January Roundup: Seven Stories in the News

A poster created by the United States Housing Authority in 1940 with a slogan that has spawned decades-long prejudice against the poor. Wikipedia 

January was full of proposed solutions, problems, deferred legislation. America is on the cusp of change, either toward a holistic, affordable-housing based society or toward a bifurcated state comprised only of the very rich and the very poor, the antithesis of our founders’ intended country. I hope we land on the side of balance.

1) Who gets to live where?: The battle over affordable housing: Is it right to ask hard-working middle-class families to deal with reduced property values so low-income residents can share their neighborhood, their high-ranking schools, their clean and safe streets? Obviously my answer is yes, but a cohort of people in Severna Park, Maryland disagree. One particularly cantankerous councilman testified at a local hearing, “When I came out of high school, I had two full-time jobs and a part-time job…So my heart doesn’t go out to any of you [low-income people] with this problem.” This article takes a balanced look at the implications of affordable units for middle-class homeowners.

2) Trailers as affordable housing: Solution or bane to the poor?:  Trailers are an inexpensive housing option (as I discussed in an article for The Architect’s Newspaper) but they can also leave trailer-owners with few housing rights. Because residents have no stake in their land, rising land-prices force some landlords to either raise rents to untenable levels or sell the plot to a developer. While these risks are similar to those undertaken by apartment renters , the cost of moving a trailer (as opposed to a small apartment’s worth of possessions) is prohibitive.

3) Affordable housing that families design and build themselves: Comunidad Vivex, the nonprofit arm of Mexican architecture firm S-AR, is recruiting local construction workers in a pilot affordable housing program. Workers collaborate with Comunidad Vivex on the home’s design and then, using donated materials, build their own home. The process eliminates real cost of materials and labor and helps create unique and targeted homes to shelter some of Mexico’s working-class. My only concern: workers sacrificing paying work in order to complete construction. Also, is this process compatible with households outside the construction industry?

4) FHA Tees Up Affordable Rental Housing Program: The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has proposed a risk-sharing pilot program that will encourage community development financial institutions to create loans for owners of multi-family apartment buildings in low and moderate income neighborhoods. This article estimates between 100,000 and 150,000 rental units are lost each year due to building aging and obsolescence. By taking on half of the lending risk for rehabilitation and refinancing projects, the FHA hopes to ameliorate this trend. The program is still in the planning stages, but should be finalized by April, 2015. I look forward to sharing the final draft here.

5) Affordable housing for veterans approved by city council: In keeping with its pledge to eliminate homeless Veterans, Chicago City Council approved a 49-unit development in the city’s Humboldt Park neighborhood last week. As this article suggests, the bidding process was contentious. I believe, however, that the motives of the Hispanic Housing Development Corp. were good and that the building will serve a needed purpose. The units will be available to Veterans earning up to 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), or $43,440 for a family of four.

6) LA has a serious housing crisis and it’s time for city officials to do something about it: Los Angeles is ranked as the least affordable rental market in the country, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Fifty percent of city households are cost-burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. A graph at the beginning of the article shows funding for affordable housing has been cut by approximately 75 percent since 2008. The situation, in short, is dire. The editorial board at the LA Times exhorts planners and city officials to implement policies that foster housing growth in the neediest sectors. This call to action must be heeded if the city intends to thrive.

7) Chicago City Council defers vote on changes to city affordable housing law: Chicago’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO), which I described in December, remains unchanged. Amendments to the Ordinance were due for a vote last Tuesday, but council members opposing the changes postponed the vote. These detractors, allied with the real estate industry, argue that increased in-lieu fees will slow development and stagnate Chicago’s growth. Chicago has had fees in place for years, with no deleterious effects; cities throughout the country also impose fees with success. Why developers believe that this particular ordinance will halt construction is beyond my comprehension. No date has been announced for the revote on the amendments; I hope the delay is brief.

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