Agency is key to economic mobility. Additionally, one’s self-perceived agency can serve as a protective factor when facing adversarial circumstances. When a resident feels as if they have some control in addressing adversarial circumstances, this can mitigate how they experience stress. Agency also implies choice, which is directly tied to power and can serve as an indicator of racial equity, particularly if an institution's rules and practices aim to promote choice and agency of populations who have historically been oppressed, discounted, and ignored. These are just some of the many reasons why personal agency matters.
Over two years into a global pandemic that has upended local economies, social norms, and a sense of control and well-being, the importance of creating genuine opportunities to return agency to affordable housing residents has never been more important. SAHF has produced several resources demonstrating how an affordable housing provider can take steps to include residents in property governance and operations (see our piece in Shelterforce on how housing providers are beginning to address old and racially unjust practices and our new analysis of affordable housing models that can build resident ownership and wealth building). As practitioners move in the direction of taking steps to amplify resident voice and agency, the need to measure how such activities and changes have occurred will emerge.
Through generous support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, member input, and several years of research supported by the Kresge Foundation, SAHF created Measuring Resident Agency and Voice in an Affordable Housing Setting: A Set of Guiding Questions to Move Forward. This guide outlines measures and data gathering practices that will allow practitioners to contemplate how to measure organizational policies and approaches that support resident voice and agency while also building off measures many housers are already gathering. The recommended measures roughly fall into four domains: resident satisfaction, social cohesion, resident power, and civic engagement. These domains were determined based on their prevalence as units of measurement throughout existing research and literature in fields such as sociology and political science, as well as their relevance and applicability to the affordable housing industry.
This guide is just a start. As the field evolves, so will the questions asked, and the benchmarks measured. SAHF looks forward to documenting and learning with our members, peers, and others as we continue along this journey.