Adequate, affordable housing is a basic human need. Yet, tens of millions of low- and moderate-income Americans do not have the opportunity to buy, rent, or build adequate, affordable housing within a reasonable distance from where they work. The Nation's serious economic issues since 2008 have increased those problems.
The Equitable Housing Institute (EHI) (formerly known as the Center for Social Welfare Under the American Constitutions (CSWAC)) is a charitable, legal services organization that provides educational resources and “impact” legal services to reduce homelessness and poverty in the United States, by increasing affordable housing opportunities. Its central strategy is to eliminate the legal rules that are major barriers to needed affordable housing in many parts of America.
Those legal rules often are called “regulatory barriers to affordable housing” (RBAHs) or "exclusionary housing policies." Regulatory barriers are “among the principal culprits behind the nation’s persistent affordability problems” (in the words of the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies). Among the common regulatory barriers are exclusionary zoning ordinances, unjustified taxes, fees, exactions, and subdivision requirements for affordable housing developments. For a further introduction to the issues, please see "Regulatory barriers and EHI -- Summary."
RECENT EHI DEVELOPMENTS
Washington Post publishes EHI’s letter on consequences of
local government failures to plan adequately for housing
On April 28, 2013, the Washington Post published the following letter by EHI’s President, Tom Loftus, in response to numerous recent Post articles on housing issues.
Problems described in the April 22 front-page article “Big firms scooping up home bargains,” about Wall Street firms outbidding individuals for homes in recovering real estate markets (such as this one), and in the same day’s Metro article “Budget cuts threaten to upend Fairfax man’s fragile existence” are aggravated by the failure of most area jurisdictions to plan for, and permit, enough housing for their workforces.
That failure also worsens the effects of gentrification in Alexandria, the closing of the District’s public housing list, homelessness and declining affordability in and around the city. The resulting inadequate housing supply hits low- and moderate-income people hardest.
Major potential sources of new housing in Northern Virginia are being planned along the new Silver Line to Dulles Airport and eastern Loudoun County. But the local governments that ultimately will make the decisions about these communities have resisted allowing enough housing for future workers in those areas.
There are many documented success stories of communities near transit that are predominantly residential. New residents generally are not a significant drain on local government finances, as some officials fear.
Thomas A. Loftus, Vienna
The writer is president of the Equitable Housing Institute.
That letter is posted at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/governments-failure-to-plan-for-housing-is-hurting-people/2013/04/28/b169a93e-adc5-11e2-b240-9ef3a72c67cc_story.html. It appeared in the Post's print edition on April 29, 2013, p. A14, under the caption “Government’s failure to plan for housing is hurting people.”
In response to certain online comments, posted on the Post webpage listed above, asking for a constitutional basis for EHI’s position, and questioning the role of “equity” in government housing policy, Mr. Loftus explained:
Actually, there is a strong constitutional underpinning to EHI’s arguments. First, all that EHI’s letter says is that when governments “plan for, and permit” land uses, those actions should allow the private sector to produce enough housing where it is needed. Local exclusionary zoning and other regulatory barriers too often don’t allow that.
Allowing enough private-sector housing doesn’t cost government a thing. It doesn’t require government to provide everyone with housing. It just requires governments to do their planning and regulation right as regards housing. The failure of area governments to designate enough land and density for residences for current and future workers is well-documented.
As to constitutional requirements—regardless whether governments have a duty to provide or pay for housing, they have a constitutional duty not to interfere unjustifiably with the opportunity of private citizens to provide and obtain housing. That is EHI’s focus. American constitutional law gives citizens a right to be free from governmental regulations that do not promote the public health, safety, morals or general welfare. Numerous state Supreme Courts have ruled that exclusionary zoning, which unduly limits residential development, is contrary to the general welfare and unconstitutional.
Also, 35 state constitutions expressly declare the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights, as understood by the writers of the Nation’s constitutions, include opportunities for every American to meet basic needs—including adequate housing, food, and clothing—and to achieve reasonable personal fulfillment. EHI’s website (http://cswac.org) discusses the constitutional and other legal requirements.
“Equity” to EHI means fairness. Government housing laws are constitutionally required to be equitable in various ways. For example, there is the requirement of “equal protection of the laws” under the federal and state constitutions.
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- For specifics on suburban communities near transit that are predominantly residential, both in the Washington metropolitan area and across the United States, PLEASE SEE BELOW.
- For specifics on studies indicating that new residents in a community generally are not a significant drain on local government finances, PLEASE SEE BELOW.
- For a previous EHI letter published by the Washington Post (on Dec. 25, 2010), summarizing EHI's position that the imbalance between jobs and housing units in the Washington, DC, area is a major cause of escalating rents in that area, CLICK HERE. (For a slightly re-edited EHI version of that letter, CLICK HERE.)
Studies show that residential transit-oriented
development (TOD) works in suburbs
Among the many reasons why local governments in the Washington metropolitan area should be correcting the serious shortage of housing in transit-oriented developments (TOD’s) is that predominantly residential TOD development has thrived in many suburban areas, as well as cities—including in the Washington, DC, area.
Success stories in suburbs across the United States
A recent report by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD) discusses flourishing new development patterns within a half-mile of three new light rail lines. Two of those development patterns are predominantly residential. (CTOD, Rails to Real Estate 2 (March 2011), posted at:http://ctod.org/portal/sites/default/files/CTOD_R2R_Final_20110321.pdf) Specifically, CTOD discusses:
- Minneapolis (Minnesota)—Hiawatha Line light rail corridor, which links downtown Minneapolis with suburban Bloomington. That 12.3-mile line opened in 2004. About 86 percent of the 6.7 million square feet (sf) of development along it from 2003-2009 was residential. (Id. at 3, Fig. 1-1; 72, Table 6-2) The other 14 percent of development was “commercial,” a category that includes office, retail, hotel, and industrial development.
- Denver (Colorado)—Southeast Corridor light rail line, which links central Denver to several communities to the southeast including the Denver Technology Center (a major employment center and focus of recent job growth). (Id. at 5) That 19.1-mile line opened in 2006. About 68 percent of the nearly 7.8 million square feet (sf) of development along that line between 2004 and 2009 was residential. The other 32 percent was commercial. (Id. at 7, 72, Table 6-2)
- Charlotte (North Carolina)—Blue Line, which links central Charlotte with points south. That 9.1-mile line opened in 2007. About 54 percent of the 9.75 million sf of development along that line from 2005 to 2009 was residential, and the other 46 percent was commercial. (Id. at 7, 72, Table 6-2)
The Charlotte Blue Line development actually was predominantly commercial—because it generally takes much more square footage to house workers than to provide offices or other workplaces for them. The average amount of floor space in a new residential unit is about 1,200-1,250 sf, whereas the average space per worker in office buildings has been 250-300 sf. (Most recent commercial development in metropolitan areas has been for offices.) For retail workers, the average is between 400-450 sf; for industrial workers, about 450 sf; and for hotel workers, between 670-750 sf.
So, “balanced development,” between residential and non-residential development, generally means providing much more square footage for residential than for non-residential development.
A high percentage of TOD’s are predominantly residential. CTOD has documented numerous other suburban success stories. E.g., CTOD, Performance-Based Transit-Oriented Development Typology Guidebook 47-49 (Oak Park, IL), 50-53 (West Irving, TX) (2010), posted at:http://ctod.org/portal/CTOD-Reconnecting-America-Reports. Of course, CTOD also has documented numerous residential TOD success stories in cities, too.
Success stories in Washington suburbs
Predominantly residential TOD has a successful track record In the Washington metropolitan area, both in urban and suburban locations, as CTOD and others have documented. Examples such as the Courthouse and Clarendon stations on the Metrorail (commuter rail) Orange Line in Arlington, Virginia, merit attention by planners for future TOD's.
The areas within a half-mile of the Courthouse and Clarendon stations had a jobs-housing units ratio below 1.6:1 as of 2009. (It is estimated that before the recent recession, there was an average of 1.6 workers per housing unit in the Washington region.) See Robert Brosnan, 40 Years of Transit Oriented Development, p. 45 (May 15, 2010) (presentation to Reston Task Force; posted at:http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/projects/reston/presentations/40_years_of_transit_oriented_development.pdf (totals for office jobs and residential units within one-half mile of Arlington Orange Line stations). The overall jobs-housing units ratio for the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor (which contains the Courthouse, Clarendon, and other Arlington Orange Line stations) was 3.44:1, as of 2009.
The Silver Line Corridor from Tysons Corner to eastern Loudoun County so far has been planned for even predominantly commercial development overall. There appears to be no reason why Silver Line stations generally could not plan for balanced residential and nonresidential development, to prevent more and more new workers having to live far away and pay an increasing percentage of their incomes for housing costs.
Montgomery County, MD, is aiming for a 2.05:1 overall jobs-households ratio for its Red Line Metrorail station areas. John A. Carter, Planning at Metro Stations: Case Studies and Lessons Learned, p. 26 (Montgomery County, MD, Urban Design and Preservation Division, May 18, 2010) (presented to Reston Task Force, Feb. 23, 2010); posted at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/projects/reston/presentations/planning_at_metro_stations.pdf. That report counsels planners to “focus on housing for all” and “balance jobs and housing.” Id. at 23-25. Local planners should take advantage of the opportunities TOD presents to decrease the area’s serious housing shortage.
Studies: new housing is not a drag on local tax bases
A recent study by the nonprofit group Housing Virginia addresses the “common misperception among local government officials” that “new housing is a drag on local budgets,” and that new homes consume more local tax dollars, through services they require, than they generate through local taxes. Housing Virginia, The Effects of Housing on the Local Economy, p. 5 (Dec. 2011), posted at www.housingvirginia.org.
Those concerns influence many local governments to plan for, and permit, an insufficient amount of housing for their workforces. Housing Virginia concludes:
Contrary to the common misperception, housing is not a drag on the local tax base but a contributor to the local tax coffers. The analysis in this paper indicates that housing values are typically sufficient to cover the costs of education and total local government expenses (including education). If the indirect and induced impacts of new homes to a community were added to the equation, the conclusion would be even more dramatic and compelling that housing is a fiscal asset to the community not a liability.
Id., p. 7. That study specifically analyzed five regions of Virginia during fiscal year (FY) 2010 -- the Charlottesville MSA, George Washington Regional Commission (Fredericksburg), Lynchburg MSA, Middle Peninsula and Roanoke MSA’s. For more on that study, CLICK HERE.
Of course, even if new housing for local workers were a drag on the local tax base (if considered in isolation from the tax revenue generated by those workers), that would be no excuse for a local government to exclude them as residents. Such exclusionary policies are bad public policy because they increase many problems unnecessarily, such as:
- urban sprawl (with its many undesirable environmental effects),
- traffic congestion and commuting times,
- needless motor fuel consumption,
- road building and maintenance costs,
- housing market hyper-inflation and deflation,
- poverty, and
In fact, exclusionary zoning—a prominent exclusionary policy—already has been declared illegal in many states (including Virginia). See“Exclusionary Housing Policies” on Top Menu (above).
And planning for, and permitting, enough private-sector housing for the workforce doesn’t cost government anything, in and of itself. It just requires local governments to do their planning and land use regulation right, as regards housing. Further, if local jurisdictions encouraged the building of enough private-sector housing, government housing assistance expenditures could be much lower per person, because housing costs would be much lower.
For the most part, local governments have not publicized the figures and methodology in analyses done for them on the overall fiscal effects of new residents. However, certain analyses are available that support the same general conclusion as the Housing Virginia study. For example:
Town of Herndon (VA) study (2011)
As part of its recent Metrorail-area planning (discussed below), the Town of Herndon had consultants analyze the effects on its finances of new businesses, workers and residents in the Metrorail area. The consultants forecast net tax revenues of almost $6.5 million annually, as of 2035 (based on 2011 dollars), due to as many as 13,425 new workers (and their businesses) in that 38-acre core area.
By contrast, the consultants forecast that there would be a net annual cost to the Town of about $106 per new housing unit as of 2035 (about $250,000 annually, based on 2,357 new housing units). Thus, the net costs of new residents would be – at most – about 4 percent of net revenues from new workers and their businesses. At that rate, the Town could properly balance its total number of jobs and housing units for only a fraction of the new revenues it anticipates from the Metrorail area. For more details on the Town consultants’ fiscal analysis, CLICK HERE.
The forecast of a net $106 annual cost per new housing unit likely is an overestimation. For one thing, the consultants calculated the tax revenues and expenditures attributable to new residents entirely separate from tax revenues and expenditures attributable to new workers and their businesses. If any of those new workers are able to find housing in the Town (granted, they would have to be high-paid, as things now stand), they would be generating substantial net revenue to the Town – not net expenditures.
But even if there were a net annual cost of $106 per new unit, that amount would be insignificant. For example, Town residents likely would see their housing costs decline much more than that. As of 2008, the Town had housing for less than half the number of people who worked there, and little housing has been produced since. Such housing shortages cause hyperinflation and instability in housing prices. Median housing prices in the Town’s 20170 zip code rose by 39 percent – more than any other zip code in the Washington area -- between 2008 and 2011.
Clearly, the Town of Herndon could cure its imbalance of jobs and housing units and grow much wealthier at the same time.
Other notable studies
The findings by experts that residents basically pull their fiscal weight are not all recent. Classic works in the field stated that conclusion decades ago. See, e.g., Richard F. Babcock, The Zoning Game 42 (U. Wisconsin Press, 1966) (residential developments “are popularly believed to add less to the tax base than the cost of municipal services they create, a myth which has been exposed by Ruth Mace in the book she edited, Municipal Cost-Revenue Research in the United States [(U.N.C. Press 1961)].”
There are studies that show that housing is a net drain on local finances where the residents involved have school children. However, these studies are flawed because they assume that houses are perpetually occupied by school-age children. That is not the case. And of course, educated children are assets, not liabilities – both to their families and their community.
Local governments in Northern Virginia need to begin planning and permitting ample opportunities for housing affordable to their workforces (plus a fair share of the region’s unmet housing need), as near as possible to where people work. New businesses generally create immensely greater net revenues to the local government than any net costs their workers create as residents. And the studies noted above illustrate that generally there is little or no net cost to local governments from new residents.
EHI urges Town of Herndon's Planning Commission to meet requirements of
Virginia law and follow expert guidance regarding its housing planning
The Town of Herndon, in suburban Fairfax County (Northern Virginia), soon will have a Metrorail (rapid transit) station. The Town is planning for a heavy build-up of commercial development and jobs near that station, and it already has a serious housing shortage -- as does Northern Virginia as a whole. EHI has been urging the Town to balance its planned job growth with housing growth and consider other measures to deal with its housing shortage. (For more on the Town's Metrorail planning, CLICK HERE.)
In November 2012, the Town's Planning Commission began public meetings as part of its Five-Year Review of the Town’s current Comprehensive Plan (CP), which was adopted in 2008. EHI submitted written comments on November 29, urging the Planning Commission to revise the section of the CP on housing affordability, in order to meet Virginia planning requirements and current planning needs. In Virginia, each local government’s Comprehensive Plan --
shall include: the designation of areas and implementation of measures for the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of affordable housing, which is sufficient to meet the current and future needs of residents of all levels of income in the locality while considering the current and future needs of the planning district within which the locality is situated.
Va. Code § 15.2.2223 (emphasis added). Herndon’s current CP does not designate areas, implement measures, or otherwise discuss whether or not it has affordable housing sufficient to meet the current and future needs of residents of all levels of income.
GMU report on housing the future workforce
EHI is urging Herndon's Planning Commission to avoid contributing to the overall problems identified by George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis in its comprehensive report on housing the area’s future workforce (Oct. 25, 2011). That report's basic conclusions are that:
- Local jurisdictions are planning for an insufficient amount of housing to accommodate future workers.
- More housing is needed closer to jobs, in existing and growing regional employment centers.
- There is a need for more multi-family housing and smaller, more affordable owner and renter homes in the region.
- A lack of a sufficient supply of housing contributes to worsening traffic and quality of life and threatens our region’s economic vitality.
(For further information about that report, CLICK HERE.)
Designating areas for needed housing
There is much that the Town can do. For example, the Town should designate and set aside areas for future construction of sufficient multi-family and other housing units to achieve jobs/housing balance in its community. The American Planning Association advises that the generally recommended target standard for a community is one appropriate housing unit for every 1.5 jobs. However, the Town had a jobs/housing ratio of about 3.28:1 in 2008 and it plans to add up to 13,425 new workers in the 38-acre core area adjacent to the Town’s future Metrorail station, with housing for only about 20 percent as many workers there.
The Town could plan for a good deal of housing in the 145-acre area just beyond that 38-acre core. Residential and other development originally was envisioned for that 145 acres, as part of the Metrorail-area planning. However, the Town Council's approved plan (February 2012) covers only the 38-acre core, and there still is a zoning prohibition on residential development in the remaining 145 acres (as we understand it).
Implementing measures to promote housing affordability
The Town could consider numerous other measures as well, to aid at least some of its low- and moderate-income residents and workers. ADU (Affordable Dwelling Unit) programs are a commonly-used approach. For example, the Reston, Tysons Corner, and Route 28/CIT areas of Fairfax County (where other future Metrorail stations are planned), are subject to the County’s ADU (Affordable Dwelling Unit) program. That program requires that a substantial percentage of the units in large, new multi-family buildings be affordable to low- or moderate-income people. Loudoun County also has an ADU program, as do Arlington and the City of Falls Church.
However, the Town of Herndon does not have an ADU program, and the current CP does not consider the possibility of adopting such a program. Other means of creating and preserving affordable units include:
- housing trust funds,
- incentives to landowners such as exemptions from certain fees, charges, and/or taxes on affordable units
- land banking
- community land trusts
- accessory housing units
- condominium conversion regulations (such as rights of first refusal for existing tenants in buildings converting to condominium ownership)
We urge Herndon's Planning Commission to recommend, and its Town Council to adopt, all measures necessary to meet the Town’s needs for affordable housing during its five-year review of its CP.
Other recent developments:
- EHI addresses Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in September 2012 on housing problems related to controversial high-rise office building proposal for Reston. For more, CLICK HERE.
- Summer law clerks write extensive reports in 2012 on aspects of controlling regulatory barriers to affordable housing nationwide, as EHI plans comprehensive report. For more, CLICK HERE.
- Reston, VA, planning Task Force considers much more housing in 2012 for its Metrorail station areas, following EHI input. For more, CLICK HERE.
- EHI issues advisory to minority group representatives in September 2011 on importance of monitoring local zoning and planning activities. For more, CLICK HERE.
Equitable Housing Institute
P.O. Box 1402
Vienna, VA 22183
a project of the Center for Social Welfare Under the American Constitutions