Rethinking How to Solve the Nation’s Housing Shortage

Homeowners, property tax exemptions, selling municipal land — the potential solutions to address the country’s housing shortage are as varied as the challenges driving them.

But to ensure American households have access to stable housing, local, state and federal officials need to rethink outdated approaches, experts said during a panel on Tuesday. They also stressed that the difficulties in the housing market go beyond the lack of affordable housing and are not limited to the country’s most expensive cities.

“We can really see that it’s not limited to any particular socioeconomic class. It is not limited to specific regions. It’s a broad spectrum,” said Craig Parker, CEO of Holland Partner Group, a West Coast-based multifamily and mixed-use developer.

At a summit hosted by Up for Growth, an organization dedicated to tackling the housing crisis, panelists discussed how to increase housing of all types – including assistive, affordable, mid-range and market housing – and described changes they would like to see in the state and municipal level.

Processes and Policies

According to Parker, costly and lengthy permitting processes are a major impediment to building homes at market prices. He noted that in California, certain permits can take years.

Some communities have worked to streamline processes, but timelines are still significant, Parker said. Reducing the time it takes to get a project approved can help developers offset other costs, such as rising material prices and supply chain delays.

One reason permits can be dragging is outdated zoning codes, said Angela Brooks, president-elect of the American Planning Association, a professional organization of urban planners. Some regulations have not changed in decades and no longer reflect the needs of communities today, she added.

In his role as chair of the National Multifamily Housing Council’s Workers’ Housing Committee, Antonio Marquez surveyed members of the organization to see what initiatives had improved housing in their communities. The overwhelming response, according to Marquez, was the local property tax exemption.

“That was the difference between going ahead with the project and not,” he said.

Creating different ways for people to finance their homes is another important step leaders can take, said Brooks, who is also a director of the Illinois office of the Corporation for Supportive Housing.

She pointed to Chicago’s “Choose to Own” program, which allows people to use Section 8 coupons to buy homes. More than 750 homes have been purchased under the program, she said.

create stock

Genger Charles, managing director of external affairs and impact strategy at Amherst Group, an Austin-based real estate investment firm, highlighted the potential benefits of manufactured homes. Prefab homes, including mobile homes, can be built quickly, in some cases taking less than a year to complete and set up on a lot. They can also be built indoors, which means weather isn’t an issue during construction, Charles said.

Charles acknowledged the widespread perception that prefab homes are unsafe or of lower quality than traditionally built homes, but said the reputation was misplaced. Additionally, in some cases, multiple prefabricated units could fit on a lot originally designated as a single-family lot, providing housing for more households.

She said her group is trying to get local officials to see manufactured and modular homes as an option for providing a “rapid, permanent supply” of housing.

Rehabilitating ramshackle structures rather than building from scratch is another way to add to the housing stock, and one that’s often greener than building new, said Marquez, who is also the founder and managing partner of Comunidad Partners, a workers’ housing developer investment company.

Charles added that while preserving vacant buildings needs to go beyond renovating multi-family homes, it’s often difficult for prospective homeowners to raise the capital to work on single-family homes.

“The residents are the true capital”

It is also important to provide support to keep vulnerable residents, such as those on low incomes, in their homes, panellists said.

“Residents are the real asset,” Marquez said.

Ensuring residents have access to services like affordable health care and counseling can help keep their finances stable so they can afford their rent or mortgage payments, he explained.

Charles noted that her company connects residents with social workers, housing counselors, and educational materials to help them plan for their future. “We take stability really seriously,” she said.

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