March Roundup: Eight stories from the news

I have been super busy the past few weeks and so haven’t spent as much time as usual reading the news. Apologies to any stories I have overlooked. Here is a brief overview of some happenings in the affordable housing world this month. There are some cool proposed solutions and some scary (although unsurprising) statistics. Also a happy policy update from Chicago.

1) New National Housing Trust board members focus on efficiency in affordable housing: Chicago’s own Anne Evens of Elevate Energy (the energy division of Center for Neighborhood Technology) has been elected, along with Elizabeth Chant from Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC), to the Board of Directors for the National Housing Trust. Both Evens and Chant will help the Trust implement and develop new energy efficiency standards for multi-family housing. Under their guidance, utility costs for multi-family developments will drop, enabling landlords to lower rents and increase affordability.

2)High-end’ affordable housing developer eyes North McAllenA developer in McAllen, Texas is proposing a new high-end development (replete with resort-style pools, free wi-fi and a clubhouse) for the area’s lower-income residents. The development is in a nice part of town and will target families earning between $32,000 and $35,000 per year, about 80 percent of the area median income. To me it sounds like an excellent addition to a growing metropolitan area; the comments below the article, however, have a different opinion.

3) Where should you move for a decent job and affordable housing? The Real Time Economics blog of the Wall Street Journal seeks to answer this persistent question, with the help of an infographic pairing housing affordability with job openings created by Zillow. The focus is owner-occupied homes and not on rental units, but I would hazard to guess that there is a correlation between expensive homes and expensive apartments.

4) This plastic bottle house turns trash into affordable housing in NigeriaAn innovative developer is creating houses of used plastic water bottles packed together with mud to create homes at a fraction of the typical cost. He claims the finished product is 18 times stronger than brick and mortar, and can withstand earthquakes and bullets. The video tour of a home under construction is worth a watch.

5) Supply of affordable multifamily housing doesn’t match the demand:  A new study by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) finds that (surprise, surprise), there are more people in need of affordable housing than there are affordable units. The burden is most severe for households earning less than $15,000 a year, a salary rate for which all but the least expensive (and usually most dilapidated) homes are affordable. The MBA study uses 2011 data from the American Community Survey and Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Even though the data is a few years old, the results hold true today. A link to the study is at the end of the article.

6) City council approves affordable housing ordinance: After a long delay, Chicago’s city council has approved amendments to the city’s affordable housing ordinance. Changes included mandatory on-site affordable unit requirements and increased in-lieu fees. As long as no more changes are proposed, the new ordinance will become effective in September, 2015.

7) California’s innovative plan to crack the code for affordable housing: California Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins is battling to add a $75 dollar fee to some real estate filings. The proceeds from the fee would go to fund affordable housing initiatives across the state, which has severe affordable housing shortages in each of its counties. Realtors oppose the fees, claiming they are an undue burden and unnecessary. But without this added money, California’s housing (and homeless) crisis will escalate.

8) County programs aim to broaden affordable housing options: The Housing Authority of Cook County is holding a housing fair on April 14 to bring together landlords, renters and service providers in an attempt to break down stereotypes about the people who live in affordable housing or use housing vouchers. There are no units available (and won’t be for years; the waitlist is closed for the foreseeable future) but the Housing Authority hopes bringing people from different areas of the affordable housing community together will foster understanding between groups. Affordable housing, the agency wants suburban towns to know, does not equate to slum conditions and should be embraced as an economic and social benefit for all residents.

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