Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Revisiting the need for "Tower renewal" (multiunit) programs

One of the unintended consequences of the kind of "fractional ownership" that is created by condominiums is that when properties are on the decline, it can be difficult to get a majority of owners to agree to take the necessary steps to arrest the decline, and that's the case even if they have access to financing, which in the case of many declining properties is not the case.

-- "The long term potentially negative aspects of condominium buildings as a dominant housing form in cities," 2016
-- "Deeper thinking/programming on weak residential housing markets is required: DC example, Anacostia," 2012

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has long had a program designed to help fund renovation of aging multiunit affordable housing buildings.

But as multiunit buildings age, support programs may be needed whether or not the buildings are "affordable" or social housing or market rental buildings or owner occupied buildings.

Because Toronto's housing stock is about one-half multiunit, they've responded to this problem by developing the "Tower Renewal" program ("Tower renewal: The Watergate and Southwest DC, and Toronto," 2011).

-- Tower Renewal Partnership
-- Understanding the Tower Landscape, report

While some communities have implemented one element of the Toronto program, energy efficiency loans, few communities have developed the broader program.

There is a special need to step in when multiunit buildings are in otherwise weak real estate markets, where more can go wrong, risk is higher, and financing is more difficult to obtain.

This comes up again as the Washington Post reports on how residents of a condominium community in Prince George's County, the Lynnhill Condominiusm in Temple Hills, were forced to vacate because of fire code and building code violations ("Lynnhill Condominiums in Temple Hills shuttered for fire code violations").

Of course, the deadly Grenfell fire in London a couple months ago also brings attention to the concept of "tower renewal," and the necessity of focusing on what is most important.  There, tall residential buildings aren't required to have sprinklers.  See "Lessons of the Grenfell blaze: How can Canada's thousands of aging towers be kept safe," Toronto Globe & Mail.

Interestingly, there is one other tool in the toolbox, "receivership," which it happens I suggested be applied on the Lynhill Condominiums back in 2014: "Receivership is an underutilized tool: Lynhill Condominiums in Prince George's County, Maryland."

Doing nothing in the three years since ends up helping no one at the Lynhill Condominiums.  Then the issue was a large water bill that hadn't been paid for a couple years.  The unpaid bill was an indicator of worse to come.

Toronto’s new Residential Apartment Community zoning category, by loosening up the rules on tower neighbourhoods, aims to advance social integration and economic development.  ILLUSTRATION BY DANIEL ROTSZTAIN

Placemaking initiatives for multiunit communities.  It happens that the Toronto Globe & Mail just published an article ("Towering ambitions") about how to make tower communities more livable, by allowing the inclusion of retail opportunities and other amenities. 

But that's more a strong or stable market issue, and density.  If you have the right density (a/k/a "potential customers") retail can work.  If the basic problem is too small a market, it's difficult to do anything, because adding housing in a market with weak demand isn't feasible.

Environmental sustainability and multiunit housing.  See "Toronto Green Multiunit Building Challenge," 2016.

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