CommonFuture

CommonFuture

Infrastructure funds to support affordable housing

By Mike Dobbins

Nov. 13 – The lack of affordable shelter is a growing national crisis. The City of Atlanta, thankfully, rejected a misguided effort in October 2021 fall to upzone single family neighborhoods, a strategy that has proven to fail affordability aspirations in other cities.

Here’s what we’re exploring instead:

  • Identify sources of massive public funding support
  • Put density where it’s wanted, where it’s scalable, and where infrastructure is in place to support it
    • Like along forlorn travel corridors that have transit, shops, services, and parking lots along the way.
    • Like in already denser centers, also with an abundance of parking
    • Like on publicly and non-profit owned lands whose values can be flexed to help subsidize delivering affordability
    • Likewise, inducing use of faith-based properties to build affordable housing
  • Conserve and fix what we already have.

Below I summarize in a poster format how to do that for the first of these strategies by tapping highway funding from the infrastructure law (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – IIJA). Land costs are the single biggest obstacle for producing affordable workforce housing. Thus, the ability to write down these costs would bring home closer to work and other destinations, serving both the affordability purpose and transportation and environmental purposes.  The proposal aims to shorten commute distances and times, reducing travel costs, easing congestion, and improving air quality.

Federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could be used to buy land where affordable housing could be built. (Venn diagram by Mike Dobbins)

To alleviate GDOT’s most vexing problems:

Scale up building affordable housing closer to destinations

The problems:

  • Reduce vehicle miles travelled (VMT)
  • Reduce congestion
  • Reduce travelers’ costs
  • Improve air quality
  • Boost economic productivity by reducing travel time
  • Create jobs
  • Provide more equitable transportation access

How to do it:

  • Use Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funding to buy land nearer to destinations
  • Partner with public, non-profit, and private developers in order to flex land costs necessary to deliver affordable housing closer to destinations

Rationale:

  • To find housing they can afford, people of lower incomes have to live farther out
  • They have to travel farther to get to work and to other destinations
  • They are more likely to depend on the car as their travel mode
  • They are more likely to be required to get to their workplaces instead of working remotely
  • Finding affordable housing closer to their destinations will cut:
    • Miles travelled
    • Congestion
    • Travel costs
  • And will improve:
    • Air quality
    • Productivity by saving hours per day
    • Access equity
  • Finally, the strategy will produce a lot more jobs than roadbuilding, supporting a greater diversity of business types and sizes

Implementation:

  • Funding:
    • Sources: Hundreds of millions of dollars go to building greater rubber tire capacity along interstate and state routes
    • Start diverting some of those funds to buy land closer to destinations, like the centers of larger and smaller municipalities and along major commercial travel corridors
  • Delivery:
    • Purchase suitable development properties through separate real estate businesses so as to moderate purchase prices – keep a low profile
    • Purchase properties relatively close to employment concentrations and business centers ranging in size from Atlanta to midsize and smaller municipalities
    • Focus on communities and corridors that have developed a Livable Communities Initiative plan and have acted to implement it
    • Avoid eminent domain, buy from willing sellers, buildable parcels at a time
    • Create public-private partnerships with committed development entities, non-profits like the Atlanta Land Trust, community development corporations, private sector developers, and others to carry out projects
    • Structure deals around using fungible land costs in capital stacks to meet defined affordability goals.

Next steps:

    • Develop a limited number of scenarios for the purpose of modelling the likely outcomes for meeting each of the goals
    • Promote the chosen outcomes at regional and perhaps statewide forums
    • Create an implementation team to manage the set up and administration of the new sub-agency
    • Then GO!
GDOT could use federal highway funds to buy land for affordable housing and ease this type of traffic congestion, at I-85 and Clairmont Road, near Decatur. (Credit: David Pendered, March 2022)