The Housing Pandemic: A systems-level approach to affordable housing

Pavani Peri, Guest Contributor

July 6, 2022

“There was a housing pandemic before the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important to recognize that.” says Josie Williams, Executive Director of the Greensboro Housing Coalition. Affordable, healthy, safe, and accessible housing was difficult to sustain before COVID-19 in cities like Greensboro. Growing populations and economic development made housing more expensive and harder to find. 

“Creating and maintaining access to affordable, healthy, and equitable housing requires a systems-level solution” says Josie. She’s experienced homelessness. And, she brings her lived experience to advocate for a systems-level change to the way local governments provide their residents with resources to thrive. 

“Housing is not just a roof over your head. It encompasses your mental state and overall well- being. We know place matters. Where you live determines your access to health, basic life needs, and necessities to thrive, not just survive.” 

A Holistic Approach

That’s why the Greensboro Housing Coalition (GHC) advocates for a range of systems-level policies and services that address the holistic problems around affordable housing. The GHC works with residents on foreclosure prevention, rental counseling, maintaining healthy homes by providing residents with third party inspections, community engagement to lift up voices of residents, and advocacy for environmental justice. 

GHC not only advocates for residents on a case-by-case basis to prevent homelessness and foreclosure, it also advocates in front of the City and legislative bodies to secure healthy and safe homes for everybody. 

GHC provides housing counseling to individuals and families in crisis and those experiencing chronic homelessness. The organization’s Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD)-certified counselors also provide budget and financial training to equip individuals with the skills necessary to maintain homes and manage related expenses. GHC’s counselors also provide foreclosure prevention assistance by working with clients to assess their individual needs and determine what programs they qualify for. 

Additionally, GHC has fully certified inspectors on staff who ensure that homes are safe, address any structural issues, and mediate tenant-landlord relations so tenants can stay in their homes, and feel confident they are in safe and healthy environments. 

Image from Collaborative Cottage Grove community

Collaborative Solutions

Josie started with GHC as a Community Engagement Specialist, working on an initiative called Collaborative Cottage Grove. Collaborative Cottage Grove is a revival of purpose-built community that promotes resident-led initiatives for safe, healthy, and thriving communities. GHC works with Mustard Seed Health, New Hope Community Development Group, and the Cottage Grove Initiative to provide residents with health screenings, English as a Second Language Classes, cultural events, and home assessments. The Collaborative Cottage Grove is built on the knowledge that residents will serve and advocate for their communities alongside partnering organizations. The Collaborative Cottage Grove was essential in remediating Greensboro’s Bingham Park so that it would no longer be an environmental hazard near low-income families. The Collaborative accomplished this in collaboration with the North Carolina Department for Environmental Quality, The City of Greensboro’s Parks and Recreation Department, and UNC Greensboro. 

Safe and accessible housing encompasses physical health, mental wellbeing, access to resources, financial literacy, environmental safety, and cultural belonging. The work of the Greensboro Housing Coalition makes it clear that housing is not just about roofs, but a system that works for people experiencing hardship. As Josie says, “Navigating hardship is complex. I know because I’ve been there. At GHC, we advocate in a way where we’re not coming at people. We just want to make sure what we have is available to communities.” 

Up next, watch for a second blog on affordable housing from experts at the School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative, posting later this month.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Across 100 initiative is a 5-year program charged by Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz which will partner with communities in all 100 North Carolina Counties to aid in pandemic recovery and help build resiliency. Stay connected with Carolina Across 100 as we continue to share data and resources.