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Breakthroughs: Successful Local Strategies for Affordable Housing

July 2007
Volume 6, Issue 4
 
          

2007 Robert L. Woodson, Jr. Award Recipient: Bowling Green, Kentucky

Row of houses.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that the city of Bowling Green, Kentucky is the 2007 recipient of the Robert L. Woodson, Jr. Award. The award, established in 2005 by HUDís Americaís Affordable Communities Initiative (AACI) to help all levels of government reduce regulatory barriers to affordable housing, is designed to recognize state and local governments that are aggressively working to reduce regulations that negatively impact housing affordability. This year, the city of Bowling Green is being recognized for demonstrating that permit fee waivers, the implementation of flexible development standards, and amendments to zoning ordinances help increase housing opportunities for lower-income households.

Addressing the Need for Affordable Housing

In 2003, a report analyzing housing trends in Bowling Green found that the city faced a housing affordability crisis. As the demand for quality and affordable homes peaked in 2005, the average housing price in Bowling Green far exceeded the area median income for the entire Metropolitan Statistical Area. Not surprisingly, the cityís homeownership rate fell from 51 to 47 percent during this time period.

Determined to address its affordability crisis, the city adopted an ambitious strategy that involved an integrated approach. Realizing that housing, land use planning, and economic development go hand-in-hand, the Bowling Green effort brought together a diverse coalition of public and for-profit entities, civic leaders, and planners. The group identified major policy priorities to empower the community through investments in jobs, improvements in public infrastructure and design, and most notably, the development and construction of low- and moderately priced-housing.

Strategies to Promote Affordable Housing

As part of its collaborative strategy, Bowling Green created a partnership with the local building industry. This has led to the city overseeing the construction of low- and moderate-income residential units in neighborhoods once affected by blight and disinvestment. These efforts have also expanded housing choices and opportunities for low- and moderate-income families, and enhanced cost savings for developers through a streamlined permitting process.

The highlight of Bowling Greenís affordable housing plan is its land donation program. The city leveraged several public and private funding sources to support this program, resulting in over $100,000 in savings for single and multifamily infill development projects. This collaborative enterprise has led to several success stories, including the Lee Square single-family housing development and the West-Side Initiative. These redevelopment projects were fruitful for both residents and the nonprofit agencies that participated in the construction.

The Bowling Green City Commission recognized that identifying and reducing regulations that impede the development of, and access to, affordable housing is key to addressing the cityís affordable housing crisis. In keeping with its resolve to meet affordability issues head on, Bowling Green became the first community in the nation to join HUDís National Call to Action. The National Call to Action, which is part of the departmentís Americaís Affordable Communities Initiative, encourages states, local communities, and affordable housing advocacy groups to examine the impact of their regulatory environment on the provision of affordable housing. To that end, Bowling Green has demonstrated that it has met this challenge by creating a task force to promote regulatory reform.

Specific Actions Taken:

  • Bowling Green has amended its local ordinance to allow certain permit and fee waivers for affordable housing projects built by charitable associations.

  • To mitigate the costs associated with construction projects, the city has teamed with the Housing Fund, a private organization established to finance affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization projects, to offer low-interest financing and assistance for infill development.

  • The city streamlined the permitting process for most residential projects; applicants now receive approval within five days of submittal.

  • To encourage infill development or to construct affordable senior housing projects, the city now donates city-owned land to nonprofit organizations.

  • Local requirements for public infrastructure ó streets, sidewalks, etc. ó were relaxed, yielding significant cost savings. For example, in the Lee Square neighborhood, the waiving of subdivision zoning and land standards resulted in approximately $25,000 in savings for sidewalk construction, without detracting from neighborhood viability.

  • As part of its National Call to Action commitment, the city has created a task force to evaluate all aspects of its planning and development process so as to identify impediments to the construction, provision, and retention of affordable housing stock.

Conclusion

In overcoming regulatory barriers to affordable housing, the city of Bowling Green is creating an environment supportive of the construction and rehabilitation of housing that will be affordable to police officers, firefighters, teachers, and many other hardworking Americans. The city has proven to be a leader in multifaceted regulatory reform and serves as a model for others to follow.

 

State Actions to Protect Manufactured Housing Communities


Manufactured house.
The owners of aging manufactured housing communities can face increasing maintenance costs, as well as pressure to sell the land. Although many states and localities have enacted regulations to preserve this source of affordable housing, these communities are frequently sold to make way for new development, resulting in a displacement of residents. Consequently, residents, many of whom are living on fixed incomes or in lower-income households, face obstacles to finding permanent, affordable homes.

This article will look at recently approved and pending laws designed to protect residents of manufactured housing communities from park sales and to preserve rent control for residents.

Actions in Oregon

Since 1990, 65 manufactured housing communities in the state of Oregon have closed; about half were closed in the past two years. Rising land values and increased financial responsibilities provide incentives for land owners to sell, leaving tenants to face higher housing costs or relocation. The displacement of tenants is a growing trend that has caught the attention of Oregon state legislators, who are proposing House Bill 2735, which calls for shared responsibility of the relocation of tenants. The proposed legislation gives manufactured homeowners a $5,000 tax credit if they are required to move, as well as up to $9,000 in compensation provided by the landowners. Landowners would also be prohibited from charging tenants to dispose of their homes, and funding would be designated for housing education and advice from housing counselors.

Legislation in Washington

Manufactured homeowners across the state of Washington have advocated for the passage of several bills designed to protect them after becoming increasingly vulnerable to mistreatment by park owners and the sale of the parks in which their homes are located. As a result, both the Washington State House and Senate have proposed bills to ensure compliance with the Manufactured/Mobile Home Landlord Tenant Act, which was enacted to safeguard tenants from illegal actions on the part of their landlords, but without effective enforcement provisions. The bills would enable residents to file complaints for investigation by the stateís Attorney General. Other bills in the House and Senate propose a partial real estate excise tax exemption for owners who sell parks to community homeowner associations, which would not be given if the property were sold on the open market. In addition, other proposed legislation by the House and Senate provide access to Housing Trust Funds and tax credit incentives, ensuring that flexible financing is available for homeowner associations attempting to buy parks.

Subdividing in California

Many manufactured housing community owners in California interested in converting parks into subdivisions and condominiums could profit from a loophole in state laws. California laws protect residents from being displaced during a park sale or subdivision, but they do not maintain a parkís affordability over time. Instead, park owners are able to subdivide their parks, sell lots piecemeal, and wait for the lots to appreciate in value, since rent control is phased out for all but low-income households.

There are at least forty conversions pending across the state, and few residents have the means to buy their parks. As a result, the state enacted Assembly Bill 1542 in June to better protect residents. This legislation gives local governments more control over deciding whether a park should be subdivided, and how it should be done. Although park owners criticize this law, stating that it removes the ability to convert parks, the bill does not ban conversions. Instead, it allows residents to purchase lots or opt to continue renting under rent control.

Conclusion

As maintenance costs and land values rise, manufactured housing community landowners throughout the country are facing mounting pressure to sell their properties. Despite legislation designed to protect manufactured housing communities, residents continue to be threatened. As a result, many states are proposing or have enacted new legislation to protect residents of these communities and the affordability of the places they call home.


Charlotteís Transit-Oriented Developments Close to Realization

Charlotte, North Carolina skyline.
Transit-oriented developments (TOD) have become a growing trend in jurisdictions looking to reduce urban sprawl and encourage vibrant, walkable communities. These compact neighborhoods, which are planned around mass transit lines, include a wide variety of uses to decrease automobile dependency and promote a higher quality of life. This article will highlight the city of Charlotte, North Carolina and its efforts to transform an area that was once dominated by strip retail centers and car dealerships into mixed-use communities designed to promote mass transportation and housing opportunities for residents.

The Plan for Transit-Oriented Developments

In 1994, the Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg County adopted the Center and Corridors vision, a long-range planning guide for future land use and development in the region. The plan identified five major transportation corridors as strong candidates for transit-oriented development. To put the planís vision into action, the 2025 Integrated Transit/Land-Use Plan was adopted to develop a transit system that would improve mobility, encourage compact development, and support the land use designations in each of the corridors.

The land use plan established transit-oriented development (TOD) zoning districts, located within one-half mile of transit stations, which allow a mix of residential, office, retail, institutional, and civic structures, all configured in ways that encourage pedestrian use. The minimum density for these developments is 15 to 20 dwelling units per acre. The TOD zone also allows more flexibility with parking regulations; the maximum number of parking spaces is limited to 1.6 per unit, rather than requiring a minimum of 2 spaces per unit.

Affordable Transit-Oriented Apartments

Establishing a transit-oriented community not only increases transportation choices for Charlotte residents, it also promotes diverse housing opportunities. The nonprofit Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership purchased 10 acres of land along the south corridor to construct the city's first affordable, transit-oriented apartments. South Oak Crossing, a 192-unit apartment complex located within a half-mile of the Arrowood Road rail station, will provide 100 affordable rental units. The project, which broke ground in December 2006, is expected to have the first phase of construction complete by November 2007. Two-bedroom units in the development will cost $615 to $825 a month, while three-bedroom units will rent from $700 to $925 a month. Twenty of the affordable units will be rented at an even lower rate to those who qualify.

Housing Partnerships is planning a second affordable housing development near a future rail station, with other developers following suit. Harris Development recently announced plans to construct more than 2,500 townhouses, condominiums, and apartments near the Arrowood transit station. The proposed townhouses and condominiums will range in price from $100,000 to $350,000, and the apartments will be rented for approximately $750 to $1,000 per month.

Conclusion

Developing a community with a mix of retail, office, and residential space makes it possible for residents to shop and work where they live. This type of development is intended to lessen traffic congestion, as well as promote diverse housing opportunities. Although the city of Charlotte has demonstrated that a vision to create a vibrant community can lead to affordable and dense housing that is well designed and a real asset to the community, it recognizes that the affordable housing shortage still remains a concern. To further build on its successes in expanding the affordable housing supply, the city sponsored Housing Charlotte 2007, a conference in which the Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse staff proudly participated as expert panelists. The Housing Charlotte 2007 initiative seeks new solutions that address the growing affordable housing problem experienced by many of the areaís communities.



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