Proposed Housing Affordability Amendment
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At the suggestion of Emily Talen and with the encouragement of CNU board chair Hank Dittmar, a group of number of CNU members have been advancing a proposed Charter amendment on housing affordability, using this site as a forum for discussing and revising draft versions of the amendment.
Emily Talen and Steve Coyle supplied starter text and many members provided valuable comments. You can follow progress on the amendment in the comment boxes below. In May 2006, Dittmar and CNU President John Norquist incorporated the work and comments into the following draft. The current version of the amendment will be discussed at a session on housing affordability at CNU XIV on Saturday, June 3 and presented -- along with three other proposed amendments -- for consideration before the full Congress on Sunday, June 4. All members are encouraged to participate in these sessions.
Proposed Charter Amendment on Housing Affordability (May 18, 2006)
Walkable neighborhoods with a mix of uses and amenities should be
available to people regardless of social or economic status. Policy
intervention from the public sector, incentives for the private
sector, and the elimination of regulatory barriers to mixed-income/
mixed-use development should promote housing affordability and ensure
that new development welcomes a diverse mix of people. Affordable
housing should be designed to support and take advantage of transit
connections wherever possible.
Here is the original text forwarded by Emily Talen. The ongoing comments it generated directly follow. Feel free to continue to provide comments about the amendment as it has evolved.
CNU recognizes that well-designed, walkable neighborhoods are in short supply in many regions of the United States. Since supply does not equal demand, many new urbanist developments have been priced beyond the means of low and even middle-income residents.
CNU is not indifferent to this reality. We recognize that the provision of affordable housing through conventional markets is not capable of producing sufficient numbers of affordable housing units in many locations.
We therefore support incentives that are capable of increasing affordability, while at the same time ensuring the basic standards of walkable neighborhoods. Neighborhood design should be seen as a critical component of public-sector housing opportunities, such as the federal government\'s Moving to Opportunity housing mobility program. Public-sector efforts such as these should recognize the critical importance of holistic, neighborhood-based planning and design.
September 19, 2005
Additional language: CNU recognizes that well-designed, walkable neighborhoods are in short supply in many regions of the United States. Since supply does not equal demand, many new urbanist developments have been priced beyond the means of low and even middle-income residents. CNU is not indifferent to this reality. We recognize that the provision of affordable housing through conventional markets is not capable of producing sufficient numbers of affordable housing units in many locations. We therefore support incentives that are capable of increasing affordability, while at the same time ensuring the basic standards of walkable neighborhoods. Neighborhood design should be seen as a critical component of public-sector housing opportunities, such as the federal government\'s Moving to Opportunity housing mobility program. Public-sector efforts such as these should recognize the critical importance of holistic, neighborhood-based planning and design.
September 20, 2005
I like the changes suggested by Steve Coyle, except for the omission of language that acknowledges the inability of the housing market to provide low and middle-income housing - in a walkable neighborhood context - in many parts of the country. This is a basic fact of housing market dynamics that new urbanists need to accept and acknowledge unequivocally. Many seem to be in denial about it, and it makes us look incompetent. This is where I think political ideology definitely makes its way into New Urbanism, no matter how much people think it "rises above". The failure to include an acknowledgment of private-market inadequacy when it comes to neighborhood-based affordable housing is a de facto political statement. I also personally like the phrase "not indifferent", because that is exactly the reputation new urbanism has when it comes to facing up to the high prices of its developments - indifference ("hey - it's not OUR fault that the market bids up our great neighborhood designs. Whadaya gunno do?") So let me plead to include the following amended language: CNU is not indifferent to the problem of keeping walkable neighborhoods within reach of a mix of income-levels. We recognize that the provision of affordable housing through conventional markets alone will not produce sufficient numbers of affordable housing units in many locations. Emily
December 28, 2005
I believe that market forces will unavoidably blur urban renewal- gentrification-affordable housing definintions and, as stated, good design will up value.... but I think that some of the following are concpts that could be used with the CNU format to achieve the desired end results: Before a solution can be created, the goals, or characteristics, of that solution must be agreed upon. In my opinion, the following are characteristics that should be considered in establishing the solutions(s): Is dispersive. The solution spreads out the housing so that there is not a geographic label to it (other side of the tracks). Is sustainable. The solution will work over and over again, it is not just for the first resident only. Is not onerous. Either a non-profit is set up to work it, or incentives to entice it, not laws mandating it (although that may be needed at the initiation). Assists the user. This is tricky, it should act as a wealth-creating instrument, but not to the point it is not affordable for the next user.
January 03, 2006
The proposed amendment as it currently is written will not gain the support of the general CNU membership, specifically because it does bring politics into the equation. The amendment will be more successful, in my opinion, if it focuses on the goals and not the means. Consider this alternate text: "The social equity of neighborhoods should be supported through the provision of affordable housing. In areas with a shortage of affordable housing, the supply should be increased using policies that are as effective, fair, and fiscally responsible as possible." Of course, "effective, fair, and fiscally responsible" is all in the eyes of the beholder. You might even argue those are meaningless platitudes. However, I think this is worthwhile for a couple of reasons. One, the Charter does not now specifically mention affordability. It is implied in Principle Thirteen, but it is not made explicit -- and it should be; affordability has few champions and CNU should be one of them. At a minimum, this text gets the issue on the table. Two, focusing on goals leaves the means to be determined by policy makers, economists, researchers, planners, etc. who are in a much better position to evaluate and recommend specific policies for specific locales. Three, any amendment that gets into implementation details, or tries to resolve the government intervention vs. regulation reduction debate, is not going to get out of the weeds. If you're looking for sufficient support to get adopted, you’ve got to leave implementation details to be debated in some other forum.
January 11, 2006
Another couple of lines to add to this amendment would read as follows: "Land use and transportation planning have closely linked impacts on affordability. Policies that support affordability should consider household expenditures for housing and travel in combination." This uses the line of thought on which Location Efficient Mortgages are based (see http://www.locationefficiency.com/ and http://www.brookings.edu/metro/umi/ctod_page.htm)
January 15, 2006
The means to achieve housing affordability in walkable neighborhoods cannot be left to "policy makers, economists, researchers, planners,etc." It has been left to them and the number of affordable housing has decreased nation-wide. Whether the CNU membership will or will not accept this amendment with some specifics about implementation ignore the realities about why there is gap between supply and demand that grows bigger every year. I would add to the proposed amendment the following: Federal, state, county, and public/private partnerships should provide funds,new mortgage instruments, and programs to close the gap between the need for and the supply of affordable housing. Every American should live in standard housing, regardless of location and income.
January 25, 2006
The proposed amendment states that "the provision of affordable housing through conventional markets is not capable of producing sufficient numbers of affordable housing units in many locations." It all depends on the meaning of "conventional markets." It is true that GIVEN existing anti-urbanism zoning codes, this is true. But if markets were allowed to function, let alone if they favored NU, there would be a lot more NU-like housing, and thus more NU-like affordable housing. To draw an analogy: sprawl was once a treat for the elite too. But as it got more common, sprawl became affordable, and in much of America sprawl is now poor people's housing. I think Lawrence Aurbach gets it about right: that we should emphasize the importance of increasing supply without being too detailed about the means. But IF we are going to be more specific, I think we should emphasize increasing supply by eliminating anti-urbanist zoning. For example, an amendment could read something like: "We recognize that given existing zoning policies, the provision of affordable housing through conventional markets is not capable of producing sufficient numbers of affordable housing units in many locations. We therefore support policies that are capable of increasing affordability, while at the same time ensuring the basic standards of walkable neighborhoods. In particular, we support elimination of regulatory barriers to new urbanist development in order to increase the housing supply. To the extent the public sector increases housing supplies through subsidies or housing construction, neighborhood design should be seen as a critical component of public-sector housing opportunities, such as the federal government's Moving to Opportunity housing mobility program. Public-sector efforts such as these should recognize the critical importance of holistic, neighborhood-based planning and design.
April 29, 2006
Here is new text, hopefully incorporating the ideas above: Affording a decent home in a convenient walkable community is increasingly beyond the reach of American families. A complex matrix of government subsidies, policies and regulations has led to exclusionary zoning, failed monocultural neighborhoods and distorted housing markets. Affordability is dependent on many factors, including location within a region and transportation costs, neighborhood structure access to jobs and services and housing mix and tenure. A mix of policy intervention, elimination of zoning and land use barriers and holistic, neighborhood-based planning and design are needed to address these barriers at the local, metropolitan, state and federal levels.
April 29, 2006
I am sorry to be late to this editing process. Hank's is a good attempt to bring everyone's ideas from the web page together, but in doing so it's falling into some jargon like "monocultural" and "holistic" and it's also uncharacteristically negative. Shouldn't the amendments be written in the same style as the principles? The Charter is affirmative, using "can" and "should" language. Charter principle #7 already addresses these concerns in a positive way, and to some extent #13. However, I agree that this amendment is necessary because it addresses worsening realities of the 21st century. I like Steve Coyle's original short statement; good starter. Here's another stab at a four-sentence integration of everyone's ideas: "Decent housing in a safe, walkable community is beyond the reach of many American families. Therefore incentives from both the private and public sectors, considering costs of housing and transportation together, are necessary to increase the supply of affordable housing. At the same time, regulatory barriers to mixed-use, mixed-income development must be removed to increase housing supply. To the extent the public sector contributes to affordability through subsidies or housing construction, traditional neighborhood design must be an integral component of public housing opportunities." That doesn't entirely avoid the negative, but it incorporates some positive prescription in a general way. I agree with LJ that a Charter amendment should not get specific about policy. Sandy
May 19, 2006
At the risk of adding rather then reducing the level of confusion, I wonder if the proposed amendment might just say that: 'We recognize that many people, regardless of social or economic status, need and desire a wide choice of affordable, attractive, and efficient housing in walkable, diverse, and amenity-rich neighborhoods. Therefore, we advocate public and private policies, strategies, regulations, and practices that first, substantially increase the diversity and supply of housing, improve the quality of design and construction, and reduce development and operational costs.' Posted to the Urbanist list-serv by Steve Coyle
May 21, 2006
I like Andres’ more concise version of my proposal, modified slightly (Andres’ and yours are below mine). I’ve been an advocate for many years for public subsidies but the Amendment should not fail over this issue – let’s just say public and private. I’ve mentioned my own failed attempt to design and develop 54 affordable but unsubsidized TOD apartments in Portland, and my successful and embattled projects with subsidies and CDC developers like Cabrillo in Ventura, Santa Paula, and Santa Ynez. The biggest ‘affordable’ opportunities I see daily – and Konrad, I am working with these issues day and out – require allowing as-of-right, New Urbanism plans and codes leveraged by the market and current housing tax credit programs. Yes, we need a level tax and financing playing field and other political changes – we are so far out of balance politically in so many areas that even McCain, an original stand up guy, has stepped into the muck - but in the meantime let’s get something like the SmartCode standardized as if it were a new building code that allowed 350 SF homes.
May 21, 2006
New revision: We recognize that many people require housing that is affordable, efficient and attractive. We therefore advocate policies and practices, both public and private, that will substantially increase the supply, diversity and quality of housing while reducing operational expenses; and especially where such housing is within neighborhood and transit-accessible zones.
May 21, 2006
The latest revision does not say that we stand for diversity of people within desirable locations. If the Amendment is simply to call for a diversity of housing types, which is all the current version does, then there is no need for an amendment. New revision: Affording a decent home in a safe, walkable neighborhood is increasingly beyond the reach of many American families. To redress this, we advocate the elimination of regulatory barriers, combined with public policies that increase the supply of affordable housing.
June 14, 2006
I think it is more important to emphisize that CNU members should strive to find innovative ways to design affordability into their projects. Affordable ownership is a critical element. As well, to design NU projects in areas that are inherintely affordable. This is the lesson of the Gulf Coast, it was the design of the Katrina cottage that made it attractive and affordable and own-able. It should be emphisized that the design of NU citywide with proper transit systems, and codes that do not restrict affordable ownership, should create a market more friendly to affordability. Whether market rate, required, or subsidized will be fought for and decided in the polictical realm, of which it is our civic duty to support.
Last edited by TeganDowling. Based on work by SteveFilmanowicz and Steve Filmanowicz. Page last modified on October 27, 2006