What is the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing?

March 8, 2010

The Georgia Initiative for Community Housing (GICH) is a partnership of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), GMA and the University of Georgia (UGA) Housing and Demographics Research Center. The initiative offers communities a three-year program of collaboration and technical assistance related to housing and community development. The objective of the initiative is to help communities create and launch a locally based plan to meet their housing needs.

What is the purpose of this initiative?
The provision of quality affordable housing is essential for the maintenance of a vital community and economy. According to a draft of the State of Georgia Three Year Consolidated Plan FFY2010-2012 composed by DCA, at least 1,105,795 low- to moderate-income households have at least one housing need in Georgia. For many of these households, the problem is cost burden. According to the report, “twenty-three percent (23 percent) of Georgia households pay 30 percent or more of their income for housing” and “at least 9 percent of all Georgia households are severely cost burdened and devote at least 50 percent of their income for housing.” The Georgia Initiative for Community Housing was developed recognizing that many Georgia communities, especially our rural communities, struggle with how to bring together the critical players, access funding and organize and implement a strategy. The goal of the initiative is to help communities address their housing needs through partnerships and coordinated action.

What is the structure of the initiative?
The initiative provides a three-year program of training, technical assistance and facilitated collaboration for community housing teams. The teams are comprised of local nonprofits, city and/or county government, housing authorities, local lenders, real estate professionals, chambers of commerce, local school boards and other key players in the housing arena and normally consist of 15 to 20 people. Each participating community’s housing team then develops and implements a local housing plan, with the organizations represented on the team taking the lead on the appropriate parts of that plan.

What is the purpose of the retreats?
The initiative provides participating communities with the opportunity to participate in a series of facilitated retreats. Over the three-year period, the community housing teams attend six retreats. These retreats are modeled on the National League of Cities’ successful Affordable Housing Program. This model allows the teams to work in a focused retreat setting, while learning and interacting with the housing teams from the other communities. The purpose of these retreats is to keep the communities progressing toward their housing goals.

What is the organization and goals of the training?
The program training focuses on approaches to solving community housing issues (e.g., use of land banks) and on available housing programs. Housing teams are also introduced to unique partnerships, housing success stories and networking opportunities. Woven throughout the experience is an emphasis on planning, goal setting, problem solving and development skills. The training is delivered in two ways. First, training sessions are built into each retreat agenda. Secondly, the partnering organizations (DCA, GMA and UGA) make available their relevant existing training programs (e.g., DCA’s applicant workshops and housing conference) to participating communities.

What types of technical assistance are available to communities that participate?
DCA’s regional staff in the 12 state service delivery regions are assigned the responsibility to work with housing teams of the Initiative communities in their regions. Regional staff members routinely check on the progress of the teams and help access any specialized assistance that they might require. As the state’s housing agency, DCA administers a range of programs that can promote homeownership, build affordable rental and for-sale housing, provide rental assistance, meet the emergency shelter and service needs of the homeless and help individuals with disabilities access housing opportunities. DCA’s Community Initiative and program staff are on-call to provide technical assistance to the local housing teams. GMA’s legal and research staff answer questions and provide assistance to the participating cities as needed. Housing and extension staff from the University of Georgia provides staff and support services to the designated teams.

How can my city get involved with the program?
The application process (June – September) provides the program partners with a pre-program snapshot of the community. The application process is designed to meet two objectives. First, the process identifies communities that are ready to fully participate in the three-year program and act on their goals and work plans. Secondly, the application process itself is a first step in the community’s plan development. Each community is asked to identify: 
  • Its housing needs (housing need data, as well as local knowledge). 
  • Members of its housing team ― representing a cross section of organizations and relevant players.
  • Its building blocks for success ― past successes, community resources, or other factors that will lead to future success for the housing program.

A site team visits the applicant communities (October), meets with the community’s housing team, and tours the community with the team to get a first-hand look at local housing needs. The site team also discusses the initiative process with the team and prepares the members for their role over the next three years. Following the site visits with the finalist communities, the team makes recommendations to the initiative’s selection committee. Four to six communities are selected based on demonstrated housing need and readiness to participate, including active involvement by key sectors of the community (November).

Where can I get more information about the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing?
Much of the information in this edition of Ask GMA has been taken from a publication produced by the University of Georgia’s Housing and Demographics Research Center. More general information about the program as well as information about participating communities can be obtained by visiting the Housing and Demographics Research Center’s GICH website. The program coordinator for the Initiative is Karen Tinsley, and she can be reached by phone at 706-542-4949 or by e-mail at klt@uga.edu.