Robust land bank and land trust partnerships, long-term lease-purchase programs, and low-interest renovation loans with affordability requirements are three tools that policymakers and mission-driven organizations can use to get ahead of real estate price appreciation, according to Proactive Preservation of Unsubsidized Affordable Housing in Emerging Markets: Lessons from Atlanta, Cleveland, and Philadelphia, a new working paper jointed published by the Joint Center for Housing Studies and NeighborWorks® America. Written by Matt Schreiber, a Master of Urban Planning student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design who was a 2017 Edward M. Gramlich Fellow in Community and Economic Development, the paper draws on work done by public and non-profit entities in all three cities.
In those places, Schreiber notes, median house prices range from $60,000 to $250,000, which suggests that they have an ample supply of affordable units. However, housing in those markets actually remains out of reach for so many residents, whose incomes are not growing as rapidly as house prices, which, according to Zillow’s Home Value Index, rose by 8-11 percent in 2017. Such increases, and the fact that prices rose in more than 90 percent of the zip codes in those three cities, led Schreiber to ask what policymakers and the leaders of mission-driven organizations could do to get ahead of real estate price appreciation and, in doing so, proactively preserve their city’s stock of affordable housing.
Schreiber used a four-part methodology to answer this question. First, he identified emerging markets; those areas that have not yet experienced the price appreciation effects of gentrification, but are likely to do so in the near future because they are close to each city’s central business district, anchor institutions, or its other already-gentrified areas. Second, he reviewed the housing stock in these “likely-to-gentrify” areas, which made it clear that most of the affordable housing in these places are unsubsidized units located in one-to-four unit buildings. Third, he interviewed local stakeholders and national experts to learn their views on promising ways to find the balance between improving the quality of the housing stock while preserving its long-term affordability for low-income residents.
Those interview informed the fourth and final step: identifying and assessing three strategies that may address this challenge: building stronger partnerships between local land banks and local land trusts, creating lease-purchase programs that make homeownership more accessible for people of modest means, and offering low-interest loans that help owners renovate unsubsidized affordable units in return for long-term commitments to keep those units affordable for many years to come. Taken together, he notes, these strategies can help maximize the efficiency of the limited resources available to preserve and develop affordable housing. Moreover, the experiences in the three cities suggest “it is possible for mission-driven organizations and policymakers to get ahead of gentrification and proactively preserve vulnerable, unsubsidized affordable housing for low-income residents.”