Appendix 5. Best practices for community engagement in rehabilitation
Community engagement focuses on building relationships and trust with residents and is heavily influenced by historic policies and practices that continue to shape housing options in neighborhoods. This is particularly true if there is a prevalence of properties in the neighborhood that do not meet health and safety standards along with a concentration of publicly supported housing, including Housing Choice Vouchers.
In order to effectively engage existing residents, clear messaging and ongoing communication will be critical. However, small scale development focused on acquisition of at-risk properties, including unsubsidized affordable properties, do not provide many opportunities for community input. As a result, clear and consistent messaging to keep residents informed becomes an important form of engagement for this type of development.
Consider the impact of rehabilitation activities on current residents who occupy the unit, building, and adjacent properties.
- Educate residents about health and safety issues that rehab activities aim to address.
- Communicate with residents within vicinity of rehab about upcoming development activities and be transparent, as much as possible, on the impacts to residents.
- Clearly and consistently articulate information about timeline and outcomes.
IDENTIFY RESIDENT LEADERS AND KEY STAKEHOLDERS
Early on consider partnerships that can support the development team with engagement of existing residents. Current resident leaders and other community stakeholders who have an established presence and relationships in the community can help bridge trust among residents.
Existing within the community are resident leaders and key stakeholders who can provide context to what has transpired to date with a particular property or properties within a neighborhood block. Resident leaders and community stakeholders, including community centers, schools, social service agencies, or churches, are groups that are embedded in the community and have ongoing relationships, as a result, they are positioned to help support meaningful communication with residents given limited opportunities for broad community involvement.
Keeping key stakeholders informed of progress is an approach to engagement that can help foster transparent communication. Make sure these key stakeholders understand the broader intentions of the development. Small scale development activities provide renewed opportunities for establishing relationships that can nurture trust and can be leveraged during future phases of development.
Due to limited community involvement based on the development type, it will be important for the development team to provide broader context to preservation activities by articulating the community benefit the developer wants to see.
COMMUNICATING THE COMMUNITY BENEFIT
- Key stakeholders can take many forms whether they are formalized groups or informal entities that have established relationships with residents.
- Neighborhood association or block groups are a great way to keep residents up to date on development activities, progress, and any unexpected delays or challenges in the process.
- Meet people where they are. Consider meeting places where people organically gather and community members come together. Consider central locations for commercial activity, such as convenience stores, grocery stores, or laundromats.
A core component to community engagement with this type of development will be balancing timing after acquisition of at-risk properties and once funding has been secured and making sure that rehab activities are communicated out. While development timelines can be fluid it is essential to utilize community stakeholders to help level set expectations with residents. Providing residents with a timeline while not over promising on the community benefit. It is important to provide realistic timelines for when things are going to happen and what is going to happen.
FLUID DEVELOPMENT TIMELINES AND COMMUNICATING THE BENEFIT
- Help people know and understand intentions, plans, and timelines dependent on funding.
- Educate residents on funding sources that will be utilized for preservation and any impact on timeline.
- Factor in any delays or impacts to the development that weather can pose.
- Consider variables that can affect timeline and communicate those generalities to the community.
- Establish a feedback loop with community stakeholders because they’ll more often than not be the first point of contact with residents. It is critical to keep these groups informed and aware of progress and any challenges encountered along the way.
SPECTRUM OF PARTICIPATION
INCREASING LEVEL OF COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT, IMPACT, TRUST, AND COMMUNICATION FLOW
The image above demonstrates the full spectrum that engagement can take with increased public participation. In order to achieve the full spectrum of engagement with shared leadership, it requires broad institutional support. While small scale development, including preservation of naturally occurring affordable housing, may not include such coordinated institutional backing. Despite limited opportunity to achieve the full spectrum of engagement, the development team is positioned to establish an information sharing approach that cultivates relationships and trust with impacted residents or those within vicinity of development activities.
OUTREACH TO IMPACTED RESIDENTS CAN BE APPLIED TO:
- Identify the character defining aspects of the neighborhood and buildings to help inform design solutions.
- Understand the relationship between local development standards and impact on neighborhood conditions.
- Assess building code, health and safety, and energy standard considerations.
- Inventory, document, and archive health and safety violations and inadequate or substandard housing.
PHASING OUTREACH TO RESIDENTS
Part of the outreach approach should communicate immediate impacts on adjacent units before questions are raised by residents.
- During vacancy and construction.
- Process for dealing with negative impacts
It will be essential to setup a website, this could be a Facebook page to limit costs and administrative burden, that residents can access to get the latest updates on the project. Alternatively establish a physical location, such as a community center, library, or school, that acts as a clearinghouse for all project related information and updates. Ideally, all information will be available digitally along with hard copies.
In collaboration with key stakeholder groups at the neighborhood level, establish online and in person protocols for engagement. It is best to provide more communication leading up to the start of construction.
Possible questions to field include:
- What was happening with the structure beforehand?
- Who is managing the property?
- What issues is rehab intended to address?
RELOCATION OF EXISTING RESIDENTS
If a property currently has subsidies attached to the unit(s) or if through rehab housing subsidies will be added, then there are important relocation procedures to consider. If the development team does not have prior experience dealing with housing subsidies and relocation regulations it will be important to bring partners to the development team with relocation expertise.
- Work with property managers who have experience with residents and relocation processes.
- Bring on an experienced Compliance Specialist who has experience with the regulations and can manage the process as development gets underway.
- Property managers have unique access to residents and can help inform moving timetables.
- Prioritize who gets to move back first, if at all. Utilize lease terms and impact on housing subsidies to help inform prioritization.
 Principals of Community Engagement, Second Edition (2011), Clinical and Translational Science Awards Consortium, Community Engagement Key Function Committee Task Force on the Principles of Community Engagement. Retrieved here.