Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Value of Planning Ahead

Today, the Center for Housing Policy is releasing its updated Paycheck to Paycheck database. Paycheck to Paycheck compares wages for more than 70 occupations against home prices and rents in more than 200 metropolitan areas, illustrating how workers in various communities are faring when it comes to housing affordability. The short answer is that there is a lot of room for improvement.

Two of the most popular questions we get about Paycheck are: “why is housing unaffordable?” and “how can we fix it?” The answer to both is “it varies.” From time to time, though, communities are faced with singular opportunities to re-imagine and redevelop their housing patterns in ways that could drastically improve affordability for workers. The development of the Purple Line on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., could prove to be one such chance.

The Purple Line is barely off the drawing board, but communities are already preparing for its impact. The line, planned to arc through the Maryland suburbs around the northern edge of the District of Columbia, would connect three existing Metro lines at an estimated cost of almost $2 billion, and it already has visions of higher density, mixed-use infill developments dancing in the heads of area planners.

Planning ahead, of course, is always a smart move, but the communities highlighted in a Washington Post story this week seem to be missing a significant opportunity at this early stage: to prepare and preserve space for affordable housing. Working to identify opportunities now, before land and property values climb with the new transit options, will make including affordable housing options in development plans much more feasible for local governments and development companies. It could also help to ensure the success of the developments, as low- and moderate-income residents are the most reliable users of transit. Low- and moderate-income families also benefit from proximity to retail and job opportunities within walking distance (or a short transit trip), as it can save them the costs associated with owning a car (and so free up dollars in the household budget for other necessities such as food, clothing and school supplies).

The D.C. metro area is already very unaffordable for working families. Planning ahead for the Purple Line could help keep teachers, police officers, firemen, janitors and other important community members in the area.

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