9.02.2007

Affordable Living

A lot of the talk around affordable housing is this notion of
"inclusionary zoning." That is, force developers of housing units to
sell a portion of those units below market price, and in exchange, let
them build more units than they otherwise would be allowed to. In
short, you'll lose money on the affordable units, but make it up by
being able to sell more market units.

I'd like to broaden the discussion from affordable housing to
affordable living. Not that I'm against inclusionary zoning, but I'm
even more for "transit-oriented zoning." That is, zone the areas
around transit stops really dense, and build affordable units into
those developments. Developers are happy, because living near transit
is becoming something people are willing to pay for, so being able to
build a bunch more units means profits for developers.

And those who need the affordable housing get a second boost:
drastically lower transportation costs. A number of studies have
highlighted the importance of lowering transportation costs for
working families, and one huge way to do that is to help people
minimize or even eliminate their need for a car.

This could work in Philadelphia, and in other big cities with transit
infrastructure. The key is to get the political buy-in from local
councilpeople and aldermen, who can either inflame existing residents
to balk at new development or see new development as a way to improve
quality of life for those existing residents. In the burbs, the
opposing sentiment is usually about NIMBY, while in the city, it's
usually fear of "gentrification."

Either way, the local politicos can be the ones who either hammer the
last nail in the coffin, or alternatively who plunge the first shovel
into the ground. You can tell what side I'm on: the side that I
believe will lead to more affordable housing being built, less
dependence on the car, and prettier neighborhoods; and the side that
leads to units high-income yuppies will want, and units that allow
working families some semblance of affordable living.

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