Affordable housing roundup: seven stories in the news

It is nearing the end of the month, so I thought I would share a handful of compelling news items. I have (unconsciously) favored positive stories, perhaps because the bulk of my research is depressing -for example, households with incomes of $15,000 or less per year who pay more than 50 percent of their income in rent spend an average of $500 more on rent each month than their counterparts in subsidized units.

With that happy thought, the news.

1) “Seattle City Council backs ‘linkage fee’ for affordable housing” -Last month I defined linkage fees and discussed the upcoming vote by Seattle’s City Council to add these fees to new commercial and residential developments in most of the city’s neighborhoods. The resolution, opposed by developers and those who fear extra fees will result in higher market-rate rents, was passed on October 20. The Council will draft legislation over the next several months and will release it for public review on May 1, 2015.

2) “Seattle: The land supply forgot” -Roger Valdez, a contributor at Forbes, disagrees with Seattle’s decision to add linkage fees to development costs. Valdez argues that the solution to the lack of affordable housing is to build more (market-rate) buildings. Increasing supply to meet demand (without taking into account the economic situation of those who constitute the demand) will automatically lower to rents to affordable rates. Fees, he contends, will raise rents across the city and the funds they generate will not help those who earn less than 50 percent of the area median income. After reading this article a few times, I am almost convinced he is correct.

3) “Linkage fee hike approved by council” -San Diego implemented linkage fees on commercial developments in 1990. The fees support the construction of affordable homes for area residents. During an economic downturn in 1996 the fee was halved; a new ruling has restored it to 1996 levels. This increase is projected to double the funds available to build new affordable housing.

4) “Portola Valley: Second units key to ‘affordable housing'” -A small town in northern California had an enthusiastic discussion about changes to its general plan that will allow homeowners to construct second units within their homes. This measure would provide apartments to the middle class and elderly populations within the town, and would prevent economic stratification. The small scale of Portola Valley is proof that affordable housing is needed in every community.

5) “Policy change could benefit New York’s landlords and tenants” -New York’s state attorney general’s announced new policy guidelines to increase affordable housing. Owners of mixed-income developments (where 80 percent of units are market-rate and 20 percent are affordable) will have the option to sell market-rate units to current tenants if they also agree to maintain or expand the affordable units in their portfolio. This change will allow owners to take advantage of a positive real estate market and will preserve affordable units after initial incentives such as tax exemptions, low-income housing tax credits or bond financing have expired. Considering the enormity of affordable housing challenges in New York City, this plan could be a lifesaver for thousands of the poor individuals.

6) “Affordable housing without representation” -Ben Wellington, another contributor at Forbes, uses data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to compare public housing to Section 8 (private) subsidized housing throughout the United States and territories. His conclusions point to a correlation between representation and decent housing.

7) “Governor Quinn announces new affordable housing units for Veterans” -Days after the opening of Hope Manor II, an apartment complex for Veterans in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, Governor Quinn announced funding for three new Veteran-targeted developments throughout Chicagoland. These are in addition to two developments already planned for opening in 2015. Perhaps, with Governor Quinn’s help, Mayor Emanuel will reach his goal of eradicating homelessness among Veterans by the end of next year after all.

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