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Affordable Housing Summit and Policy Framework

February 23, 2020

Dear Constituent:

I hope you can join me at the upcoming Affordable Housing Summit, hosted by the Columbia Board of Realtors, City of Columbia Housing Programs Division, Columbia Chamber of Commerce, and other partners.

The Summit will take place on Thursday, February 27th, 6-8pm at The Atrium (22 North Tenth St.) and will feature keynote speaker Tony Perez, a nationally recognized expert on Missing Middle Housing. The premise of the title of Mr. Perez' speech is that there is a spectrum of housing types ranging from single-family homes to high-rise apartment towers with a lot of possibilities in between - townhouses, mixed-use buildings, courtyard apartments, clustered cottages, bungalow courts, and triplexes/duplexes in various configurations, to name a few. Unfortunately, modern zoning codes and permitting processes often make it very difficult to produce these types of smaller, more affordable homes, which would serve low-income home owners and renters.

The Affordable Housing Summit is free and open to the public, and the organizers invite people planning to attend to register in advance.

Affordable Housing Policy Framework

In addition to protecting and preserving existing affordable homes, there are a number of policy strategies which leverage private investment to ensure that new development includes a range of housing types, including Missing Middle Housing. Please review the following descriptions and let me know whether you feel Columbia should explore some of these options.

Inclusionary Housing

Inclusionary housing (also known as inclusionary zoning) is a municipal policy which increases production of housing units that are affordable to moderate and low-income households and also creates more racially and economically integrated neighborhoods.

Typical inclusionary housing policies encourage or require developers to include a specific number of affordable rental and/or owner-occupied homes in residential projects such as subdivisions and apartment buildings. For a prescribed period of time (typically, 30- 99 years), these units must be reserved for qualified households in defined income bands at defined affordable prices. In some cases, they may be administered by a community land trust and become permanently affordable.

To compensate developers for lost revenues due to the price limits on some of the units, municipalities offer benefits such as density bonuses, design flexibility, faster approvals, and tax abatements. Hundreds of American communities now use inclusionary housing policies as part of their affordable and workforce housing strategies.

For more information:

Transit-Oriented Development

Transit-oriented development consists of walkable, mixed-use residential and retail districts surrounding transit stops and stations. This urban design provides many community benefits such as increased transit ridership, reduced household spending on transportation, reduced traffic congestion and pollution, healthier lifestyles, and more efficient land-use.

Transit-oriented neighborhoods that include a mix of affordable and market-rate housing are also effective in advancing social equity goals by reducing economic segregation and providing lower-income residents with opportunities to move up the occupational and social ladders. Smaller housing units, compact development patterns, and reduced parking requirements drive down the per capita cost of residential construction and public infrastructure, thereby making it easier to provide affordable housing.

By combining transit-oriented development codes with inclusionary housing, municipalities can achieve the separate community goals of these two policies, and also reap synergistic benefits that come from bringing the two together.

For more information:

Single-Family Zoning Reform

Single-family zoning policies have a disturbing origin.

In 1917, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racialized policies that explicitly zoned separate residential areas for blacks and whites, many local governments shifted to a new form of segregation. Policies that made it illegal to build anything other than single-family homes delivered many of the same results, keeping out most black and low-income people.

A century later, single-family zoning is considered bad policy by many planning professionals - but unchangeable. These exclusionary zoning laws build impenetrable walls between racial and socioeconomic groups and fuel the nation’s housing affordability crisis by artificially increase housing prices. Nevertheless, such policies are ubiquitous and have long been viewed as impossible to reform.

In the last 1-2 years, however, the walls have started to crumble. Jurisdictions from Massachusetts and Maryland to Oregon and California are beginning to take action to loosen restrictions. Most recently, the Minneapolis City Council adopted the city's 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which eliminates single-family zoning policies citywide.

For more information:

Constituent Conversations

My next Constituent Conversations will be on Sunday, March 15th and 29th, 2-4pm at Dunn Bros. Coffee (upcoming dates are always available at my web site.) And your coffee and tea are always on me - just mention that you're visiting with Councilman Thomas, and the Dunn Bros. staff will put your drinks on my account!

Cheers, Ian