Cover of The Intersection of Community Engagement + Innovative Design in LIHTC Development with an outline of a row of buildings

Published: 2023

/ Student Work

The Intersection of Community Engagement + Innovative Design in LIHTC Development

With the continuing and growing need for affordable housing, governments all over the United States are working towards solutions to address the demand for housing particularly for low-income populations that cannot keep up with the rise in rents. One of the most prominent solutions in the past two decades is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC). Created in 1986, LIHTC is a federal subsidy used to finance the construction and rehabilitation of low-income affordable rental housing. With over 3.7 million units constructed or rehabilitated since its inception, the LIHTC program has impacted over 8 million families and is seen as one of the most successful public-private partnerships among policymakers.

Despite its achievements, the “public” is lacking in this public-private partnership. As community engagement is not a requirement or even a suggestion within a majority of the LIHTC program at the federal or state level, the presence or lack of engagement is mostly dependent on the planning code in each city and the agency of every developer. While some cities or municipalities will dictate direction for community notices or meetings, in-depth engagement is rarely ever required and most cities have no such direction at all. In scenarios where there is some requirement, developers and architects will follow the guidelines but only the smallest subset will venture beyond the minimum suggestions for outreach. Only in community-forward areas facing heightened challenges with affordable housing, such as the Bay Area or New York City, will one see opportunities for in-depth public participation surrounding an affordable housing development.

Considering the goals of the LIHTC program and the impact of real estate development, there exists a disconnect between development processes and the communities that the development serves. This disconnect could be bridged to achieve more equitable and sustainable housing solutions. Community engagement can be pursued as a standard to educate the public and build momentum in the affordable housing space all while pushing the boundaries of community-centered design.

Through literature reviews and professional interviews with developers, architects, planners, and designers, this project consolidates the context, experiences, and frameworks surrounding public engagement in affordable housing development.


Anna Lam