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Create Affordable Housing

Creating affordable housing is an essential part of any comprehensive housing plan, and requires local governments to consider multiple factors, including the balance between affordable rental and affordable homeownership, the location and type of housing created and the level of affordability. Local governments should commit to the creation of affordable housing as a policy goal, and prepare a detailed assessment of the housing stock and market conditions, in cooperation with neighboring and overlapping governments.


Affordable housing should be close to employment centers and public transit; located in mixed-income neighborhoods and in some cases buildings; and distributed among school-attendance areas. It should include a variety of types, ranging from mobile homes and backyard cottages to large multifamily complexes to specialized or supportive housing situations.


To take advantage of economies of scale, higher-density housing should be allowed in many areas. Zoning codes should allow for adaptive reuse of existing buildings as affordable housing, and developers should be required to reserve a portion of the units for affordable housing. Cities should have specific policies that favor development in already-developed areas, as opposed to the edges of the city. Local governments can use a variety of incentives to encourage the development of affordable housing, carefully crafted to produce the types of housing that the market will not provide on its own.


Local governments should also pay attention to the availability of affordable homeownership opportunities. Strategies for increasing affordable homeownership should be integrated into a comprehensive housing plan specific to the local housing market.

Affordable Housing Policies: An Overview, Anastasia Kalugina, Cornell Real Estate Review, June 1st, 2016. Read more.

Affordable Rental Housing Development in the For-Profit Sector: A Case Study of MBS, Rachel G. Bratt, Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, March 1st, 2016. Read more.

The Affordable Housing Gap Analysis 2016, Andrew Aurand et al, National Low Income Housing Coalition, January 1st, 2016. Read more.

Federal Housing Assistance for Low-Income Households, Congressional Budget Office, September 1st, 2015. Read more.

Preserving, Protecting, and Expanding Affordable Housing, Allison Allbee, Rebecca Johnson, and Jeffrey Lubell, ChangeLab Solutions, January 1st, 2015. Read more.

The Tension in Affordable Housing: Are Current “Best Practices” Enough?, Stacy Becker, The McKnight Foundation, December 1st, 2013. Read more.

Finding Common Ground: Coordinating Housing and Education Policy to Promote Integration, Deborah McKoy & Jeffrey M. Vincent, October 1st, 2011. Read more.

Challenges and Policy Options for Creating and Preserving Affordable Housing near Transit, Rick Haughey and Ryan Sherriff, What Works Collaborative, December 1st, 2010. Read more.

Ten Principles for Developing Affordable Housing, Alexa Bach et al, Urban Land Institute, January 1st, 2007. Read more.

APA Policy Guide on Housing, American Planning Association, April 1st, 2006. Read more.

Keeping the Neighborhood Affordable: A Handbook of Housing Strategies for Gentrifying Areas, Diane K. Levy, Jennifer Comey, Sandra Padilla , Urban Institute, March 17th, 2006. Read more.

A Community Guide to Creating Affordable Housing, January 1st, 2005.

Strategy Guide—Best Practices for Affordable Housing Rehab, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Read more.

More than a decade ago, Boston, MA, launched its “Leading the Way” initiative, which quantified the need for new housing units at various levels of affordability, set specific goals for unit creation, dedicated significant city resources, and called on the private sector to more than match that investment. Between 2000 and 2013 the city created more than 20,000 units and preserved more than 12,000 units.


The Multifamily Property Tax Exemption Program of Seattle, WA, provides a tax exemption on new multifamily buildings in exchange for setting aside 20%-25% of the units as affordable housing. By supporting mixed-income residential development in the urban centers, the program ensures affordability as the community grows.


In Washington DC, an Inclusionary Zoning Program requires 8%-10% of the residential floor area be set-aside for affordable units in new residential projects of 10 or more units, and in rehabilitation projects that are expanding an existing building by 50% or more and adding 10 or more units.


Voters in Portland, OR, approved on November 2016 raising $258 million through housing bonds to fund 1,300 units of affordable housing. The funds will go toward alleviating the city’s current shortage of 23,845 affordable units, as determined by the Portland Housing Bureau.


Los Angeles, CA, offers a density bonus of 20% to affordable housing projects. The bonus can be increased to 35% by increasing the share of affordable units or making them more affordable, providing on-site child care, or locating near employment or transportation centers.


The Madison Community Cooperative in Madison, WI, began as a student cooperative but now owns and operates several properties open to all. The Madison Area Community Land Trust developed and manages the Troy Gardens project, an award-winning mixed-income co-housing and urban agriculture community.


Since 2004, Chicago, IL, offers developers in downtown zoning districts a density bonus in exchange for either providing on-site affordable housing or contributing to the City’s Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund.


The Burlington Community Land Trust in Burlington, VT, was seeded by a $200,000 grant from the city, and given access to a $1 million line of credit by the city employees’ pension fund to develop and preserve affordable ownership options in neighborhoods where home prices were rising.


Lapham Park, a PHA property of Milwaukee, WI, provides health care services on site for seniors via a partnership with the Milwaukee County Department of Aging, Community Care Organization, St. Mary’s Family Practice Clinic, the Milwaukee Area Technical College Dental program, Marquette University School of Nursing, and the YWCA. Milwaukee also offers comprehensive education and assistance to first-time homebuyers with the purchase and rehabilitation of City-owned foreclosed homes.


The Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDU) program of Montgomery County, MD is one of the first inclusionary zoning ordinances in the US. The program requires that all new, market-rate residential developments of 20 or more units will set aside 12.5%-15% of their units for households below 70% of the area’s median income. The ordinance further requires that 40% of the MPDUs be offered to non-profit housing organizations.


In Los Angeles, CA, an Adaptive Reuse Ordinance provides density bonuses for developers converting commercial buildings to affordable housing units.


Bellingham, WA, offers regulatory flexibility for affordable-housing projects, including waivers of minimum lot size, street frontage, setbacks, parking requirements, usable open space, and maximum lot coverage regulations.


Flagstaff, AZ, has a comprehensive incentive policy, which includes waivers for building permit, planning, and development-impact fees that are tied to the level of affordability produced. The policy also provides expedited review and flexibility on parking requirements for projects that are at least 20% affordable.


The “Just for Us” program in Durham, NC, is a partnership between Duke University Medical Center, the Lincoln Community Health Center, Durham County, the Council on Senior Citizens, and Durham’s Housing Authority. It provides seniors and disabled adults with primary care, mental-health services, and care management.


Pittsburgh, PA, uses Community Development Block Grants to produce more affordable housing. Pittsburgh supports a lease-to-purchase program run by Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, which renovates vacant housing and offers it to families with poor credit histories. An initial $100 deposit and rent payments become the down payment once the family is able to secure a mortgage.


Mariah Young-Jones