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Main Spotlight: A New Housing Guidebook for Local Leaders


March 16, 2023 | Main Spotlight: A New Housing Guidebook for Local Leaders | By Michael Powe, Ph.D., Senior Director of Research, and Emi Morita, Research Analyst |


Virtually all U.S. cities and towns today are experiencing housing challenges, whether related to limited housing availability, limited housing affordability, or both. The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, also known as Freddie Mac, estimates that the U.S. currently has a shortage of 3.8 million housing units. Nearly half of Americans say the availability of affordable housing is a major problem in their local community, according to Pew.

Main Street America’s own survey research has demonstrated that Main Street communities are not immune to these challenges. In a Spring 2022 survey, about seven in eight Main Street leaders (87 percent) indicated that housing is a concern in their downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. Three in four Main Street leaders indicated that there wasn’t enough housing in their districts, even as our more recent survey conducted in October and November 2022—linked to the Small Deal Initiative — indicated that 95 percent of Main Street leaders have vacant buildings in their districts and 93 percent have vacant upper floors.

In recognition of these housing challenges, MSA launched the “At Home on Main Street” (AHOMS) project in 2022, with the generous support of the 1772 Foundation. Thus far, this work has produced a report containing a thorough analysis of housing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, insights on housing challenges in the Main Street network from housing-related surveys, and a virtual convening on pressing challenges and potential solutions with Main Street leaders and affiliates.

Today, we are proud to share the next major release associated with this effort, A Housing Guidebook for Local Leaders. The Guidebook, intended for an audience of beginners who have limited experience in the topics of housing and housing development, is a practical and easily digestible report that incorporates the stories and expertise of Main Street Coordinators, local directors, and partners who have experience with housing.

In the report, you will find practical “how-tos” about identifying housing opportunities, keeping an inventory of buildings and vacant spaces, making sense of housing finance, and understanding the common code and regulatory challenges encountered with housing development and vacant space activation, among other topics.




In crafting the report, we engaged a group of expert advisors, including: 

  • Joi Austin, Senior Field Officer, Economic Vitality, Main Street America (Quincy, IL)
  • Sherry Early, Executive Director, Incremental Development Alliance (Fort Wayne, IN)
  • Bethany Rogers, Ph.D., Director of Strategic Projects, Main Street America, and former Executive Director, NewTown Loans (Macon, GA)
  • Darin Rutledge, Executive Director, Discover Klamath Visitor and Convention Bureau, and former Executive Director, Klamath Falls Downtown Association (Klamath Falls, OR)
  • Casey Woods, Executive Director, Emporia Main Street (Emporia, KS)

If you are interested in learning more and plan to attend the Main Street Now Conference in Boston later this month, we strongly recommend attending “Whatever You Are Doing on Housing, Double It,” a session led by Michael Wagler, State Coordinator at Main Street Iowa, and Bethany Rogers, Director of Strategic Projects at Main Street America. That session will take place in Grand Ballroom F, from 3:45 – 5:00pm, on Monday, March 27th.

Other topical conference sessions include:

The Main Street America research team plans to continue producing tools and resources related to housing development. We hope to conduct webinars with Main Street leaders and housing developers featured in the Guidebook. In the coming months, we also will publish a community audit tool where Main Street leaders can answer questions about the housing circumstances in their districts and subsequently learn about relevant case studies and resources for responding to their local housing challenges. And later this year, we will release a housing inventory tool that you can use to tabulate, organize, and update information about both built and vacant spaces in your community. We are incredibly fortunate and grateful for the continued support of the 1772 Foundation as we continue this work.

We hope you enjoy and find value in the new Housing Guidebook. If you have questions or comments about this work, please let us know either by posting them to The Point or by emailing