Home > Housing > Preserve Affordable Housing

Preserve Affordable Housing

The availability of affordable housing in the U.S. has been declining for decades. Since 1995, one in five affordable units has been lost. In addition, the Great Recession altered what is considered affordable, with effects that still persist: nearly half of all renters pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing, and only one-third of low-income renters receive housing assistance.


In general, the cost of preserving affordable units is much lower than building new ones, even if the existing units require upgrading. In strong housing markets, preservation is often a way to retain affordable housing in areas where it would be hard to create new ones. Therefore, local governments have a substantial interest in preserving existing buildings, particularly if those buildings contain affordable housing.


Because many federal programs require affordability for a limited time - usually not longer than 20 years - many subsidized properties are “timing out” and are in danger of converting to market rate. Local governments should act now to determine which and how many properties are timing out, and develop a plan to maintain them as affordable.


The economics of property ownership and management are key to maintaining affordable rents for tenants. Local governments can improve the economic equation for property owners, but should also require improved conditions for tenants and a guarantee of continued affordability. 

To Preserve Affordable Housing in the United States: A Policy History, Alexander von Hoffman, Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, March 1st, 2016. Read more.

Preserving, Protecting, and Expanding Affordable Housing, Allison Allbee, Rebecca Johnson, and Jeffrey Lubell, ChangeLab Solutions, January 1st, 2015. Read more.

Preserving Multifamily Workforce and Affordable Housing, Stockton Williams, Urban Land Institute and NeighborWorks America, January 1st, 2015. Read more.

Achieving Lasting Affordability through Inclusionary Housing, Robert Hickey, Lisa Sturtevant, and Emily Thaden, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, January 1st, 2014. Read more.

The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health: A Research Summary, Rebecca Cohen, Center for Housing Policy, May 2nd, 2011. Read more.

The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Education: A Research Summary, Maya Brennan, Center for Housing Policy, May 2nd, 2011. Read more.

Home Grown: Local Housing Strategies in Action, Metropolitan Planning Council, January 1st, 2010. Read more.

Affordable Housing Strategies: Regional Best Practices Toolkit, Cape Cod Commission, January 1st, 2008. Read more.

Best Practices for Effecting the Rehabilitation of Affordable Housing, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, September 1st, 2006. Read more.

Preserving Affordable Rental Housing, MacArthur Foundation. Read more.

Toolkit for Affordable Housing, Washington Area Housing Partnership. Read more.

In New York City, NY, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) works with real estate professionals and community sponsors who sell or rent apartments at affordable prices to low and moderate income households. The Predatory Equity Task Force of the city tracks properties and uses a variety of tools to convince landlords to invest in them. The Community Preservation Corporation provides funding for affordable multifamily housing, working closely with the city’s Department of Housing and Preservation.


In Chicago, IL, the Department of Planning and Development, works to develop and support affordable housing initiatives citywide. The Troubled Building Initiative, funded in part by CDBG dollars, identifies and help improve properties of concern through the expertise of a city staff. The city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance requires residential developments that receive city financial assistance or involve city-owned land to provide a percentage of units at affordable prices.


Boston, MA, works closely with the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation (CEDAC) to develop and implement strategies for preserving the privately-owned affordable stock in Boston. The City also provides funding through this program to help support outreach and organizing for tenants who live in at-risk developments.


In 2007, Portland, OR, adopted a Preservation Work Plan that called for the Portland Housing Bureau to actively seek out partnerships with property owners, lending institutions, non-profit housing providers, and other government entities to preserve as many Section 8 properties within the City as possible. On April 2016 the Housing Bureau announced the largest affordable housing funding award to date.


San Francisco, CA, offers below-market rate financing programs to promote the development and preservation of affordable housing by reducing the costs of capital. Cost reductions can come from use of 0% loans with 55-year terms, rental subsidies, land donations, long-term ground leases and more. The Assisted Housing Preservation Ordinance is intended to help ensure that affordable housing is not permanently removed from the housing stock, to preserve and promote a supply of affordable housing and to prevent the displacement of very low, low and moderate income households.


In Los Angeles, CA, the Housing + Community Investment Department (HCIDLA) was established in 2013 to integrate the operations of the Housing Department and the Community Development Department. HCIDLA facilitate the financing of housing development projects with business and community partners, using funds from the federal government and the state to build and preserve housing in low-income communities.


In Washington, D.C., the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act gives tenants the right to buy a property if their landlord decides to sell it. Tenants have 120 days after notice to negotiate a sale and another 120 days if a lending institution will certify that the tenants have applied for financing. 


Mariah Young-Jones
Read more about preserving affordable housing in your city in our report Cities at Work: Progressive Local Policies to Rebuild the Middle Class.