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Education, training can elevate the status of affordable housing

COVID-19 had many impacts on real estate, and arguably, nowhere would that be truer than when it comes to affordable housing. “The problem pre-COVID was primarily one of more demand than supply,” says Shannon Heath-Longino, CPM®, a senior vice president and asset manager with Truist in Atlanta.

Then, as this year’s Emerging Trends in Real Estate reports, “Housing affordability worsened during the pandemic as the rise in both home prices and rents barely paused during the brief recession and then quickly accelerated as the economy reopened. Prices and rents are still climbing at some of the highest rates ever tracked, well ahead of relatively modest wage gains.” The end result of that trend, of course, was a further demarcation between the haves and the have-nots.

And that doesn’t take into account a problem exacerbated by “the added issues of pending evictions and government subsidies for rental assistance not being disseminated quickly enough,” says the Atlanta-based Heath-Longino. With slow-to-process governmental relief, she says, “the landlords – and, therefore, the property managers - got caught in the middle.”

Heath-Longino is not a stranger to these issues, neither professionally nor personally. She manages some 65 affordable housing properties in Georgia and North and South Carolina, all with market-rate units included. But she also knows firsthand what life is like in what was once called substandard housing.

“I was born and raised in affordable housing in the East Lake area of Atlanta,” says Heath-Longino, who is the 2022-23 vice president for IREM’s Region 4. Her passion for the sector came from that experience, with a special emphasis added by her grandmother, who “advocated for better housing.”

Heath-Longino, who was last year’s chair of IREM’s Federal Housing Advisory Board, and served on the board’s task force, continues that advocacy today, because, as she says, “We have to keep the needle moving forward.” This is especially true for low-income families and the misconceptions typically attached to affordable housing.

“Poverty is always a part of the dynamic of our residents,” she says. “The perception has always been that affordable housing brings crime and drugs and undesirables.” It’s also wrongly linked to people suffering with mental illness.

These misconceptions play into the level of market interest. As a result, “Potential developers worry that they won’t get the rents they want,” she says. The reality of the red tape necessary to get into the market only made a bad situation worse.

Happily, it seems that federal agencies governing such programs as Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and Section 8 vouchers are streamlining their processes, Heath-Longino says, and IREM has been working with legislators to alleviate the disconnects of federal, state and local regulations that clog up the delivery of rent relief payments. (Heath-Longino and IREM director of Government Affairs Ted Thurn spoke on the issue in a 2021 webinar.)

In terms of misconceptions, “People forget that we do not choose circumstances such as poverty,” she says. “Some families are born into these circumstances. We all know someone who is one check away from the poverty level.”

Much the same is true of mental illness, which knows no boundaries based on income level. The difference is, in most impoverished areas, ready access to resources that could help is almost non-existent. “You might have to take two or three buses to get to a hospital,” she says, “which can lead to stress and neglect.”

Decent affordable housing can change those perceptions and elevate “the access to resources,” Heath-Longino explains. “Quality housing brings schools, and it brings retail and healthcare resources,” since a clean, well-run building is a magnet for area development. “People want to be part of a viable environment.”

But this takes education, “and this is where IREM comes in,” she says, especially in the professional management of the financials involved in a real estate asset. “Property managers are really the CEOs of their assets. They watch the checkbook for the developers and owners, and they know how every decision impacts the overall performance of the property.”

This ability, gained in large part through the IREM educational curriculum, allows professionals to “walk in and manage any property without qualms,” she says. And it’s that hands-on, strategic partnership of manager, owner, and resident that will change the perceptions and elevate the status of affordable housing.

“As managers, and as a culture, we need to remember that we are all human, and all humans want better opportunities,” she says. “We all deserve that. We cannot progress on the assumption that someone looking for affordable housing is part of a problem. Someone’s economic class and circumstance do not always dictate who they are as a productive citizen.”

Changing that perception clearly will not happen overnight. But Heath-Longino takes hope in the work IREM is doing on the legislative front, as well as in the ongoing education of its members and the market in general. She takes hope as well in the streamlining of the application process to gain access to affordable housing.

But there’s still much work to be done. “Even a little progress is at least some progress,” she concludes.


Such an informative and thoughtful article. Shannon, you are such an advocate for all things IREM but keeping an eye on affordable housing is a worthwhile cause. Thank you IREM for sharing this!


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