Thursday, September 24, 2015

Water parks or affordable housing?

After Tuesday's candidate session at the New Albany Housing Authority, I asked NAHA director Bob Lane a question:

In the context of New Albany future decision-making, would it be fair to compare the immensity of the EPA's past "fix your sewers or else" decree to what is coming down the road with respect to the federal government's evolving position on affordable housing in general, and public housing in particular?

He said yes, quite fair. The NAHA does a fine job, and it is aware that times likely will be changing. These three articles at City Lab amplify a few points largely being missed or ignored locally, beginning with an overview of the American public housing experiment.

Here's a fine topic sentence:

“The story of American public housing is one of quiet successes drowned out by loud failures,” writes the historian Ed Goetz.

The point is expanded in The Real Power of Public Housing, by Alana Semuels.

...In some small cities ... public housing has worked and continues to work. That includes Austin, the site of one of the first public-housing complexes in the nation, which still stands today. The Housing Authority of the City of Austin has been recognized as a “High Performer” by HUD for 15 years in a row, and, rather than depending on the federal government for help, it has embarked on a few entrepreneurial programs to raise money.

Jersey City is seeking "to steer mixed-income development to all its neighborhoods with clever tax incentives." Note that this refers to affordable housing, not bocce ball settings.

Jersey City's Innovative New Affordable Housing Plan Might Actually Work, by Tanvi Misra

... In the coming years, Jersey City’s overall population rise is expected to accelerate, and the housing stock is expected to increase by 20 percent by 2020. To ensure this growth is equitable, the city has unveiled a clever new housing policy that employs a seemingly simple strategy: tax incentives. Local officials believe the plan can preserve community while promoting development—a harmony that’s proved so elusive elsewhere.

Since moving to downtown New Albany, what I've heard most often is the importance of home ownership, but we may be missing something, in that it isn't so much whether we have a choice in being a rental market, but rather what sort of rental market do we want to be?

If it's true that "America’s housing crisis will likely worsen during the next decade, with millions more struggling to make monthly payments," then heavy subsidies to Flaherty and Collins to build "luxury" apartments seems designed to exacerbate a situation we already lack resolve in addressing.

For Renters, a Bleak Future, by Gillian B. White

 ... The researchers estimate that the current rental crunch—the one where vacancies are around 7 percent, about half of renters spend more than 30 percent of their salaries on housing, and one quarter spend 50 percent or more—is only going to get worse over the next decade. Even if housing prices and income rise as quickly as inflation (about 2 percent annually) the number of severely rent-burdened Americans (those paying 50 percent or more) would increase by 11 percent over the decade, to over 13 million people in 2025.

This isn't to imply there are easy answers, only that it might be helpful to start asking the correct questions.

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