, aligning the project to deliver something those constituents want, and providing visibility and transparency into how tenants will be selected and how the property will be managed has been critical to gaining approval for the projects. They look forward to continuing to build affordable housing where it’s needed using this blueprint, and hope that others are able to do so as well.
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