is now widely agreed that "affordable
housing" is a primary rhetorical obstacle
to more intelligent human settlement patterns.
Nationwide, major initiatives to improve
the pattern and density of land use have been
derailed by claims that the proposed action to
make human settlement pattern more functional
will "wipe out affordable housing."
nearly everyone favors affordable housing as a
theoretical goal, there is much more that needs
to be understood about it.
The core issues have to do with location/spacial
distribution and with confusing "affordable
housing" with "low-quality
a community is to have affordable housing (as
opposed to poor-quality housing), the most
effective strategies are:
problem with the first approach is that the
range of housing options now being offered does
not meet the needs of the majority of those in
search of more suitable housing.
A companion problem with the first
approach is that subsidy and income
redistribution have staunch ideological
opponents -- "I have mine; let them earn
problem with the second approach is that the
majority of existing homeowners do not want to
have the value of their existing homes driven
down due to affordable (aka, less expensive)
housing coming on the market in their dooryard,
cluster or neighborhood.
A COMPLEX ISSUE
is clear from these two points that achieving an
affordable range of housing options is a complex
further review, it gets more convoluted very
and programs at federal, state and municipal
levels have established multi-billion-dollar
subsidies (e.g., the mortgage interest deduction
on income tax) that are intended to lower an
individual's cost of housing.
However, the great majority of the
subsidy goes to those at the top of the
economic food chain.
home ownership is a positive goal for society as
the ads by Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac espouse.
However, owning a home in a dysfunctional
location is not a benefit to the occupant or the
the land for housing and the dwelling units
themselves are sold in transactions involving
means there is a third party in whose interest
it is to see that the price is ratcheted up as
high as the market will bear.
is supplied by a speculative, profit-driven
Because of the municipal control
mechanisms now in place, the housing units being
built are the ones that yield the highest
profit per unit for the builder, not the
ones in greatest demand in the market.
housing supports the entrepreneurial goals of a
market-driven society, but it does not work any
better than socialized housing in providing
`decent and affordable' housing for all the
citizens of a community.
last two issues are related to the larger issue
that in the United States -- as contrasted with
all other nation-states in the First World --
speculative gain is the primary driving force in
creating human settlement patterns.
LAND AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING
goal of affordable housing is often raised by
those who argue that making more land available
for development will create affordable housing.
Those who gain monetarily from housing in
scattered locations advocate the extension of
highways to provide access to "cheap
land does not yield affordable housing.
If land is cheap, it is because it is not
worth as much when compared to other land in the
"cheapness" is no "bargain"
because it yields no socially desirable benefit
for the future occupant.
There is no "bargain" to be had
except to the project developer.
units are sold by builders for the highest price
that the market will bear (i.e., the prospective
homebuyer will pay) in that location.
The homebuyer does not get a "good
deal" on the price of his home because the
developer bought the land on which the house
sits at a low cost.
The builder does not pass on the
can be found in the retail trade where, due to a
relatively well-informed market, the law of
supply and demand can operate.
True bargains can almost never be found
in land within New Urban Regions or Urban
Support Regions in the
Land in remote locations may be priced
based on its value for extensive (non-urban)
land uses -- e.g., forestry or agriculture.
This land is not a "bargain"
because it is not appropriate for urban land
uses like housing.
These sites result in scattered units,
dooryards or clusters of urban housing.
hey are, by definition, dysfunctional
human settlement patterns.
land does not yield "affordable
housing"; it yields
Housing that is dramatically less
expensive per square foot is almost always
housing in bad locations relative to jobs,
services, recreation and amenities.
This poorly located, lower-quality
housing is subsidized by the taxpayers in the
municipality, the state and the region.
expensive but lower-quality housing is also
subsidized by the homeowner.
How do the owners subsidize their own
spending their time in travel to jobs and
services, by paying the transport costs to and
from the home's dysfunctional location and by
doing without quality services, recreation and
when these owners decide to sell, their homes
are on the market longer and they appreciate
less than well-located dwellings.
The Surface Transportation Policy Project
has documented the costs for housing that is
badly located in a report titled Driven to
Spend, STPP, 2000.
"The $100,000 Difference"
explores the difference in price and value of
identical houses in two different locations in
the Virginia Subregion in the report titled The
Shape of Loudoun County's Future,
housing is a prerequisite of a stable society.
Quality housing for all is a critical
goal in a democracy.
Affordability is only one requirement for
quality housing. Another
important one is accessibility.
Location is as important as sound
construction or affordability.
A good dwelling unit in a bad location
will not provide a quality home.
affordable and accessible housing cannot be
created by "Business as Usual."
It requires fundamental change.
best way to achieve affordable and accessible
housing is not to try to stop change.
Critics of "gentrification"
complain that residents in the National Capital
Subregion are being "priced out of their
neighborhood" as in Georgetown in the '50s,
'70s, Capital Hill in the '80s and
"enemy" that the critics of
gentrification need to attack is not change but
the driving force now controlling civilization
-- unbridled economic competition.
more useful path to expanding the opportunity
for affordable and accessible housing is to
rebuild every community -- and all the
components within those communities.
The goal should be to make every place
where there is housing into a desirable place to
will require rebuilding, revitalization and
renewal of the components of human settlement to
create balanced communities within sustainable
current level of public subsidy for housing
would be more than sufficient to assure there
was affordable and accessible housing for all
citizens if this subsidy were directed toward
building better components of human settlement
the present time, the vast majority of these
resources are used to subsidize the individual
units of well-to-do citizens, along with
developers, their agents and other stakeholders
in the development process.
it must be understood that the problem is not a
shortage of land devoted to urban land uses
There is already more land devoted to the
built environment than could be efficiently and
effectively used to house and serve the
projected population through 2050.
affordable and accessible housing is one of the
key challenges to achieving functional human
Citizens must understand the role of
housing location and the occupant's
accessibility to jobs, services, recreation and
amenity in the formula for creating quality
balanced communities in sustainable regions is
the only feasible path to creating affordable
and accessible housing.