Category Archives: economic growth

Borrowed from “SHELTERFORCE” -10 Ways to Talk About Inclusionary Housing, Differently

Shelterforce blog by Sasha Hauswald – September 20, 2017

…  Number 4 is one of my favorite. (Thriving Communities Editor)

” 4.  Streamline barriers to development

Many jurisdictions have zoning code requirements that are so complex that it is nearly impossible to build anything without lengthy and unpredictable approval processes for special exceptions to the zoning code. Inclusionary done right can greatly reduce procedural barriers to new development.

Affordable housing requirements are often adopted in combination with area-wide up-zoning or enhanced flexibility to build, by right, a reasonably profitable multifamily building. In these cases, inclusionary housing programs can actually increase development activity. Most importantly, inclusionary housing policies establish clear and predictable expectations that local developers can plan around. “

Important Federal Funding Facts About Housing in America



Information sheet produced by the National Low Income Housing Coalition

Click on Picture for a Full View



From CVOEO Press Release, June 12, 2017 

Sudershan Adhikari, a Nepalese refugee used to teach math and science before coming to the United States. He says Vermont didn’t give him a hand out so much as an opportunity, for which he is grateful.
Photo Credit: Nina Keck / Vermont Public Radio.

 New Americans contribute significantly to Chittenden County’s housing values, GDP, and job market according to a new report released by the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO). The release of this report will be announced by Ali Dieng, CVOEO board member, with Jan Demers, CVOEO Executive Director, and Alex Duchac, author of the study, will both speak.

Produced for CVOEO by Alex Duchac, this report will give the first detailed look at how immigrants impact Vermont’s largest county. The report documents the wide range of benefits provided by New Americans in Chittenden County. Among the significant discoveries included in the report are that, since 2009, New Americans have increased home values by $25M, they have added over $712M to the GDP of Chittenden County, and they have saved more than 270 Vermont manufacturing jobs.

The complete report, detailing many positive impacts, can be viewed > HERE.
WHEN: 3:00 pm, June 15, 2017   
WHERE:Flynn Center for the Performing Arts(just prior to Parent University Graduation at 3:30)
CONTACT: Joan White, Development Director CVOEO.; 
802-862-2771 ext.744

“Housing Doesn’t Filter, Neighborhoods Do” by Rick Jacobus

Posted by Rick Jacobus on November 4, 2016 on the “Rooflines, the Shelter Force Blog”
Read the full article (part 1) on the Rooflines, Shelter Force Blog:

“There has been a renewed interest in the role that the real estate market can play in solving our growing affordable housing crisis. For decades “affordable housing” has been the near exclusive domain of the public sector, but the crisis has reached the point where we are now calling for all hands on deck. Can private capital, private development companies, and market-rate housing developments help make housing affordable for everyone?”

“Housing advocates tend to agree that we need to supplement market-rate luxury development with subsidized affordable housing, but rarely do we ask the market to provide housing for people further down the income ladder. This dichotomy of new market-rate housing only for the rich and new affordable housing only for the poor has become the de facto housing strategy in most American cities. We can do better.”

Connecting the dots: Housing cost- community economic development – JOBS! Part 1

The insufficient supply of housing at a range of affordable prices, especially for rental housing, has important negative impacts on local economic development. Housing costs and availability impacts adequate workforce availability. The causes of high housing costs are multiple but a few factors are controllable by local municipalities, counties and regions with the understanding and political will. Exclusionary housing development zoning regulations for example fall into that category. Housing supply constraints affect local employment opportunities and wage dynamics especially in areas where the degree of zoning regulation barriers are more severe.


It’s getting much tougher to find good jobs in areas with adequate affordable housing opportunities. Even when job markets improve, the absence of strong sustained real income growth means that for more and more communities, the relative cost of housing will continue to climb at the same time the availability of adequately affordable housing is decreasing.

Research shows (see, “The Role of Affordable Housing in Creating Jobs and Stimulating Local Economic Development: A Review of the Literature” Center for Housing Policy) that adequate affordable housing in communities has benefits extending beyond its occupants to the community at large. Without a sufficient supply of affordable housing, employers and entire regional economies can be at a competitive disadvantage because of their increased difficulty attracting and retaining workers.


The excellent study referenced above provides a clear discussion of this issue. The primary thesis of the study is that developing more affordable housing in communities creates jobs — both during construction and through new consumer spending after the homes have been occupied. The positive impacts of building affordable rental housing are on par with and in many respects exceed the impacts of developing comparable market-rate units.

The take away from this is that housing affordability, inclusive communities and vibrant economic development, are intertwined in substantial ways. Communities can positively change the dynamics with various policies including favoring appropriate density in zoning laws.


Something out of nothing

Here’s an intriguing strategy for revitalizing moribund downtowns that doesn’t cost anything and bypasses political machinations:  renew3 It’s called “Renew,” and it was first employed in the decaying Australian city of Newcastle several years ago — with notable success.

The basic idea is to install artists or craftspeople in vacant storefronts and let them work, market, or exhibit in exchange for their paying the utility bills. renew1 In other words, let them dress the places up and draw people in… until the spaces are commercially leased, at which point the artisans have 30 days to vacate. A nonprofit organization facilitates these pop-ups.

Renew Newcastle spread to other cities, gave rise to Renew Australia, and was the subject of an article in The New Republic earlier this month, “Hacking the City: A New Model for Urban Renewal.” There’s no reason, the article suggests, why “Renew” couldn’t work in American cities, and not just big ones. Renew’s creator, Marcus Westbury, offers an aphorism – “Activity creates activity, and decay creates decay” — that would seem to apply anywhere. Even in small-town Vermont, where vacant storefronts are a common sight in many municipal centers — St. Johnsbury or Barre, Springfield or Rutland. Eastern Avenue in St. Johnsbury, for example, has a stretch of empty, eye-averting properties that could theoretically — with a Renew-style makeover — become a destination.

What does any of this have to do with housing? A downtown commercial/cultural revival might produce a hub of burgeoning activity where all sorts of people might want to live, thus drawing housing developers to a municipality they might otherwise be inclined to avoid.

Zoning’s link to unaffordability AND inequality

Rising income inequality has become a major public concern over the last few years. What some of us may not realize, though, is that zoning is one of the likely culprits.

Yes, zoning and other land-use restrictions can contribute to housing unaffordability, but also — by extension — to income inequality and diminishing productivity.furman2

That’s the argument that Jason Furman, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, brought to the Urban Institute in an address last month. His remarks had scholarly underpinnings, in the form of charts and footnotes.

Here’s a compressed version of what he said: Income inequality has increased over the last several decades, as have land-use restrictions in the more productive metropolitan areas. Meanwhile, labor mobility has declined — workers are less likely to switch jobs and move around the country for higher pay — and so have annual increases in productivity. The drop in mobility ( or “fluidity”) is not well understood, but one cause appears to be the high cost of housing in high-wage, productive cities (such as Boston or San Francisco) that many would-be employees can’t afford to move to.

“Zoning and other land-use restrictions, by restricting the supply of housing and so increasing its cost, may make it difficult for individuals to move to areas with better-paying jobs and higher-quality schools,” he said. (He acknowledged that some land-use restrictions can be beneficial, but that some can be harmfully excessive, in such forms as minimum lot sizes, off-street parking requirements, height limits, prohibitions on multifamily housing, and lengthy permitting processes.)

Hampered mobility diminishes economic growth, he said, citing the same recent study we referred to in a recent post.

Generally speaking, Furman said, zoning restrictions tend to favor well-to-do property owners, who defend these restrictions so as to safeguard their assets. Stringent zoning reduces housing supply, maintains high prices, reinforces wealthy enclaves, and effectively repels people of moderate or low income. The restrictiveness of land-use regulations correlates with the gap between construction costs and house prices — the bigger the gap, the more land costs figure into the those higher prices.

“The timing of tighter land use regulations may not have been a coincidence,” Furman said. “After a turbulent decade of the 1960s in the United States that saw racial tensions flare, with rioting in many urban areas around the country that damaged or destroyed both residential and commercial structures, thousands of high income, predominantly white families moved out of many cities, spurring the continued rise of racially and socioeconomically homogeneous communities. These communities were also strictly zoned, a choice which may very well have been a part of a conscious or unconscious attempt to maintain this homogeneity through the affordability channel.”

Nowadays, there’s an increased demand for multi-family housing, but this form of housing tends to be heavily regulated, he said, and one of the nation’s challenges is to reduce regulatory barriers to increasing the supply of this housing option. In fact, the Obama administration is promoting an initiative (the Multi-family Risk Sharing Mortgage) to shore up the “limited supply of credit” for multifamily developments.

What’s more, Obama’s FY16 budget includes $300 million for Local Housing Policy Grants — a competitive program, he said, designed to provide funds “to those localities and regional coalitions” that support “new zoning and land use regulations to create an expanded, more flexible and diverse housing supply.”

Hmm, any interest in Vermont?

NIMBY notes from all over

Fresh news of NIMBY opposition to affordable housing comes out of … well, our own backyard.

From North Country Public Radio, we learn that residents in Plattsburgh managed to persuade the planning board to reject a proposed four-building residential complex, alleging familiar sorts of adverse effects that low-income people would have on traffic, safety, property values. plattsbugh Affordable housing is a permitted use in that district, but…

 “It is transient housing,” one resident complained. “ They put people in there who are just out of jail, prison whatever until they can get back on their feet … I don’t want it in my area.”

“This concept of us serving transients is so far from reality,” countered the director of the housing organization that would be referring tenants. “The majority of the people that we serve are disabled. They are the veterans in your community. There are elderly people in your community that we serve…”

She might have also cited reports, like this one, that affordable housing can have an uplifting impact on economic development and property values.

Oh well. The developer is appealing the rejection in court. “The thrust of it was, they did not want ‘these people’ moving into their neighborhood,” the developer’s lawyer said.

Plattsburgh is in good company. Upper Saddle River, a toney community in New Jersey, is being sued for rejecting a multi-family housing complex, and thus, by proxy, new residents who happen to be black or Latino. Another interesting case of NIMBY opposition to multi-family housing recently arose in Arizona, where the “backyard” in question belonged to a mortuary! Apparently the mortuary and the developer resolved their differences, though.

NIMBYism gets some of the credit, or blame, for California’s housing-affordability crisis, and it certainly comes in many forms, as this entertaining catalogue attests. Among our favorites are “mega-mansion NIMBYs.” 

Tampering with the sacrosanct

The presidential candidates have a lot to say about tax reform, but with one exception, they’re not about to get rid the big sacred cow — the mortgage-interest deduction, found on Schedule A of Form 1040:scheduleA (2)

Economists have been complaining about the mortgage-interest deduction for years. It’s a regressive benefit, increasing with income. It enhances inequality, effectively inflates property values and misallocates resources, or so the argument goes. In 2012, the mortgage interest deduction cost the federal government $70 billion, according to the Urban Institute, compared $36 billion for low-income housing subsidies.

But nobody expects that deduction to go away any time soon. It’s a firmly entrenched loophole (aka “third rail”) not only for the wealthy elite, but for the simple majority. The home ownership rate in this country exceeds 60 percent (in Vermont, it’s over 70 percent), and of course the lion’s share of those people are mortgage-holder beneficiaries. IRS2

The ranks of renters are increasing, though, and the more they do, the more seriously they might be taken as a political constituency. Politicians take renters seriously in Germany, where renters are in the majority and the regulatory climate is much more in their favor. Germany doesn’t offer a mortgage-interest deduction, either.

Might the growing numbers of American renters be mobilized to support the elimination of the mortgage-interest deduction — which ostensibly doesn’t benefit them anyway — in favor of increased housing subsidies for low- and moderate-income tenants? That seems like a stretch, unless another Occupy-style movement sweeps the country.

Well, if eliminating the mortgage-interest deduction discourages home ownership, so be it. There’s even evidence that home ownership isn’t necessarily such a wonderful thing, because it damages labor markets:

“We find that rises in the home- ownership rate in a U.S. state are a precursor to eventual sharp rises in unemployment in that state,” write economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald, in a 2013 paper. Why? Partly because higher rates of homeownership curtail labor mobility and lead to longer commutes.

So, who’s the exception among the presidential candidates? Ben Carson. bencarson He’s the only one who has said he’d do away with the mortgage-interest deduction. (Even Bernie Sanders doesn’t go that far – he’d cap it at $300,000.) For a full-throated defense of this Carson stance from someone who doesn’t agree with much of anything else he says, click here. 

Where growth yields to high rents

Here’s another way to look at the housing-affordability problem: as a damper on economic growth. city1

Two economists published a study this summer that essentially made that point. They analyzed growth rates of 220 metropolitan areas and how those rates contributed to national growth from 1964 to 2009. They found, surprisingly, that some of the most productive cities, where pay rates also happen to be high, actually contributed less to overall growth than one might have expected. That’s because employment didn’t grow proportionately in those cities — they cite New York, San Francisco and San Jose in particular — in large part because of housing constraints.

“The main effect of the fast productivity growth in New York, San Francisco, and San Jose was an increase in local housing prices and local wages, not in employment,” write Chang-Tai Hsieh, of the University of Chicago, and Enrico Moretti, of U.C.-Berkeley. “In the presence of strong labor demand, tight housing supply constraints effectively limited employment growth in these cities.”

In other words, workers were prevented from migrating to these productive, high-wage areas because they couldn’t find affordable places to live. By contrast, three-fourths of U.S. growth in those years was attributable to Southern cities and a group of 19 other cities, where housing was more plentiful and wages were lower.


Their article has an overweaning title, “Why do cities matter? Local growth and aggregate growth,” but it’s worth noting their conclusion that the housing constraints in the productive, high-wage cities derived from restrictive or exclusionary land-use regulations. They write:

“Constraints to housing supply reflect both land availability and deliberate land use regulations. We estimate that holding constant land availability, but lowering regulatory constraints in New York, San Francisco, and San Jose cities to the level of the median city would expand their work force and increase U.S. GDP by 9.5%. Our results thus suggest that local land use regulations that restrict housing supply in dynamic labor markets have important externalities on the rest of the country. Incumbent homeowners in high wage cities have a private incentive to restrict housing supply. By doing so, these voters de facto limit the number of US workers who have access to the most productive of American cities.”

And here’s what they say about Silicon Valley, the region between San Jose and San Francisco, which has “some of the most productive labor in the globe. But … by global urban standards, the area is remarkably low density due to land use restrictions. In a region with some of the most expensive real estate in the world, surface parking lots, 1-story buildings and underutilized pieces of land are still remarkably common due to land use restrictions. While the region’s natural amenities—its hills, beaches and parks—are part of the attractiveness of the area, there is enough underutilized land within its urban core that housing units could be greatly expanded without any reduction in natural amenities. Our findings indicate that in general equilibrium, this would raise income and welfare of all US workers.”

Sounds like the technological mecca is plagued by exclusionary zoning.

The economists propose two remedies, neither of which is plausible in the current political climate. One is for the federal government to place limits on locally set land-use regulations. The other is to finance mass transit (such as high-speed trains) that would enable workers to commute to these productive areas without having to live there.

Now then, might any of this translate to Vermont? Consider:

Burlington is an analogue to San Francisco. Of the state’s 19 labor market areas, Burlington/South Burlington’s average annual pay is the highest, by far — $48,529, or about $10,000 more than half the other areas in the state.) Burlington also has an affordable housing shortage that could be termed above average: 61 percent of Burlington’s renters are house burdened (paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing), compared to a state average of 52 percent; and 36 percent are severely house burdened (they pay more than 50 percent), compared to a state average of 26 percent.

So, following their argument, might it be that Vermont would be growing at a higher rate if more workers could afford to live in or near Burlington, one of the state’s highly productive cities? Is Burlington channeling much of its productivity growth into higher housing prices and higher wages?

Lake Champlain Burlington, Vermont.

Perhaps, perhaps not. In Burlington’s favor is a higher rate of employment growth than (3 percent, from 2014 to 2015) than most anywhere else in the state.

On the other hand, employment here might well grow even faster if more workers from the provinces could afford to live here.