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Perspectives Blog

Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution

November 12, 2019
Jeffery Hayward
Jeffery Hayward

Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer

Fannie Mae and the Urban Institute came together to host "Unlocking the Market: Big Ideas for Local Housing Challenges." The conference brought housing leaders, large employers, policy-makers, city officials, developers, and innovators from across the country to find new approaches to tackling the country's housing shortage at the local level.

I was energized to be in a room with such a diverse group of leaders who are investing talent and resources to support more housing options for middle- and low-income families.

Increasing Housing Supply

At the forefront of these conversations was the topic of supply. From our fastest-growing cities to rural towns, imbalances between supply and demand have persisted for several years. At Fannie Mae, we understand that the affordability crisis requires a renewed focus on supply: More housing will slow the rise in prices and rents, particularly for families most in need.

Fannie Mae recognizes that access to credit will achieve little unless the homes available to rent and buy are affordable as well. We want to do more to enable and support the creation of affordable homes in areas of economic opportunity, where good schools, quality health care, and reliable transportation to and from work is within reach.

Achieving this goal requires team work among new and old players in local communities. For instance, it was great to see large employers such as Google, Quicken Loans, and John Hopkins University committed to creating communities where their workforce can afford to live. It is refreshing to see these large employers stepping into the role of becoming today's new anchor institutions.

As Democracy Collaborative's Dave Zuckerman put it: "There's no business in America that's not negatively affected by the affordable housing crisis."

A key theme that resonated throughout the discussions was the importance of empathy for the people who struggle with housing affordability the most. As employers increasingly get involved in housing issues, a crucial first step is understanding employees' housing needs and challenges. Local business leaders looking for solutions should walk in their employees' shoes, first, because housing affordability solutions must work not only for employers, but their workers.

Getting to Solutions

The day’s discussions were diverse and multifaceted. Our keynote speaker Janne Filsrand, co-founder of the Minneapolis advocacy group Neighbors for More Neighbors, discussed how the group used data and community organizing to eliminate zoning restrictions that stifle the creation of more housing. More profound, however, was how Neighbors for More Neighbors linked the old ways of zoning to the historical and deeply-rooted racial inequity in Minneapolis.

Laura Grannemann of Quicken Loans Community Fund told us to "Fall in love with the problem, not the solution." That is, if you think of it just as a problem to solve, you may not get it right with the first attempt. In fact, you might have to try a bunch of solutions. But if you really understand the problem first, you will be open and flexible in the journey to finding the right solution.

Fannie Mae wants to work with all those who have a stake in affordable housing to take a fresh look at the path forward. Together, let's really identify and master the problem and keep pushing for solutions.

Jeff Hayward
Executive Vice President, Multifamily

November 12, 2019