Housing Supply Accelerator: An Interview with National League of Cities CEO Clarence Anthony

About This Episode

In this first episode in a new series, Emily Pasi, director of public affairs at the American Planning Association chats with Clarence Anthony, CEO of the National League of Cities (NLC). Clarence and NLC are partners alongside APA on the Housing Supply Accelerator.

The Housing Supply Accelerator is a national campaign to improve local capacity, identify critical solutions, and speed reforms that enable communities and developers to work together to produce, preserve, and provide diverse, attainable, and equitable housing by realigning the efforts of public and private stakeholders in the housing sector to meet housing needs at the local level. The two discuss the importance of elected officials, home builders, real estate professionals, bankers, and community planners coming together to address the housing supply crisis; how partnerships can address housing supply barriers; the solutions outlined in the newly released Housing Supply Accelerator Playbook; and much more.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00.000] - Emily Pasi

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the APA podcast. I'm your host, Emily Pasi, Director of Public Affairs at the American Planning Association. Joining me today is Clarence Anthony, CEO of the National League of Cities. Clarence and NLC are partners alongside APA on the Housing Supply Accelerator. The Housing Supply Accelerator is a national campaign to improve local capacity, identify critical solutions, and speed reforms that enable communities and developers to work together to produce, preserve, and provide diverse, attainable, and equitable housing by realigning the efforts of public and private stakeholders in the housing sector to meet housing needs at the local level. Clarence, thank you so much for joining us today.


[00:00:57.980] - Clarence Anthony

Oh, Emily, thank you all so much for inviting me to be a part of the podcast. I'm excited to talk with you and your subscribers.


[00:01:07.240] - Emily Pasi

Let's get into it. Clarence, NLC has long engaged on the issue of housing. Tell me, why did housing, and particularly housing supply, become a priority for NLC?


[00:01:20.990] - Clarence Anthony

I think that our members have always recognized that the ability to own a house or to be housed is important in their lives, in their communities, as well as in the lives of their family. We also recognize, and municipal officials recognize that housing is one of the most important elements of building wealth. With those kinds of lens, they've really focused over the years on the issue of housing. But as you know and your membership as the leadership knows from the American Planning Association, the pandemic did something different. It caused something different in our eyes as it related to housing. It really provided an opportunity for us in America to sit in front of a television and watch day after day data and research and the stark economic decline that had occurred in the area of housing, especially for people of color in America. It was the moment that we said, Wow, this is something that we've been focused on for years, but it's more time now to make a stronger commitment to the issue of not just affordable housing, but quality housing, access to housing of all sorts, whether it is the purchase of a housing unit or the mere fact of renting a place in America.


[00:03:18.530] - Clarence Anthony

I can't believe that I'm still saying this after being in public policy for all of these years, but it's still on the forefront. It's still a priority as it relates to policy issues as the federal emergency programs like emergency rental assistance, community block grants, CDBGs, Home Improvement Partnership programs. I can go on and on. These are essential programs to cities, and therefore, they're essential programs to elect at leaders. And of course, there are programs that are important as it relates to housing crisis in America, and that's why it's important to the National League of Cities.


[00:04:13.270] - Emily Pasi

And why was it important for elected officials to come together with community planners, specifically, to address this housing supply crisis that we're facing? What perspectives is it that planners bring to the table, bring to elected officials that position them for success on this issue?


[00:04:31.980] - Clarence Anthony

I think back, and this is a throwback week, if you will, in my mind. I was in grad school at Florida Atlantic University, and my planning program. Dr. Jim Nicholas gives me a plot of land, and every planning student has experienced this, and said, We want you to develop a a development, one that will provide housing, job opportunities, recreational opportunities. I got a chance to create my downtown. I did it. I made this presentation. The element that he did also say that I forgot, he said, And you have to make money off of this. So it has to be... You are the developer. I made my presentation and he said, Mr. Anthony, where is your affordable housing? I said, Well, Dr. Nuccero, you told me that we needed to make money off of the development. All of a sudden, as a planner, I found myself thinking about how to make this economically palatable, and I didn't think about the need to create comprehensive plan that was inclusive of affordable housing. I think as planners, working with elected officials, that balance works because you got to be able to have both at the table, both that have the same vision.


[00:06:20.210] - Clarence Anthony

You go through a charrette process, and you may have this great vision from your perspective as a professional planner. But I will tell you, the elected official's principles and ideas and knowledge of what the community needs is also essential. As we have been able to bring together all of the elected to this work that we're doing on housing supply, the Housing Accelerator Initiative that we're working together on, while also having professional planners from both the public and private sector has been eye-opening for all of us to be able to share perspectives, to be able to design policies and recommendations that's inclusive, not just of the elected and American planners, but we've been able to bring the home builders, the National Realtors, and the Banking Association to sit around the table and to talk about why housing supply is and should be the top priority for America at this time, not only housing supply, but home ownership and the availability. I think back, I knew nothing about stacks at that time. I knew nothing about how did you really zone property to deal with the density issue at that. This was my first planning class. I don't remember if I passed or not, but I got my graduate degree, so that was all that was important.


[00:08:15.370] - Clarence Anthony

But I think the bottom line, Emily, it's essential that we have every player at the table because it's not just one person's responsibility, one industry. We got to be able to sit down and to learn about what is the What are the banking needs to be able to provide affordable housing? What are the land issues? What are the infrastructure issues that we're going to face? Then also, what about the community? What do they want to see in their community? Do they just want to see affordable housing with no intent of the visual look of it? That's why both have to be at the table, but it has to be more than even the elected officials and the It also have to be those also that historically have created barriers, and now they're ready to open the doors for you to go into your home. I'm excited about what all of us are doing to work together.


[00:09:17.430] - Emily Pasi

Well said. It's about bringing all of the players in that housing ecosystem together to find those common solutions and move those forward. You hit on barriers a little bit, and I want to explore that in a little a little more detail. What barriers do local elected officials face to building more housing, and what do you need specifically to overcome those obstacles?


[00:09:40.120] - Clarence Anthony

I do think we have a major responsibility to prioritize the issue of housing in communities all over America. Because this conversation, if I'm honest, sometimes point fingers at the elected or the government level, talking about the zoning issues or the permitting issues, time to get permits. I think that the real opportunity here for municipal issues is to set a table and talk about what your responsibility is as an elected in your fiduciary responsibility to carry out housing policy in your community. I think the first thing we think about is we have a responsibility for the health and safety of those residents that live in that community. In our inspection process, in our zoning processes, in our approval process, if When a development or a housing home falls down and apart, the first people they're going to look at is, how could that local government approve that development that is not saved? Also, why are they approving these projects that are all on top of each other with a church on one side and a nightclub on the other side, next to a school? I could even go further. Next to a school with my house, my personal house.


[00:11:38.620] - Clarence Anthony

Now, that's really bad. But that's the fiduciary responsibility that we have to make sure that whatever we approved is coming to the community that we live in, the place that we want to call home. However, There are some ways that we can work to make sure that the community recognize that we do take that responsibility serious. One is what we got to do public outreach and public education at the beginning of the process. Let's make sure that we engage the community on the land use issues. Let's make sure that we talk to the developer, the bankers, to make them understand what process that we are and need to go through in order for this project to be approved. I think that we also need to educate everyone about our policy process in advance so that you can put together your financing and your planning of your construction in line with the local government's programming and process. I also think that to overcome this, we got to make sure that we create an Intergovernmental framework to make sure that we talk about what housing supply we want to preserve and what housing supply we want to improve.


[00:13:27.780] - Clarence Anthony

Again, all of this is about communicating, communicating, communicating. Because I think that a lot of times we don't, most don't understand that we have a real fiduciary responsibility to create a community that is inclusive, inclusive in housing, inclusive in our workforce, inclusive in our representation, and most importantly, create a place that people can call home. No matter your background or your zip code or who you pray to, it should be a place that you can call home. I think that elected officials feel that they have a responsibility to do that. But where we're not, we need to hear it and work with those other partners to make sure that they have the tools and techniques they need to be able to achieve their goals building homes that are acceptable in our communities.


[00:14:36.090] - Emily Pasi

And this is really where the NLC APA Housing Supply Accelerator Partnership comes into play. You've alluded to this a little bit, Clarence, but talk really specifically about how the partnership can help to address the barriers that you just identified.


[00:14:51.850] - Clarence Anthony

I don't know if people recognize this, but this was the first time this has ever happened ever in America, in the world. I always have to go bigger than neighborhoods in the world. The world, it really did. It was an opportunity for us to address the barriers, to talk through those challenges. At the national level, the housing supply accelerator, it just allowed city leaders and local leaders, elected and community planners, to provide their perspective, to have a conversation, to learn from each other in a collegial manner, and to ask questions about why you're doing that, the role of cities and the role of the private sector in regards to helping to create or address the shortage. Just imagine that sitting at a table having a conversation in 2024 and not pointing fingers, but looking for solutions. It aligned these stakeholders in a way to really focus on the pipeline that had not been done in the past. I could tell you, what I learned there was that if we put our heads together, we can come up with shared, one, shared thinking, two, shared responsibility to move the needle at the local level to produce, preserve, improving housing supply for everybody in America.


[00:16:41.580] - Clarence Anthony

I can tell you, I wasn't the easiest person to just sit there and listen to one sector blame local government. I pushed back, and then they responded. But most of all, I can tell you, I learned a lot on the finance side that I had not learned before from a developer's perspective. I also learned that it was really tough on planning professionals because you focused on the land or the community, specifically from a professional perspective. However, there's also the community and political perspective that also is mixed into decision making. We achieved our in setting that table, and I know that we'll continue to do that in the future.


[00:17:38.800] - Emily Pasi

Yeah, beyond these really fruitful conversations that were had across four convenings, Last year with the core partners you talked about, one of the key outcomes was the Housing Supply Accelerator Playbook. How will the policy recommendations and solutions identified in this playbook help elected leadership leaders and planners overcome their housing shortage challenges?


[00:18:05.640] - Clarence Anthony

Yeah. First of all, we just went through basketball, play-off. We've gone to the Other playoffs with the college. A playbook is important right now for all of us to think through. But one of the things, if you think about the playbook of those teams, the first thing is it's different for every team, whether it's South Carolina, Iowa, LSU, all of those teams are different. So the playbook has to be different. We recognize that it's a resource for local leaders and planners who want to address housing supply challenges in their community, for their team, for their cities. And this is a resource for both the public and private sector who really deal with the productivity of housing, again, in their cities, towns, and villages. And those who will read it and use it will see where they play a role in trying to achieve housing, whether they're going to be the guard, whether they're going to be the three A-point shooter. They got to be at the table on the court playing the game. I know that a lot of folks are going to say, he is stretching this football analogy big time. But you really think about it.


[00:19:45.580] - Clarence Anthony

It really is. I mean, you can play offense all you want, and you can lose what we're trying to achieve. You got to have defense. You got to have the right players. We got APA in NLC, bankers, realtors, home builders on the team. Now all we got to do is get out there and work together to achieve housing supply. I think by analogy, if nothing else says this, we need to make sure that people recognize in their communities that one size does not fit all. This playbook is not prescriptive for every community. Every recommendation won't work in every community, but it acknowledges the unique challenges that communities face. I'd say it recognizes that there are different markets in communities, financial needs in communities. It's just a range of ideas and solutions solutions that can be tailored or adapted to your community. But the bottom line, we encourage local leaders to engage with housing-related stakeholders, both public and private sector, and gain a deeper understanding of their local housing supply challenges and encourage cities to seek to learn from pure cities. Again, I love that the playbook includes options for cities to consider as they think through solving their construction and development and finance and land use and regulation challenges.


[00:21:43.720] - Clarence Anthony

Different regions even have different challenges. We got some examples from Kirkland, Washington. The city of Kirkland developed two innovative programs to enhance housing and promote sustainable construction practices within their community. The pre-approved DTAC Accessory Dwelling Unit program offers homeowners a streamlined process to add affordable living space to their properties by using pre-approved plans. They benefited from expedited permitting review and reduced design fees. I think that those are the kinds of initiatives that we need to to think about how can you pre-approve certain pieces of the program. Jackson, Mississippi have major challenges with their housing quality as well as supply. But they partner with the Mississippi Manufactured Housing Association, Rosemont Human Services, and the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of the region. They launched an initiative to boost quality affordable housing options through manufactured home. So again, the playbook is not one size that fit all, but there are some ideas that you can pick through and say, That looks like my community. It could work in my city. And that's the whole goal through this collaboration that we've had with the APA.


[00:23:26.760] - Emily Pasi

Yeah, I love that word solutions that you said. Ed, the Housing Supply Accelerator Playbook is really a playbook of solutions that will help to supercharge local efforts on housing supply and meet folks where they are. So really exciting deliverable coming out of this collaborative national partnership. Speaking of partnerships and collaboration, these are two key themes that you'll notice running throughout the Housing Supply Accelerator playbook. Clarence, why is it important that elected leaders, community planners, home builders, realtors, and bankers come together now to have these really hard conversations and to embrace this shared vision and agenda for local progress on housing supply?


[00:24:12.750] - Clarence Anthony

I think as we look at America and the time that we're in, we have a lot of challenges as local leaders. We have a lot of challenges in the banking industry, the real estate industry. We should probably Probably say, Wow, why didn't we do this earlier? But sometimes the right time is now, and now is the right time to bring these partners together. I think the housing supply challenges that we see that are persisting today did not happen overnight, and not one actor was responsible for the challenges that we are seeing today. With that said, for the housing supply challenges to be addressed at the local level, there just needs to be shared responsibility to solve the issues today. We at the National League of Cities, we recognize that that it will take our elected leaders, community planners, home builders, realtors, the financial institutions, to take part of recognizing that in history, all of us had some responsibility to play in our housing and zoning laws, the permitting processes that we have, the banking practices that we've had, the real estate practices that we've had that have caused some of the challenges that we've had within our communities.


[00:25:54.740] - Clarence Anthony

With that responsibility, it's that time now for us to set the to listen to each other, learn from one another, and have hard conversations about how we're going to work together to overcome some of the challenges that we've had in the past. We got to, I would use the word, embrace a common vision about what we want in our community and understand that we're not going to agree on everything, but we can find find actionable ways to come to some consensus that gets to the bottom line of this dream that everybody in America has when they were little. I want a home. I want a place that I can raise my kids. I want to be able to drive into a community, drive into my garage or my parking spot and say, I live in this city, I live in this community, and I'm going to help to improve that community. But when you don't have an investment in a place and you don't have Something that you feel like you can build wealth and grow your wealth and grow your family and look across the street and see a park or a place that you can buy a your morning coffee.


[00:27:33.070] - Clarence Anthony

That's not a place that you're going to call home. We have to be committed to working with stakeholders to help people achieve that dream. But that's what I'm about in my role every day is to be able to think about how do we create those kinds of strategies that can help people live that dream build their wealth for their family.


[00:28:03.150] - Emily Pasi

What does this work with a broad coalition of core partners mean for future local, regional, and state efforts modeled on the housing supply accelerator?


[00:28:14.360] - Clarence Anthony

Well, I think it means to the National League of Cities and me, and APA, and others that we're finally getting on the same page, that we're finally not pointing fingers at each other, but we're pointing at each other saying, so how are you doing that? We're working with each other to be able to create ideas that we can share. We're working through a coalition to create a framework for both the public and private sectors that we can do this at a national level. We're not asking the federal government to help us solve this issue. We're not asking the state government to solve this issue. We're working with local leaders, national home builders and local home builders, and we're proposing that we create this coalition that works across construction, development, finance, land use, and regulations, and workforce, and infrastructure issues to address affordable housing and a supply shortage in America. Again, this has never happened ever, and I hope that we can continue to create this table that we may, in fact, think that we actually forgot a partner that we should invite next time. It can be neighborhood groups that can be at the table.


[00:29:59.260] - Clarence Anthony

Community development corporations could be at the table. We can dream about who else should join this team that we've created and see if, in fact, we got the right people on the team at the table to come and address this major challenge we have in housing supply.


[00:30:22.100] - Emily Pasi

Well, I can say at APA, we're encouraged because we're already seeing some of our chapter organizations and individual members of members asking the question, coming up with proactive ideas around how we can build, make this table bigger, build these collaborations out at the local and other levels. So very exciting work here that we hope continues and spurs more of here in the future. Clarends, what's next for NLC's work on housing and the Housing Supply Accelerator Partnership?


[00:30:54.240] - Clarence Anthony

Well, this work is something that I'll share that that, again, it didn't happen overnight, and we need to continue to do this work in partnership with the American Planning Association. And we're looking at the launch of Housing Supply 2.0, which will launch after release of the playbook that we've done thus far. Through the Housing Supply Accelerator 2.0, I look forward to our organization releasing resources that will assist our members with producing, preserving, and improving the quantity and quality of housing units. I'm going to say again, the quality of housing units, because we can see that we may have a supply in some community, but I can tell you small and rural communities The quality of the housing, the water systems, the pipes, the infrastructure, upgrading existing dilapidating housing should be a focus as well. We plan to double down on our work on housing. We're going to continue to release resources and technical assistance that will help our city leaders make decisions to tackle this tough issue, especially around evictions, homelessness, working with institutional investors, looking at the issue of displacement. There are so many other topics that I think APA, as well as our other partners, can help inform this work as a team.


[00:32:56.060] - Clarence Anthony

If we do this together in the way that we know that we could achieve this goal, we will be the national champions every year, Emily, and we'll be able to hold up our hands, arms every year with that trophy and say, Okay, this year we won, and then next year we will win. I believe that we will be the MVPs with this program, and everybody is going to see what we did, and they're going to try to model their partnerships the same way that APA and NLC has done. That's my vision, and I'm sticking to it, and I'm excited about it.


[00:33:48.480] - Emily Pasi

Clarence, I love how you managed to pull that sports metaphor all the way through this to the very end. Incredible. Well, APA certainly shares your commitment to tackling the nation's most difficult housing challenges before us, certainly housing supply, first and foremost. Thank you, sir, for your time once again, joined today by Clarence Anthony, NLC CEO. Clarence, thank you again for your time.


[00:34:11.890] - Clarence Anthony

Thank you all for having me, and let's keep this partnership going. I'm so excited about it.


[00:34:19.620] - Emily Pasi

Thanks for listening to another episode of the APA podcast. Visit APA's website to learn more about the Housing Supply Accelerator. To hear previous episodes, visit us at planning.org/podcast. You can also subscribe to the APA podcast on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Spotify, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcast.

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