Category Archives: Housing/Property

Shelterforce Interview with HUD Secretary

There is a great interview up this week on Shelterforce with HUD Secretary  Julián Castro.

I think the parts of the interview that dive into some of the details about the solutions for low-income housing problems, and the different levels of government seeking to address those problems, is particularly interesting. As I wrote last year, one beauty of our system of government is that it “invites a chorus of actors, [and] rewards strategy and diligence.”

Miriam Axel-Lute: You mentioned different places have different things going on, different markets, and we want people to have access not only to new areas of opportunity, but we don’t want them to be priced out of places where they live now that are improving. There are a number of places, including New Orleans, as you mentioned, where many people are being priced out of the neighborhoods that they have lived in for a long time. In markets like that, what can HUD do to help people keep their homes?

Julián Castro: We need to focus on creating as much stock of affordable housing as possible. That’s why, for instance, we’ve joined with Treasury in suggesting in the past that we look at enhancing the Low Income Housing Tax Credit by up to 50 percent by allowing states to substitute unused tax credit capacity from other types of tax credits and use that instead for the Low Income Housing Tax Credit so that we can create more affordable housing opportunities out there. That’s one thing.

Another thing are traditional investments, like the HOME funds. As you all probably know, the Senate has proposed cutting HOME by 93 percent. We’re going to fight that. We can use our traditional dollars, like CDBG and HOME, as well as creative ways to spur more affordable housing, and then work with communities to adopt ordinances that provide more affordable housing opportunities.

Minneapolis, for instance, just revised an ordinance so they don’t require as much parking set aside. They already had done this in the downtown area, but outside of the downtown area they relaxed the parking set-aside requirement, which will help drive down the cost of development and make affordable housing a little bit more possible.

We’ve got to attack it from all angles. Obviously there are nonprofits, as well, that are doing good work out there, and we’re willing to partner up with anybody to meet the need, because it doesn’t matter if you’re in New Orleans or Portland or Chicago or here in D.C. The one common thing is there’s a rental affordability crisis out there. And we’re determined to use all the tools that we have and collaborate with local communities to use their tools to create more housing.

Miriam Axel-Lute: One of those tools that’s gaining a lot of interest in many parts of the country is permanently affordable housing, such as community land trusts, inclusionary programs with long-term deed restrictions, other programs that really ensure that the affordability in any unit lasts for a long time, which is a more fiscally responsible use of public money than having to keep putting it in over and over. How can and will HUD support these forms of housing?

Julián Castro: That’s a great question. What I like about that model is, of course, that it maintains affordability for a long period of time. We see challenges, for instance, with the sunsetting of some affordability arrangements. We look forward to being supporting of communities that are coming up with creative ways to maintain affordability.

One of the ways that we’ve done this recently is through RAD 2 [Rental Assistance Demonstration 2], which is helping units out there that otherwise would sunset in terms of their affordability, to stay affordable. And we’ll continue to work with local communities to come up with creative ways to maintain affordable units and create more.

The whole interview is worth checking out.


Land Banks and Land Banking

My former professor, Frank Alexander, has published the second edition of his excellent guidebook on land banking. According to the Center for Community Progress, the publication “combines research on land banks with practical guidance. It is targeted at practitioners who work with or are exploring the creation of land banks, as well as researchers seeking to understand the role of land banks within the broader fields of land use law, community development, urban policy, and urban planning.”

Additionally, the publication “includes a first-of-its-kind, at-a-glance comparison of existing state land bank statutes that examines the powers, priorities, and structures of land banks across states. The publication also includes a template for state land bank legislation.   At the local level, it features in-depth guidance on creating, structuring, operating, and sustaining a land bank – including sample administrative policies and examples of land banks in Atlanta, Georgia, Genesee County, Michigan, and Cuyahoga County, Ohio.”

You can download the publication here.

Chicago’s Leadership Role in Suburban America

I just started what is so far an excellent book by Elaine Lewinnek,  an associate professor of American Studies at California State University, Fullerton. The book is called “The Working Man’s Reward,” and I wanted to plug it here. It grabbed me from the introduction, which proclaims that “Chicago’s first product was real estate.” She promises to examine how the dream of homeownership—heavily shaped in many ways by people and events in Chicago—has affected the urban and suburban landscape throughout America.

Lewinnek nicely summarizes some of her ideas at the end of the book’s introduction:

[R]eal estate is a particularly interesting product, offering to produce further profits while providing shelter, class status, community, access to jobs, and investment equity. Real estate decisions can affect health, educational opportunities, physical mobility, and ultimately class mobility. Real estate matters, so much so that riots erupted over it. [See Lewinnek’s blog post about Chicago’s 1919 race riots tied to property values.] As Chicagoans sorted out what a modern city would look like—through land speculation, boosterism, two riots, and many barely conscious, often-constrained choices—they developed a city form that affects the sprawling and often racially divided spaces that all Americans have inherited.

I’m eager to dig into many parts of this book, but one that stands out at the outset is its study of how innovative local initiatives often quickly spread to other municipalities—an idea I’ve written about before. Whet Moser, interviewing Lewinnek for Chicago Magazine, paraphrased her thesis as being about how Chicago “invented” the suburbs. In that interview, she describes how some of the first zoning laws were “fire limits” that came out of the great Chicago fire. The new building rules forbade wooden houses in the city, and that forced workers to live further from their places of work. Usefully, she “reject[s] monocausal explanations” for why the Chicago model spread, arguing that it was a complex combination of different social and political forces at work at the time. She also sees lessons for the future from her study, as summarized in this part of her interview with Moser:

At the end of the book, you argue that learning from this past is a way of preparing for the future. What did you learn in researching the book that you think we should learn from?

The things that people developed on their own—the real struggles to own humble, small houses, were things that they clung to. With the institutionalization of public housing, the small houses were bulldozed and people were put into huge towers that didn’t end up being good places to live. Now we’re going back to public housing that looks more suburban, more dispersed. Part of what working-class Chicagoans invented in the late 19th century and the early 20th century is some of what we might be coming full circle to.

And some of those possibilities, too, of living in diverse spaces; being conscious of the whole range of suburbs. To me those are kind of exciting possibilities.

Lewinnek blogs at Elaine’s Blog.

What Affordable Housing Should Afford: Housing for Resilient Cities

This post’s title is the title of a new paper in HUD’s Cityscape journal, Volume 16, Number 2, page 21. In it, a group of urban-planning experts from MIT argue, “Well-designed affordable housing involves more than the provision of safe decent, and inexpensive shelter; it needs to be central to the resilience of cities.”

They then list four goals for affordable housing:

  1. Support the community social structure and economic livelihoods of residents.

  2. Reduce the vulnerability of residents to environmental risks and stresses.

  3. Enhance the personal security of residents in the face of violence or threats of displacement.

  4. Empower communities through enhances capacities to share in their own governance.

I like the concept of city “resilience,” and the paper spends a little time usefully describing that idea. The rest of the paper gives detailed accounts of efforts to design housing to meet these goals.


Renting versus owning: how homeowners come out ahead

I’m doing more digging into the 2011 American Housing Survey, as a follow up to this weekend’s post about the age of American housing.

The survey breaks down “owner occupied” versus “renter occupied” units, and the differences between them are compelling. In particular, the survey hints at public-health downsides to renting, though these results are likely tied more to poverty than to the fact a person is renting as the data does not account for socioeconomic status. Nonetheless, here are some interesting statistics.

1. Renters share bedrooms more often.


As you can see, around 50% of households in either category have .51 to 1 person per bedroom. But for households with 1.51 or more people per bedroom, the renter category jumps to more than 20%, while only 6.7% of owner-occupied households are that crowded.

2. Renters are more likely to have unsafe drinking water.

Frankly, it’s amazing to me that nearly 10% of people in the United States are without safe drinking water, but it’s worse for renters than for homeowners.

3. Renters have more problems with pests, bad wiring, and holes in floors and walls.


As you can see, homeowners have more mice problems, but that’s about it. Renters have more problems with rats and much more problems with open cracks or holes, exposed wiring, and cockroaches. I’ve experienced that last one while renting in the Deep South, and it’s terrible.

4. Renters are less healthy.

Maybe it’s because of all the other things mentioned, but renters report being in “very good” health less often than homeowners. Although both categories of people have the same number of people who reported “excellent” health, renters also report “poor” health more than homeowners.


Let me know your thoughts on the comments below.

The age of housing in the United States

The Census Bureau recently released the results of the 2011 American Housing Survey. One noteworthy point for me was how old housing is in the U.S. The data basically shows a rough bell curve peaking between 1950 and 1979. The median year was 1974, 34 years ago. This number has crept up since 1985, when the median house age was only 23, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

age of houses in the united states

For more analysis on this issue, check out this article from a few years ago. It shows which states had the highest concentration of old housing at that time. A surprising amount of it is in the Midwest, with Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio all in the top ten.

Counting and housing the homeless: the great work of 100k homes

I recently learned that HUD requires cities to count their homeless population—once every two years in January—in order to receive federal funding. Yet as Joel John Roberts, CEO of People Assisting the Homeless, recently wrote in Huffington Post, instead of adding up the number of homeless sleeping in a given city on a given night, we should be counting down until every homeless person has housing.

This is exactly the aim of 100,000 Homes, a project of the nonprofit Community Solutions, that aims put 100,000 Americans in homes by July 2013. (HUD estimates around 111,000 people are “chronically” homeless, having lived on the street or in a shelter for a year or more.) They have a 5-step model involving (1) building a coalition of local citizens and organizations, (2) finding the homeless, (3) registering them, (4) moving them into housing, and (5) following through by providing support to ensure they stay in housing. Sounds simple enough in theory. They’ve provided a 22-page “playbook” discussing these steps in more detail. So far, the campaign has housed nearly 12,000 people in more than 110 communities.

This work is vital, and the more attention it gets, the better. See an inspiring video celebrating their two-year anniversary after the jump: Read Full Post…

Featured Website: LOVELAND Technologies

loveland technologiesLOVELAND Technologies is a neat project out of Detroit, Michigan, that is selling micro-lots of land in “microhoods” for $1 per square inch that people can track online. They focus on making these microhoods exciting by generating artsy urban-renewal projects. According to their website, they “aim to provide a fun, game-like ownership experience while creating entertainment fundraising, community collaboration, and social mapping tools that work at any scale.” They got started a few years ago through Kickstarter.

They have a few other projects. There’s online mapping projects (in collaboration with Data Driven Detroit) and a “LoveTax” system, a creative way for people to fund projects. They also have a cool online app called “Why Don’t We Own This?” that tracks more than 40,000 vacant properties owned by the city, state, or county. The Huffington Post recently reported that this year’s Code for America fellows in Detroit will be building off the momentum that project has created. Overall, a great Detroit project to check out.

For more info, the founders gave a presentation at a TEDx conference in Detroit in 2010 that I’ve embedded after the jump.

Read Full Post…

Which states have the most Section 8 housing per person?

I recently used open data from HUD about public-housing inventory and Census population data to examine which states had the most Section 8 housing units per person in 2010. (Section 8 is a federally subsidized program for low-income renters.) Here’s the top 6 and bottom 6:

which states have the most section 8 housing

I’m not surprised that DC is number one, since it has the nation’s highest poverty rate. Nor am I surprised that NYC, with its relatively well-organized housing initiatives, is number two. But what about Massachusetts and North Dakota? Any ideas? Here’s a visualization of this data:

Section 8 Housing per State Map