The popularity of housing trust funds is attributable in large part to their inherent flexibility. They can be designed to serve the most critical housing needs in each community, whatever those may be – from establishing long term affordable rental housing for families with the lowest incomes to supporting homeownership, funding new construction as well as rehabilitation that can revitalize neighborhoods, and addressing the needs of special populations. Defining the key elements of your housing trust fund proposal is a critical first step toward establishing a housing trust fund that will be efficient, effective, and responsive to your community’s needs.
Your proposal will identify who will administer it, what and who the fund will support, and how it will be funded. Each of these elements must be included for an effective proposal, including some distinct details discussed below.
Usually, an elected body (state legislature, county commission or city council) establishes a housing trust fund by passing a resolution, ordinance or legislation. To become law, the proposal must typically go through several steps. These steps not only vary from one jurisdiction to another but may also vary within any given jurisdiction, depending on the details of what is being proposed.
A proposal must be “meaty” enough that it can be turned into a law that creates the housing trust fund you want. It must include each element you consider essential. For example, if you want the fund to benefit those who earn less than 50% of median income, then this requirement must written into the law establishing the fund. If you want the fund to be used for rental assistance, or if you want nonprofit organizations to be eligible for funding, this should be clearly stated.
But there are limits. If the law is too detailed, the fund cannot adapt to future challenges, accommodate needed changes, or operate as a flexible, creative instrument. Remember that those who administer and oversee the trust may not be as supportive and excited about its potential as you are. Therefore, to ensure that the fund does what it was intended to do, your proposal needs to include what your group sees as the most important objectives and elements. Even if the current climate is very supportive, this may not always be the case, and what is actually passed into law is the most protection you have of ensuring the sustainability of an effective housing trust fund.
There are two objectives here. First, you want to develop a good proposal that will create the housing trust fund needed in your community. The goal is to put on the table your group’s ideal housing trust fund. Second, your group needs to understand which elements are essential. Some parts of a trust fund are desirable, even important, but your group may be willing to compromise on them. But if other aspects are not part of the fund, you may decide to stop advocating for it. A clear example here is whom the fund will benefit. If it is not going to serve your constituency, then it probably is not worth your time. It is these uncompromising elements that should be well understood and agreed upon when your campaign begins.