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5 Cities Taking Steps to Improve Affordable Housing Access And Availability


disproportionate number of high-end rental units coming online are not satisfying the mid- to low-end demand driven by working Americans who cannot afford extravagant homes and high rents.

This disparity is being exacerbated by a combination of factors, including rising contruction costs (the Engineering and Construction Index notes a 37% increase in the last 10 years). Also, approximately half of the country's renters are millennials under 30 whose average annual income ($40K) barely exceeds their average student debt ($35K).

The 11 biggest metro areas in the United States are oversupplied with apartments running at an average $8,500/month, despite the increase of 22M middle- and low-income renters from 2006 to 2014. Couple that increase with the student debt crisis and a steady drop in Class-B development, and you can understand why the U.S. is experiencing a severe affordable housing shortfall.

But there are exceptions to every rule. These five cities are taking steps to close their affordable housing gaps, according to a recent National Affordable Housing Management Association study. 

1. San Diego


One of California’s sunniest metropolises is no stranger to affordable housing shortages. San Diego is currently falling short 90,000 affordable units for low- and moderate-income households, the NAHMA reports.

As part of the city’s 2016 Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, all affordable units are deed-restricted for a minimum of 55 years. This means developers can construct more units than allowed by zoning laws — and receive a 10% to 50% density bonus — if a number of units are reserved for housing for very low-income renters.

These steps fall in line with legislation the California Senate passed earlier this month to combat the state’s infamous affordable housing shortage, one that critics claim has disproportionately affected seniors with disabilities. These include a streamlined approval timeline for residential developers in heavily populated regions and a $3B affordable housing bond.

2. Atlanta

"Hunger Games" stars Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence. "The Hunger Games" has filmed extensively around the Atlanta area.

The Big Peach’s recent surge in multifamily demand is largely due to the city becoming the site of the third-largest film industry in the world. Experts have praised the industry, saying job growth has spurred industrial redevelopment and demand for affordable apartments. After all, wealthy movie and television stars are not the only ones who work in entertainment.

Much of this Hollywood-inspired development, however, caters to retiring baby boomers and empty nesters hoping to replace quiet suburban living with a vibrant urban environment. Most of these residents are well-off. An otherwise robust housing market, then, is still struggling to meet demand for lower- and middle-income tenants.

The city’s strides toward creating affordable housing include a mix of public incentives. Overlay zoning in certain neighborhoods can result in density bonuses for developers. As part of the Urban Enterprise Zones program, developers building in economically depressed neighborhoods can request property tax abatements from the city for up to 10 years if the project is demonstrably infeasible sans government funding. These developments must contain 20% minimum rental units for tenants earning 60% or less of the district’s median income.

Local political leaders and developers alike are pushing for greater transparency in closing the housing gap by mandating affordable housing impact statements be presented to council members prior to considering legislative action that could affect affordable housing.

3. Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, OH skyline

Ohio’s capital currently faces a shortage of approximately 270,000 low-income rental units. That is 43 affordable units/100 low-income households. Of the 17,000 people on Central Ohio’s rental assistance waiting list, 4,000 are developmentally or mentally disabled.

Columbus’ affordable housing problems date back to before the 1980s and 1990s — despite greater success in population growth and job creation than other surrounding metropolitan areas. Recent years have seen Columbus enact measures to gradually fix the problem.

As in San Diego, certified properties are eligible for tax breaks, with no restrictions on income. Investors are buying out properties from county land banks — land reutilization conglomerates — to redevelop existing residential spaces and vacant properties into affordable housing buildings.

4. Denver

Mount Elbert of the Rocky Mountain Range

Denver announced a new affordable housing plan just last month in response to its growing homelessness crisis. One in five of the city’s homeless population are seniors. Three in four are employed.

The city implemented a linkage fee ordinance — a certain fee/SF on institutional, commercial and residential properties — on Jan. 1, mandating most active developers contribute to an affordable housing fund.

Alternative incentives exist. The county will allocate $150M in funding from property tax increases over the next decade to create 6,000 affordable housing units for households earning 80% or less of the regional median income.

Other independent housing initiatives are setting forth their own plans to combat the affordable housing crisis, such as Stout24's five-year plan to build 3,000 affordable units.

5. Minneapolis

Downtown East, Minneapolis

The Twin Cities currently faces a shortage of 70,000 affordable housing units. City officials promise an increase over the next year in affordable rental units for tenants making 30% to 60% of the region’s median income and requiring a minimum 20% of new residential projects be set aside for households making 60% of the regional median income.

Like Denver, Minneapolis is working to expand access to public transit for low-income residents by offering incentives. Multifamily builders developing 50 or fewer rental units can receive a 100% parking ratio reduction if the projects are within 0.25 miles of a bus stop or 0.5 miles of a train station. Developers constructing more than 50 units are eligible for a 50% reduction.