A road map to more affordable housing

James Fraser and his colleagues at Vanderbilt University have released a report that responds to Nashville residents’ call for affordable housing and points the way to strong, stable neighborhoods.

The study, Equitable Development — co-authored by Amie Thurber, Jyoti Gupta and Doug Perkins — highlights housing problems that face people of every income bracket and offers a road map for Nashville and other cities to develop housing more equitably.

“Equitable development,” Fraser says, is “the redevelopment of neighborhoods that improves the quality of life for residents of all incomes. People of all incomes care about the costs of living in general and housing costs in particular.”

Nashville residents recently identified affordable living as a top concern for the next 25 years, and surveys have produced similar results from Florida to Oregon. Nationwide, nearly two of every three Americans say they are concerned about the cost of housing in their communities, and 80 percent worry about affording a down payment and closing costs.

“Each city is different, of course,” Fraser points out, “and should choose tools that will work for their situation. But with perseverance every city in the country can maximize housing affordability and minimize displacement, if we build the political will and provide useful tools to guide our efforts.”

Tools that create local dedicated resources to subsidize equitable development, tools that regulate and incentivize equitable development, tools that allow residents to stay in place, tools that preserve affordable units in perpetuity

Among other solutions, Fraser and his colleagues recommend that locales:

  • Retain affordable housing, allowing residents to stay in place. Cities might offer homeownership education, tax freezes or home repair assistance programs.
  • Preserve affordable housing with, for example, programs under which local governments share in both the cost and appreciation of homes.
  • Fund affordable housing with resources such as an affordable housing trust fund.
  • Build affordable housing. Cities might offer incentives like land banking or property tax exemptions.

Does Fraser see a role for Habitat in this? “Absolutely. A lot of moderate-income families need homeownership opportunities, so we have a population of people that’s growing that could use the services that Habitat offers. I know is doing valuable work here, bringing the community together and articulating a plan, a real commitment to building affordable housing for families.”

Fraser notes that several pieces of housing policy legislation are now under consideration by his city council. “But the thing is, policy makers can support this, some real estate developers are fine with it, but it’s just so important to work with communities, to help them understand that this will strengthen their neighborhoods.”