Category Archives: Housing Policy

Check out the next Across Generations Article @PlannersWeb

Check out the latest article in the Across Generations: Young and Old Series on PlannersWeb.   The article is by my co-columnist Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur and titled, “Housing for Older Adults — Location, Location, Location.”  As the title suggests, the article is on housing for older adults.  My reaction after the article discusses the issues that Jennifer raises from the perspective of younger adults.

HUD and DOT Launch Location Affordability Index

The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation have launched the Location Affordability Index!  It builds on the efforts of the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing and Transportation Index.  The new Location Affordability Index has downloadable data, and a number of different “resident profiles” that estimate housing and transportation costs for different types of people (beyond just average residents).

The tool is going to be an important policy tool when making decisions about housing development and how to deploy transportation funds.  It also gives people a better estimate of what housing and transportation cost in their neighborhood.  Check it out!

Change Afoot in West Philly!

The Philadelphia Business Journal reports on a new mixed use development by Drexel University and American Campus Communities going up in Powelton Village at the corner of 34th and Lancaster.

The development will have over 20,000 square feet of retail space and will house over 1,300 students.  The land was formerly part of the Drexel campus, but used for shop and warehouse space.  The development will be a $170+ million dollar investment – the largest individual development project (in dollars) for Drexel or American Campus Communities.  The investment is significant – the Lancaster Avenue commercial corridor has lots of potential, historic buildings, and great local businesses and some galleries that serve locals and the student market.

This type of development shows that the area may be prime for an uptick in commercial activity, student interest, and (probably) increasing residential rents.  American Campus Communities is a real estate investment trust (REIT) that trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol ACC.

The investment could help stabilize the corridor and provide a boost to businesses, but with any major investment like this, the community needs to be careful to ensure that the growth doesn’t force out longer term businesses who can’t afford new rents.  This type of development can also lead to the loss of historic buildings as investors may demolish in order to assemble larger parcels for other big developments.

The positives are that Drexel and ACC are committed to the community by investing in something that they can’t simply move and having an “anchor” institution often means a stable community.  (To the university’s credit, Drexel already invests over $500,000 annually in the University City District, which supplements security and cleaning services in the neighborhood – evidence of the benefit of anchor partners!).  The development will also help stitch the fabric of the Lancaster Avenue businesses closer into the Drexel campus by filling an underutilized gap in the streetscape.

A few years ago I was at a presentation by the former president of the American Planning Association, Mitchell Silver, who said that gentrification is revitalization with tradeoffs.  Being aware and careful to avoid tradeoffs between existing businesses and new development can mean that Drexel’s new development revitalizes the neighborhood instead of gentrifying it.

Philadelphia Federal Reserve Graduate Student Research Forum

On Tuesday October 22, 2013, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve held the first annual Community Development Graduate Student Research Forum.  The Department of Community Development Studies and Education at the Federal Reserve sponsored the event, which featured six paper presentations ranging from land value models of vacant city owned property to the importance of religious institutions in community stability.  Presenters came from Penn (my classmates!), Temple, Rutgers-Camden, as well as professional presentations from local CDCs, the Philadelphia Association of CDCs, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The event offered me the opportunity to meet a number of like minded researchers, community development practitioners, and graduate students.  I look forward to continuing the relationships in community development research that the Philadelphia Federal Reserve has fostered across different institutions and practice boundaries!

Washington Post’s Homes for the Taking Three Point Series Part 1 – Left With Nothing

The Washington Post has published a three part series in the paper titled, “Homes for the Taking.”  The series is essential reading for urban planners, community development practitioners, and people interested in urban real estate issues.  In Part One, “Left With Nothing,” the authors chronicle Bennie Coleman, a senior with dementia, who lost his home over a missed $134 property tax bill.  Washington, DC sells delinquent tax bills to private companies that then take over charging interest and foreclosure proceedings.  Mr. Coleman’s $134 debt ballooned to $4,999 in the hands of the private lender, who foreclosed on him and then sold the house for $71,000 months later.  Many of these companies charge unreasonable interest and fees and push people out of homes.  Policy makers need to be sure that their tax collection systems don’t cause more harm than good just to make up a small amount of unpaid taxes.