A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of my city’s planning commission, intending to speak in favor of a proposed multifamily development on a beautiful site overlooking San Francisco Bay.
The project developer and his architect gave a reasonably good presentation and slide show. But in today’s world, with good sites hard to find and community opposition stronger than ever, reasonably good is not good enough. They needed to hit a home run, but they only managed a single, and I did not speak in support of their plan.
For communities like mine, housing affordable to police officers, teachers, nurses and other moderate-income professionals is badly needed. For developers, providing so-called workforce housing is a great business opportunity. But it cannot be done without close collaboration between developers and city, county, and state governments. Sadly, the gap in understanding between these groups is substantial.
Developers have a long way to go to understand just what city councils and planning commissions need to give a deal the green light, and how to deal with community opposition. They have trouble convincing city leaders to allow a project to proceed, when in fact they need to go far beyond that, and get cities to not only allow development but also help make workforce projects feasible.
Fortunately, developers and cities are showing much more interest in working together to meet local housing needs.
At the forefront of the effort to facilitate new collaborations on workforce housing is Ronald Terwilliger, chairman and CEO of Trammell Crow Residential.
Terwilliger has committed $5 million for the creation of the Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing. The Center’s work will focus on three markets initially—Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Southeast Florida.
Terwilliger believes the lack of housing affordable to working people is compromising the economic well-being of cities. A key goal of the center is to create models of mixed-income workforce housing design, development, zoning, and financing that can be applied to other cities around the nation.
It will begin by identifying barriers to producing workforce housing, such as inflexible zoning and building codes, and finding solutions to overcome those obstacles.
Workforce housing is also being championed by the National Multi Housing Council, which under the leadership of chairwoman Mary Ann King, is developing a practical report on how cities and developers can work together to make mixed-income development possible.
Even as these industrywide initiatives get underway, individual developers are being proactive and showing municipalities how they can help deliver housing at reasonable costs, said Brent Little of Place Properties and a member of Apartment Finance Today’s editorial advisory board.
Rather than ask for help generally, Little presents local officials with a list of things that they can do. These include waiving or reducing building, impact, and permit fees; allowing building code variances, which can reduce developers’ costs; writing down the cost of land; providing tax abatements; providing public infrastructure; reducing parking requirements; and allowing increased density.
What are you doing to work with your local government to provide workforce housing? We would love to hear your ideas on how to serve this market.