Share affordable housing opportunities more fairly among our communities
Proposals for all types of affordable housing—ranging from emergency shelters to market-rate rental communities to moderately-priced homes within new subdivisions—are often met with concerns from community members and civic associations. These concerns typically involve an unexamined assumption that the effect of such housing will automatically be socially and economically negative for the surrounding community. This assumption is challenged by much of the peer-reviewed academic literature examining national examples of the relatively benign effect of developing affordable housing that is well-designed, well-financed and well-managed.
The Good Neighborhood Project of the Delaware Housing Coalition (DHC) is a long‐term project to meet the need for affordable, accessible, inclusive communities everywhere in Delaware by creating a more equitable geographic distribution of affordable housing. We advocate an equitable geographic allocation of housing to meet the needs of extremely low-income Delaware households with unaffordable housing cost burdens.
A set of recommendations designed to create a more equitable distribution of affordable housing throughout Delaware must be sensitive to a number of factors, one of which is the need to build within recognized “growth zones.” The use of permanently affordable housing mechanisms, such as the community land trust (CLT), to acquire and maintain an inventory of affordable housing opportunities outside of these growth zones can be an important strategy for better geographic distribution of affordable homes.
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Fair Share Models
In many communities, there is a growing acknowledgment that addressing poverty and racial segregation are issues that require a more equitable geographic distribution of affordable housing opportunities both in order to offer individual households better overall life opportunities and in order to de-concentrate poverty. This means that all communities need to examine the affordable housing that they make available and measure it by a "fair share" index of some kind. The result of this measuring process helps each community to begin its plan for meeting that fair share.
Sometimes a fair share approach is mandated by law. In 1975 and again in 1983, the New Jersey Supreme Court "declared that municipal land use regulations that prevent affordable housing opportunities for the poor are unconstitutional and ordered all New Jersey municipalities to plan, zone for, and take affirmative actions to provide realistic opportunities for their “fair share” of the region’s need for affordable housing for low and moderate-income people." Other states, counties, and municipalities have passed fair share laws without court intervention.
The issue of how to most fairly distribute affordable housing within a region is a challenge facing communities across the country. A number of approaches to this issue have been employed over the past few decades with varying degrees of success.
These approaches generally fit into one of four broadly defined categories, as described in a 2009 article in The Housing Journal by Elizabeth Kowalczyk — (1) formulaic, (2) negotiated, (3) special appeals, and (4) inclusionary zoning. Her article focused on six of the most common formulaic approaches.
The Fair Share Housing for Delaware, as developed for the Good Neighborhood Campaign, focuses on:
- households in rental housing at or below 50% of area median income and paying 50% or more of their income for their housing, and
- households in rental housing at or below 30% of area median income and paying 30% or more of their income for their housing.
This group comprises approximately 22,000 households in Delaware. This proxy measure for need aims at those most hard-hit by the affordable housing crisis.
Fair Share Housing in Delaware
Affordable housing is a total package of goods which can enhance the life of its occupants, and the location of this housing can be as important as its affordability.
We use the term “Fair Share” to describe a better geographic distribution of affordable housing would give households greater choices and opportunities, while benefiting communities as a whole.
Fair Share indicates the need for changes in existing land use and housing policy at state, county, and local levels in order to create a better supply and distribution of affordable housing across the entire state.
Target Census Tracts
The Target Census Tracts are the result of eliminating census tracts where more low-income housing would be undesirable. These tracts were eliminated by using specific variables: median income, poverty rate, renter percentage, AI "impacted area," and growth zone. All Delaware census tracts were mapped for each of these variables, following which only the census tracts with all of the following characteristics were selected as targets:
- >$40,000 household median income
- <15% poverty rate
- <30% renter percentage, and
- not in a racially or ethnically concentrated area
- within the state's identified "growth zone"
Fair Share Implications
County and Local
- There is a lack of land zoned for multifamily housing. There is also an uninformed bias against density which drives up the cost of housing, making it less affordable, as well as contributing to sprawl. More land can be strategically re-zoned within growth areas to promote increased use of density and permit more multifamily housing (MFH).
- Existing county programs for workforce housing do not include rental housing programs or do not aim at meeting the deepest needs. When there is a public “giving” (a material incentive such as a density bonus) to make such programs possible, the best use of this “giving” is a benefit that applies to the most citizens.
- Similarly, new public infrastructure is often planned largely with single-family housing and commercial development in mind. In these instances, as in the southern New Castle County sewer district, an adequate amount of multifamily housing could be required as part of the bargain which brings new infrastructure to an area.
- Jurisdictions share needs. In most cases, only cooperation and planning among jurisdictions can help to provide a fairer share of housing. An example of this is the great benefit which could come from a regional housing approach by the City of Wilmington and New Castle County.
- The traditional qualified census tracts (QCTs) used for placement of units in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program define those census tracts in a way which encourages placement of affordable rental housing in areas of concentrated poverty. Despite this, the Delaware State Housing Authority (DSHA) has been able to encourage placement of units outside of the QCTs. Increased incentives could be used strategically to place more new units within the target census tracts.
- There is inadequate investment in very affordable rental housing. The creation of a state multifamily bond program could encourage construction, as well as more equitable geographic distribution.
- The criteria for use of the existing state Housing Development Fund (HDF) should continue to be refined and weighted to meet the need for greater distribution of very affordable rental housing.
- An overall, statewide Affordable Housing Policy Framework could help target federal and state resources, prioritize their utilization, and offer new initiatives to help address the plight of low-income Delawareans.
- The use of eventual funds from the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) could be utilized in a way which promotes geographic distribution of very affordable rental housing in Delaware.
- When upscale housing development occur within target census tracts, a fee could be implemented and assessed for such developments, which could be contributed to a “fair share” housing fund.
- Vocal support from the community for multifamily housing, increased density, proximity to public transportation, and inclusionary zoning is essential. Continued research and education on the benefits of affordable housing, as well as the need, are also necessary. Higher density, more diverse projects, and ordinances supporting them need our continued unremitting advocacy.
- Decisions by public officials based on community sentiment of “anywhere but here” lead to chaotic, uneven, and inequitable decisions.
Outside Growth Areas
- Some of the target census tracts indicated by the Fair Share Measure fall outside the identified growth zones. In these areas, investment in the preservation and rehabilitation of existing affordable housing should be a priority. This would include promotion of resident-owned communities for manufactured housing and permanent affordability models (such as the community land trust).
- A mix of housing types at all income levels is part of what makes a strong, sustainable community. Focusing on integration of housing types within growth areas could be a way of compensating for the restrictions that growth plans place on a Fair Share effort.