Housing News Roundup: February 16, 2017
Rating the Health of the 40 Largest US Cities, 21 Fail to Receive a Score
The CityHealth project, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation, analyzed nine local policies related to residents’ health and well-being in the 40 largest US cities. This two-year examination considered policies beyond traditional health care, such as affordable housing and inclusionary zoning, access to healthy food, and paid sick days. Researchers graded each policy’s strength using bronze, silver, and gold medals (or no medal), and the ratings for the individual policies contributed to city’s overall score. Of these cities, 5 received gold, 5 received silver, 9 received bronze, and 21 did not receive a medal. “Policy is a powerful lever for leaders looking to make a difference in people’s well-being and make their cities great places to live,” said Shelley Hearne, the project’s principal investigator.
Source: Next City
New York City’s Mayor Shifts His Strategy to Address the Affordability Crisis, Now Will Focus on Incomes
In his State of the City address, Mayor de Blasio presented his new approach to combat New York City’s housing affordability crisis. Since being elected, de Blasio has focused on developing and regulating housing to reduce rents. But, he said in Monday’s speech, “The math is real simple: housing costs kept rising and rising, but incomes didn’t.” This rationale led to the mayor’s shift in strategy to focus on growing incomes to increase housing affordability. “We have to now focus on the other half of the question. We have to drive up incomes, and that means actually helping people to get the kind of jobs that allow you to afford to live in New York City,” he said. This focus will build on his previous policies to improve incomes, such as expanding paid sick leave and supporting a higher minimum wage. But the mayor still needs to develop a concrete plan to raise incomes for the city’s workers, as details were noticeably absent from Monday’s speech.
Source: City Limits
School Choice Fails to Account for Rural Schools’ Unique Challenges
Rural schools fear that the Trump administration’s emphasis on school choice will be harmful because of the challenges rural schools face. President Trump intends to create a $20 billion program for school vouchers, a concept that the new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, strongly supports. In East Millinocket, a remote town in Maine, students do not have an easily accessible alternative to the public high school. School officials there and in nearby towns worry about the extra costs for busing students long distances to other schools and the cuts in funding because of decreased student enrollment that might accompany Trump’s program. “Every time I lose a student somewhere, it’s five or six thousand dollars. You lost seven students, that’s a teaching position,” said Frank Boynton, superintendent of schools in nearby Millinocket. School districts in other rural areas experience similar problems. Over three-quarters of Alaska communities cannot be reached by road, making voucher use increasingly difficult and costly if students want to attend schools outside their community. Alternatives such as online learning also face increased challenges in rural areas because of poor Internet access. “With rural schools, there hasn’t been enough debate or dialogue. I would love to talk about it, but we never get invited. It’s always the…political types of people who make these decisions. We are left out,” said Eric Steeves, superintendent in East Millinocket.
Source: The Washington Post
Positive Consequences of Falling Home Prices
What if Americans no longer viewed their homes as an investment? Conor Dougherty from the New York Times poses this question as a thought experiment. Many federal and state programs aim to increase housing affordability, but various local-level land-use laws intended to protect home values increase housing scarcity and price. A study by economists from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania examined the costs of a house if land-use regulations were decreased. They found that an American home should cost approximately $200,000, except for some areas like San Francisco, where it should cost about $281,000. If we eliminate all or most land-use regulations, allowing many units to be created at subsequently lower prices, homes could still appreciate and be a major asset, but Americans would not own them to create wealth. Thinking this way could increase the workers’ mobility regardless of their education, eliminate housing bubbles, and allow for more spending on other investments. Although this rationale does not mean Americans have to place less emphasis on homeownership, especially because its importance is ingrained in our society, they should consider the negative consequences of viewing housing as a source of eventual profit.
Source: New York Times
Proposed Bill Could Halt Affordable Developments in Texas
A state representative in Texas recently proposed a bill making it more difficult to build Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) developments across the state. The bill—H.B. 1792—would require developers seeking LIHTC credits to identify the developments as “low-income government-subsidized housing” to stakeholders across a wider area. The article notes that developers currently need to notify only local officials and community leaders in the immediate district surrounding the development, but the bill would allow all neighborhood associations within five miles to comment on the development. The expanded group of notified stakeholders is only allowed to add negative points to an application, making it harder for developers to accumulate the necessary community buy-in to build the development. The author of the proposed bill, Valoree Swanson, is new to the Texas legislature and campaigned on “stop[ping] low-income government housing,” and “protect[ing] neighborhoods’ safety and property values.” CityLab reached out for comment, but her office did not respond.