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As the United States continues to see a shortfall in its housing supply, home prices and rents have continued to outpace household incomes and units with lower rents have continued to fall out of the supply. These dynamics have created a housing crunch, particularly for low- and moderate-income people.i To tackle this challenge, we must both build more homes and preserve the homes we already have.

New housing construction has barely kept pace with household growth for the past eight years. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies, annual construction should be producing 260,000 units more than were produced in 2018 to keep up with demand while maintaining slack for normal vacancies. And while cost-burden rates have been improving among homeowners, renter cost-burdens are rising among most income groups. Nearly one-half of renter households (47 percent) experienced cost- burdens in 2018, and this figure is much higher in some areas of the country. Meanwhile, the United States’ lower-cost housing stock shrunk by four million units since 2011. For more information, see the Joint Center for Housing Studies’ State of the Nation’s Housing (2019):

SMMF properties—properties with 2 to 49 units—provide 54 percent of the nation’s rental housing and 21 percent of all housing in the United States.iv SMMF properties are a critical source of housing for lower- income households: Among the estimated 21 million rental units in SMMF buildings, 34 percent (7.1 million units) are affordable to households at 80 percent of median renter income; 57 percent (11.9 million units) to households at the median renter income, and 75 percent (15.7 million) to households at 20 percent of median renter income.v While these properties often accept tenant-based rental assistance, many of these affordable units are in buildings without property-level This portion of the SMMF stock—properties that do not receive project-level subsidies but are still affordable to lower-income households—is the focus of this toolkit.

An, B. et al. (2017). Understanding the Small and Medium Multifamily Housing Stock. Report prepared by Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. and USC Price School of Public Policy. Available at
Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. tabulation of 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) 1-year microdata. Median renter income was used instead of area median income to focus on the accessibility of rental units for renters.
There are about 1.7 million units actively subsidized at the property level in SMMF buildings nationally, which accounts for less than one-quarter of the total SMMF units affordable to households at 80 percent or less of median renter income. Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. tabulation of 2017 ACS 1-year microdata and National Housing Preservation Database.

Unsubsidized affordable SMMF housing not only represents a significant component of the affordable rental housing stock, but it can also offer a more cost-efficient way to address housing needs. Preservation efforts usually cost 30 to 50 percent less than new construction, with one study finding that new construction costs $40,000 to $71,000 more per unit than rehabilitating older units.vii

Brennan, M. et al. (2013). Comparing the Costs of New Construction and Acquisition-Rehab In Affordable Multifamily Rental Housing: Applying a New Methodology for Estimating Lifecycle Costs. Center for Housing Policy Working Paper. Available at and HUD. (2013). “Preserving Affordable Rental Housing: A Snapshot of Growing Need, Current Threats, and Innovative Solutions.” Evidence Matters. Available at

Preserving the affordability of these properties can provide a crucial source of housing that is otherwise in short supply while also yielding reasonable economic returns. But it represents new territory for many in the housing and community development field. This toolkit seeks to close the information gaps that may be preventing more developers from engaging in the preservation of unsubsidized affordable SMMF housing.


SMMF stands for small- to medium- multifamily, which this toolkit defines as properties with 2 to 49 units. This toolkit focuses on SMMF properties that are unsubsidized and affordable to lower- income households.ii This unsubsidized, yet affordable housing is sometimes referred to as “naturally occurring affordable housing” or “NOAH” in the affordable housing sector. Recognizing the social and economic forces (e.g. disinvestment and redlining), along with property and neighborhood conditions (e.g. age, physical condition, surrounding amenities), that contribute to the relative affordability of rents in these properties, we will instead use the term “unsubsidized affordable housing.”iii

Depending on the market, “lower-income households” may mean different things. This toolkit focuses on low-income households, and particularly low-income renters. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines low-income as 80 percent of the area median income. This income level is equivalent to $63,750 for a family of four in the Atlanta metro area and $67,750 for a family of four in Miami-Dade County, per HUD FY2019 Income Limits.
Additional discussion of the term “NOAH” is available in this working paper from The Reinvestment Fund:


This toolkit provides best practice recommendations and tips that will help you avoid common challenges when working on an unsubsidized affordable SMMF preservation project. The toolkit is organized into the following sections:


The strength of your relationships will affect your success at each stage of the development process. While this is not unique to unsubsidized affordable SMMF preservation, it is especially important in these projects because they often represent new territory for many of the partners that will be necessary to bring a deal to life. In particular, strong relationships can help overcome common barriers found at the outset of unsubsidized affordable SMMF projects – finding the right property, acquiring it on favorable terms, and assembling sufficient financing to preserve it. This toolkit highlights the impact of several key relationships on the viability of your unsubsidized affordable SMMF preservation project, along with tips to build and strengthen those relationships.


There are fewer systems in place and less widespread understanding of the characteristics that make unsubsidized affordable SMMF properties strong candidates for preservation, which can create more work for you at the outset of a project. Tips in this toolkit are designed to make that property identification process easier, including an overview of characteristics to consider in any market and recommended frameworks for property identification in Atlanta and Miami, specifically.


Unsubsidized affordable SMMF preservation is often viewed by financiers as a niche market and many existing financing products for affordable housing are not designed for this property type. These factors can make it difficult to assemble sufficient financing for preservation. This toolkit provides an overview of financial products that can support your unsubsidized affordable SMMF preservation project, along with an interactive tool through which you can evaluate project feasibility and potential financing gaps to help you build appropriate financing strategies.


Much of the negotiation and deal closing process for SMMF properties will be similar to other development projects. However, there are specific risks to be mindful of that may be more likely with this property type. These risks increase with the complexity of your project, particularly based on the financing and level of rehabilitation you pursue. This section of the toolkit outlines the common pitfalls that can disrupt or delay the closing process for unsubsidized affordable SMMF preservation, along with tips for addressing them, to help you better plan for and mitigate potential risks at this stage of a project.


Since unsubsidized affordable SMMF properties tend to be older, they often require some level of rehabilitation to bring them up to code or improve their habitability. The toolkit provides an overview of five topics that may uniquely impact an unsubsidized affordable SMMF project: 1) zoning and building codes; 2) health and safety needs; 3) energy efficiency; 4) disaster resilience; and 5) existing residents and community members.


Effective and cost-efficient property management is critical to successfully preserving affordability after rehabilitation or refinancing. Since preservation may or may not include the use of subsidy to maintain the property’s affordability, this section outlines the unique considerations you must account for when managing an unsubsidized affordable SMMF property or when managing a newly subsidized SMMF property. The toolkit also highlights several strategies you can use to minimize operating expenses through property management.

Since local context significantly impacts all development projects, the toolkit also provides a more detail about unsubsidized affordable SMMF preservation in Atlanta, GA and Miami, FL—two communities that have already identified preservation of the unsubsidized affordable SMMF stock as a key strategy for addressing housing affordability.viii

This local attention on unsubsidized affordable SMMF preservation is evidenced in a variety of recent planning efforts in Atlanta and Miami, including HouseATL, the City of Atlanta’s Housing Action Plan, Miami Connect Capital, the City of Miami’s Housing Plan and the Miami-Dade County Housing Plan.



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Information specific to Atlanta, GA


in Atlanta, GA


There are an estimated 284,208 rental units in SMMF properties in the Atlanta five-county metro area (Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties), which represents 50 percent of the total rental housing stock. The largest share of these units is in buildings with 10 to 19 units (35 percent of all SMMF rental units), followed by buildings with 5 to 9 buildings (29 percent).


A majority (56 percent) of SMMF rental units in the Atlanta metro area are affordable to households at the median renter income ($43,700) and belowix. This is 10 percentage points higher than the share of all rental units in the Atlanta metro area that are affordable to households at the median renter income and below. Nearly 30 percent of SMMF rental units are affordable at 80 percent of median renter income ($34,960) and below, compared with 25 percent of rental units across the Atlanta metro area. Units affordable to the lowest income renters (i.e. those at 60 percent of median renter income [$26,220] and below) are similarly distributed among SMMF properties and in all rental properties in the Atlanta metro area.


The vast majority of these affordable SMMF units do not receive project-based subsidies. While, nationally, 24 percent of affordable SMMF units are actively subsidized at the project-level, only 3 percent of affordable SMMF units in Atlanta receive active project-based subsidies (largely using HOME subsidies, Section 8 project-based vouchers, and Low- Income Housing Tax Credits).



The median renter income was tabulated from 2017 ACS 1-year microdata and is not equivalent to HUD income limits. HUD income limits include homeowners and are adjusted for household size. The 2017 median renter income in the Atlanta metro area was roughly equivalent to 55 percent of the HUD-defined area median income.


Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. tabulation of data from the National Housing Preservation Database.
Distribution of SMMF Units by Building Size
Atlanta Metro Area (2017)
Units Affordable at Different Income Levels
Atlanta Metro Area (2017)

in Miami, FL


In Miami-Dade County, there are an estimated 189,428 rental units in SMMF properties, which represents 44 percent of the total rental housing stock. Compared to the Atlanta metro area, these units tend to be in larger SMMF buildings. The largest share of SMMF rental units is in buildings with 20 to 49 units (33 percent of all SMMF rental units), followed by buildings with 10 to 19 units (27 percent). See Appendix 1 for more data.


Nearly 40 percent of SMMF rental units in Miami-Dade County are affordable to households at the median renter income ($35,000) and below.xi A majority (59 percent) of SMMF rental units in Miami-Dade County are affordable to households at 120 percent of median renter income ($42,000) and below. In contrast, most rental units in Miami-Dade County are not.


Few affordable SMMF units in Miami-Dade County (7 percent) receive active project-based subsidies. Those that are subsidized most commonly receive funding through HOME, Section 8 project-based vouchers, Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, and subsidies from the State of Florida.


The 2017 median renter income in Miami-Dade County was roughly equivalent to 64 percent of the HUD-defined area median income
Distribution of SMMF Units by Building Size
Miami-Dade County (2017)
Units Affordable at Different Income Levels
Miami-Dade County (2017)



Housing is considered affordable when the cost does not exceed 30 percent of a household’s income. Affordability is tied to income; this toolkit focuses primarily on the preservation of housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income households.


A household is considered low-income when their income is at or below 80 percent of the area median income. A household may be considered moderate-income if their income is between 80 percent and 120 percent of the area median income. Area median income is $79,700 in the Atlanta metro area and $54,900 in Miami-Dade County, per FY2019 HUD Income Limits.


The median household income for all renter households in an area. This metric is used to assess affordability throughout this toolkit to better capture demand for SMMF rentals. According to estimates from 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year microdata, the 2017 median renter income in the Atlanta metro area was $43,700 and in Miami-Dade County was $35,000. Median renter income is not adjusted for household size and is often lower than area median income (which includes both renters and homeowners). As such, median renter incomes do not correspond to HUD income limits or definitions of low-income, very low-income, or extremely low-income based on HUD income limits.


Preventing the loss of currently affordable units from the available and affordable housing stock. Preservation activities may include refinancing, improving or modernizing existing properties to ensure they remain affordable to households at specific income levels and livable.


Residential buildings with 2 to 49 units.



This toolkit was made possible with funding from JPMorgan Chase, State Farm Insurance Companies, South Florida Health Foundation, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Charles M. and Mary D. Grant Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Mary Allen Lindsey Branan Foundation. Many thanks to our funders; this toolkit would not have been possible without your support.


Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership – Ashani O’Mard and Tayani Suma

Carrfour Supportive Housing – Stephanie Berman and Paola Roman

Civitas Communities – Derrick Barker

Community Investment Corporation – Anne Cole and Stacie Young

Dynamic Development Enterprise, LLC – Sulé Carpenter Enterprise Community Investment – Christopher Hermann

Enterprise Community Loan Fund – Eve Goldstein-Siegel and Will Lambe

Florida Community Loan Fund – Ignacio Esteban and Jim Walker

Metro Atlanta Public Sector Preservation Collaborative Miami-Dade County – James McCall and Clarence Brown

Miami Homes for All – Annie Lord and Evian White de Leon

New Urban Development – Keith Franklin

NOAH Impact Fund – Erin Anderson

oaksATL – Matt Maxwell

Omni Community Redevelopment Agency – Adam Old

Preservation of Affordable Housing – Haris Domond and Vince O’Donnell

Quest Communities – Leonard Adams

Reinvestment Fund – Robert Cox

The Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida – Anne Ray

South Florida Community Land Trust – Mandy Bartle and Charles Dabney

Tapestry Development Group – Jon Toppen

The Thomas Agency, LLC – Aisha J. Thomas

Tecela – Andrew Frey

Vagabond Group – Avra Jain

Enterprise Community Partners – Devin Culbertson, Rachel Drew, Jarrod Elwell, Margie Francia, Andrew Geer, Sara Haas, Andrew Jakabovics, Anne Jordan, Christopher Kizzie, James Madden, Jelani Newton, Zachary Patton, Jonathan Petty, Anna Ravindranath, Luben Raytchev, Jennie Rodgers, Laurie Schoeman, Laura Searfoss, Jerah Smith, Girma Syoume, Jonathan Tarr, Orlando Velez, Lauren Westmoreland, Carrie Wagner, Adam Wong, James Yelen

For more information about Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., please contact: Sara Haas at 404.698.4617 or Notice to readers: This report was prepared by the Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. Many of the figures presented are based on estimates or information from third parties. The information presented herein has not been independently verified by Enterprise, and there may from time to time be instances of inaccurate information for which Enterprise disclaims responsibility.

Design by Aaron Geis. Photos courtesy of Enterprise Community Partners.

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