Connecting state and local government leaders
Industry experts are floating ideas they say could help, many of which would involve state and local policy-makers taking action.
Manufactured homes, property tax exemptions, selling municipal land—the potential solutions for addressing the nation’s housing crisis are as varied as the challenges driving it.
But to ensure American households can access stable housing, local, state and federal officials need to rethink outdated approaches, experts said during a panel on Tuesday. They also emphasized how housing market difficulties extend beyond just a lack of affordable homes and are not confined to the nation’s most expensive cities.
“We can really see that it's not isolated to a particular socioeconomic class. It's not isolated to particular geographies. It's a broad spectrum,” said Craig Parker, CEO of Holland Partner Group, a multifamily and mixed-use developer based on the West Coast.
At a summit hosted by Up for Growth, an organization seeking to address the housing shortage, panelists discussed how to increase housing of all kinds—including supportive, affordable, middle and market-rate housing—and described changes they’d like to see at the state and local levels.
Processes and Policies
A major roadblock to building market-rate homes are costly and lengthy permitting processes, according to Parker. He noted that in California, certain approvals can take years.
Some communities have worked to streamline processes, but the timelines are still substantial, Parker said. Cutting the time it takes to get a project approved can help developers offset other costs, such as rising material prices and supply chain delays.
One reason that approvals can drag on is because of outdated zoning regulations, said Angela Brooks, president-elect of the American Planning Association, a professional organization of urban planners. Some regulations haven’t been changed in decades, and no longer reflect the needs of communities today, she added.
In his role as chair of the National Multifamily Housing Council’s workforce housing committee, Antonio Marquez polled the organization’s members to see what initiatives had improved housing in their communities. Overwhelmingly, the answer was local property tax exemptions, according to Marquez.
“That was the difference between being able to move forward with the project or not,” he said.
Creating different ways for people to finance homes is another important step leaders can take, said Brooks, who is also director of the Illinois office of the Corporation for Supportive Housing.
She pointed to Chicago’s Choose to Own program, which allows people to use Section 8 vouchers to purchase homes. More than 750 homes have been bought under the program, she said.
Genger Charles, managing director of external affairs and impact strategies for Amherst Group, an Austin-based real estate investment firm, highlighted the potential benefits of manufactured housing. Prefabricated homes, including mobile homes, can be built quickly, in some cases taking less than a year to be completed and placed on a property. They can also be built indoors, making weather a non-issue during construction, Charles said.
Charles acknowledged the widespread perception that manufactured housing is unsafe or lower quality than traditionally built homes, but said the reputation is misplaced. Moreover, in some cases, she said, multiple prefabricated units can fit on a property originally zoned as a single-family lot, providing living space for more households.
She said her group is trying to get local officials to see manufactured and modular homes as an option for delivering a “quick, durable supply” of housing.
Rehabilitating dilapidated structures, rather than building from the ground up, is another way to increase housing stock, and one that is often more environmentally friendly than new construction, said Marquez, who is also the founder and managing partner at Comunidad Partners, a workforce housing investment firm.
Charles added that preserving vacant buildings needs to go beyond rehabilitating multifamily properties, but finding the capital to work on single-family homes is often difficult for potential homeowners.
‘Residents are the Real Asset’
Providing support to help keep vulnerable residents, such as those with low incomes, in their homes is also important, the panelists said.
“The residents are the real asset,” Marquez said.
Ensuring residents have access to services like affordable health care and counseling can help ensure their finances remain stable so they can afford their rents or mortgage payments, he explained.
Charles noted that her firm connects residents with social workers, housing counselors and educational materials to help them plan for their futures. “We take stability really seriously,” she said.
Molly Bolan is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.