Affordable and workforce housing policies and programs put in place by the governments of Alexandria, Virginia; Houston; and Minneapolis have been selected as finalists for the 2021 ULI Robert C. Larson Housing Policy Leadership Award. The annual award, presented by the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing, recognizes innovative ways the public sector is addressing the nation’s affordable housing crisis. This year’s winner will be announced in October.

The finalists are:

  • Alexandria, Virginia, Office of Housing and Department of Planning and Zoning. In 2019, Alexandria amended its zoning ordinance as a result of a comprehensive and culturally inclusive community planning and engagement process. The residential multifamily (RMF) zone provides a substantial density incentive to induce landowners to preserve or produce affordable housing. The RMF zone was developed pursuant to the 2018 South Patrick Street Housing Affordability Strategy, a community planning process undertaken to identify potential tools, strategies, and resources for the preservation of 215 existing units of deeply affordable housing at risk of being lost to market pressures.

    The RMF zone allows substantial new density so the owner can develop three to five market-rate units to subsidize every deeply affordable unit provided. In addition, the zone requires assistance and protections for existing residents who are temporarily relocated—including a right to return when the new development is complete—so that redevelopment can occur.
  • Houston Planning and Development Department. Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Complete Communities Initiative improves neighborhoods and seeks equity for all Houston residents. The Third Ward Complete Communities Action Plan, created with community participation over a nine-month engagement process, identified long-term housing affordability, involuntary displacement prevention, and preservation of historic housing character as essential to preventing the displacement of residents and loss of cultural history. The Complete Communities–Webster Block program exemplifies these goals, maintaining and enhancing existing buildings in Houston’s northern Third Ward to ensure long-term, safe, and affordable housing for residents.
  • Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development Department. Minneapolis Homes was created in response to a City Council directive in 2015 to incentivize housing development on city-owned vacant land. An infill housing task force brought forward recommendations to market, sell, and develop government-owned vacant lots; increase affordable housing production; support minority contractors and developers; and build/keep wealth in communities.

    The program began with four strategies: 1) provide a homebuyer incentive to build new homes on vacant lots; 2) promote mixed-income neighborhoods throughout Minneapolis by creating a long-term affordability homebuyer financing tool; 3) build new homes on city-owned vacant lots by providing value gap development assistance; and 4) invest land-sale proceeds to further program goals.

    To meet city climate goals, sustainable building requirements and incentives were added for Minneapolis Homes–funded projects. Minneapolis Homes was originally a single-family new construction program; now the program provides funding for one- to 20-unit construction in alignment of 2040 Comprehensive Plan goals.

    And finally, in 2020, the program introduced funding targeting a reduction in displacement.

“Congratulations to the cities of Alexandria, Virginia; Houston, Texas; and Minneapolis, Minnesota, for being finalists for this year’s Larson Award,” said Christopher Ptomey, executive director of the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing. “Each of these initiatives will substantially improve housing access for lower-income residents and advance the cities’ equitable development priorities. I look forward to other cities learning from and replicating these forward-thinking strategies.”

The award was created in 2011 to honor the legacy of the late Robert C. Larson, a former ULI Foundation chairman and a longtime ULI trustee. The Larson Awards are part of the ULI Terwilliger Center’s housing awards program and recognize exemplary state and local programs or policies that support the production, rehabilitation, or preservation of workforce and affordable housing.

Jury chair is Ron Terwilliger, founder of the ULI Terwilliger Center and chairman of Terwilliger Pappas Multifamily Partners.

Other jury members are Payton Chung, managing partner, Westover Green, Washington, D.C.; Dennis Daniels, architect and project manager, Wier Boerner Allin Architecture, Nashville; Adam Ducker, chief executive officer, RCLCO, Bethesda, Maryland; Mike Francescani, manager, CohnReznick LLP, Boston; Alan George, executive vice president (retired), Equity Residential, Chicago; Sonia Huntley, senior vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion, ULI, Washington, D.C.; Dara Kovel, president, Beacon Communities, Boston; Dionne Nelson, principal and chief executive officer, Laurel Street Residential, Charlotte; Phillip Payne, cofounder and chairman, the Lotus Campaign, Charlotte; Mark Richardson, chief technology officer, Rich Analytics, Toronto; Stacy Silber, principal, LerchEarlyBrewer, Bethesda, Maryland; Jaydan Tait, president and chief executive officer, Attainable Homes Calgary, Calgary, Alberta; Emily Thompson, partner, GMD Development, Seattle; Sam Watkins, director of architecture, BKV Group, Dallas; and Margaret Wylde, chief executive officer, ProMatura Group, Oxford, Mississippi.