Housing News Roundup: July 7, 2015
An Affordable Housing Boom in Boston
New data released today indicate that affordable housing is being built in 2015 at a faster clip than in at least a decade. Almost half of the approximately 2,500 apartments and condos permitted in the first half of 2015 are affordable to either low- or middle-income families. Total housing development costs over the last six months also broke records; for the first time in its history, the city approved the construction of more than a $1 billion in housing. Affordable housing growth has been most pronounced in areas just outside the downtown area, namely in East Boston, South Boston, and the Seaport District. While many officials view the new numbers as evidence that the city is on track to solving its affordable housing problems, some are still skeptical. Barry Bluestone, a Northeastern University dean, fears that there is little Boston can realistically do to soften rent increases due to growing demand and a strong local economy.
Source: Boston Globe
Using Technology to Track Blight
Cuyahoga, Ohio is taking a tech-savvy approach to assessing and removing its blighted and abandoned properties. As part of spending a $50 million demolition bond approved last year, the city is using a new cloud-based government software tool to make tracking demolitions more efficient. Before the software, made by Accela, the department was tracking demolition inventory on an oversized Excel spreadsheet that could only be opened by one person at a time. Tom Vanover, chief of the Building and Housing department, says the new system has allowed the city to better prioritize which properties to demolish, and provided greater clarity to taxpayers and stakeholders. “We can make a real determination in the city of what is vacant and what is distressed. It’s no longer conjecture.” In recent years, the city has torn down approximately 1,000 buildings annually; Vanover hopes to increase that total to 1,500 buildings in 2015.
Affordable Housing Central to White House Energy Efficiency Initiatives
President Obama is looking for new ways to increase the use of renewable energy with a series of executive actions. The government set new targets for solar power and usage in federally subsidized housing, tripling existing targets from installing 100 megawatts of solar power to 300 megawatts of solar power by 2020. The administration is also devoting more than $520 million in funding to promote solar power in lower income households, to broad energy-efficiency measures, and to community solar farms. As part of the initiative, the administration also announced that private companies pledged more than $4 billion to promoting clean energy.
Source: Bloomberg Business
Using Community Land Trusts to Keep Housing Affordable in Austin
It is a common story across the country: families are being priced out of their homes as their neighborhoods become more desirable. This is especially the case in rapidly growing Austin, Texas. However, the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation (GNDC) – led by Mark Rodgers — has a plan to reverse the troubling trend and make homes affordable. His plan is to create community land trusts wherein nonprofits acquire a piece of land, construct for-sale homes on it, and sell the homes with a long-term ground lease to a lower income owner. The lease terms determine the future sale price of the home, often providing a fixed rate of appreciation that makes the home affordable to a designated income group in perpetuity. The arrangement still allows the buyer to build equity in the home above that which could typically be expected from other investments. Community land trusts have a long history, but only became popular in the US in the 1980s. Today, there are 243 such trusts in the country, with the largest in Burlington, Vermont.
Opinion: Washington, DC’s Problem with Skyscrapers
According to Matthew Yglesias, while DC is the capital of a contemporary country, an antiquated building ordinance that limits buildings to approximately 130 feet in height keeps it from being a modern metropolis. Yglesias explains that while one would expect a growing city to encourage developers to build up and use skyscraper structures to provide more space for business and housing, a D.C. ordinance passed by Congress in 1899 and modified in the early 1900s caps downtown buildings at a height based on the width of the street they face. He believes the city should change this ordinance because it stunts growth. While many believe the shorter building style provides the city with European charm, Yglesias argues that the style is simply outmoded and fosters exclusion.
Source: Business Insider