The Equity Factor

These 3 Cities Are Looking for Their “Goldilocks” Affordable Housing Solutions

Housing vouchers in Chicago and New Orleans and single-family zoning in Seattle were in the news this week.

HUD Secretary Julián Castro had a busy day in Chicago on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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When large-scale housing interventions come from government — whether a city’s housing task force or the head of HUD — there’s inevitably going to be people who say the government is overstepping its bounds, or conversely, not going far enough.

Here are some stories from the week about the push-pull involved in getting affordable housing policies just right.

HUD Wants Chicago to Address Cash Stockpile
Last fall, when the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) opened its waiting list, around 282,000 people applied for the chance to live in public housing. But on Wednesday, after announcing the new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule at a press conference, HUD Secretary Julián Castro expressed concerns that CHA’s reserves are “higher than ought to be the case.”

The CHA currently has $440 million stockpiled. Despite this, a report from the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability found that between 2008 and 2012 the CHA issued, on average, 13,534 vouchers per year fewer than what HUD paid for in the city.

“The increase in CHA’s reserves was driven by the significant downturn in the real estate market‎,” a spokesman for CHA told DNAinfo Chicago. “However, ‎this year CHA will invest $240 million ‎to build affordable housing units across the city on top of the $135 million spent last year to develop affordable housing for low-income families and seniors.”

“I’m pleased that CHA has come up with a plan to address that, and we’ll look forward to working with CHA so that they can invest those reserves reasonably, and make sure that there’s more opportunity for families to get good quality housing,” said Castro, according to CBS Chicago. “It was a concern, and it is a continuing concern, and I’m glad … it is being addressed.”

New Report Casts Doubt on Voucher Success in New Orleans
The number of housing vouchers in Orleans Parish more than tripled from 2000 to 2010, in an effort to increase housing opportunities for low-income residents, especially following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

“Expanding Choice and Opportunity in the Housing Choice Voucher Program,” published on Wednesday by the New Orleans-based Data Center, evaluates the racial and economic disparities that persist in the city even after the dramatic expansion of the Housing Choice Voucher program.

On top of the delay in construction of affordable housing projects (covered in depth in the recent Next City feature “10 Years After Katrina, New Orleans Public Housing Still in Limbo”), housing discrimination against voucher holders is cited as a real and persistent barrier to accessing low-poverty neighborhoods.

Among the suggestions to improve the voucher program, the authors recommend the creation of an effective counseling program offering pre-move and post-move assistance to voucher holders, as well as contributing to the recruitment and retention of receptive landlords. Another of the report’s recommendations is to allow people to use vouchers across parish lines, giving them more access to higher-income, low-poverty neighborhoods.

Seattle Reacts to Proposal to End Single-Family Zoning
On Tuesday, the Seattle Times leaked a draft report that a housing task force under Mayor Ed Murray was planning on submitting to Murray next Monday. Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee had prepared 67 recommendations with respect to increasing funding, housing supply, efficiency and tenant support, but one recommendation is causing a brouhaha in advance of being formally submitted.

The committee is proposing the end of single-family zoning and replacing it with a “lower-density residential zone” that would allow duplexes, triplexes and other low-scale housing developments in neighborhoods that are currently zoned for single homes on lots with yards.

Since the leak, there’s been a public debate about whether the benefits of this recommendation (increasing housing accessibility) outweigh its drawbacks (altering the historical look and feel of neighborhoods).

With respect to the history of single-family zoning, the committee had this to say: “Seattle’s zoning has roots in racial and class exclusion and remains among the largest obstacles to realizing the city’s goals for equity and affordability. In a city experiencing rapid growth and intense pressures on access to affordable housing, the historic level of single family zoning is no longer either realistic or sustainable.”

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

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Alexis Stephens was Next City’s 2014-2015 equitable cities fellow. She’s written about housing, pop culture, global music subcultures, and more for publications like Shelterforce, Rolling Stone, SPIN, and MTV Iggy. She has a B.A. in urban studies from Barnard College and an M.S. in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Tags: affordable housinginclusionary zoninghudsocial services

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