Preservation of Affordable Housing

Cincinnati, Ohio | East Wareham, Massachusetts |  Independence and Lamar, 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 a compliance mindset to a resilient-communities approach, centered on the premise 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. The organization specializes in turning properties at risk of being lost to market pressures or physical deterioration into homes that create economic security for residents and revitalize communities.

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

  • Training more than 350 staff
  • Developing new data-collection systems
  • Investing more than $6 million annually in its communities

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


Trauma is pervasive among American adults and disproportionately affects people of color. Trauma can have a lasting impact on the body and brain. If left unaddressed, it can continue to impede resident and community success. The principles of trauma-informed care have produced good results in health care and education, but to date have not been fully embraced by the affordable housing industry.

As the industry has sought to address the growing housing crisis, organizations like POAH have been constrained to apply a risk-management or compliance lens to their work, responding to the needs of funders and regulators. For residents, some of whom have experienced individual or community trauma, a risk-management approach can send subtle (or obvious) messages that they cannot be trusted. This approach can also frustrate front line staff. As a consequence, affordable housing owners see high resident turnover and lack of engagement in supportive services as well as disengagement and low retention among staff.


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. Suggestions might include creating better sight lines in lobbies and corridors, introducing healing color palettes and reconfiguring where staff sit in public areas. The team will work with key partners to document physical layout redesigns and 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.


  • Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF)
  • Truman Medical Centers’ Center for Trauma Informed Innovation
  • Community Services League
  • Design Impact
  • MASS Design Group
Workers planting a tree


The current – sometimes vicious – cycle of compliance was primarily designed to serve funders and public agencies, with limited resident involvement and engagement. 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.