ULI’s Terwilliger Center for Housing is increasing its focus on work done at the district council level, Christopher Ptomey, the center’s executive director, said in introducing a panel Wednesday at the 2022 ULI Spring Meeting in San Diego.
The panel, titled “Attainable Housing for All: Replicable Best Practices from Local Housing Challenges,” presented work at the district council level in three regions.
Phoenix area: Arizona housing once was generally affordable, but that has changed in recent years as rising costs have squeezed residents, especially renters, said panelist Silvia Urrutia, founder of U Developing LLC and chair of ULI Arizona’s Housing, Health, and Equity Task Force. “We used to worry about 30 percent AMI”—households earning just 30 percent of the area median income—“but over the last 10 years we worry about 100 percent AMI. They can’t rent.”
In a partnership with Vitalyst Health Foundation and the city of Tempe, the task force focused on how to create healthy and more equitable built environments with affordable, high-quality housing. More than 60 community organizations attended meetings and provided feedback, Urrutia said. Resulting recommendations centered on six themes: inclusive development that encourages revitalization without displacement, especially near transit; planning and regulations that support such housing, including increased density; access to capital; sustainable, healthy design; land and location, including land banking; and partnerships, especially those that involve the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
In just the past year, progress has been made, she said: the state began a low-income housing tax credit program, and the Phoenix-area council of governments recognized needs in its regional plan. Also, ULI Arizona established a Multifamily, Affordable, and Senior Housing Council.
Washington, D.C., area: Washington and its surrounding suburbs are among the nation’s most expensive housing markets. The population is climbing, but construction has lagged, so “rents are soaring,” said Nihar Shah, vice president of development for Perseus TDC and a member of the management committee of ULI Washington.
There is just not enough housing available, Shah said. He cited a recent regional study that found that to meet demand, the region needs to add 320,000 housing units by 2030—some 75,000 more than are forecast. He highlighted three case studies of local Perseus projects that relied on creative paths to build new units.
At the Foundry Apartments in Alexandria, Virginia, adaptive use of a vacant office building created 520 units. When adapting a 1970s office building, “you just don’t know what’s in there,” he said. Large, dark areas, the result of office floor plans, became tenant amenities such as a pet run. In Hyattsville, Maryland, the developers leveraged federal and local incentives to build what will be 316 units on what is now a surface parking lot. The land is in an Opportunity Zone, which allows federal tax incentives, and part of a local government revitalization plan. In Washington itself, Perseus worked with a longtime landowner, a Masonic temple, to develop an acre of land in an already dense neighborhood near downtown to provide a 158-unit apartment building with a 99-year ground lease.
Philadelphia: Preserving existing affordable housing, rather than creating more, is the challenge for Philadelphia, according to Gregory Heller and Ali Mooney, consultants with Guidehouse, both of whom until recently worked for the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation. A significant part of the city’s housing stock is composed of naturally occurring affordable housing, dubbed NOAH. These rental units are typically unsubsidized, owned by small landlords, and affordable to families making 30 to 80 percent of the area median income.
The housing development corporation conducted an inventory of NOAH units, down to the address level, and found about 76,000 of them. Almost 38,000 are vulnerable to being lost because they are in poor condition or are in neighborhoods that have not been gentrified yet but might be soon.
A ULI technical assistance panel, with the support of the Terwilliger Center, examined the issue, interviewing more than 30 community leaders, city planning staff, and others. Among the panel’s recommendations were to treat small landlords like other small businesses that receive government support; reach out to those landlords to help them navigate permitting and access capital; make repairs easier; and strengthen existing city programs. Heller noted that the city has two landlord loan programs that aim to help preserve these units, as well as an Accelerator Fund to support development of affordable housing and provide loans to historically disadvantaged developers.