GRANT WINNER | RESIDENT SERVICES AND SUPPORT

Preservation of Affordable Housing

Cincinnati, Ohio | Wareham and Boston, Massachusetts |  Independence, Missouri

Designing Trauma-Resilient Communities reimagines affordable housing through the lens of trauma-informed care and its core principles: safety, trust, choice, collaboration and empowerment. The innovation aims to move the industry from the restrictive boundaries of the compliance mindset to a resident-centered “resilient-communities” approach based on the standard that affordable housing exists to serve residents.

Three woman holding hands with arms raised and smiling

Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) is a nonprofit developer, owner and operator of over 12,000 affordable homes in 11 states and the District of Columbia. POAH’s mission is to preserve, create and sustain affordable, healthy homes that support economic security, racial equity and access to opportunity for all.

POAH's breakthrough idea is rooted in its evolving approach to resident services, focusing on creating opportunities for residents to succeed. Since 2015, POAH has furthered that community-impact initiative by:

  • Training more than 350 staff in a newly created Community Impact department
  • Developing new data collection systems that inform Community Impact initiatives
  • Investing more than $6 million annually in its communities to promote access to new opportunities in areas like health and education and building wealth through employment and asset building

New partnerships with organizations like the Center for Trauma Informed Innovation have informed the push for a trauma-informed model that could be applied across the organization’s properties as well as transform the larger housing sector.

A girl holding up a peace sign

THE CHALLENGE

Trauma can be experienced by anyone at any time. But experiences of childhood trauma, known as Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACES, can have lifelong physical and mental health consequences. ACEs include a family member struggling with substance use, physical or sexual abuse, neglect or economic hardship. Trauma is pervasive among American adults and can have a lasting impact on the body and brain. Trauma can also be triggered by environmental factors, like a pandemic or natural disaster, or by the experience of systemic oppression. If left unaddressed, these experiences can, over time, impede resident and community success.

The consequences of personal trauma show up in POAH’s work every day: in everything from missed appointments, to late rent payments or more severe difficulty complying with lease requirements. Over time, we see lower engagement in resident services, higher turnover and stalled progress. This also takes a toll on frontline staff.

However, the negative impacts of trauma can be mitigated utilizing principles of trauma-informed care to build resilience. When people who have experienced trauma build resilience, it can be an effective way to recover and heal. While trauma-informed care has been tested and proven to strengthen outcomes in health care and education, it has not been fully embraced in affordable rental housing.

SOLUTION: DESIGNING TRAUMA-RESILIENT COMMUNITIES

POAH believes that affordable housing exists to serve its residents – and that applying trauma-informed principles to affordable housing is an idea whose time has come.

Working with residents and staff at four of its developments, POAH will develop and implement changes to resident services programs, property management practices and to the physical design of the sites, testing for efficacy along the way. Initial concepts include creating better sight lines in lobbies and corridors, revising the way unit inspections are conducted, or introducing restorative justice approaches to correcting lease violations. The team will work with key partners to document their experience and identify opportunities for systems changes, making sure what works is replicable.

As “codesigners,” residents will help ensure that both the process and outcomes promote racial justice, cultural relevance and value beyond the two-year grant. Testing for scalability across POAH’s 120 properties will undoubtedly produce insights that can be applied toward systems change to the broader multifamily industry and beyond.

“The grant’s incredible technical assistance component is unprecedented. The chance to leverage that much expertise in collaboration with Enterprise and with the support of Wells Fargo gives us the opportunity to really accelerate our breakthrough idea.”
― Julianna Stuart, POAH Communities

Preservation of Affordable Housing also will draw on its partnerships with key federal and state agencies to advance regulatory changes that support resident-centered, trauma-resilient approaches.

Partners:

  • Design Impact (Cincinnati, Ohio)
  • MASS Design Group (Boston, Massachusetts)
  • Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF) (Washington, D.C.)
  • Community Services League (Independence, Missouri)
  • Truman Medical Centers’ Center for Trauma Informed Innovation (Kansas City, Missouri)
Workers planting a tree

INTENDED RESULTS

Infusing a trauma-informed approach across the affordable housing ecosystem will create a fundamental shift in awareness and practice that moves from asking residents “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”

Designing Trauma-Resilient Communities envisions a more equitable model for affordable housing that reduces evictions; improves resident and staff retention; promotes health through physical design; and leads to helping residents gain the resiliency to pursue and realize their hopes and goals.