Affordable Housing: Getting the benefits without the negative effects

For most Americans affordable housing is a top priority.  Unfortunately, the tremendous need to expand the supply of affordable housing occasionally results in poorly planned proposals. 

If you’re concerned that a proposed affordable housing project may cause unnecessary harm to you and your neighbors, then CEDS can help.  We can assist in winning project modifications that resolve impacts while retaining project benefits.  We can also help ensure the project is not approved until all significant impacts have been resolved.  Read on to learn more about how we can help or contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.

What is affordable housing?

The basic definition of an affordable housing project is one where the units cost no more than 30% of median family income.  You may be surprised to learn that a fourth of all U.S. homeowners benefit from mortgage interest deduction which is one of dozens of “affordable housing programs.”  For information on other programs visit the National Association of Counties affordable housing webpage at​: https://www.naco.org/articles/affordable-housing-federal-programs-and-legislation.

What does a good affordable housing proposal look like?

Affordable housing project benefits are maximized when the units are:

  1. Dispersed throughout a community rather than concentrated in one location,
  2. Located near bus and other transit services so residents are not forced to bear car expenses,
  3. Located in areas with good schools, supermarkets and other services, and
  4. Near employment centers.

How to stop poorly planned affordable housing?

Poorly-planned affordable housing projects frequently have the reverse of the good characteristics listed above – the units are concentrated in one building or site, located more than a 10-minute walk from transit stops, and in an areas with poor schools and few jobs.

Preventing poorly-planned affordable housing before it’s proposed

The folks who contact CEDS for help with affordable housing concerns tend to be those living in areas where a number of projects have been built.  If you live in such an area then we urge you to call for changes in affordable housing policy rather than fighting each project as proposed.  The starting point for the policy changes could begin with the four good characteristics listed above.  Advice for working with the elected decision-makers who set policy can be found in Chapters 39 and 41 of the free, 300-page CEDS book How To Win Land Development Issues.

Stopping a poorly-planned affordable housing project from harming your neighborhood

We urge you to first verify your concerns then explore opportunities to resolve each issue rather than immediately launching an effort to kill an affordable housing project.  The following four steps will walk you through this resolution process.

1. Will an affordable housing project harm you and your neighbors?

The first step must always be to verify the validity of your concerns about negative effects.  The following CEDS document will guide you through an analysis of potential impacts common to most development projects: Project Impact Assessment Checklist.  Please contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org if you have any questions about the checklist.

If you’re concerned about issues such as crime or loss of property value then see if either has been an issue at similar existing projects in your area.

You can do your own crime research by speaking with police commanders about how crime in the vicinity of the similar project(s) compares with elsewhere in the precinct.  Further advice on the issue of crime can be found in Chapter 8 of How To Win Land Development Issues.

Similarly, talk with real estate agents about how home values have changed since a project opened.  Further advice on the issue of property value can be found in Chapter 21 of How To Win Land Development Issues.

Please contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org if you have any questions about researching issues or to discuss our fee to do this research for you.

2. How to resolve potential affordable housing impacts

If your research indicates that a project is likely to have a negative effect then first explore options for resolving each issue rather then simply seeking to kill the project.  Advice for finding solutions can be found at our Equitable Solutions webpage, our numerous issue-specific webpages,  as well as our free 300-page book How To Win Land Development Issues.

If you find potential solutions then ask the applicant to consider implementing each.  Advice for negotiating with the applicant can be found in our Equitable Solutions webpage and in Chapter 37 of How To Win Land Development Issues.

Should the applicant fail to agree to implement your preferred solution(s) AND does not offer equally effective alternatives, then seek the support of planning officials and your elected representatives.  Advice for negotiating with the planning staff and elected decision-makers can be found, respectively, in Chapters 38 and 39 of How To Win Land Development Issues.

3. Stopping a project when negotiations fail

If neither planning staff nor other decision-makers agree to resolve your concerns then you may have no choice but to contest the issuance of a key permit.  It’s far easier though to win implementation of your preferred solution as a condition of permit approval rather then seeking to block the permit.  For example, with Conditional Use or Special Exception permits decision-makers have the option of requiring a solution as a condition of permit approval.  If all else fails then little choice will remain but to seek to block a key permit or other approval.

Advice on identifying permits-approvals can be found in Chapters 34 of How To Win Land Development Issues.  Guidance for winning specific permit-approval battles is offered in the following CEDS webpages:

Most important of all is our Smart Legal Strategies webpage which shows how to greatly improve your chances of victory at a fraction of the cost of simply rushing out and hiring a lawyer.

4. CEDS Initial Strategy Analysis improves success at a much lower cost

For a fraction of the cost of hiring a lawyer, CEDS can:

  1. Identify potential impacts,
  2. Research solutions for each,
  3. Seek to win applicant agreement to implement your preferred solution(s),
  4. If negotiations fail then:
    • Identify all permits-approvals,
    • Determine which provides your best opportunity for success, and
    • Seek to convince permit-approval decision-makers to require adoption of your preferred solution(s).
  5. If these negotiations also fail then we’ll:
    • research past instances where decision-makers have denied approval for similar projects,
    • help you model your case after these past successes,
    • discuss the merits of your case with attorneys in the CEDS network, and
    • share the preceding research and our recommendations for winning with you and your neighbors.

We call this service an Initial Strategy Analysis.  Our strategy analysis can usually be completed within one- or two-weeks at a cost of no more than $1,000.  To learn more about how CEDS can help contact us at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.

Will an affordable housing project increase crime or lower the value of nearby homes?

The 2015 Stanford Business article Is Affordable Housing Good for the Neighborhood? provided the following summary:

The two [Stanford professors Rebecca Diamond and Tim McQuade] studied affordable housing projects’ impact on the surrounding neighborhoods over a 10-year span, and found that new projects in poorer neighborhoods increased surrounding home prices and reduced crime, while new projects in wealthier neighborhoods drove down home prices and decreased racial diversity.

However, this research focused on affordable housing built through the Low Income Housing Tax Creditprogram, which provides incentives to develop affordable housing.  It appears that the projects studied by the two Stanford professors were concentrated in one building or adjacent buildings.  The effect of dispersed affordable housing on crime and property value would likely be far less significant.

Will an affordable housing project cause school overcrowding?

When the pace of residential development outstrips school expansions, overcrowding is the end product.  As class size increases student achievement tends to decline.  Of course this issue is not unique to affordable housing.  All residential development will increase student population either directly or indirectly.

Keeping our schools great begins with a comprehensive or master plan that presents a clear, honest forecast of future student numbers along with how increases will be accommodated.  To see what such a plan looks like go to the School Overcrowding section of the CEDS Comprehensive, Master, General Development & Other Land Use Plans webpage.

A good plan alone is not enough to prevent overcrowding.  It must be coupled with measures such as an Adequate Public Facilities law to postpone development if affected schools are or will be over capacity.  To learn more visit the CEDS Preventing Overcrowding & Other School Impacts of Poorly Planned Growth webpage.

Will an affordable housing project cause traffic congestion?

All residential development will add traffic to our streets.  However, affordable housing units located within a 10-minute walk of transit stops may add fewer trips than other housing types.  As with the school overcrowding issue, keeping traffic congestion at a minimum begins with a comprehensive or master plan that presents a clear and honest forecast of future traffic volume along with how increases will be accommodated.  An example of what such a plan looks like can be found in the Traffic Congestion section of the CEDS Comprehensive, Master, General Development & Other Land Use Plans webpage.

A good plan alone is not enough to prevent overcrowding.  It must also be coupled with measures such as an Adequate Public Facilities law to postpone development if affected roads are or will be over capacity.  To learn more visit the CEDS Traffic, Development & Neighborhood Quality of Life webpage along with the CEDS Making Neighborhood Streets Safer webpage.

What are the most successful affordable housing approaches?

Following is a sampling of the many studiees on addressing the need for affordable housing while enhancing quality of life for all residents.

In the 2016 article Preserving and Expanding Affordability in Neighborhoods Experiencing Rising Rents and Property Values, six components are presented for achieving this goal:

1. Preservation. Preserve existing affordable rental units.
2. Protection. Help long-time residents who wish to stay in the neighborhood.
3. Inclusion. Ensure that a share of new development is affordable.
4. Revenue generation. Harness growth to expand financial resources for affordable housing.
5. Incentives. Create incentives for developers of affordable housing.
6. Property acquisition. Facilitate the acquisition of sites for affordable housing.

The 2017 article Solving affordable housing: Creative solutions around the U.S. provides examples of how these six components and other measures have expanded the supply of affordable housing.

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