Flanagan believes that regional and state planning must do a better job of accommodating, and encouraging, the production of new housing; local municipalities need to give prominence to meeting the demand for affordable workforce housing; and states need to step up their role, providing incentives for home building instead of pummeling the industry with more regulation. “States have got to reward cities and counties that step up and push for more housing,” Flanagan said.
Regional planners might be doing a better job of gaining public support for the new residential growth the region’s expanding population and job base requires, he said, if they understood the essential impact of housing on the vitality of the local economy. “Politicians believe that housing doesn’t pay for itself — which is wrong,” he said.
Flanagan advocated a multi-step approach to put housing at the center of a viable long-range plan for the region:
- Mandating regional and state planning
- Giving states more oversight over local planning
- Having developers “step up to the plate and pay their share for schools and roads”
- Creating a stronger connection between federal transportation funding and regional and state planning. For example, before the federal government releases its portion of the funding for a new Metro subway station, surrounding zoning allowing higher densities should be in place. If the local jurisdiction balks, it should not receive federal dollars for the project.
- Educating politicians about the positive economic impact of housing activity
- Educating the general public that higher density, when properly planned and administered, can help solve a shortfall of affordably priced housing without jeopardizing the goals of the community
Existing Housing and Federal Programs
Existing single-family homes and apartments present the best shot for the Washington, D.C. region to meet its workforce housing needs, said Tom Bozzuto, founding partner of Bozzuto and Associates, because land prices have become prohibitively expensive, surging 24% between 1990 and 2000, compared to an increase of only 2.9% in hard construction costs.
“It will be practically impossible to provide workforce housing with new construction unless we have government programs,” Bozzuto said. While federal programs promoting low-income housing do exist, he said, there aren’t any that are currently targeted to workforce housing.
One of the few local initiatives in place supporting workforce housing is Montgomery County’s Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) program, which requires 12.5%-15% of the total number of units in a subdivision or high-rise building of 35 or more units to be set aside for home buyers making less than 80% of the county’s median income. The builder receives a density bonus as much as 22% higher than the density that is normally allowed, and this provides for some additional market rate units to pay for the subsidy. After some success, however, Bozzuto said that the set-aside program is running into problems because land owners are factoring those higher densities into their prices when they sell the property.
Freddie Mac Initiatives
In the secondary mortgage market, Robert Tsien, senior vice president at Freddie Mac, reported that the development of business- and consumer-oriented programs to help foster the availability of workforce housing is underway at Freddie Mac, including “Workforce Home Benefits,” an employer-assisted homeownership program, and “Dispel the Myths,” a consumer program currently in six cities.
Implemented by Freddie Mac and Tyson Foods, Inc., earlier this year, “Workforce Home Benefits” enables eligible employees to obtain financial assistance with their downpayment or closing costs from their employer.
Tyson Foods’ $50 million program will give eligible employees greater access to homeownership counseling as well as flexible mortgage products with low downpayment requirements. Employees who have worked at Tyson Foods two years or more and have a household income of less than $54,500 are eligible to participate.
The next phase of the program, he said, will include 12 companies and institutions, including hospitals and universities. Freddie Mac is also exploring the possibility of expanding the initiative to a local government that would tie the benefits to the production of more than 2,000 homes.
“Dispel the Myths” is a consumer outreach and homeownership counseling program that was created to educate potential home owners about the home buying process. The program is currently in Baltimore; Las Vegas; Columbus, OH; Miami; Chicago and Dallas, and Tsien said it will expand to 18 more cities and is expected to reach more than 25,000 potential home owners.
Photos by Herman Farrer
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