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John Bacino on February 12, 2007 - 10:51am
Monday, February 12, 2007
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On Wednesday, February 14th at 4pm EST Progressive States Network will be sponsoring a conference call to discuss how states can Clean Up the Election Day Disasters we've seen in recent years by supporting policies like Election Day Registration, Vote-by-Mail options and Banning Voter Deception.
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In Today's Dispatch:
Affordable Housing as Smart Growth
When you hear the term "smart growth" what comes to mind? Anti-sprawl? Open-space preservation? Transportation development? These are, of course, all elements of smart growth, but at its heart, the purpose of smart growth policies is to create better-designed communities that improve our lives and decrease the destructive pressures of growth on the environment. The low-density, single-use subdivisions that characterize sprawl consume open space, waste energy, and cause a range of environmental problems due to high rates of automobile dependence.
However, often overlooked in discussions of smart growth policies is the need for affordable housing as a key component of growth planning. Policies that undermined affordable housing in urban areas and inner-ring suburbs have driven many people out into undeveloped areas in an often fruitless search for lower-cost housing. Creating affordable housing is therefore a key step in ending sprawl and promoting higher-density, transit-friendly communities.
And if we are serious about energy independence and stopping global warming, smart growth policies that promote higher-density urbanism are indispensible. The average suburban household uses over 37% more energy than an urban household, significantly increasing greenhouse gas emissions because of the use of gasoline and greater electricity use. Analysts estimate that creating more transit-efficient communities could save households roughly $2.3 trillion in energy costs over 10 years-- and slash the pollution that would otherwise have been generated.
As this Dispatch will emphasize, those energy savings from smarter growth will be impossible if we don't also create policies to increase housing affordability.
Our house is a very very very expensive house
How bad is the affordable housing crunch?
While many people think moving out to the suburbs and exurbs is a way to cut their housing costs, this ends up being largely a mirage with increased transit costs. A Center for Housing Policy's report found that for every dollar a working family saves on housing by moving into less urban areas, they end up spending 77 cents more on transportation. Once someone has to travel 12-15 miles, the increase in transportation costs usually outweighs the savings on housing, so sprawl ends up being an energy-guzzling loss even from a family budget perspective.
A National Neighborhood Coalition report states that the inability of many workers to live near their work is an increasing problem as a growing proportion of the population struggles with a rapidly decreasing supply of quality, affordable housing units. Sprawl therefore not only has environmental consequences, it doesn't really save any money for families.
How Government Policies Created Sprawl
How did we develop such a economically and environmentally self-defeating pattern of development in the first place?
Decades of government policies have encouraged sprawling housing tracts in the suburbs and exurbs, encouraging businesses and families to move farther from urban centers. Inner-ring suburbs created in an earlier wave of growth are now losing ground to even newer, more distant exurbs. Outer suburban areas are the population growth centers in the US, largely due to these decades of misguided policies:
Subsidizing Sprawl: In the post-war period, highway subsidies and low levels of funding for mass transit made surburban transit costs look lower than they actually were -- until congestion and gridlock trapped many suburbanites into costly commutes. Greenbelts have been developed cheaply, with the bills for schools and other infrastructure only coming due later-- and the environmental costs of losing undeveloped land is barely a factor.
Zoning Against Density: Making the problem worse are zoning policies, particularly in inner-ring suburbs, that actively block higher-density housing and therefore more affordable units. Economists like Edward Glaeser (who heads the Taubman Center at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government) have shown that there is "a man-made scarcity of housing [because the] housing supply has been constrained by government regulation." This nearly doubles the price of housing in some areas due to restrictive zoning rules. For example, a Brookings Institution presentation highlighted that New Jersey has some of the highest housing prices in the country largely because it also has some of the most restrictive and exclusionary zoning rules in the country as well.
Greenbelts Without New Housing: Some areas have sought to deal with sprawl by creating "greenbelts" -- areas of undeveloped land that surround cities -- to create a hard geographic boundary for growth. But without a focus on affordable housing, greenbelts in combination with often strict zoning limits to new building in existing areas can just limit the supply of housing, causing housing prices to skyrocket. Construction then jumps to the other side of the greenbelt and people must commute even farther from the new development, through the greenbelt, and into the city.
Zoning our way to affordable housing
Instead of these failed past development policies, controlling housing costs needs to become a more central focus of smart growth initiatives, including:
Relaxing Zoning Restrictions: State and local regulations can shape housing markets in a big way. Changing the traditional zoning structures to allow for denser, mixed-use zoning -that is, commercial and residential use in the same area- creates creates healthier communities by allowing residents to be closer to the services they use on a regular basis and emphasizes creating walkable communities:
Promoting Inclusionary Zoning: As we highlighted in our December dispatch, inclusionary zoning increases the availability of affordable housing by requiring developers to make a percentage of housing units in new residential developments available to low and moderate income households. Inclusionary zoning ordinances have produced over 11,000 affordable units in the greater Washington D.C. metropolitan region. Such programs and well-designed management policies can expand the supply of affordable housing while keeping administrative costs down.
Transit Oriented Development: Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is another way to incorporate smart growth policies and create more affordable housing. Transit oriented development creates towns and cities around public transportation stations. Around a train station, for example, are a combination of residential, retail, and commercial buildings. The cost of transportation is decreased. Due to compact design, there is a greatly reduced incentive for sprawl and an increased incentive for compact design, resulting in more affordable housing. Also, transit oriented development can revitalize previously dying town centers, further adding to the amount of affordable housing.
Revitalizing Existing Urban Areas: Reviving old urban centers, such as downtowns, is a key to providing affordable housing and smart growth. Maryland's smart growth policy supports existing communities and revitalizing them. In addition to providing the actual housing, smart growth and affordable housing advocates need to look at creating whole communities to nurture healthy and vibrant community development. A great example is in Pennsylvania, where the Fresh Food Financing Initiative provides grants and loans to help supermarkets locate in under-served communities, working to revitalize dying neighborhoods.
Ending Stereotypes: The key step towards promoting affordable housing is to erase its negative stereotypes, often tied to our history of racial segregation. Instead, advocates need to highlight that affordable housing is not an issue exclusively for the poor, but effects all families struggling with housing costs, transportation and sprawl. As the suburbs become more racially diverse, studies are showing that these populations are more receptive to a smart growth message.
Affordable housing and smart growth advocates are beginning to join hands in curbing sprawl at the periphery of cities and promoting reinvestment in older, "inner-ring" suburbs. With literally trillions of dollars in energy savings at stake, affordable housing needs to be a key part of creating more rationally planned and energy-efficient development.
Smart Growth America, Housing
Smart Growth Network Subgroup on Affordable Housing, Affordable Housing and Smart Growth: Making the Connection
The Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, Rethinking Local Affordable Housing Strategies: Lessons from 70 Year of Policy and Practice
The Brookings Institution, The Need to Connect Smart Growth and Affordable Housing
Ford Foundation, Risking the Future of Our Cities
National Neighborhood Coalition, Smart Growth for Neighborhoods: Affordable Housing and Regional Vision
Our House is a Very Very Very Expensive House
Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, The State of the Nation's Housing
The Center for Housing Policy: A Heavy Load: The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families
How Government Policies Created Sprawl
Harvard Institute of Economic Research, Why Have Housing Prices Gone Up?
Brookings Institution, Why Housing and Land Use Matter for New Jersey ’s Toughest Challenges
Zoning Our Way to Affordable Housing
PolicyLink, "Inclusionary Zoning -- Keys to Success"
Common Interest, "Inclusionary Housing in Montgomery County, MD"
National Housing Conference Affordable Housing Policy Review, "Inclusionary Zoning: the California Experience"
Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, "The Impact of Inclusionary Zoning on Development"
Marlyand, Department of Planning, "The Economic Growth, Resources Protection, and Planning Act of 1992"
Eye on the Right
Texas Governor Rick Perry recently proposed requiring college students to repay state grants if they do not graduate on time. Sadly, the students who most need grants face the most pressure in the form of family care, commuting, and jobs ”“sometimes fulltime. Moreover, the populations most in need of financial aid are projected to be Hispanic, a group shown most likely to be scared away by price of large loans or Perry’s punitive grants. If Perry wants to increase enrollment, as he’s been saying, perhaps he should give a break to the students who need it most.
3 Steps Forward
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