By Alice Enz

The Affordable Housing Crisis

“The affordable housing crisis is one of the defining challenges of our time,” said Matt Birenbaum, Chief Investment Officer at AvalonBay, during a recent Housing Affordability lecture hosted by the Urban Land Institute (ULI). 

It is an issue that we are constantly faced with in the communities we design and build here at Torti Gallas + Partners.  We are fortunate to be a part of the solution in many markets, designing new affordable units in cities across the country.  However, recent stats quoted by Nina Janopaul, President of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, have the number of affordable housing units leaving the market in Arlington and the DC Metro area at an alarming rate, reflecting a trend that is common throughout the country.

There are multiple avenues that incentivize affordable housing development, Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) financing, HUD Choice Neighborhood Funding and inclusionary zoning, where developers get density bumps in return for providing affordable units or other local zoning regulations that encourage housing affordability.  But even with these incentives, development of affordable housing is an incredibly complex process and the system is not creating affordable housing at the rate it is needed.

Salishan Neighborhood Revitalization, Tacoma, Washington Recipient of $35M HOPE VI Grant

Salishan Neighborhood Revitalization, Tacoma, Washington
Recipient of $35M HOPE VI Grant

So how do we as architects participate in solving this problem?  Firm wide we believe the healthy, vibrant communities are those that support a range of income levels and housing types.  We have to talk about our successes and show clients and communities what has been possible.  We have built market rate and affordable units side by side so that it is impossible to tell the difference between the two.  We can work to dispel the thought that affordable housing will bring down the value of neighboring market rate housing.  Trulia’s recent article “There Doesn’t Go the Neighborhood,” found that in the “nations 20 least affordable housing markets, low-income housing built during a 10 year span shows no effect on nearby housing values.”

With the Holidays upon us, I am even more aware of my own privilege in having secure housing for my family.  But ULI’s lecture was a welcome reminder that there are so many in this region and around the country that are much less fortunate.  So during this season, let’s come together and challenge one another to make the hard choices and work together to build and design housing for those who need it most, rising up and solving this “defining challenge of our time.”

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