When I joined as the Housing Partnership Network’s CEO in 2022, I knew I wanted to do more on the federal housing policy front. So, over the past year, I have been on a listening tour, having conversations with executive leaders from almost 20 different housing organizations* to discuss challenges in our nation’s housing system, their near-term priorities, and their long-term aspirations for the future.

We talked about some of the core issues of the day, from Black homeownership to unspent COVID relief funds. And we also stepped back to look at broader challenges. The reality is that we are all operating in a complex, cumbersome system with insufficient resources to meet the nation’s housing needs. And, as a result, millions of people cannot find quality homes within their means.

Many advocates within the affordable housing field have been working on these issues for years. And still, our collective efforts are often piecemeal. The housing system is still fraught with capital gaps and inequities, even amid legislative wins. And it has left me wondering: is it possible for us to coalesce around new strategies that improve the housing finance and development ecosystem while we also create new opportunities to ensure safe, affordable housing for more people?

It’s a tall order, I know, maybe even a moonshot given the difficulties involved. But as I think about it, I keep coming back to the same conclusions. The gaps we face can’t be fixed by business as usual. Existing housing programs will never be enough to address our deep and interconnected systemic challenges. Even on days when we celebrate important legislative wins that unlock new resources, our communities still need more.

A groundswell for transformational change

In each of my policy meetings, I asked this question: is there value in connecting a diverse set of national housing policy organizations in a new coalition to drive systems change? As you might guess, the responses varied widely. Some folks were excited to explore the idea of new collaborations; others worried that resources dedicated to new efforts might detract from responses to current crises; and still others pointed to the many issue-specific alliances already in place, wondering if a new coalition would just duplicate efforts without much benefit.

All fair points. But I would still like to explore this idea. There are so many talented people already working to improve the housing landscape. What if we were able to build on their decades of work to do more together? Could we draw on the perspectives of residents, advocates, community organizations, developers, intermediaries, investors, and policymakers as part of a single effort to create a better housing development blueprint?

I don’t know if that kind of alliance is possible. But I would certainly like to find out.

Changing the narrative

Based on these rich conversations with policy leaders, it’s clear to me that any transformational change to our housing system will require a different way of talking about this work.

Too often, affordable housing discussions are based on a deficit framework, (i.e., crumbling housing, impoverished people, and disinvested neighborhoods). Sometimes, those terms accurately describe core challenges and market gaps. But they can also be used to reinforce negative stereotypes about people and places and overshadow the larger value of affordable housing to the country.

So, let’s talk more about how housing empowers communities. Let’s talk about how it elevates opportunities for families to build a strong future, and how it underpins everything from local business growth to community health. We should feature stories of people who directly benefit from affordable housing and at the same time be able to discuss the value of this work as we would any other critical economic development or infrastructure strategy: it’s transformative.

This is one area that could benefit greatly from a new kind of coalition—not because everyone needs to speak the same language, but because we all need to do a better job communicating the truth of affordable housing’s impact.

Expanding what works

There was also widespread agreement in these policy meetings that we need to protect existing housing resources while we advocate for new solutions. I found it incredibly beneficial to talk with other organizations on how to best align our policy work, leverage our Congressional contacts, and share best practices from the field.

In part, that means doubling down on support for proven programs, like HOME, LIHTC and the Capital Magnet Fund, while also looking beyond them. I think this is particularly true with regard to affordable homeownership. It is vital that we consider preservation strategies that help homeowners protect their existing assets, while also fueling new development plans that give more people the chance to buy a home. In this regard, the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act offers some hopeful opportunities, and we are glad to be working with a large coalition of housing organizations to make sure its provisions, if enacted, would help drive progress. (Read more about HPN’s 2024 legislative priorities here).

What’s next?

I am enormously grateful for the warm reception all these organizations extended to me and the time and expertise that they all shared. I was particularly glad to hear how much they value the housing practitioner’s perspective and decades of experience on the ground.

So, what comes next? Let’s bring a range of voices to the table and explore whether –coalition-building could accelerate progress in our nation’s housing ecosystem. Are there gaps that a new coalition could fill that we aren’t already addressing? Are there opportunities to better connect the dots throughout the affordable housing field? I’m eager to hear from people —both HPN members and beyond—on what might make a difference in how we deliver housing for all.

Let’s raise our voices together.

Collaboration 169

*Thanks to leaders at critical housing organizations, including:

  • Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition
  • African American Alliance of CDFI CEOs
  • Bipartisan Policy Center
  • Center of Budget and Policy Priorities
  • Center for Community Investment
  • Council of Federal Home Loan Banks
  • Enterprise Community Partners
  • Independent Sector
  • Local Initiatives Support Corporation
  • National Alliance to End Homelessness
  • National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders
  • National Fair Housing Alliance
  • National Leased Housing Association
  • National Council of State Housing Agency
  • National Community Stabilization Trust
  • National Housing Conference
  • National Low Income Housing Coalition
  • Opportunity Finance Network
  • Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future
Resized Robin Hughes Headshot


Robin Hughes is the president and CEO of Housing Partnership Network, a national collaborative of the nation’s top mission-driven housing developers, financial intermediaries, and advocates. She helps fuel the work of more than 100 urban and rural community development organizations, nine HPN-supported social enterprises, practitioner-led learning and data-sharing strategies, and critical advocacy on state and federal policy priorities to drive systems change.