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Key steps to develop a local housing strategy

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Overview

Developing a local housing strategy is a time- and resource-intensive process. It requires strong and clear leadership, sustained engagement of leadership across municipal agencies, and active participation from both internal and external stakeholders. This brief summarizes the basic elements that should be included in a local housing strategy and provides guidance on the range of mechanisms that you can use/employ to prepare a comprehensive housing strategy in-house. (Please see this companion brief to receive guidance on working with a consultant to prepare elements of, or the entire, strategy.) Regardless of whether cities, towns, and counties decide to complete the plan in-house, they will want to ensure that staff have strong support from leadership, adequate time, and the necessary skills to bring people together to create a successful strategy. (For more information on the elements of a local housing strategy, see the brief “What is a local housing strategy and why is it important?”)

What is a local housing strategy and why is it important?

A local housing strategy coordinates the actions of all the local government agencies and divisions that administer policies and programs affecting housing in a city, town, or county, and comprehensively describes the approach the locality plans to take to meet its housing objectives. Local housing strategies are a critical tool local governments can use to coordinate actions, funds, and organizational resources across different agencies and entities to help people work in sync to address housing needs. They also help cities, towns, and counties think comprehensively about their policy options, leveraging the capacities of a wide range of agencies, and building support across a range of constituencies who can help advocate for the policy changes and resources needed to implement a strategy. The end product of a local housing strategy is often a written document that communicates the relationship between a community’s housing needs and the proposed strategy, defining specific goals, actions, and responsible entities, as well as a timeline for completion of actions. A successful housing strategy will not only have actionable objectives but will be developed collaboratively to develop consensus on the implementation process. 

The importance of leadership and the cast of players

The idea to develop a local housing strategy may initially come from different sources, including city leadership, the housing or planning department, housing advocates, or major employers. Regardless of who has the initial idea to create a strategy, a mandate from the top levels of government helps to align interagency staff under a common objective. Therefore, it is essential that a senior municipal leadership – such as the Mayor, City Manager, City Council, or other senior local government officials – define the vision for and provide the directive to develop a local housing strategy.

Key players and internal stakeholders

Local housing strategies rely on committed engagement across municipal departments as well as stakeholder involvement. When getting started, localities should compile a list of municipal or regional departments or agencies whose policies affect the costs, quality, and stability of housing and consider involving all of those departments and agencies to participate in the development and implementation of the strategy. Depending on the municipality, this list could include, among others:

  • the housing department, 
  • the planning department, 
  • the department(s) responsible for building inspections and permits, 
  • the department(s) responsible for municipal taxation and tax foreclosures, 
  • the planning or zoning commission, 
  • transportation or infrastructure agencies,
  • the local housing authority, 
  • the homelessness service agency, 
  • the redevelopment agency, and 
  • any local housing finance agency.

Including external stakeholders

Before launching the planning effort, it is important for localities to think about how they will want to involve external stakeholders, such as community organizations, including nonprofits, neighborhood groups, and faith-based organizations; developers; service providers; lenders; and employers. Cities, towns, and counties may also want to consider how they can engage the business community in developing their housing strategies, as well as state and regional governments whose policies and actions influence local housing. Some options for engaging municipal partners and stakeholders include developing a task force or advisory committee to oversee and provide feedback on the work that municipal staff or a consultant completes. 

Identifying and filling gaps in capacity and experience

In addition to identifying who the key players will be in the planning process and what financial and staff resources are needed to complete the strategy, localities may want to consider conducting a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis to help assess the locality’s readiness for developing a local housing strategy. As part of this assessment, localities will want to pay attention to areas of weakness and potential threats that may impede interagency collaboration and progress. Additionally, it is important to consider whether a locality has the resources to develop the strategy in-house or prefers to hire a consultant to assist (see Working with a Consultant to Develop a Local Housing Strategy). A consultant may be able to provide knowledge, facilitation skills, and expertise; a consultant also may be useful if staff do not have enough time to devote to developing the strategy on their own. 

Establishing a lead team/entity

However the locality determines to proceed with working with municipal partners and stakeholders, it is important to designate a team of local staff who have the ultimate responsibility for coordinating the effort to compile and then oversee the execution of the strategy. The lead team/entity should have the authority and ability to set the vision for the strategic planning effort and be able to bring together municipal departments to work together. Often, the lead team/entity is the Mayor’s Office, or an agency designated to lead the work on the Mayor’s behalf. 

Each team member should have sufficient time built into their schedule to be able to work intensely on a strategy that is likely to take a minimum of 6-12 months. The planning process may take several months of regular engagement as buy-in to the plan is essential to its successful implementation and achievement of goals. It may be helpful to designate a leader to manage the work of the lead team/entity to facilitate decision making, provide structure, and manage the overall housing strategy process. This person could also have responsibility for managing the relationship with outside consultants being used to plug gaps in internal capacity. (See Working with a Consultant to Develop a Local Housing Strategy).

The lead entity staff will need special skills to achieve the necessary level of collaboration and partnership across the municipal departments and with stakeholders to develop and implement the strategy. It is crucial that senior staff or leadership from each municipal department involved in developing the strategy actively participate in discussions and contribute their ideas to the plan. Staff will need skills in meeting facilitation, communication, workshop design, community engagement, project management, and team building. 

In addition to setting aside staff time, localities will need to budget for supplies and expenses. These may include collaboration software, meeting facilitation materials, printing costs, and local travel. 

Process of developing a local housing strategy

Building on existing plans

One of the first steps in developing a local housing strategy is learning from prior planning efforts. Localities can use the experience with existing or prior plans to provide insight into local needs, understand the range of housing goals and actions completed or in progress, and evaluate what has worked and what has not. 

When reviewing existing or prior plans, localities may want to look for areas where there may be gaps in information that require additional research or areas where there are unmet needs that have not been addressed. It may also be helpful to review prior planning efforts around economic development and transportation to find opportunities for the housing strategy to connect with other related community development initiatives. Localities should consider emerging issues that a previous plan had not encountered. One useful exercise is to review existing housing strategies, create a matrix of completed, in progress, and planned programs, and map the actions that are underway to identify efforts in progress. 

Finally, when developing a local housing strategy, it is important to design strategies that build on goals that have already achieved buy-in from other agencies and leverage actions that are already underway, as well as to create new goals and identify new actions to fill in any gaps.

Steps in preparing and implementing a local housing strategy

As described in the brief “What is a local housing strategy and why is it important?,” the following are the basic steps to develop a local housing strategy:

  1. Analyze the jurisdiction’s housing needs that illustrate the problems the jurisdiction is seeking to solve. (To facilitate this analysis, Local Housing Solutions provides both a housing needs assessment tool and guidance on how to use local data sources to complement nationally-available data.)
  2. Define the policy objectives the jurisdiction hopes to achieve through the strategy.
  3. Develop a comprehensive approach to meeting these objectives using the full array of resources available to local agencies in the community(The Local Housing Solutions policy framework can help localities develop comprehensive and balanced housing strategies.
  4. Identify funding sources and contingencies. 
  5. Develop a plan for implementing the recommended approaches.
  6. Establish a list of numerical goals and associated milestones to use to track and monitor progress and to uncover shortfalls.


Many cities, towns, and regions have found it helpful to undertake a full-fledged comprehensive housing strategy in one major effort. Others prefer to use an iterative approach, which enables a phasing in of a full array of programs and policies, keeping the immediate tasks at hand manageable for the locality and building on them as time goes on. For example, localities may design an iterative approach that addresses one or two pressing housing issues and focuses collaboration and alignment of actions around those targeted issues. The locality then can begin to develop additional policies to address additional housing issues, expanding its overall strategy as capacity allows.

Another way to approach an iterative strategy is to focus on setting and achieving more modest goals before expanding to focus on more ambitious objectives. All goals should be realistic, but some may be harder to achieve than others. By starting with goals that are relatively easy to achieve, localities can build the confidence and momentum they will need to achieve their aspirational goals. For more information, see the brief “Establishing goals for a local housing strategy and monitoring progress.”

Establishing a time frame to implement a local housing strategy

It is important to establish a clear time period for the process of the development and implementation of the housing strategy. While there is no pre-defined time period in which a local housing strategy should be implemented, localities will want to consider any local circumstances that argue in favor of a longer or shorter initial implementation time frame. For example, if the locality decides to take an iterative approach to developing a strategy, it may adopt goals covering a shorter time period to focus on near-term actions to build momentum that could support a longer-term strategy.

Funding development of the strategy

Localities can fund the implementation of strategies through a range of federal, state, local, and philanthropic funding sources (see “Funding a local housing strategy“).

Engaging the public

Like any municipal planning effort, public engagement is essential to the success of a local housing strategy. The public can inform needs and strategies and often have a good understanding of what works “on the ground.” Public support is needed to fund actions and to hold elected and appointed officials accountable. Like other stakeholders, the best way to achieve public support is to engage people early in the process and offer opportunities for them to stay engaged. Localities may want to consider what methods of engagement have worked well for them in the past. Some common methods for engaging the public are: workshops; surveys; open houses; websites; social media; and community meetings. Some localities have also found it helpful to establish a website or newsletter to report progress on strategy development and a dashboard to track progress against goals. In addition, cities, towns, and counties may want to identify “champions” of the local housing strategy who can be advocates of change. Champions are organizations or people who herald the importance of an effort and support its progress in various ways. For example, champions can support strategy development by making announcements on their websites, co-sponsoring community meetings, and providing in-kind or monetary contributions. Champions may also lead efforts to gain support from members of their communities, such as local businesses, places of worship, service providers, or other groups. See “Engaging the community in the development of a local housing strategy” for more information.

Communication and transparency

Even after the plan is adopted and implemented, open and regular communication with the Mayor’s office, City Council committee responsible for housing issues, or other leadership is essential to the strategy’s success. This may be done by holding bi-weekly or monthly check-in meetings with senior staff within the Mayor’s office or City Councilmembers or identifying key milestones in the planning process that will trigger such check-ins.

Related resources

What is a local housing strategy and why is it important? This brief provides an overview of the purpose and benefits of a local housing strategy, including discussion of the role a strategy can play in promoting coordination across agencies and sectors, aligning funding sources and policy initiatives, and building political support to achieve affordable housing goals and related objectives

Establishing goals for a local housing strategy and monitoring progress. When developing a local housing strategy, cities, towns, and counties should identify high-level, meaningful goals that enable them and the general public to track the jurisdiction’s overall progress in achieving its housing policy objectives. Furthermore, monitoring these goals will help localities assess progress and achieve their policy objectives.

Funding a local housing strategy. There are many policies that cities, towns, and counties can adopt to generate funding for the creation and preservation of dedicated affordable housing. The policies described in this brief are a subset of broader housing policies to preserve and expand the availability of affordable housing.

Engaging the community in development of a local housing strategy. This brief explains the importance of engaging the community in the development of a housing strategy, how cities can go about engaging community members, and more.

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