Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision

Objective 4.3:

Develop strategies to preserve existing affordable housing in rural areas.

The Need

Discussions around affordable housing often emphasize the need for new homes and rental units. This is especially common in jurisdictions actively accommodating population growth due to climate and non-climate drivers. However, these discussions cannot be siloed to focus on the “new” at the expense of the “existing.” Regional and local governments must simultaneously think about the impacts of population increases on the price of homes and the ability for residents to stay in place. Accordingly, resilient affordable housing strategies must be an “and” and not an “either or” approach. 

Certainly, preserving housing affordability is a complicated problem. However, this objective concentrates on this issue within the scope of the Regional Vision and on rural preservation more specifically. For more information on housing preservation broadly, see the Introduction to Goal Three and Objective 3.1.

When communities are unable to preserve their current affordable housing stock, the displacement of existing residents can be a direct and negative consequence. At a high level, population increases in a desirable parish, municipality, or neighborhood can simultaneously increase the market value of homes and rental units, as well as property taxes. In turn, this can drive up the total housing costs for the people already living in these communities. If and when residents cannot adapt to these rising costs, they may have no choice but to move away. Displacement can be a significant equity issue disproportionately impacting lower-income individuals and families, in addition to people on fixed incomes, like the elderly, that may be less able to absorb these costs.

Displacement can also occur where the physical condition of people’s homes is uninhabitable due to health, safety, and/or structural reasons. Hurricanes, severe winds, and flooding can lead to immediate and long-term damages to homes. This can encompass anything from holes in structures to unstable or collapsed foundations to mold. For many, options for home repairs, renovations, refurbishments, and retrofits like floodproofing or elevations can make homes livable again and/or adaptable to future threats. However, these options can be cost prohibitive. According to a research article from Louisiana State University, “Elevating an existing home can be a significant investment. On average, it costs $180,000.”See footnote 1 Another 2021 data point from Livingston Parish states the cost of a home elevation in Louisiana averages $125,000.See footnote 2 For perspective, the average cost of a home in Louisiana is $168,100.See footnote 3 Figures like this can force some people to abandon their homes or leave due to formal government processes like condemnation. 

Governments should create and then support holistic strategies that both supplement and maintain existing affordable housing options. This will involve working with communities and other external stakeholders to protect both the present and long-term affordability of homes. Overall, this type of work is not occurring enough in Region Seven, particularly in rural areas experiencing pressures from suburbanization. Proactive actions can help to avoid or mitigate the social, environmental, and fiscal costs associated with unplanned development and displacement.

How to Make Progress on This Objective

Parish and municipal governments in Region Seven can make progress on this objective by pursuing different types of strategies for: 

  • Planning, land use, and zoning;
  • Acquiring land; and/or
  • Identifying ways to help make existing homes more resilient

Policymakers can consider pursuing any of these strategies independently or together. Despite the focus of this objective, many of the examples and considerations that follow can be applied to both creating new and preserving existing affordable homes. As stated in The Need part above, a “both and” approach is required to “greaux” or grow the resilience of housing in rural areas. 

Planning, Land Use, and Zoning

Local comprehensive and housing-specific plans can incorporate priority goals and policies around preserving diverse types of affordable housing across all income levels (e.g., Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, Colorado; City of Portland, Oregon’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan) (for more information about planning, see Objective 4.1). Local governments should aim to align these plans with updates to land-use and zoning ordinances so that these priority actions can be implemented. For example, in Portland, Oregon, manufactured home communities advocated for planning and zoning changes to guard against a residential developer that planned to purchase and close the Oak Leaf Mobile Home Park and evict all of its residents. As a result of these efforts, the city amended its comprehensive plan and zoning code to adopt a new base zoning district, called the Manufactured Dwelling Park Zone. This zone applies to all of Portland’s 57 manufactured housing communities and prohibits any other land uses. Only manufactured housing communities are permitted within that zone, which covers all of Portland 57 manufactured housing communities.

Acquire Land

Land acquisitions can also help keep homes affordable. Here, properties can be owned by local governments (e.g., Boulder, Colorado) or private (e.g., Resilient Housing Prototype in New Orleans’s Seventh Ward) or nongovernmental entities like Habitats for Humanity or community land trusts (e.g., Town of Warrenton, Virginia: Fauquier Habitat for Humanity Haiti Street Neighborhood Revitalization). 

Notably, the City of Boulder, Colorado purchased two manufactured housing communities as a way to address failing infrastructure and safety issues. In these instances, the city did not intend to become the permanent owner of these communities, but instead used city resources to preserve and improve the parks before eventually selling or transferring the parks to new, long-term owners, specifically affordable housing nonprofits or housing authorities. 

One of the two communities is called the Ponderosa Mobile Home Park. Following damage to the mobile home park’s sewer and water infrastructure from a 2013 flood, Boulder purchased the park in 2017, using funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program for Disaster Recovery. In doing so, the city signed Resolution No. 1217 to protect resident health and safety, “enable permanent affordability, promote sustainability and resiliency, and ensure minimal resident displacement.”See footnote 4 This resolution launched the Ponderosa Community Stabilization Project with the goals of having the land eventually owned by a nonprofit housing provider, offering residents the option to move from existing mobile homes to new, permanently affordable, fixed-foundation, energy-efficient homes, and creating park amenities, such as gardens, play areas, green spaces, and a community house with a resilience center.See footnote 5

Parishes and municipalities in Region Seven could similarly explore ways to directly purchase land to protect affordable housing units and fund resilient improvements. 

A different example from a rural town in northern Virginia shows how nongovernmental entities can protect people and homes and revitalize neighborhoods through anticipatory land purchases. Fauquier Habitat for Humanity serves Fauquier County.See footnote 6 Fauquier Habitat builds new houses for low-income families and operates a neighborhood revitalization program within the historically Black Haiti (pronounced “Hay-ti”) Street neighborhood in Warrenton, Virginia.See footnote 7 Over the course of several years, Fauquier Habitat worked with the Haiti Street community to acquire multiple properties in the neighborhood to build over one dozen new affordable homes. The goal of the initiative is to “preserve Haiti Street history while ensuring quality affordable housing.”See footnote 8

Fauquier Habitat urgently wanted to buy these properties since Haiti Street is located near the Warrenton downtown and adjacent to a historic area that would have driven gentrification. Fauquier Habitat’s Executive Director noted that the acquisition allowed the organization to beat “potential gentrification of the neighborhood, which most often means displacement of people, further escalation of housing prices, and the economic erosion of affordability in the county.”See footnote 9

In the future, Fauquier Habitat intends to place the homes in a new state land trust, which includes a shared equity model. The Virginia Statewide Community Land Trust (VSCLT) is a nonprofit organization created in 2021 “that seeks to develop and maintain permanently affordable homeownership opportunities for low and moderate-income households.”See footnote 10 The VSCLT serves the entire state of Virginia and every Habitat affiliate in Virginia can participate in the VSCLT.See footnote 11

Like Fauquier Habitat, regional and local governments could partner with Habitats or community land trusts. Notably, Louisiana also has a state land trust, the Louisiana Land Trust (LLT). LLT is a state-created land trust supporting floodplain buyouts and helping families relocate out of vulnerable flood-prone areas.See footnote 12 LLT was created in 2005 to implement buyouts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.See footnote 13 After more recent flood events, LLT expanded its role to assist communities relocating to safer, higher ground areas.See footnote 14 The state could consider greauxing LLT’s authority beyond Katrina and Rita to support local land acquisitions and the creation and protection of affordable housing over the longer term.See footnote 15

Make Existing Homes More Resilient

To repair, renovate, refurbish, and retrofit existing homes, parishes and municipalities should evaluate opportunities to help people fund or finance these improvements. This will be especially critical for low-income and eldery residents on fixed incomes. Multiple examples from within and outside Louisiana are illustrative of some potential approaches regional and local governments may pursue.

Although technically new housing, the rural City of Donaldsonville, Louisiana is planning several new affordable housing complexes that will provide units for low-, moderate-, and middle-income households. One example is the reuse of the B. Lemann & Brothers Inc. building in downtown Donaldsonville. This building was constructed in the 1870s and designated as a historic building by the National Parks Service in the 1980s.See footnote 16 This building is being redeveloped to include 42 units of artist-preferred housing and 7,600 square feet of commercial space.See footnote 17​​ Construction is expected to be completed in early summer 2022.See footnote 18

Through separate efforts, the revitalization of Donaldsonville’s historic downtown also illustrates the value of using non-traditional funding sources like the Main Street America program to preserve affordable housing and enhance the walkability of neighborhoods. The Main Street America program offers financial and technical support to help revitalize older and historic downtowns and commercial districts in both rural and urban environments. For more common grants and loans that can be directed for these purposes, see the part of the Regional Vision on Funding and Financing Considerations.

Elsewhere in Louisiana, St. John the Baptist Parish has identified different options for funding and financing support. The parish is water-adjacent and predominantly rural. The parish has undertaken several initiatives to adopt development trends and patterns that will guide population growth in ways that make the parish and its communities more resilient to future rainfall and flooding risks. Namely, the parish developed a Comprehensive Land Use Plan in 2014 and a Coastal Zone Management Plan in 2016.See footnote 19 Most recently in 2019, the parish partnered with the state and nonprofit philanthropy Foundation for Louisiana through the Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) capital improvement process to create an Adaptation Strategy. 

The parish’s Land Use Plan seeks to promote the development of affordable housing through partnership opportunities with private sector entities to provide assistance for acquiring, rehabilitating, and constructing homes for low-income, first-time buyers, and assistance for redevelopment and rehabilitation projects.See footnote 20 Incentives may include offering financial assistance to nonprofits that purchase, redevelop, and resell vacant properties to low-income residents, and promoting innovative personal financing options for homeowners.See footnote 21 The Adaptation Plan echoes this policy, recognizing that housing incentive programs can be used to promote movement into higher-density, higher-elevation areas.See footnote 22  

Finally, borrowing from an urban example, the City of Norfolk, Virginia has adopted several local programs to encourage resilient homes at the building level that rural governments in Louisiana could consider emulating. For example, the Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity Project (STOP) Weatherization Program provides assistance with insulating and air sealing for lower-income homeowners, which can increase the energy efficiency of heating and cooling systems.See footnote 23 Additionally, programs such as Equity Secure and Norfolk Home Rehabilitation help residents modernize their homes by helping fund repairs and the replacement of heating, plumbing, and other systems.See footnote 24

Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When undertaking efforts to preserve affordable housing, decisionmakers may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips:

  • Avoid or minimize displacement
  • Lead with data
  • Promote missing middle housing
  • Ensure homeowners and renters are taking advantage of existing subsidies and financial assistance programs to lower total housing costs

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships. 

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective. 

  • Avoid or minimize displacement: As echoed throughout this objective, the goal of preserving a targeted number of homes is secondary to the number of people that can keep living in them. Policymakers should pursue any of the proposed strategies herein with people in mind first and foremost. Avoiding or minimizing displacement can concurrently eliminate or reduce the social, psychological, and financial costs that occur as a result of losing one’s home — including the difficulties associated with having to find a new safe and affordable one somewhere else. Instead, anti-displacement measures can maintain local property tax bases and community cohesiveness, which is a strong marker for resilience in and of itself, among other benefits. 
  • Lead with data: Among other data needs, the number, type, condition, and location of existing homes should be accounted for in housing and vulnerability assessments that drive planning, land-use, and zoning updates and project implementation. In particular, regional and local governments should evaluate the location of these homes against population changes and transitions, the potential for displacement, and flooding and extreme weather risks to inform the types and relative priority of resilience actions. 
  • Promote missing middle housing: Missing middle housing refers to the idea of encouraging a range of locally specific types of housing, such as townhomes, duplexes, and triplexes, in addition to single-family housing and apartment complexes. Policymakers should evaluate potential missing middle housing needs against existing homes to create well-rounded and informed strategies. 
  • Ensure homeowners and renters are taking advantage of existing subsidies and financial assistance programs to lower total housing costs: One additional anti-displacement measure can be achieved through community education and outreach. Under the Louisiana State Constitution, homeowners are entitled to an annual property tax exemption called the homestead exemption.See footnote 25 Louisiana permits a homeowner one exemption up to $75,000 of the fair market value of his/her/their “primary residence.”See footnote 26 In other words, the value of a homeowner’s property “is exempt up to $75,000 from state and parish property taxes.”See footnote 27  

    Policymakers can work through their own established channels with communities and/or trusted partners like community- or faith-based organizations and nonprofit rural housing providers to increase awareness of the homestead exemption. Where homeowners are eligible and not currently taking advantage of the homestead exemption, it can lower their future total housing costs up to the $75,000 limit, as relevant. Further, there may be other state, regional, and local financial assistance opportunities (see above) that can similarly be communicated.  

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.


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