Affordable Housing Strategy Task Force: Mapping Collaborative Work

The Housing and Neighborhoods unit within Duke’s Durham and Community Affairs office led a two-year long process of exploration and development of an Affordable Housing Strategy Task Force. The Task Force was the precursor to a sustained Affordable Housing Council – a collaboration of Duke and Durham representatives that works to forge purposeful partnerships in housing affordability and availability for maximum community impact.

The process began with a listening session hosted by Duke’s Office of Durham and Community Affairs (DCA). 75 Durham community members and leaders met at the Community Family Life & Recreation Center at Lyon Park to discuss and think critically about Duke’s partnerships in affordable housing in Durham. Several theme’s emerged and Duke captured the highlights.

Using the feedback and data collected, the Duke unit transitioned the facilitation of an existing group of housing partners to a more formalized Affordable Housing Strategy Task Force and began meeting monthly to reflect on the community’s needs. After the initial listening session, much of the task force work occurred remotely, though ideally it would happen in-person. This early work sets the foundation for an Affordable Housing Council that will guide future housing affordability collaborations between Duke and Durham.

Phase 1 – Data Review & Consensus  

Using the Technology of Participation (ToP) Facilitation model, DDNP first led workshops to brainstorm with task force members to collect ideas and answers to the core question “What key housing efforts should we focus on collectively in the next 3-5 years to increase availability of and access to affordable housing.” This process allows everyone’s ideas to be heard and to help the group find common ground and uncover strengths. Time was spent discussing and clarifying five central themes which would go on to become topics for working groups. This phase took about three months to complete.

Phase 2 – Forming Working Groups

Each theme was developed into a working group where members could envision solutions to improving housing affordability and availability. Each group had three active members committed to engaging in discussion, exploration and refinement of ideas and possibilities. For many members, this was a new way of engaging in collaboration that required flexibility to allow for continued conversation and reflection rather than rushing to a solution. The conversations in smaller working groups and across the entire collective were essential to allowing individuals to hear perspectives, share historical wisdom and elaborate more on the initial vision. Duke faculty, staff, alumni, and for-profit businesses were invited to contribute alongside nonprofit and municipal stakeholders as their work aligned on the themes. Working Groups were tasked with creating summary statements for the work of their group.  This collective process of discussing the issues, current realities, gaps and challenges and took approximately two months.

Phase 3 – Action Planning

During action planning committed working groups began creating a list of actions to achieve the work group’s goals. Once a list of action steps was created, groups examined them and determined what piece or pieces were seen as the collective priority. These priority items were identified and broken down into more detailed steps that included tasks to accomplish each selected action. As working groups completed this work, they were led by the understanding that they had ownership over driving this work to fruition over the next year and to consider capacities, priorities, and to include any missing stakeholders that could bring knowledge or capacity to their efforts. Once groups had thoroughly outlined their priority action plans, they reported out to the whole group their key actions and issues requiring further investigation. Whole group reflection allowed for positive feedback and confirmation of alignment to priorities as well as opportunities to adjust thinking and explore ideas or potential roadblocks that were brought forward through expertise and experience from the larger group.  The workgroup activities continued for another six months. Below is an example of one action plan for Accessing More Land.

Phase 4 – Coordination

Working with their action plans, the working groups each created proposals for how to collaborate or find resources that might be needed to accomplish the group’s goals. For example, funding sources, research data, municipal support, student connections, or policy guidance. Working in this collaborative way is a learning process.  Part of this process helps working group representatives find a new way for community partnership with Duke as a facilitator rather than owner, stewarding a less transactional process. Educational sessions supported the work to facilitate conversations among working group stakeholders. For example, workshops helped connect homelessness and housing security and housing affordability which are treated separately, but can support each other.

In July 2021, the final phase of planning began. After action and task planning it was determined by groups that three of the five working groups would continue forward. Participants that were a part of the working group that decided to stop their work at the previous stage identified and committed to one of the others.  The three actionable ideas that continued to the final stage were Housing Land Inventory (Accessing More Land), Wealth Creation (Closing the Wealth Gap), and Fayetteville Street Corridor (Housing and Transit). The coordination process lasted four months.

Phase 5 – Launch: Funding Proposals to Accomplish Goals Collaboratively

After coordination, the groups launched funding proposals for goals that felt achievable. All proposals and recommendations derive from the working group process.

Over the next four months each work group prepared a proposal that included elements that had been discussed and adapted collectively over the last year and a half. These proposals could request support to implement their action plans and goals related to Duke’s Strategic Community Impact Plan (SCIP) Housing Goals. Funding came from DCA’s allocation for collective impact projects through the five focus areas. The three workgroups submitted proposals in January 2022 for review. Of the three, one received external funding to complete an initial study. Another group’s priority warrants further discussion planned for in the next steps. The third is launching with support from Duke (Accessing More Land).

Next Steps

Using the results of the Task Force process, proposals and identified priorities will lay the foundation for the discussion items on the agenda of the newly established Affordable Housing Council. The council will be a smaller group of thought leaders from the triangle area and will represent a variety of partners who have collective expertise and interest in positively impacting the housing landscape in Durham.

Recognizing the increase in Durham’s housing needs and Duke’s limited resources, the Affordable Housing Council has a responsibility to build a new framework that has the capacity to engage multiple partners in collective impact conversations. Going forward, the vision is that the council will catalyze innovation, facilitate knowledge transfer, and invest in sustainable projects that achieve measurable outcomes. After two to three years the identified priorities will be refreshed through a consensus with a broad group of affordable housing partners gathering to identify new or reoccurring key priorities for the Affordable Housing Council to focus on in its next term.

Documenting the evolution of the affordable housing work is important as it innovates and reshapes the collaborative process between Duke and the community, and it serves as a model for other councils looking to solve community identified needs through long-term partnerships.

v. October 2022