Monday, September 9, 2013

Pleasing NIMBYs Means Less Affordable Housing

IMG_9961Construction isn't even finished yet, but already Arlington, VA has seen 3,600 people apply for 122 new units of affordable housing, according to a Washington Post report by Patricia Sullivan.

But there's one thing the article doesn't say: Arlington shrank the size of the affordable housing complex to please neighbors:
In preparation for its proposal, [Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing] staff met with many stakeholders in the Arlington Mill community to hear concerns and ideas. From these meetings, it reduced the number of units to address concerns of the Park Glen community that the complex was too large for the space, adjacent  to the Park Glen condos; and some of the concerns about the density of the project with resulting traffic and crowd-control issues.
From an APAH presentation on the project:
Responds to community issues and County goals: The building height was lowered and the unit count was reduced from 192 (256 bedrooms) units to 122 (245 bedrooms) units.
Note that this building is only about four stories. I've literally heard some people who live on Columbia Pike say allowing a building like this to be eight stories would turn Columbia Pike into lower Manhattan.

Artificially limiting the amount of housing a developer can build comes with real-life consequences. By limiting height, restricting the number of units, or in the case of suburbs, mandating each unit be built on a certain lot size, you're telling a certain number of people they're not allowed to live there and will have to look elsewhere for housing.

When at least 3,600 people are in such urgent need of affordable housing, every unit counts. As Slate's Matt Yglesias has detailed, limits on building size in urban cores have devastating effects.

Fortunately, the tide is slowly turning in favor of allowing taller buildings and denser developments in urban centers. Boston Mayor Tom Menino's newly-unveiled affordable housing plan does just that.
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