Last month I attended the 2023 Housing California conference in San Diego. The conference’s theme was “Housing’s Next Chapter,” and my experience certainly lived up to the title. As a technologist and policy wonk, it was thrilling to hear from affordable housing developers, local government staff, and community organizers about ways the sector is innovating and advocating for better housing policies. I’d love to share my experience at Housing California 2023 in order to document what I learned, and bring others along in “Housing’s Next Chapter.”
As a Product Manager working on Exygy’s Bloom Housing affordable housing portal, there were implications for our work with jurisdictions in California (and across the country). One of the values of a ‘one stop shop’ for affordable housing is that it centralizes data from dozens of different housing programs — something that is extremely difficult to do.
The power of this research is that it enabled Enterprise to identify what it would take to ‘unstick’ tens of thousands of affordable homes. Now, advocates and local policymakers can better advocate for the specific needs of their local projects. Many other presenters shared research that led them to specific and measurable goals that would dramatically improve housing outcomes for Californians.
However, this optimistic spirit was tempered with anxiety over upcoming budget debates. In Sacramento, the State Legislature is facing a budget deficit for the first time in two years that totals an estimated $22.5B. In Washington DC, Congress is preparing to negotiate its budget and raising the debt ceiling. As a result, many attendees at the conference are anticipating a need to tighten their belts next year. There is already a huge gap in funding for affordable housing development, numbering in the billions. And given runaway inflation, anything less than a budget increase represents an overall loss to the ability to build and maintain affordable housing. That doesn’t even account for what it would cost to innovate and implement new solutions. Funding for housing and homelessness interventions is at risk in California and across the country.
Housing First Still Works
In a panel with local, state, and national experts and implementers of Housing First, we heard that it’s clear that Housing First still works. Panelists from organizations like the Housing Narrative Lab and King County Regional Homelessness Authority have decades of data proving its efficacy. However, the panelists pointed out that the Housing First model has received lots of pushback from elected officials and other leaders. As the economy worsens, visible signs of economic distress increase. For example, more people become unhoused and unsheltered. So for many people, seeing an increase in people experiencing homelessness in their communities registers as “what we are doing is not working!” instead of “what we are doing is not enough.”
Right now, there is no viable alternative to Housing First. The only other options fall short of supplying consistent and stable shelter that also respects the inherent dignity and value of the individual.
Innovation is Key for this
At this point, we can’t afford not to support innovative housing solutions. The United States is short 7.3 million affordable rental homes, and nearly 600,000 Americans were unhoused in 2020. As an organization that is dedicated to centering accessibility and inclusive design for our most vulnerable communities, the Exygy team knows that we can and should do better than this.
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