Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Bold Leadership – Tips for KU – Affordable Housing

Posted by bsflag2007 on Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ok – so I may not have been completely honest in my “about me” post.

I do have interests beyond education issues.   In fact, my “professional experience” from a hundred years ago was, actually, in urban planning and real estate development.

After public education – I consider property ownership the most important and uniquely American path to independence, social equality, and the survival of our republic.

The ability, the prospect, the “hope” of one day owning a “home of one’s own” – is what drives the American Dream…. and with home ownership comes a deeper level of awareness, participation and investment in the community, the country and the future.

Mr. Ulman is in a mighty exciting position.  Howard County is at a crossroads —decisions Ulman’s administration makes will determine whether HoCo becomes “just another” overcrowded, poorly planned, mess of patchwork housing, commerce and education along with a diminshed quality of life — or whether HoCo becomes a model of community, livability, and opportunity to be copied and envied around the country…. maybe even around the world.

Of course, there is the third option – delay, stagnation, lack of progress (which imho is preferable to proceeding full speed ahead on the wrong track).

Some suggestions for Ulman and his team.  Break some new ground!  Literally and figuratively.  There are many ways to approach the “affordable housing” dilemma —  although there really aren’t any “tried and true” models to copy.  Most previous efforts are cautionary tales, at best-

with the exception of the Habitat for Humanity concept (which is currently in need of a little tweaking, but that is happening).  Apply those concepts to public projects — and we have a start.

Modest housing, individual “worthy” owners,  eliminate speculators through restrictions on selling/profit- rent controls — there are ways to do all these things that are not predicated on denying anyone’s proerty rights — or giving undue preference to any group or individual — it just takes some vision, some LEADERSHIP, some creativity, and some good old fashioned “persuasion”.

I’ll give you one example/suggestion.

Developer wants to build.  Zoning limits number of houses.  Compromise … certain number of lots are  built as “modest homes” and conveyed to “community housing preservation society” which finds prescreened buyers of “modest means”.  The buyers have ownership interest and rights — with limitations on selling, for example –  can only sell to “preservation society” for “profit” determined by predetermined formula … whatever current “affordable” price is.  Upkeep, maintenance, etc – contractually required…. recourse in case of criminal activities on site.

Infill lots — homeowner wants to subdivide tiny little lot.  OK, but house must go into program, or premium paid to program to acquire other lots.

Mixed use facilities…. including professional offices, grocery stores, resturaunts, elderly housing, special needs housing, municipal worker housing… etc.

Police, teachers, firefighters, etc- part of their contract negotiations … incentives to live in certain areas.

Just a few ideas.  The questions that come up can either be posed as “why this won’t work” or “how can we make this work” questions.

The important things — everyone wants responsible, law abiding neighbors.  Everyone wants home ownership, financial security  as the goal.  No one wants to disporportionately support others, but are mostly willing to participate in programs which are beneficial to the community.   Everyone wants to live in a nice, comfortable, clean, safe community with good schools, good health care, clean air, open space, recreational opportunities,  and opportunity for the future.

Cindy Vaillancourt

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7 Responses to “Bold Leadership – Tips for KU – Affordable Housing”

  1. Hayduke said

    Cindy, many of your suggestions are good…and are already being used. In particular, the required set asides for developers you mention is the foundation of the county’s Moderate Income Housing Unit program. However, it has several problems, some of which I describe here. Moreover, there is typically resistence to allowing extra density even though it mostly goes to extra affordable housing. See here.

    Also, more and more developers are incorporating housing into mixed use developments, something that was made possible by fairly recent zoning changes.

    Obviously, what we have isn’t entirely effective, but we do have a foundation. We also have examples of affordable housing programs from around the state and country that we can look to for guidance.

    But information and knowledge only get us so far. If we really want to be effective, we’re going to have to think creatively.

  2. bsflag2007 said

    Hayduke-
    You are absolutely right- there are lots of things already being tried… including the set asides and mixed use developments.

    And, I obviously agree that creative thinking is necessary if real progress is to be made.

    And while there are affordable housing programs around, some more successful than others, I think the most valuable guidance that can be derived from them is in how to avoid some of the pitfalls.

    There are two things which I believe are fundamental obstacles for this particular region – 1) the overall recent real estate market (thriving, appreciating beyond reason) – and 2) the additional resistance of the public to provide “special” consideration to others … particularly when it would be soooo ripe for abuse, (profit taking, fraud) … and the notion that in order to “give to the needier” we need to “take from the rest”.

    “persuading” developers in the form of “fees” and “set asides” are fairly routine, as you mention — though the incredible potential for cooperative exercises has not yet begun to be explored.

    Also – the resistence you site runs deeper than folks are usually willing to mention to reporters. Before it can be effectively dealt with it was to be honestly identified and discussed.

    In short – “no one” wants “ghettos” (in the true sense or the popular sense). No one wants to have a “ghetto” develop near their own property.

    People are very suspicious of “below market opportunities” for “moderate income families” which translate to publically funded windfalls … and “single use” projects. ie – once the first moderate income family experiences the windfall — the property is no onger available for future public benefit if it becomes a part of the market inventory.

    People are also suspicious of the notion of providing this “leg up” for young professionals with reasonable expectations of income growth … like teachers … who may take advantage of these housing incentives – then either switch careers, or marry (thereby increasing family income) or outgrowing the moderate income guidelines.

    There is, I believe, legitimate concern about the “throwing good money after bad” potential in programs where the public funds real estate investment opportunities for a select group — unless that program is designed to be self-sustaining, protected from abuse, and will continue to offer the benefit beyond the first “takers”.

    In addition — to be truly effective and integrative … the moderate housiing inventory needs to be spread out, interspersed, — not secluded in specific developments, enclaves, hidden corners.

    In order to do that – we have to honestly identify and address the legitimate concerns of the neighboring property owners.

    And, all of this needs to be done with a respectful tone toward the “recipents” of this community largess.

    Three words for going forward: creativity, honesty and respect.

    Cindy V.

  3. bsflag2007 said

    that’s cite not site – sorry

  4. bsflag2007 said

    Here’s an example of a situation which works — the British Embassy owns a number of single family houses in and around my neighborhood. Families come for three year assignments. As we have learned over the years, these folks would not have been able to afford these homes on their incomes.

    In each of the three cases I have personally observed, the families have been welcome additions to the neighborhood and formed lasting friendships with the rest of us.

    We also have a house which has been rented by the Canadian Embassy for the last 6 years for the same purpose. Same result in one case – no one really liked the second group — the third group seems nice enough. Just like any other neighbors – some you like, some you don’t.

    The homes have been kept up to neighborhood standards by the owners. The tenants have followed all the neighborhood CA rules. We’ve all had our “horizons expanded”.

    And the British Embassy/ Home owner continues to reap the benefit of the excessive real estate appreciation — and continues to have comfortable housing available for their employees.

    Cindy V.

  5. Hayduke said

    I definitely think the answer — or something approaching it — lies in partnerships between developers, governments, nonprofits and even county employer, something I kind of get at in this recent post. Of course, there are several significant obstacles to this tact, with a complete lack of trust for developers and county government being the main one. That’s why I think nonprofits, which can act as middle-men, need to be involved, but their presence alone is not enough to fully restore trust.

  6. bsflag2007 said

    The total lack of trust is it, in a nutshell. In fact, I’d include “non-profits” in that lack of trust category. It is a very sad state of affairs — and not completely undeserved.

    I think a potential compromise would be the quasi-governmental structure along the lines of FNMA. A “real estate holding company” – with the beneficial interest belonging to the county.

    The key is simplicity and transparency — corruption has to be eliminated (teehee).

    I am reminded of “national parks” — what a great idea… and yet, every now and then, some adminsitration wants to sell off or rent out a part to a “political allies”.

    just spit balling here.
    Cindy V.

  7. other concrete examples to “kick around”.

    Developer wants to build housing development. Adequate Public Facilities requirements delay this prospect. APF including … schools. Developer provides space and or buildings for school.

    School’s/police/firefighters want to add incentives to contracts (that don’t cost too much **)… schools/fire dept/police “own” houses which “qualified” employees can purchase/rent via some creative “equity building vehicle” which gives the advantages, stability, and pride of ownership to the “purchaser” but does not ultimately remove the property from the affordable inventory.

    think in terms of “right if first refusal” for sales … predetermined limits on appreciation/equity which can be taken away …. periodic reviews of income status to maintain qualified occupants…. for example — tax returns reviewed regularly, and when occupants no longer qualify as “moderate income” earners — they must make other living arrangements. (their lease expires) but since they have “built equity” and have increased earnings… they ought to take the same responsibility and the same options as “the rest of us”.

    —- there is an “adult” retirement community in Florida which is very popular right now (or at least in the recent past). So popular that the developer could not keep pace with demand — buyers “reserved” homes many months in advance with little or no input into design, style, upgrades or price. In order to elminiate/substantially reduce the activity of “straw buyers/speculation” the contracts include a provision limiting resales within the first year or two of conveyance. Buyers are free to sell – but any “profit” on the sale must be returned to the developer. This is not a problem for the serious owner occupant purchaser – and speculators have not driven up prices or manipulated inventories. It seems to have achieved the desired effect.

    ** why doesn’t this “cost too much”? like any program, there would likely be start up expenses… though ultimately this exercise would be an investment which would return dividends not only financially but socially. unlike wage increases or ongoing benefits/perks that continue and are compounded expense items — and which often produce inflationary pressures which worsen the original problem.

    also – let’s not forget that not all of HoCo is made up of “McMansions” (thank goodness. There are areas in need of revitalization. There are properties which out to be condemned … “taken” for back taxes … foreclosed on …. “in the way of other development.

    There are people facing “inheritance taxes” and other major municipal expenses who could be “dealt with” creating that extremely annoying 1980’s expression a “win/win situation”.

    Cindy V.

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