ON THE AGENDA | MARCH 31ST, 2016 | Allison Rizzolo

To Keep Cities Affordable, Affordable Housing Is One Solution of Many

Upping the number of affordable housing units is one important approach for addressing soaring housing costs, but such efforts alone will not alleviate the problem fully.


Photo: Chris Goldberg | Flickr

Earlier this month, the New York City Council approved two major parts of Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to build and preserve 200,000 affordable housing units over the next ten years.

Increasing the inventory of housing for lower- and middle-income residents is one very important approach for addressing housing costs in New York and other cities across the country. But such efforts alone will not alleviate the housing affordability problem fully. Nor are they likely to ease the immense anxiety many feel as they ponder, can I afford to live here?

We must expand the conversation on affordable housing and explore additional solutions and approaches that support affordable cities for residents of all incomes. Next Monday, we plan to do just that, during Bold Solutions to Housing Affordability, a free event open to the public.

Our discussion, moderated by WNYC's Brian Lehrer, will include New York City's Commissioner for Housing Preservation and Development Vicki Been, NYU's Steven Pedigo, Director of Creative Cities & Civic Innovation, and New York Community Trust's Patricia Swann, senior program officer for community development.

This event kicks off an effort to better understand: what are the approaches to housing affordability that New York residents are willing to support? While our discussion will be hosted in New York City and focus on solutions for the metro area, like Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing plan, we will examine other approaches to housing affordability that have been tried and implemented around the world. We will also explore how issues like transportation, social mobility and opportunity affect housing affordability.

Here are some ways cities around the world have tackled housing affordability. Would these work in New York City, or in the city where you live? Let us know what you think on Twitter with #BoldNYC.

Rooftop 'Parasite' Homes Could be the Future of Affordable Housing in Paris

Attractive, pre-fabricated affordable housing units are built on top of existing structures in Paris. Building owners nominate suitable rooftops and are compensated with substantial renovations to the existing building, including, for example, insulation or new elevators. Costs remain low and the solution makes good use of inner-city space, which is at a premium.

Vancouver is Leading the Way on Accessory Dwelling Units

In Vancouver, homeowners are building small homes on properties with existing homes (called laneway housing). Laneway homes retain the visual aesthetic of the neighborhood while creating opportunities for middle-income buyers to afford increasingly pricey neighborhoods. Now, even laneway apartment buildings are being approved. Laneway housing can be zoned in any neighborhood and not just hip ones, ensuring access to all people seeking affordable housing.

In Defense of Micro-Apartments

Micro-apartments enable cities with little real estate to make the most of newer apartment buildings by creating low- to middle-income housing with smaller square footage that is still appealing and affordable for all citizens. Micro-apartments are designed to be affordable for younger, single professionals, who often compete with families for affordable single-family housing. Many cities are also making rules that some percentage of these micro-units must be affordable for low-income renters.

To Build Out, Mass Transit Needs Better Infrastructure

Middle-income renters and buyers can move out of the densely packed and expensive city center if there is a strong mass transit infrastructure. More and better mass transit means existing housing not currently served by transit will become more useable and attractive. It also means developers can build more housing in places where there is under-utilized mass transit within walking distance (for example: more middle-income housing within walking distance of commuter rail stations in the NY metro area.)

Why is Starbucks Helping Employees with Rent?

Starbucks is offering full-time employees in China housing allowances. It is also doing something similar in the UK to help offset initial rental costs, including brokerís fees and down payment. This helps Starbucks retain employees and cuts the cost of training new employees when they have a high turnover rate. It is also beneficial for the companyís image. If more companies offered these kinds of incentives, it could eliminate some of the strain on those paying for low- and middle-income housing.

Live in the New York metro region? We hope you can join us Monday evening (registration is required, please). You'll have the chance to ask the panel your questions about housing affordability and weigh in on your preferred solutions. Not able to attend? Follow along on Twitter with #BoldNYC.

To receive an invite to future Public Agenda events, be sure to join our email list.


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