Thursday, July 30, 2015

New report outlines four ideas for moving beyond the poor door

by Robert Hickey, National Housing Conference

Last fall I wrote in this space about how the media’s fixation on the rare but notorious “poor door” phenomenon misplaces outrage, and how we shouldn’t lose sight of the more important issue of pernicious segregation in our nation’s neighborhoods and schools, and the need for solutions that lead to more inclusive, mixed-income neighborhoods.

But while the “poor door” may have been over-hyped, it does point to an important challenge: inclusionary housing can be tricky in denser, city settings, especially where new construction is predominantly in high-rise structures. When high land prices necessitate taller buildings that entail expensive materials, it can be difficult to meet affordability requirements within the same building as market-rate housing units, adding pressure on developers to cut corners. And when affordable condominiums are located in high-amenity buildings with expensive condo fees, these costs can undermine the overall affordability of these homes.

In a new report out this week, I present four ideas for how cities can improve the workability of inclusionary housing policies in cities by making them more flexible.  I offer suggestions for how policies can offer developers more ways to meet their affordability obligations, and more locations in which to do so – while preserving the objective of fostering mixed-income communities.

While most inclusionary housing policies today offer some form of alternative to on-site affordability, as well as the option to appeal for an overall waiver, city policies would benefit from offering additional options. As I discuss, localities might want to build off the recent experience of New York City, Montgomery County, Md., and Boulder, Colo. with allowing developers to increase or preserve the affordability of existing market-rate housing, in particular affordable homes at risk of being lost in gentrifying neighborhoods. Or follow San Diego and Boulder’s lead in allowing off-site affordable units in a variety of locations where poverty levels are low and core amenities are present, such as transit or walkable streets.

As more cities take up inclusionary housing, let’s stay focused on the goal of creating mixed-income communities and expand the number of pathways to getting there, so that inclusionary housing will be feasible in both low- and high-rise structures and our overall housing supply can continue to grow.

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