Friday, February 11, 2011

Guest Blogger Miriam Axel-Lute: Greater than the Sum of their Parts


Miriam Axel-Lute is editor of  Shelterforce magazine and associate director of the National Housing Institute.

In 1998 when I edited a special issue of Shelterforce on affordable housing and the environment, it seemed like a bit of a stretch to many. The two movements mostly seemed at odds with each other. We’ve come a long way since then in terms of recognizing the how sprawl, climate change, disinvestment, and segregation all feed into each other in vicious cycles.

The next step is figuring out how to connect their disparate solutions in the same way. The latest issue of Shelterforce showcases several ways this is happening or could happen.

Transit-oriented development, as we know, can reduce sprawl, reduce transportation costs, and give more people better access to regional opportunity. In fact, it’s so attractive that the very mention of a possible new transit station drives up housing costs, so many housing and equity advocates have begun to speak up for including affordable housing in station area plans from the beginning and putting in place a range of policy options to make those goals a reality.

Shared-equity homeownership, meanwhile, can provide a new rung on the housing ladder, and new research shows that it succeeds in balancing permanent affordability with an ability to build significant equity. One form of shared-equity homeownership, community land trusts, may be particularly well poised to implement the recent credit-crunch-inspired surge in interest in lease-purchase programs.

In Atlanta, Georgia, the Atlanta Land Trust Collaborative is combining TOD and shared-equity by employing community land trusts to get affordable housing in place around the planned Atlanta BeltLine transit project—housing that will stay affordable for the life of the transit system, not merely 15 to 30 years. The process that advocates went through to craft ALTC’s “central server” model, which leaves control of CLTs local but provides centralized back office support, is a fascinating one for all of us who have an interest in how change occurs. And not surprisingly, other measures of sustainability are also on the agenda for one of the Atlanta groups taking the lead in forming a CLT near the BeltLine.

All of the tools we work with—TOD, shared-equity, lease-purchase—are valuable in their own right. But when we put them together, that’s when we can start to imagine change that is truly transformative—and sustainable.








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