Developing Strategies That Promote Affordable Housing

By Winderman, Allyne | Nation's Cities Weekly, December 15, 2008 | Go to article overview

Developing Strategies That Promote Affordable Housing


Winderman, Allyne, Nation's Cities Weekly


This is the first in a series of articles on the topics and issues that will be discussed at the "Finding Solutions for the Challenges Facing Cities Today" Leadership Training Institute seminar scheduled for January 29-31 in Los Angeles.

The foreclosure crisis has highlighted a problem that has long challenged city leaders. There is a large and growing sector of the population that cannot afford to pay their rent or mortgage.

Long before the current housing crisis, the gap between income and housing costs seriously affected many members of our communities. Now, more and more households are falling into this category, which increasingly includes the middle class. What can you do to change this situation?

As a leader, you must identify the nature of the problem in your community, enable others to understand the issues, create programs and projects that address the problem, and develop the political will to act.

When left to the market, the lack of affordable housing leads to homelessness, overcrowding, illegal units, subdivision of existing units and slum conditions. All of these have grave effects on not only those living in these conditions, but on the community itself.

Government intervention in housing has a long history. As far back as the mid-1800's, communities were devising zoning laws to create minimum standards for housing. In the mid 1930's, the Federal Housing Administration was established to build low-rent units in 36 cities. During World War II, public housing was built for the defense industry and many modern architects produced designs for affordable housing prototypes. After the war, affordable housing programs concentrated on slum clearance and construction of housing projects.

In recent years, the government has not directly built affordable housing. Current programs concentrate on rent subsidies, such as Section 8 and tax credits for housing production, and have stepped in to allow the private and nonprofit sectors to build affordable housing.

Housing is affordable when housing costs are no more than 30 percent of household income. The cost of building houses does not vary much regardless of affordability. While there are differences in size, location, materials and amenities, the basic costs of building and maintaining housing stay the same. To produce affordable housing, we must find ways to fill the "gap" between the cost of building houses and the income derived from affordable rents.

The first step in tackling the affordable housing crisis is to develop a housing action plan. The plan will organize your efforts and create public support. To understand your community, gather key demographic information about income, existing housing stock, special needs such as for disabled or senior housing, and available sites for new housing production. Through this analysis, you can understand the housing need and create realistic goals for filling the need. The housing plan should include projects and programs to move you forward, and should identify sites for new housing production, existing housing resources to preserve, rehabilitation programs, government assistance programs. …

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