I was part of a panel series in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month that was part of the annual Tom Tom Founders Festival that is held each year in Charlottesville and was focused on housing issues in high-cost small cities. The housing panels brought together housing planners, developers, advocates and others from communities all around the country to share best practices and to contribute to the on-going discussion in Charlottesville about housing affordability and economic and racial inequality.
After moderating a panel with local government staff from Park City, Utah; Boulder, Colorado; and Pasadena, California, I learned some new approaches for local housing solutions:
Trying to Maximize the Impact of an Inclusionary Zoning Policy
The panelists from these cities all shared ways in which their communities were trying to address rising affordability challenges. Boulder is in the process of increasing its inclusionary zoningrequirement, from 20 to 25 percent, with the idea of setting aside a share of units for “workforce housing” or for households with slightly higher incomes. That 25 percent requirement would make it one of the highest inclusionary requirements in the countryand it sounded like there was still an open question about what impact it might have on the overall housing market. So I wondered if—and how—communities should do a more formal analysis of potential impacts when adopting or modifying inclusionary zoning programs?
Providing Housing for New Public Sector Workers
In Park City, the government owns a half dozen units that they set aside specifically for new employees relocating to Park City for a public sector job, or who find themselves in a transition period (e.g. divorce). They also offer housing assistance to public employees who want to live in the community. Other places have considered housing options for new teachers and other public sector employees, but is there a role for private-sector employersto partner with developers or municipalities to build or support housing—even temporary housing—for new employees?
Going All In on Accessory Dwelling Units
Finally, in Pasadena, they are re-writing their Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinancein response to recent legislative action at the state level. ADUs can be a part of the housing affordability solution but generally there is no guarantee that ADUs will be occupied by people facing the greatest challenges. In Pasadena, the city is offering incentives in the form of fee reductions to homeowners who build ADUs if they are willing to become a Section 8 landlord. Is this a good way to expand options for voucher holders? How else can we increase the number of units available to individuals and families who use a housing choice voucher?
While the policy discussion was really interesting, what was more eye-opening was the general atmosphere at the event, and the tension between people who might be called “elitists” or “outsiders” and long-time Charlottesville residents. Part of the tension stemmed from the incident a year ago when Charlottesville was the site of neo Nazi rallies and opened up a frank—and sometimes contentious—discussion about race relations in the city.
Additional tension at the Tom Tom event was just the simple recognition that no local community likes outsiders to tell it how to do things. Addressing that particular aversion is part of our on-going work with communities, which is why we always try to make communication—listening, gathering information, understanding a wide range of points of view—and partnering with local groups a key part of our consulting work.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-598-1220 if you’d like to know more about our approach to working with local communities—small and large!—on housing issues.