Looking to residents to help identify affordable housing solutions

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Name: Julia Martin

Title: Assistant to the City Manager

City: Charlotte, N.C.

Several months ago, Julia Martin set out leading a cross-departmental team in Charlotte to create more affordable housing options for working people with modest incomes. But instead of jumping head-first into solutions they think might work, the team is taking a human-centered design approach.

It started with dozens of interviews with residents, developers, landlords, and others, to understand the challenges from their perspectives. Then they assembled their insights and brought in more residents and landlords to help zero in on possible solutions.

This more open-ended process pointed them toward an often overlooked but potentially fruitful corner of the housing market — single-family rental homes — and new incentives that might encourage landlords to rent them at rates that are affordable for people making $30,000-$60,000 a year.

“Single-family houses are a huge part of our rental stock, and they’re spread throughout the city,” Martin said, noting that most local housing assistance in Charlotte is aimed at the multi-family market.

The Charlotte team is now preparing to prototype two ideas. The first would offer single-family landlords cash incentives to rent to tenants in the target income range. The other would offer them financial aid for home repairs. Both ideas still need work, but Martin expects testing them out with landlords and residents will give the team valuable feedback — and quickly.

The human-centered design process “helps you get to the right question faster,” she said. “Hopefully, we can get the best information possible on what incentives work for landlords, and make it as easy as possible for them to sign up.”

“If you don’t talk with the people you’re designing solutions for, you’ll never meet their needs.”

Celebrating public sector progress and innovation in cities around the world. Run by @BloombergDotOrg’s Government Innovation program. bloombergcities.org

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