A new housing project is built in your neighborhood. It's expensive. People who can afford it move from other homes into the new developments. So less wealthy people can move into those old homes, right?
Things do not typically work out that way, according to the panel discussion hosted by Councilmember Nick Licata and the Housing, Human Services, Health, and Culture Committee Monday evening at City Hall. Often, the wealthier benefit from new developments, while the burdens are left on the poor. Conversation during the special meeting surrounded the question, "Can we achieve social equity using smart growth?"
In 2004, 40 percent of housing in South Lake Union was unaffordable to people making under 80 percent of the area median income (about $45,000 per year for a single person). By 2009, after 1,600 new units were built in the neighborhood, the percentage of unaffordable housing jumped from 40 to 63 percent.
During a recession, when many building projects are on hold, could be a great time to make housing policy more equitable, the panelists suggested.
"This is a great time to institute new policies ahead of new growth," said Professor Dennis Keating, one of the panelists. For example, Link light rail is expected to bring transit-oriented development to the areas near each station. The challenge to the city and to each neighborhood is making sure those who live in those areas will be able to remain living there if property values increase.
Among those who attended the meeting, there was much support for finding a way to institute something like tax-increment financing (TIF) -- which is widely used in other states, but was declared unconstitutional in Washington in the 1990s. This would tax property near a new development for any increases in property value. That money could then be put into affordable housing projects.
There was also support for at least a one-to-one replacement policy for whenever an affordable unit is torn down in a neighborhood, mandating that a new affordable unit is created to replace it.
Teaming up with developers from the start could help ease conflicts over affordable housing rules later, suggested panelist Connie Galambos Malloy from Urban Habitat in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"Builders just want to know what the rules are" from the start, she said, so they know what kind of project to bring to make a profit. Making an affordable housing policy before a project is under way could be easier than battling over a project once it has been designed or construction has started.