Affordable homes house workers

March 17, 2003

State, local programs respond to dearth of federal funding

Inman News Features

Political, business and community leaders need to recast affordable housing as "an issue of jobs and housing or of housing for workers" in order to achieve lasting success in providing such housing at the regional level, according to the authors of a new report by the American Planning Association.

The authors of the report concluded that affordable housing must be described as "crucial to keep a region economically competitive with other regions that already provide such housing."

In the study, "Regional Approaches to Affordable Housing, Planning Advisory Service Report No. 513/514," APA researchers Stuart Meck, FAICP, Rebecca Retzlaff, and James Schwab, AICP, evaluated 23 programs across the nation to find out if they actually resulted in housing production and, if so, how.

The report examines all major types of regional affordable housing programs, including fair-share housing planning in California, New Hampshire and New Jersey; regional housing trust funds, a new phenomenon in California, Ohio, Vermont and Washington; an incentive-based program administered by the Metropolitan Council in the Twin Cities region; affordable housing appeals statutes in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut; and private-sector and nonprofit initiatives, including those in the San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago.

In each case, the report identifies how many units of affordable housing were actually produced, rather than merely planned.

"The federal government withdrew support for regional affordable housing programs nearly a quarter of a century ago," said Stuart Meck, a senior research fellow at APA. "States and local governments had to step in to fill a considerable void."

Meck said the researchers were impressed with the continuing impact of the controversial fair-share housing planning program in New Jersey. The state's Council on Affordable Housing establishes numerical affordable housing goals for local governments under a system prompted by antiexclusionary zoning rulings, known as the Mount Laurel cases, by the New Jersey supreme court in 1975 and 1983. Forty-eight percent of New Jersey's cities and towns were participating in the program as of 2001. Since the state began monitoring progress in 1980, 60,731 affordable units were produced.

"The COAH system works because there is a state agency charged with establishing no-nonsense ground rules in terms of how to meet the state-established goals," Meck said. "Added to this is the threat of litigation by builders and nonprofit groups if cities fail to provide realistic housing opportunities."

APA researchers also found good examples of cooperative approaches in the Midwest. A regional housing trust fund in Franklin County and Columbus, Ohio, established in 2000, has grown quickly. Through September 2002, the trust agreed to partially finance more than 780 homes.

The APA report concludes with a chapter recommending a program of best- and second-best practices to establish effective regional housing programs.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Fannie Mae Foundation, and APA funded the study.

APA is a nonprofit public interest and research organization committed to urban, suburban, regional and rural planning.

Copyright: Inman News Service

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