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U.S.-Germany City-to-City Initiative Takes Aim at Barriers to Affordable Housing

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U.S.-Germany City-to-City Initiative Takes Aim at Barriers to Affordable Housing

Caitlin Quinn is a program analyst in HUD's International and Philanthropic Affairs Division

A large group posed for an outdoor photo
Participants in the Breaking Barriers city-to-city initiative, funded by HUD and the German federal government, on a site visit in Atlanta in April 2023.

A growing shortage of affordable homes, difficulties coordinating policy among different levels of government, and local opposition to new housing developments are some of the challenges facing cities across the United States and Germany. For more than a decade, HUD has partnered with its German ministry counterpart — known since 2021 as the Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development, and Building (BMWSB) — to organize delegations, undertake joint research projects, and exchange information to better understand and overcome these challenges on both sides of the Atlantic. The partnership with BMWSB is one of HUD's closest and most fruitful international exchanges.

A key element of this partnership is a city-to-city exchange project that convenes cohorts of local leaders to inform research and exchange perspectives on housing and sustainable urban development. The current iteration of this project, called "Breaking Barriers: Affordable Housing in Cities for All," is administered by the German Marshall Fund (GMF), a public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., with funding from HUD and the German federal government. The project gathers representatives from six cities — Atlanta, St. Louis, and Seattle in the United States and Berlin, Frankfurt, and Munich in Germany — for a series of virtual and in-person workshops, site visits, and discussions over 18 months.

"This collaboration is an opportunity for practitioners on both sides of the Atlantic to share ideas and policies to address shared challenges in housing affordability and managing growth in their cities," said Tarsi Dunlop, senior program officer at the German Marshall Fund. And although the housing affordability and sustainable development challenges facing American and German cities are formidable, the Breaking Barriers initiative provides an avenue for city participants to explore areas of shared assets and opportunities. These include the use of public land and integrated financing and development planning processes to reduce costs and streamline the creation of more vibrant, connected communities.

The participation of federal government representatives has proven to be a valuable aspect of the project. Dr. Tina Silbernagl, who leads the Breaking Barriers project for the German federal development agency GIZ, noted that in addition to strengthening municipal implementation capacity, the project "provides federal government with an opportunity to verify whether its policies and programs are tailored to the everyday realities of local government as well as to challenges and opportunities at the city and neighborhood level." Participants from HUD, including Cindy Campbell and Caitlin Quinn from the International and Philanthropic Affairs Division; BMWSB; and GIZ participate in discussions and workshops alongside the city representatives, supplying useful perspectives on topics such as local-federal coordination.

The Breaking Barriers delegates convened for the first time in April 2023 in Atlanta following several months of virtual meetings and workshops. They will next convene in Germany in mid-September for a weeklong, three-city program that will include site visits, workshop discussions, and attendance at the Federal Congress on National Urban Development Policy.

Published Date: 19 September 2023

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.