You can’t have a neighborhood without neighbors. Just as businesses need customers and workers – most of whom come from nearby – in order to thrive, families need neighborhoods that meet their needs, including businesses where they can find food, clothing, entertainment, and other goods, and where they can work and earn a living. But, at the end of the day, they need safe, healthy, decent and affordable housing so they can line in the neighborhoods where they work, shop, play and learn.
If we’re going to attract more businesses and create more jobs, we need to build more housing: workforce housing, affordable housing and innovative ideas like micro-units. We must commit to an aggressive plan for building tens of thousands of new units of housing that will help relieve the high cost of housing that is straining many families. It is imperative we do so to keep out economy churning. We need housing policies that empower residents to plan their communities, create more affordable housing units, support broader economic development goals, preserve neighborhood stability, and help those facing housing crises.
In Congress, Dwight Evans will promote an aggressive plan to build housing in our cities to make sure businesses can grow there and their workers can live there. We must:
Increase densities in every neighborhood center so that development moves in without displacing existing residents – helping rather than hurting them.
Return abandoned, vacant, and eyesore properties to productive use. The federal government can support city efforts to do so not just by funding such efforts as interagency public information campaigns, owner referrals to City assistance, and foreclosure and receivership actions, but also by freeing up TARP funds from bailing out banks that promoted unsound mortgages to be used for demolition and reconstruction of abandoned properties – making neighborhoods safer, stopping hemorrhaging of block after block, and creating thousands of good-paying inner-city jobs.
And keep more housing from ending up like that. We need to help struggling home-owners to keep their homes from contributing to neighborhood decline through neglect, starting an unstoppable downward spiral. Federal, state and local governments can fund ongoing emergency and basic health and safety home rehabilitation services for low-income and senior households – the latter would have the advantage of reducing fall risks that drive up long-term care and Medicaid costs. Exterior home improvement rebate incentive programs would also help maintain the value of not just the individual home but of the entire block. These are “public goods” in which we need public sector investment.
Help homeowners refinance their loans with conditions that better fit their financial situation. Several states – but far from all – have enacted programs allowing homeowners with troubled mortgages to refinance into lower, fixed-rate mortgages; this keeps them in their homes, keeps them paying on their mortgages, and keeps properties from going vacant – making it a win-win-win for families, banks, and communities. A non-profit in Boston, City Life, launched an alternative approach whereby it buys houses at foreclosure and resells them to the original homeowner at a lower price. This is a nationwide problem that brought on the Great Recession and depresses the economy today, inhibiting full recovery; a nationwide response is needed.
Expand employer-assisted housing. Medical and educational institutions, in particular – among the leading employers in many urban neighborhoods – have a vested interest in making sure their employees and students can afford decent homes close by because it helps them to with attraction, retention, and success. The government can offer financial incentives to augment or offset private contributions, facilitate collaboration with non-profit organizations to work with these institutions to design and manage housing benefit programs, and encourage them to take a leadership role in advocating for new development and policy changes that can help meet local needs.
Encourage home ownership. There are many steps that state and local governments take to accomplish this – and the federal government can help support them: First-time home-buyer classes, soft-second affordable mortgage programs, and efforts to recruit and renew bank involvement in affordable housing programs. As a state legislator, I started a House Party program bringing together banks, realtors and potential homeowners in an effort to buy and rehab abandoned homes in Northwest Philadelphia. I will expand that effort throughout the Second Congressional District – and will encourage HUD to do the same throughout the country.
Promote inclusionary zoning. Many large cities, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Oakland, assess linkage fees for new developments that require developers either to include affordable housing in the development mix or else provide funding for neighborhood affordable housing and job-creation trusts. This should become a requirement of all federal support for development, whether through housing, transportation, economic development, or other funding.
Healthy housing: Affordable housing should also be healthy housing. The National Center for Health Housing recommendations for affordable housing:
- Spray-free and smoke-free policies;
- Energy conservation measures;
- Good ventilation; and
- Elimination of water leaks and use of water saving fixtures.
These policies should apply to any new construction by the City’s Department of Neighborhood Development should follow these recommends, and we should encourage the Boston Housing Authority and community development organizations to do the same. Existing housing stock should be retrofitted and policies adopted to implement them as well.