Jacqueline Waggoner
Jacqueline Waggoner

Jacqueline Waggoner is president of the Solutions division of Enterprise Community Partners. She stepped into the post last year after serving as the organization’s vice president and Southern California market leader. In her new role, she leads a team of more than 300 across the country and steers Enterprise’s programmatic, policy, and advisory work. As the nonprofit embarks on a new five-year strategic plan, Waggoner is charged with leveraging all of the Solutions division’s capabilities to drive the organization’s three major priorities of increasing housing supply, advancing racial equity, and building resilience and upward mobility.

AHF recently caught up with Waggoner to learn more about her work.

What issue have you been spending the most time on this year?

On the heels of the new strategic plan we launched last fall, Enterprise has shifted our focus toward leading with racial equity in everything we do. That’s meant improving our processes, creating new practices, and developing programs that place racial equity at the center. Making it part of our organizational strategy allows us to make changes at every level. We’ve also been shifting how we work internally and how we work with our partners with that frame. All of this work is part of Equitable Path Forward, our five-year, $3.5 billion initiative to dismantle the legacy of systemic racism in housing, which includes everything from capital investments to programmatic work and advisory services. We’re also starting to create pathways for new affordable housing practitioners of color to enter the field.

What can housing organizations do to advance racial equity?

They need to follow the voice of the people. Listen to what communities want. Follow the lead of the people they serve who have been advocating for what they need and activate those solutions. You also hear people talk about systems. We need to improve our systems so they work better for the people who need them the most. When you think about the housing ecosystem, we need to evolve it so we can increase equity, support housing organizations better, and lead the charge in advocating for change at every level. With Equitable Path Forward, we can work with lenders, investors, and communities to make changes so we can help more developers of color to participate. For example, Enterprise worked with the city of Chicago to launch the country’s first Racial Equity Impact Assessment on a qualified allocation plan for low-income housing tax credits. Ultimately, it will make sure that the city takes racial equity into account when deciding how to allocate resources for affordable housing.

Housing organizations can also look inward: What does our senior leadership team look like? What does our board look like? How are we reflecting the communities we support? How do we advance racial equity through the procurement of services and consultants, including architects and contractors?

Has COVID-19 moved the needle on affordable housing?

COVID-19 exacerbated all the housing challenges our communities were already facing. Even before the pandemic, we knew 11 million people were paying half of their income for rent each month. None of these issues are new, but COVID-19 brought them to the forefront and created a national conversation in a way that we haven’t seen before. When the government started asking everyone to shelter in place, the value of an affordable, stable home became instantly clear. After George Floyd’s death and during a year of reckoning with race, people are beginning to understand how it all works together—the impacts of COVID, housing affordability, and race. As businesses closed, unemployment skyrocketed, and people’s homes were at risk, we understood that all of these issues are connected.

The housing challenges in our communities do not affect everybody equally. Neither has COVID-19. People of color are more likely to pay more than they can afford for housing. They’re more likely to face eviction. They’re more likely to lack emergency funds and more likely to work in low-wage jobs. We know communities of color were hit hardest by the pandemic. Now, more people are aware of these disparities. As a result, we’ve started to see action from the government, including the federal eviction moratorium and billions of dollars of rental assistance to keep people from experiencing homelessness. It helped people remain housed and helped landlords maintain their assets. That makes me hopeful.

What is a promising strategy for increasing affordable housing production?

The magic wand is funding, funding, funding. We need more resources to create more affordable homes. In addition to the infrastructure proposal, one of the most promising opportunities is the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, which has been reintroduced in Congress. That bill alone could possibly create 2 million additional affordable homes over the next 10 years than what we could build otherwise. It also makes it easier to create affordable homes for extremely low-income and homeless families as well as people in tribal communities.

What trends are you watching in the industry?

I’m excited that everyone is talking about how to build more affordable housing. That’s incredibly important. But we’re starting to see more people pay attention to the need to make sure we don’t lose what we already have, which is why housing preservation is also key. We’ve started to see people and institutions take more action in that space. We know, for example, there are more than 30 million homes in the United States that are affordable to people who earn under 60% of the area median income with no subsidy whatsoever. These assets are at risk of being redeveloped into luxury housing or experiencing massive rent hikes and gentrification. We can’t afford to lose any of those homes. We must build, but we must also preserve at-risk affordable housing that is subject to market pressures. People across the country are elevating the need to preserve, and that issue couldn’t be more urgent.