Trends over the past 50 years or so havenít made the job any easier. People expect more from their government, but they arenít necessarily willing to pay for it.
In states like California and some major metropolitan areas, piling impact fees and other assessments on the backs of new home buyers has taken a terrible toll on housing affordability. Increasingly, the men and women who serve these communities canít afford to live in them, and that is a clear indictment of policies that seek to saddle new home buyers with costs that rightfully should be shared by all.
In a recent informal poll in Nationís Building News Online, roughly three-fourths of those responding said that governments are relying too heavily on new housing to pay for infrastructure costs. But the poll also found some basis for encouragement: many communities do spread the costs fairly and a small, but growing number, are finding innovative ways to finance the infrastructure.
A new NAHB publication, ďBuilding for Tomorrow: Innovative Infrastructure Solutions,Ē identifies many of the most promising alternatives for financing, building and managing infrastructure.
Here are just a few of the examples in the publication of how new approaches can help solve infrastructure needs and avoid turning a cold shoulder on housing:
- In the Boston area, the Massachusetts Highway Department is using a design-build process under which a private company has undertaken a major highway expansion, which it will complete in half the time it would have taken the state.
- In Washington, D.C., the school district teamed up with a private, for-profit development group to build a new elementary school and much-needed multifamily housing, all at no cost to the school district.
- Alabama used special bonds to meet the short-term need for replacing 1,300 inadequate, timber-pile bridges in 67 counties. Many of those bridges were so unsafe that school buses were not allowed to cross them.
This NAHB publication is full of innovative strategies, and it is available to NAHB members (click here). Not all of the ideas are suitable for every situation, and there can be challenges in implementing them. But for enterprising jurisdictions, successful application of the right infrastructure strategies can yield significant benefits for local governments and their citizens.
The bottom line: Communities that succeed in finding ways to provide good housing at the same time as they meet their infrastructure needs are where American families will want to live in the coming decades. Those that continue on the path of driving up housing prices will increasingly become places that most people would rather avoid.