Our Social Innovators Breakfast Series summer focus, Navigating the Unintended Consequences of Systems Change, continued in June with a panel discussion on housing affordability.
We are grateful to our three panelists for representing a range of perspectives and experiences, and for sharing their expertise and lessons learned:
- Claire Levy, Executive Director of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy;
- Zac Schaffner, Program Manager of the Homeless Prevention Activities Program at the Colorado Department of Local Affairs; and
- Tim Reinen, Executive Director of Radian.
When asked about how involving people who are most impacted by housing affordability (or lack thereof) in their work has made a difference, panelists pointed to the phenomenon of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” All three panelists talked about understanding the gaps between what exists and what a community needs: One talked about shifting focus to a specific population what was otherwise not part of the work (seniors on fixed income at risk of losing housing); another about integrating social equity into developments; and the third panelist talked of engaging community members in the design process of an affordable housing building so it is a trauma-informed space that can best meet the needs of the people it intends to serve.
One key point made during the discussion was about the range of ways people can experience homelessness. “We really need to keep in mind this affordability crisis, often, is invisible” and can weigh heavily on those living paycheck-to-paycheck because of the rent burden, those who are living doubled-up with relatives or couch surfing, or those staying in domestic violence situations for fear of being homeless if they leave. “We really need to keep in mind all of these invisible people who are holding it together, but they’re doing it at a real cost to themselves and their kids.” Nodding heads around the room suggested the panelists’ words rang true for many audience members.
Panelists discussed some of the most pressing issues regarding the current landscape of housing affordability, including the impact of interconnected systems that go along with housing (access to and affordability of healthy food, transit, the built environment) as well as policies that can impede or alleviate finding and keeping safe, affordable, stable housing. All three panelists explained how the social determinants of health play into housing insecurity, and how addressing upstream factors is important if we want to move beyond band-aid solutions to the housing crisis.
The interconnected nature of systems can make an issue like housing affordability feel even more complex and difficult to address. However, as panelists reminded the audience, interconnectivity also means multiple points of access into the issue, and multiple opportunities to affect change. “I urge you to think about how you can enter this sphere,” one panelist said in closing, as another added, “We need to address those other systems that accompany homelessness.”
We will continue to explore the interconnectivity of systems with the rest of our Navigating the Unintended Consequences of Systems change series. These include: