What We Learned at the Illinois Affordable Housing Forum

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Last month, we attended the Illinois Affordable Housing Forum (IAHF) in Chicago, a conference held by ​​the Illinois Housing Council for leaders in affordable housing to discuss relevant issues related to operating affordable housing communities. The conference provided inspiration for ways our team can further meet the affordable housing and resident program needs in our communities. We hope that our ideas can inspire the same advancements at your affordable housing communities. 

Leveraging Services to Build Greater Community

Social services are important for the well-being of residents and increase the value of affordable properties. An essential piece of our social services delivery are health and wellness programs. Community partners are essential to provide this programming, so we focus on building productive partnerships with neighboring experts. These can be local health providers, mental health services, fitness programs or creative outlets. 

As a mission-based provider, our community outreach for programs creates opportunities to build an extended community around our purpose. Learning from other mission-based housing providers in IAHF’s network has inspired us to be creative when mutually beneficial relationships arise. 

Most recently, a small relationship in the community inspired an entire community program focused on building intergenerational relationships for our residents. The Embracing Generations program connects residents with local high school students for wellness activities and community service. The program is active in one of our downtown communities, and we are aiming to expand this program in other community areas over the next few years. 

Program innovation and service excellence over our 125-year history has encouraged the development of our consulting services for other affordable housing providers looking to expand their social services offerings and operate them at the highest level. From this effort, we will continue to share ideas that might inspire IAHF’s network of providers to build a greater community through service. 

Addressing Homelessness Beyond Just Homes

Research on senior homelessness post-pandemic has revealed widespread and profound socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for seniors. A 2020 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that more than 21,000 seniors had become homeless since March of 2020, representing a 10% rise in just nine months. This population is often among those most vulnerable to suffering adverse effects of extreme poverty and financial hardship during times of crisis.

This is a major issue that affordable housing providers across Illinois are attempting to address by providing affordable homes for people experiencing homelessness. But that can’t be the end of the national conversation. Beyond just providing homes, we need to make sure that we as affordable housing providers are then providing services to residents so that they have the quality of living they deserve as human beings. This again relates to providing social services that address their needs beyond housing, especially as they relate to physical, mental and emotional health. 

We need to make sure that we’re providing homes that our residents can be proud of, along with common spaces that facilitate community and give room for programming that will enhance their time at our communities. We also enhance these communities by making sure they look and feel like welcoming, clean and safe environments. Little touches like plants, decorations and art only serve to improve resident well-being. We are addressing this through ongoing redevelopment efforts at our communities to make sure everything is accessible, up-to-date and beautiful.

Helping the Environment

At IAHF, energy efficiency was discussed in-depth, especially as policy changes have promoted sustainable modes of powering buildings through scoring preferences and financial incentives. One way we’ve addressed these changes is through partnering with an energy efficiency program offered by ComEd. This partnership helps us to replace old energy equipment with green ones, including light bulbs, refrigerators and boilers. 

Our partnership through this program has created financial savings, and we’re able to pass those savings on to programming and other community needs to help residents live well. With simple updates and practices, you can reinvest in areas that are important to the sustainability of your affordable housing operation.

Conferences like IAHF are important resources for affordable housing providers to come together and discuss the best ways to serve the populations they care for. For us, that looks like providing welcoming homes for seniors and people with disabilities where they can age healthily and comfortably. We look forward to continuing conversations with the providers we met at IAHF to see how we can work together to provide much-needed services to our residents, prevent homelessness while addressing residents’ social and health needs, and increase energy efficiencies.

To learn more about how we can help you operate more sustainable and comprehensive communities, visit https://embraceliving.org/property-solutions/