Monday, June 8, 2015

New resources on housing policies that connect children to opportunity

Solutions through research
by Robert Hickey, National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy

As previously reported in Under One Roof and in the press, researchers Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren and Lawrence Katz released groundbreaking research last month showing that when low-income kids are able to move to high-opportunity neighborhoods, they earn significantly more as adults. Housing’s effect on neighborhood options, and kids’ earning potential, is not the only way in which housing matters for children. (See our recent reviews of health and education impacts, or check out Dr. Lisa Sturtevant’s fuller discussion in this space last month.) But the role of neighborhood is even more important than we knew.

Related research studies have found that inclusionary housing is a tool without peer for improving the location options of lower-income families. But ultimately it takes a multi-pronged strategy to connect a significant share of lower-income families to housing opportunities in better neighborhoods. We are readying our new Inclusive Communities Policy Toolkit, an online resource which describes the multiple “prongs” in greater detail, and all in one place. The forthcoming site marshals a breadth of case studies, research, policy descriptions and other resources to detail promising options available to local governments for improving income and housing diversity. Designing zoning codes for greater inclusivity, being more creative and deliberate with assets like public land and preserving existing, well located, affordable rental homes are just three of the policy approaches described in depth.

Interest in inclusionary housing in particular has been growing noticeably this year, especially in cities where rents are rising faster than incomes and the affordability crunch is impacting the middle class. A new crop of policies is under consideration in not just New York City, but also areas of the country where inclusionary housing has been historically rare, such as Nashville, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Portland, Me. Here in Washington, D.C., the city council passed a resolution last week emphasizing the importance of the city’s existing inclusionary zoning program and suggesting ways to make it more effective.

This month we are looking at how cities new to inclusionary housing can achieve both inclusion and flexibility with their policies, so that requirements are economically feasible for developers and don’t dampen housing production. Many localities design flexibility into their inclusionary housing policies by allowing a menu of compliance options that include off-site affordable development, but local context greatly affects which compliance will make the most sense for each community.

A relatively new option is the practice of allowing developers to meet their affordability obligations by preserving existing, at-risk, low-cost housing. Places such as New York City, Boulder, and Davis, Ca. already offer this preservation option, but it’s untested. Cities are still working out questions such as “What should be the minimum threshold for rehabilitation?” and “What happens to existing residents in ‘market-affordable’ buildings?”

Stay tuned later this month for our upcoming policy brief on new ways to make inclusionary housing flexible. As localities consider a new crop of inclusionary housing policies this year, we’re looking forward to helping them build on past lessons and innovations to do more to improve neighborhood options for low-income families and children.

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