There’s No Place Like Home…if you have one.

June 30, 2019

Last Thursday, I did something I haven’t done in a long time and had promised that in retirement I might not do unless I felt compelled to do it.   “It” is to participate in a public work session on a problem as difficult to manage as providing affordable public housing for low and moderate income folks.

“It” was a forum and work session sponsored by The Partnership for Prosperity at Goodwill Industries in Winston-Salem.   The last one of this type I had attended was probably close to forty years ago when I worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The reason for my hesitancy to participate last Thursday was because I was afraid that whatever I brought to the work session would be irrelevant because the times had changed so much.

They haven’t.

There still isn’t enough money to build the number of units to make a significant dent in the need for affordable housing, not just in Winston-Salem, but all over America.  Winston-Salem is about 15,000 units short, according to Mayor Joines.  (4/10/19)

Cost of housing is climbing so fast that it’s problematic whether there will ever be enough money to solve the problem.  On the other side of the coin, it is sometimes cheaper to buy a house (if you qualify) than to rent in Forsyth County, due to what constitutes “affordable” rent is about half what the market rate is. (W-S Journal 6/27/19)

The NIMBYies are still around.  (City Lab, 2/6/19)

Too many housing projects are in trouble.  (Reveal Investigative Reporting 2/17/14; NYTimes 6/24/20)

Evictions are still too high.  (Partnership for Prosperity Meeting 6/27/20)

Landlord-tenant disputes are still common and too many settled in favor of the landlords. (Partnership for Prosperity Meeting (4/24/20)

So there are still problems.  The brighter side is that there are lots of people in Winston-Salem working on the problem and it was reassuring to hear that progress is being made, modest that it may be.   It was especially reassuring to have a developer (Lou Baldwin of Baldwin Properties) present who could talk about the realities of providing affordable housing in Winston-Salem without getting defensive.

When I was at HUD back in the seventies, we had just demolished two huge high-rise housing projects, one in St. Louis and the other in Chicago and had begun to advocate the construction of low-rise townhouse type development because they were better able to integrate into neighborhoods, thus reducing the resistance of NIMBYies.  I suggested to Mr. Baldwin that that approach seemed particularly well-suited for Winston-Salem and he was polite enough to agree.   Inasmuch as that concept was forty years old, I felt compelled to surf the Internet to see if I could verify my assumption.

You can imagine my relief when I heard from my Councilman Jeff MacIntosh that he and Mr. Baldwin had spoken at length about the same thing later that day.   Both of them had gotten a lot of interest from developers since they initially laid out their aspirations at a recent meeting.  In related but separate events, the  local Realtor association plans to sponsor a “Granny Flat” symposium and Jeff is also meeting with the Architects group about related issues.  One of the most encouraging things about his news was that he and several other senior planners and inspectors are talking about a place in several specific neighborhoods that would find the townhouse concept acceptable in order to provide a pilot project.

What I found in my Internet surfing that intrigued me most was a white paper prepared by the City of Asheville, NC, entitled “Best Practices for Affordable Housing,” subtitled “Eleven methods used by communities to crate and preserve affordable housing across the nation.”  I couldn’t get direct verification for my assumption, but there were a sufficient number of images and oblique references that I can claim the low-rise townhouse approach is well established as one of the ways to provide affordable housing, either to buy or rent.

I did find a list of ways that cities in North Carolina and across the nation are financing affordable housing and I recommend that anyone interested can Google the title above and get the full report.  I highly recommend it, although I can’t image that our own housing authority isn’t aware of it.

The point is that the participants of The Partnership for Prosperity meeting on affordable housing quantified, ranked, and commented on the eleven recommendations for action on housing needs proposed by the original Poverty Thought Force and it was made clear how serious the issue is.  If Winston-Salem is to become a truly “transformative” city, then the challenge of providing affordable housing must be met.   It’s good to know that our elected officials and their partners are still searching for solutions.


(See related post:  What to Do about VADs.)


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