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.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Not particularly radical: housing ideas from Right to the City

NotionsCapital calls our attention to an article  (" Radical Real Estate Ideas To Fix Our Broken Housing System") in Fast Company on the "Right to the City" manifesto on how to expand affordable housing options in the context of the hyperstrong market in many center cities.

From the article:
Permanently affordable, inclusive housing models like community land trusts (CLTs)–represent a tiny portion of the housing stock, but if it could go mainstream, they could give people the affordable options they need and the market can’t provide.
That’s the crux of a new report from the Right to the City Alliance, a nonprofit focused on creating equitable urban areas, and its Homes for All Campaign, which advocates for affordable, dignified housing for all. “Communities Over Commodities: People-Driven Alternatives To An Unjust Housing System” details four models of “decommodified housing” (in other words, housing that is a place to live, not an investment vehicle) that have proven, in other countries, to provide stability to families struggling to afford a place to live.
The four types are:

-- Limited equity cooperatives
-- Community Land Trusts
-- Tenement Syndicates
-- Mutual Aid Cooperatives.

Cooperatives.  Because I went to college in Ann Arbor, where there is a strong set of cooperatives functioning as housing for college students (Inter-Cooperative Council at Ann Arbor), some cooperative housing developments dating to the 1960s/1970s, and NASCO, a national cooperative promotion organization that was based in the Student Union but is now in Chicago, housing cooperatives don't seem particularly radical to me, especially because as a form of housing, they exist in plenty of cities.

I suppose co-housing is a kind of variant, as what is called an "intentional community." There's a co-housing development in the Takoma neighborhood of DC, which is at least 15 years old.

But cooperative housing dates to the 1920s, with housing projects initiated by Labor Unions and other groups.  New York City is well known too for its upscale cooperative buildings, where the board must approve of each new tenant before a sale can go through. 

The DC Cooperative Housing Association represents 100 market rate buildings and 15,000 units of housing.  The city also has a number of low income housing cooperatives, including 1417 N Street NW.  Some are financed by the DC Department of Housing and Community Development.

-- "A Brief History of Affordable Housing Cooperatives in the United States," Gerald Sazama University of Connecticut
-- National Association of Housing Cooperatives
-- COOPERATIVE HOUSING DEVELOPMENT TOOLBOX: A Guide for Successful Community Development, Northcounty Cooperative Foundation
-- Developing Cooperatives: The NYC Experience, Urban Homesteading Assistance Board
-- Cooperative Housing International
-- Profiles of a Movement: Housing Co-operatives around the world

Community land trusts were discussed in the book, Streets of Hope : The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood, about the Dudley Street Neighborhood revitalization effort in the Roxbury district of Boston.  The book dates to 1994, and I read it about 15 years ago. There's also a documentary, "Holding Ground: The Rebirth of Dudley Street" by New Day Films."

The Dudley Neighbors Land Trust owns the land for 95 units of permanently affordable owner occupied houses--which have restrictions requiring the sale of the property to people of a certain income level, and has 77 cooperative housing units and 53 rental units.

Note that CLTs are also used as a way to preserve open space and agricultural lands.

-- "Community Land Trusts and the Fight Against Gentrification," The Atlantic
-- Community land trusts, urban land reform, and the commons, Commons Transition

Tenement syndicates are kind of like cooperative rental buildings, and that's a bit more radical, although I think it's a stretch to think about them as being founts of democracy. If you could create a community development corporation to create such buildings, that would be a bit more radical. My understanding is that Jubilee Housing of DC does some work along these lines. They do assist people in creating cooperatives, and they have organized cooperative apartment projects for lower income residents.

Mutual aid cooperatives are sort of like Habitat for Humanity. There, people contribute effort towards building a house that they're going to buy. MACs involve owners not just in operating the housing once it's built, but in constructing it too.

Truly radical recommendationsWhat would have been really radical is (1) calling on the National Cooperative Bank (2) to create a national fund and initiative (3) for construction of Limited equity cooperatives, Tenement Syndicates, and Mutual Aid Cooperatives, (4) at scale, (5) in communities where housing costs are rapidly rising, (6) by working with designated organizations in each community.

Scale is key.  For example the number of units controlled by the land trust in Roxbury is 225, which probably is not significant enough to have much impact on the housing market there, although it is extremely important to the 225 households participating in the program.  The aforementioned 1417 N Street NW building has 83 units in a single building.

(7) Also radical would be the insertion of social housing creation requirements into large scale master planning initiatives.  There is frequently a tension between "inclusionary zoning" residents and non-subsidized residents in mixed housing over monthly condo fees and other matters.  One way to limit this kind of tension is to create buildings that are 100% affordable, which remain so.

A different kind of "radical action" would be to change master planning of large scale tracts so that rather than rely on and expect all the development to be by traditional for profit developers, set up the program so that some parcels are automatically provided to social housing developers. That's what's done in cities like Helsinki. Here the concept could be expanded to include cooperatives.

The HafenCity development in Hamburg, which is led by a corporation owned by the city government, in addition to providing "subsidized housing" comparable to what we call "inclusionary zoning," they have provided parcels for both cooperatives and what they call "joint building ventures" which are a variant of the tenement syndicate/mutual aid cooperative:
A group of households joins forces to construct a real property which they will then use themselves. They are advised by a construction supervisor. Often joint building ventures are able to realize high-quality living space at prices that are well below going market rates. The building is then divided into individually owned properties.
(8) Technical assistance and monitoring matters too.  Because as small properties, and owned by people with limited resources, problems can multiply and properties can experience significant financial problems.  Managing democratic processes in times of crisis can be very difficult.  See the 2016 blog entry, "The long term potentially negative aspects of condominium buildings as a dominant housing form in cities."

DC and missed opportunities to do social housing as part of large master plans.  By way of a similar kind of opportunity, DC has three very large redevelopment projects underway, at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, at the St. Elizabeths east campus, and at the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

But DC master planning processes don't include more specific guidance on providing different housing tenure arrangements nor do they call for the inclusion of such housing when creating plans.  So there aren't plans for that kind of housing at Walter Reed, and probably not at St. Elizabeths.

The AFRH is about to go into redevelopment ("Some of DC's biggest developers interested in Armed Forces Retirement Home," Washington Business Journal) and theoretically that could happen, though not without prodding from the city, which isn't inclined to think in this fashion anyway.

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At 9:38 AM, Blogger Mari said...

"There is frequently a tension between "inclusionary zoning" residents and non-subsidized residents in mixed housing over monthly condo fees and other matters. One way to limit this kind of tension is to create buildings that are 100% affordable, which remain so."

Well then it wouldn't be mixed income now would it? Remember we want to avoid warehousing the poor, because that is bad for poor children. Bad for everyone really.

I gather the point of this post is about radical ideas, because I couldn't help thinking of the Northwest Cooperatives a block from my house. They are an island of affordability and parking in a neighborhood of million dollar houses. They take section 8 renters and it seems there is very little turnover.

Though being around for 30+ years why isn't this kind of housing duplicated more in DC? It isn't sexy. People keep mistaking it for public housing. New innovative ideas like inclusionary zoning is the rage until we get annoyed with its shortcomings and invent a newer more radical housing idea that's great and innovative until we discover its shortcomings. Rinse and repeat.

At 10:01 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I remember reading an article on Porto, Portugal -- tourism piece -- where they asked the mayor on his fears of tourists and airbnb and barcelona.

His response -- it isn't a worry, we (the city) own 800 units in the center and we rent them to middle class families.

In term of Mari's point we've had a lot of success in DC on that model and you have to wonder why that isn't the frontal attack.

At 3:17 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Mari -- hmm. Tough question. Even "the poor" have a range of incomes. I think the problem of warehousing "the poor" has been around the issue of warehousing the absolute poorest.

My point, and I guess I didn't express it well, or expected people to jump to the conclusion, is a kind of "checkerboard" integration, comparable to the term "horizontal mixed use" which doesn't mix uses vertically, within a buildng, but across parcels.

What you mentioned about Northwest Cooperatives is an example of what I mean. I don't know it, but for argument's sake let's say it's a block, surrounded by other housing that's market? Isn't that a kind of mixing of incomes?

Similarly, the Porto example of charlie's.

2. One problem with this, which I didn't mention is the Capper-Carrollsburg rowhouses. Most are market rate single family buildings, but many buildings that look like larger rowhouses are low income housing apartments, maybe 3 to 4 to a building.

They are definitely mixed within blocks. HOWEVER, and I've never written about it but meant to, the way the community is set up there is a property owners assn. so membership and activities excludes the tenants of the DCHA housing. I don't think that's a good outcome.

There are other models, I don't keep good enough track, but I think if you provide decent wraparound services and other amenities not typically offered, then it's possible for the 100% affordable buildings to be better integrated into a community, rather than set off and apart from it.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Speaking of cooperatives, I never did write about Sursum Corda finally being sold for redevelopment.

There are 600 units there now, and the site will be rebuilt to 1,100 units with only 136 guaranteed to remain affordable.

Having been mugged a couple times in that vicinity back in the bad old days (1990s) (or is it an assault? I managed always to get away/not be robbed) definitely it and the Thomas Court apartments next door were contributors to problems...

but it doesn't seem right that it will move from 600 affordable units to 199, with 136 reserved for original residents who want to move back to the redeveloped site, even if the people leaving will walk away with a good payout.

At 9:34 AM, Blogger Mari said...

RL- both NW Co-op I and NW Co-op II take up a whole block. Well, as long as you ignore Mt. Sinai Baptist Church on one corner and the Florida Ave park on the other side, and the fire station and empty park on New Jersey Avenue. They do not share a square with market rate housing.

Because they are their own block they aren't particularly integrated with the rest of the neighborhood. Sort of like a high school that is technically integrated but most the black kids seem to be regulated to certain classes and almost shut out from the college prep classes. But that I'd blame on apartment building culture, where residents of apartment buildings and complexes aren't as involved with the greater community and exert their energies to dealing with the apartment administration. I guess it depends on what metrics you're using to determine integration.

Yes, low income varies. You've got 80% AMI and 50% AMI that gets thrown around when talking about affordable housing projects. Those seem to be income ceilings and not floors.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

At 8:51 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

From the article:

Replied Ian Carlton, project director with ECONorthwest: "The goal in our market-based system – that is what our housing system is here in the United States – the way we deal with this is that we deliver as many market-rate units to the top income strata as we possibly can at any time, and over time, as those become older, become more obsolete over time, they become the affordable housing of tomorrow. And the development of new units will continue to be for these two upper and lower strata, the income-restricted units and the higher-end units, if things continue as they are today in our market-based system. But that middle portion is served by housing that has moved from its first owner to its second owner."

Filtration only happens over multidecade time frames, not fast enough to deal with the need for affordable housing in the context of rising demand and prices for city located housing.

Plus "middle market" housing gets bid up and is no longer for the middle in the face of a mismatch between housing supply and demand.

At 8:54 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Housing Justice Agenda, seven initiatives they're pushing to enact in the coming year. Six don't involve the code rewrite whatsoever:

• Approve a $250-300 million housing bond for the November ballot (and an additional bond to address displacement caused by flooding);

• Boost renter protections by requiring developers responsible for tenant displacement to cover relocation costs;

• Develop an "affordability multiplier program" via tax abatements to deepen affordability of density bonus program units;

• Create a list of low-income households seeking income-restricted homes;

• Provide homeowner education to protect lower-income families from "predatory" investors and lenders;

• Encourage colleagues to "aggressively" pursue the creation of affordable housing within their districts.

The seventh initiative suggests that the zoning rewrite expand density bonus programs, create anti-displacement zoning to preserve existing affordable multifamily properties and mobile home parks, create affordable housing corridors within a quarter-mile of all corridors, allow smaller homes and smaller lots, and create new Imagine Austin corridors west of MoPac.

"yeah, yeah." But it's nice to have a list.


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