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  Some Affordable Housing Policies Are Working
Across the country, communities are exploring creative solutions to the continued affordable housing shortage. Some are providing monetary assistance directly to low- and moderate-income families. Others are experimenting with ways to incentivize developers and builders. Some plans are enjoying more success than others. New York City, for example, has chosen to set an ambitious goal for building housing units, then get multiple government entities working together to achieve it. So far, their plan seems to be working.

According to a statement released this summer, and remarks by the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, the city has created nearly 125,000 affordable units since its New Housing Marketplace Plan was launched seven years ago. In addition, the city estimates that about 120,000 construction or construction-related jobs have been created through the plan. Another 30,000 are expected to be created before the Plan comes to an end in Fiscal Year 2014. With two years left until its deadline, it has achieved 75 percent of its goal of creating or preserving 165,000 affordable housing units. Over $1 billion was invested during Fiscal Year 2011, which resulted in the creation of nearly 16,000 housing units. Over 3,800 of those units were new, and about 1,500 were low-income housing.

New York City's New Housing Marketplace Plan originally had a 5-year deadline. Mayor Bloomberg extended it to a 10-year plan, believing a stronger commitment to affordable housing was both necessary and possible. One of the biggest challenges to implementing the plan was finding land that was both available and usable for building residential properties. Land is in short supply in New York City, so its affordable housing goal has required some creativity and collaboration among government entities.

The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), which oversees the New Housing Marketplace Plan, has approached other departments like Transportation, and the Health and Hospitals Corporation, about purchasing some of their land. In addition to acquiring land, HPD has allocated outdated buildings from - for example - the Department of Education, which gave HPD jurisdiction over several old school buildings that are in the process of being made into apartment buildings.

HPD has also explored rezoning options that would allow for mixed-use and residential development. Commercial districts with high percentages of vacancies have room for residential property, but must be rezoned before a plan can be developed.

Housing advocates believe the city will reach its goal, and possibly even exceed it, despite current fiscal challenges. The city hopes to show that its plan is replicable, encouraging other cities to take seriously their responsibility to provide affordable housing for residents of all income brackets.

Few communities have set housing goals as aggressive as New York City's, but they recognize the desperate need for additional low-income units. Rather than setting a number target, some communities are aiming to make a certain percentage of their housing stock affordable - generally between ten and 15 percent. A percentage goal is easier for communities to manage, because it allows for fluctuations in the targeted number of affordable units, based on the size of the overall housing market.

Still other communities have begun specifically targeting foreclosures, recognizing that these home will continue to deteriorate unless someone is living in them. These communities make funding available for rehabilitation, to ensure that the homes are safe and livable. A focus on foreclosures serves the dual purpose of increasing the low-income housing stock while taking depressed properties off the market so they are no longer affecting the market's overall home prices.

No one strategy works for every community, as indicated by these varied approaches. But each is enjoying some success, proving that there are solutions to our nation's affordable housing shortage.

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