Thursday, September 20, 2012

Even in flyover country, urban revival can leave out workers who make it possible

by Laura Williams, Center for Housing Policy

At the end of this month, I will be leaving Washington, D.C., and returning to the Midwest to begin a new job at The University of Chicago Urban Network. This, then, is my last blog post for Open House.

Rendering of the development. Image: CityWay
I initially wanted to mark the occasion by summing up my thoughts on affordable housing and what I’ve learned in almost three years at the Center for Housing Policy. It turns out my time here has not left me with a grand theory of housing or urbanization or development. If anything, I’ve come away more muddled; more aware of the competing interests that need to be balanced to achieve good policies. This is not a bad thing, and instead has reinforced the idea that data and nuance are king, and that there is no magic bullet.

So, instead, I’d like to spend my final moments in this space giving a shout out to Indianapolis. I’m from one of its suburbs, and this winter basked in the reflected glow of so many Super Bowl reviews. Today, I was forwarded an article from the New York Times about some new mixed-use walkable developments coming to town. The buildings are taking the place of a gargantuan surface parking lot near the headquarters of Eli Lilly on the south side of downtown. The renderings for CityWay are gorgeous, and every time a surface parking lot is replaced with dense housing and retail an angel gets its wings.

But. In this thoughtfully designed development so close to many jobs in the heart of downtown, one- and two- bedroom units are leasing for $900 to $1,300 a month. For reference, the fair market rent for such units is $629 to $747. That’s a big difference, particularly in a project that received a lot of public financing and support. The janitors, retail clerks, security guards, grounds keepers and receptionists that are employed nearby at Lilly, Lucas Oil Stadium, Rolls Royce and the new shops that are expected to pop up are not likely to be able to afford to live here. And that’s a shame.

More and more developments are mixed-use and walkable. This is a great thing! Let’s also work to make them mixed-income because there are compelling reasons to believe that mixed-income communities have lots of benefits.

Which I suppose brings me back to my grand theory of housing, if I have one. It’s one of inclusion. (And to read a lot more about that, pick up just about any publication from the Center for Housing Policy, ever.)

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