Resilient Communities, Trauma-Informed Housing

How can affordable housing inspire community resilience?


Client: Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH)

Partners: Community Services League, MASS Design Group, University Health’s Center for Trauma-Informed Innovation, Wells Fargo, Enterprise Community Partners

Project Timeframe: 2020-present

Location: Nationwide (Boston, MA; Cincinnati, OH; Independence, MO)


POAH is a national nonprofit housing developer that recognized trauma’s impact on residents, staff, and communities. Residents and staff not only carry trauma with them, but the housing system can cause trauma, intersect with other systems that have caused trauma, and trigger trauma. But while trauma is a leading health and equity concern in the U.S., trauma-informed housing is still relatively new to the affordable housing industry. 


POAH and Design Impact partnered to identify and pilot strategies, policies, and programs to make POAH’s affordable housing model more trauma-informed. Our goal was to imagine and test more effective, equitable affordable housing models that increase staff wellbeing and retention and improves residents’ experience, all while improving property performance. We focused on improving the built environment (in partnership with MASS Design Group), resident services, and property management. 


Over two years, we co-designed and facilitated this initiative in four cities: Cincinnati, OH; Independence, MO; Roxbury, MA; and Boston, MA. Residents and staff who lived and worked at the properties learned how trauma affected their neighbors and coworkers. In the early, uncertain days of COVID-19, we developed an online training program to equip residents and staff to develop research guides, conduct interviews, and make sense of the data they collected.   


Recap: Community engagement throughout Resilient Communities project


With DI’s support, teams piloted several tools and interventions to learn how POAH could change their physical environment, policies, tenant programs, and customer service to reduce trauma and build more resilient communities. Some of those pilots included:

  • Communication guidelines so staff can communicate rules and notices with dignity
  • Weekly mindfulness programming so residents had a calming place for respite and movement
  • Orientation, refreshed handouts, and a welcome video to break down critical information for tenants in simple, compassionate, and inclusive ways
  • Small moments of self-care for staff during a particularly stressful ongoing rehab


In January 2023, POAH and DI released a toolkit on Trauma-Informed Housing. POAH and DI co-authored this toolkit to inspire mission-driven housing providers to adopt a trauma-informed approach to housing. The toolkit includes an overview of trauma-informed housing and why it matters, how other organizations can become trauma-informed, case studies, and tools and resources we developed throughout the project.


Centering exercises, one of the downloadable tools in the Trauma-Informed Housing Toolkit


Download  The Toolkit: Trauma-Informed Housing: A Toolkit for Advancing Equity and Economic Opportunity in Affordable Housing


In 2023, POAH extended the work with Design Impact to expand what they learned from the two-year Resilient Communities project. DI and POAH will roll out pilots for trauma-informed external communications to residents, policy changes, and mechanisms to improve workplace collaboration. 

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