affordable housing

Durham makes the wrong list on affordable housing

The free market of real estate sales takes no prisoners:

Ten years after the housing collapse during the Great Recession, a new and different housing crisis has emerged. Back then, people were losing their homes as home values crashed and homeowners went underwater. Today, home values have rebounded, but people who want to buy a new home are often priced out of the market. There are too few homes and too many potential buyers.

This isn't just a problem in San Francisco or New York, where home prices and rents have gone sky-high. It is also a problem in midsized, fast-growing cities farther inland, like Des Moines, Iowa; Durham, N.C.; and Boise, Idaho. In Boise, an analysis by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showed there is a demand for more than 10 times the number of homes being built right now.

Quick NIMBY anecdote: My town government is having a tense struggle (with me right in the middle) with some neighborhoods over new construction projects, and one big takeaway is: They definitely don't want anything resembling "affordable housing." No apartment buildings, no modest townhomes (less than $200,000). Of course, many of these folks would prefer to see nothing at all built there, but if it's happening, they want to make sure no poor people, or even lower middle class, move in next door. Here's more about the problem, and the conundrum of not having nearly enough homes for the people who need them:

City of Charlotte to build low-income housing adjacent to light rail

But their definition of "'low-income" seems to be evolving:

Charlotte plans to use the 2.31 acres to build the low-income apartments on its own, or with a nonprofit company. But the new plan calls for all of the 80 apartments to be for people earning 80 percent of the area median income. That's about $43,000 for a family of four.

But the switch from very low-income housing to so-called workforce housing raises questions about whether the apartments are needed. Two consultants have told the city that Charlotte has a surplus of housing for people earning about 80 percent of area median income, and the city's biggest need is for apartments serving the city's poorest residents, who earn minimum wage or less.

Don't know all the ins and outs of this deal, but in the initial purchase (by the City) and sale back to the private sector, $4 million in taxpayer dollars was lost. And considering the City Council just had dozens of genuinely poor citizens drum up the courage to walk into the chamber and ask (desperately) for help with affordable housing, this decision seems to be about as tone-deaf as you could get. About the only citizen who appears to be "winning" in this deal-making is the developer himself:

Tariffs on Canadian lumber exacerbate affordable housing crisis

Unnecessary costs like this add up quickly:

The Outer Banks Homebuilders Association is urging its members to contact members of Congress to urge repeal of the Trump Administration’s tariffs on Canadian soft lumber imports. Rising lumber prices have already increased the average price of a single-family home by $6,388 since January of last year, according to the OBHBA and the National Association of Homebuilders. Some of the increases are due to tariffs of more than 20 percent on Canadian softwood lumber shipments into the U.S.

The NAHB points out that U.S. domestic production of softwood lumber is insufficient to meet the demand for construction of houses. According to the NAHB, in 2016, the U.S. consumed 47.1 billion board feet of softwood lumber but domestic producers were only able to supply 32.8 billion, creating a shortfall of over 14 billion.

As with many (even moderately) complex issues, Trump is simply not intelligent enough to grasp the ramifications of his actions. If these tariffs are not removed, there will be a push, probably successfully, to relax U.S. regulations on domestic timber culling. Here in the Southeast, we're already seeing the scourge of the wood pellet industry. Is Europe placing tariffs on that? Oh no, they want us to clear-cut our forests so they won't have to touch theirs. Slapping a tariff on Canadian lumber makes absolutely no sense, no matter which way you look at it.

Displacing the poor: Durham's market-driven revitalization

Gentrification, by any other name:

Kielhurn says these stories of dilapidated, unsafe, unsanitary rentals are fairly common. And the poor condition of some of the housing stock in poorer neighborhoods is what allows her, and other buyers, to grab up properties for such low prices. She’s bought many of her properties for under $50,000 and spends the bulk of her funds on renovations. When she rents them out again, she charges what she feels is a fair price for all the work she’s put in, and for the fact that she’ll be more attentive than previous landlords. So prices escalate to $800, $900, or $1,200 a month.

For muni and metro governments, who are already struggling with budget concerns, the idea of allowing the private sector a free hand in revitalization is an alluring one. Costs to the taxpayers are minimized, and the increase in property values ensures a nice tax bonus a few years down the road. But it's also irresponsible, because it exposes a portion of the citizenry to economic hardship that can (and does) result in homelessness and despair. Creating an affordable housing program (that works) is a complicated and costly venture, but it is a critical responsibility that must be pursued:

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