What's Behind the Crisis in Affordable Housing?

Affordable housing is in crisis, but new strategies and building techniques are addressing the needs.

One assessment presented was that so-called knowledge workers don't start at high enough salaries to be able to afford average big city housing prices.

The assessments are in a new Urban Land Institute Urban Land magazine article, posted yesterday, of a seminar that took place at the group's fall meeting in Chicago last month, here. The institute is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that examines sustainable land use.

The session had, in part, a New York focus, with panelists including Jerilyn Perine, former commissioner of New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, as well as a New York architect.

Among the points:

  • Chris Bledsoe, CEO of Stage 3 Properties, which focuses on urban rentals via so-called "micro-suites," told the gathering, according to the article, "that there are few affordable places to live in the most expensive U.S. cities for a person earning less than $100,000 per year, which is well above the starting salary for 'knowledge workers'—graphic designers, computer programmers, and the like—that cities say they want to attract. Legal shared housing is in chronic undersupply."
  • Kyle Freedman, CEO and founder of Roommatchers.com, an online matching and search service, reported that 30% of his site’s users want housing $750- to $1,000-per-month range, "so the only way they can afford anything is by pairing up."
  • Perine suggested that affordable housing also "is a question of perception." The article reports that she said that just 23% of U.S. households consist of two parents living with children under 25 years old, while singles living alone are 28 percent, and adults sharing homes represent 17% of U.S. households.

Perine, who is is executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, a nonprofit studies New York City housing needs, discussed the group's Making Room initiative, which is focused on three new housing types:

  • small, efficient studios designed for single-person households;
  • legal shared housing for unrelated adults; and
  • accessory units to make a single-family home more flexible for extended families or additional renter

Efforts to improve the availability of affordable housing, the meeting writeup notes, hinge on city and state policies onmaximum occupancy restrictions, minimum room sizes, lot coverage restrictions, and parking requirements.

The Urban Land Institute article quotes Jay Valgora, an architect with New York's Studio V Architecture, as saying that "micro-unit projects need to focus on more than just making smaller units. 'It’s about making something better—more windows, more light, more modular, and more affordable,' he said."

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