How Jackson Hole Became a Model of Successful Growth

NLC’s James Brooks visits the outdoor mecca of Jackson Hole, Wyo., and uncovers the risks and promise of successful place making.

The streets of Jackson, Wyo., with ski slopes in the background. (WitGorski/Getty Images)

Jackson, Wyo., is an excellent example of successful place making. Blessed with supreme natural beauty, the town of Jackson and surrounding Teton County have married an iconic western culture with sports and leisure opportunities such as skiing and hiking and easy access to Grand Teton National Park, the Snake River, and a national elk refuge.

The downtown commercial district, surrounding a much-visited town square, is chock-a-block with western outfitters, native craft shops, restaurants, art galleries, hotels, adventure tour operators, and real estate agencies. From the classic old west architecture to the elk antler arches flanking the square, Jackson boasts a heritage and cachet that draws four million visitors each year.

But what happens when a community is too successful? What is the downside when the owners of Snow King Mountain Resort invest in the most advanced snow making equipment available in order to extend the skiing season by two or three months? What is the risk in having multiple major air carriers arrive at Jackson airport from a dozen hub cities and a second home market incentivized by state tax breaks? The risk, according to year-round residents, is that today Jackson populated by two kinds of people: those with two jobs and those with two houses.

The municipality of Jackson (pop. 10,000) and Teton County (pop. 23,000) don’t have much land available for development, hemmed in as they are by park land and wildlife sanctuaries. The last new road was built in the town in 1985. The airport actually sits inside the National Park. New residents to this mountain paradise have embraced a “slow growth or no growth” mentality which has pushed the cost of housing out of the reach of the middle class residents who work in the hotels, restaurants, ski lifts and shops, protect the ski slopes, and lead the wildlife treks and raft trips. As it turns out, paradise is an expensive place to live. Even the U.S. Forest Service is making things worse by proposing to sell 10 acres of land in downtown Jackson, zoned for dense workforce housing, to developers for large-lot homes that could price for nearly $1 million per acre. (As of this writing, the immediate danger is past — but not gone entirely.)

It’s an unfortunate situation for a city and county that have taken solid steps to work together on a common sense agenda. The two governments share a planning director and collaboratively managed a five year process to rewrite a comprehensive land use plan. There are joint departments for animal control, parks and recreation, START (the regional transportation network), fire and EMS as well as 911 emergency dispatch for town police and county sheriff. The operational model is “one vision, one valley, one voice.”

Both the municipality and the county are primed for growth. Water is plentiful and a high-grade (tertiary) regional sewer system is not anywhere near capacity. Demand for the amenities of the Jackson Hole valley remain strong. Yet, as each new home parcel increases in price, the pressures to keep unspoiled vistas and free-standing homes grows stronger. Building a desirable place has been transformed into protecting individual slices of paradise at the expense of the small business owner and long-term residents that created the value proposition in the first place.

Finding the right balance has been the challenge for the municipal and county leaders. Jackson does not have a property tax. State coffers have funded transfer payments of various kinds thanks to the revenues from coal. However, those revenues are projected to decline over time as renewable energy sources come on stream nationwide. Local leaders, who do get sales tax revenues, have been pushing for a real estate transfer tax with a high exemption floor to protect small, moderately priced homes.

Private sector partners have found ways to construct new middle class housing. The master plan for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Teton Village produced new workforce housing both in Teton Village and in Jackson. Nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity also brought new low income home construction to the area. This public, private and nonprofit partnership has produced some success — but more still needs to be done.

The Jackson Hole valley is as desirable a place to live as anywhere on the planet. The community weaves a rich tapestry of natural landscapes, abundant recreational options, historic and cultural distinctiveness, ease of access, and high quality of life. This success has triggered the natural reaction to pull up the draw bridge and keep “others” from spoiling what brought recent residents to the area.

Longtime residents, particularly those holding elected or appointed offices in local and county government, are more sanguine. They continue to envision a community that is not restricted by income and that frames reasonable growth within the scope of a thoughtful comprehensive plan. This seems to be the harder work of place making — ensuring that this unique destination remains a haven for a pool of residents that are as diverse as the shades of pink and red reflecting off the Teton peaks at sunrise.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

New Award Recognizes Innovative Affordable Housing Policies & Programs

This is a guest post by Jess Zimbabwe and Michelle McDonough Winters.

A Rose Center panel reviews a model of the Mueller Airport redevelopment in AustinA Rose Center panel reviews a model of the Mueller Airport redevelopment in Austin, which includes both for-sale and for-rent homes—25% of the total units on the site—that are affordable to families making less than 80% of the area median income. (photo: Jess Zimbabwe)

Housing affordability is a serious concern for cities across the US. The Joint Center for Housing Studies has reported that 35 percent of Americans and half of all renters are “cost burdened,” meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. This is a crisis that impacts not only families who stretch their budgets – and their commutes – to afford appropriate housing, but also the economic competitiveness of cities as businesses struggle to attract and retain qualified workers.

To recognize governments that are leading the way to solutions in housing, the ULI Robert C. Larson Housing Policy Leadership Awards recognizes policies and programs that are taking innovative approaches to housing affordability. This year’s call for entries for the Larson Awards, and their companion award program for affordable and workforce housing developments, is open until March 16. The program has honored eight state and local programs since its establishment, six of which went to cities or municipal housing departments:

• City of Austin, Texas, for a comprehensive approach to housing policy. Designated by the US Census Bureau as the “nation’s capital for population growth,” the city of Austin is tackling its affordable housing shortage through a variety of mechanisms. In addition to the housing trust fund and general obligation bond funding, the city implemented planning and development policies and programs that encourage the production of affordable housing – securing affordability for more than 18,000-units since focusing on this crucial issue.

• City of Pasadena, California, for a comprehensive approach to housing policy. Since 2000, Pasadena’s housing policy and programs have resulted in the development of over 5,000 housing units in transit-oriented areas, including 1,370 units of affordable and workforce housing. Pasadena’s commitment to its housing vision, community engagement, and informed dialog has produced a highly integrated and effective mix of goals, policies, and programs for its 2014-2021 housing element plan.

• Baltimore Housing, Baltimore, Maryland, for the Vacants to Value Program. After losing nearly a third of its population since the 1950s, Baltimore Housing launched the Vacants to Value program to help attract 10,000 new residents. The program has leveraged over $25 million in private capital and worked across city agencies to transform vacant housing stock into workforce housing.

• Park City Municipal Corporation, Park City, Utah, for creating workforce housing choices in a resort community. Aiming to reduce the burden on local businesses created by high seasonal job turnover, Park City has supported the creation of workforce housing by providing financial incentives including grants, land donation and fee waivers. The city has coupled these efforts with an inclusionary housing ordinance, homebuyer assistance and rental programs for municipal employees to create and maintain workforce housing opportunities and a more sustainable community.

• New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, for the New Housing Marketplace Plan. A culture of innovation, leadership and collaboration have helped the New Housing Marketplace Plan to create or preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing—nearly 5,000 of which are workforce units – since 2003.

• City of San José, California. Over the last 30 years, the City of San José, the center of Silicon Valley, has become one of the toughest places in the country to find affordable housing. In response, the City adopted a variety of policies and programs that have created 10,600 units of workforce housing. Its policies extend beyond project finance to include long-term planning and periodic revision of its zoning code to reduce regulatory barriers.

Is your community doing something innovative or impactful to address the need for affordable and workforce housing? If so, help spread the word and apply for recognition.

About the authors:

Jess Zimbabwe Headshot 150x150Jess Zimbabwe is Executive Director of the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use, a program of the National League of Cities, in partnership with the Urban Land Institute. She’s an architect, city planner and politics junkie. Follow Jess on twitter at @jzimbabwe and @theRoseCenter.


Michelle Winters Headshot 150x150Michelle McDonough Winters is Senior Visiting Fellow for Housing at the Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing. Follow her at @mkmwinters and the Terwilliger Center at @ULIHousing.

Partnerships Key to Twin Cities Light Rail

This post was written by Roger Williams and Mark Weinheimer to introduce a new case study from NLC about the partnerships that contributed to the construction of the Central Corridor light rail line in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota.


One of the ways cities have tackled challenges to their resiliency has been to undertake transformational projects. These cities have recognized that staying the same, or doing small things, don’t necessarily bring about transformation. But strategically placed projects involving the key challenges of efficient transportation, economic development, community preservation, and job creation can make a difference.

But, given the scope, size and impact of such projects, cities have had to build partnerships and relationships with a diverse group of stakeholders and residents to get these efforts moving. Quite often, they also have had to work to overcome a legacy of past missteps that have eroded community trust and devastated communities.

Despite concerns that partnerships take time and large projects consume resources, study after study shows that  transportation alternatives that are regionally focused, cost effective, located close to affordable housing, and that get residents to their jobs help make cities more amenable to innovative industries and more resilient.

The relationships that were forged by the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, as they undertook the Central Corridor light rail project connecting their downtowns, is an example of how municipalities are coming together with a wide range of partners to overcome obstacles and make these transformational projects a reality.

Working with the philanthropic community and a broad spectrum of civic organizations that serve the communities impacted by the project, local leaders in the Twin Cities developed a template for planning that other cities can learn from.

Far reaching strategic alliances and the “plan-full” approach that involved diverse groups, along with the leadership roles played by various actors and sectors, are the key elements that have enhanced this project’s chances for success. The leaders were able to successfully create a shared vision for vibrancy, economic viability, and neighborhood resilience.

The result is not only a new light rail line, but an increased number of affordable homes nearby, preservation of other homes, new arts and cultural offerings, and a vital retail sector that reflects the ethnic diversity of the communities along the rail line.

The Central Corridor light rail line which is scheduled to open in mid-2014 will also provide cost effective transportation for the residents to connect them to jobs in both cities and in the region, and in general strengthen the attractiveness of living in these communities.

Community Partners Support Baltimore Neighborhood Growth

What makes a great neighborhood? Why do millennials for example, or any other demographic subgroup, choose one city over another or one neighborhood over another? Several factors that are consistent across many research studies include affordable housing, safe and walkable streets, access to employment and mobility networks, options for entertainment and recreation, and the often intangible characteristic known as buzz.

Baltimore_SIBaltimore city leaders have set a goal to attract 10,000 new families (some 22,000 individuals) by 2021. In addition to place-based strategies targeting downtown and neighborhoods, the city is seeking young knowledge workers and demonstrating its openness to immigrants. Extensive investments in education and new school construction are designed to lure families with children. Similar to other cities, it is the character of neighborhoods – solid housing stock, parks and open space, proximity to jobs and entertainment – that will have a significant influence on whether or not Baltimore can achieve ambitious growth goals.

A diverse set of partnerships lie at the heart of efforts in the City of Baltimore to revitalize neighborhoods, grow population, and support community prosperity. The coalitions across the city draw expertise and support from philanthropies, real estate developers, educational institutions, church congregations, community development stakeholders, business owners, housing advocates, and city officials. “Big tent” mobilizations are emphasized.  Whether in East, Central, or West Baltimore, partnerships focus on holistic approaches that address challenges of housing, neighborhood stability and vitality, human capital development, commercial improvement, and grass roots empowerment.

The city government does not lack for allies.  Among the most prominent (detailed in a related NLC case study) are: Southeast Community Development Corporation (SECDC); East Baltimore Development, Inc. (EBDI); Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP); BRIDGE Maryland; and the University of Maryland BioPark at the West Baltimore medical center campus.

There is considerable room for optimism in Baltimore. Driving around the city, whether in Hampden or along Charles Street, or the revitalized 36th Street commercial corridor, there are reminders that the city has good bones. Its iconic buildings, broad avenues, and promising neighborhoods constitute a firm foundation for prosperity and growth. Although challenges remain, the community partnerships are a formidable force for positive change in Baltimore.

Brooks, J.A. 2010
About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement.  Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

For the Love of Eminent Domain

The City of Richmond, California has been abandoned and cast adrift by all those partners who might logically be expected to support local governments facing severe challenges to the local economy and the real estate market. Into the void stepped the private firm Mortgage Resolution Partners (MRP) peddling a grand solution to solve a prolonged and severe disruption in the housing market – use of eminent domain to acquire mortgages with negative equity.

Millions of homeowners have been foreclosed upon in the last six years. California cities have borne a disproportionate share of foreclosures. City leaders in Richmond naturally want to help their residents either by using their own resources or acting in concert with other partners (federal, state, nonprofit, etc.). But everywhere the city looked for timely, serious, and long-term help, no credible partner could be found.

From the Administration came the priority to bail-out banks under TARP, as well as the minimalist Neighborhood Stabilization Program. NSP was so inadequate to the task that its impact proved to be very small indeed. Congress took its pound of flesh in the form of large budget reductions in the Community Development Block Grant program. This is one of the few remaining sources of flexible spending at the local level – spending designed to serve critical housing needs for low and moderate income families. CDBG has become the whipping boy for Members of Congress more interested in centralized control than they are in innovative problem solving.

At the state level, California eliminated the 400 local redevelopment agencies (RDA’s) in 2012 following a state Supreme Court ruling. For decades, those funds had been used successfully to eliminate urban blight and support affordable housing. When he was mayor of Oakland, Governor Jerry Brown used RDA funds to restore the historic Fox Theater. Now those funds are used to help the state balance their mismanaged budget on the backs of cash-starved localities and their low- and moderate-income residents.

And finally, we come to Mortgage Resolution Partners, the white knight galloping to the city’s rescue with a plan to save homes and secure the future of neighborhoods. MRP’s plan however, takes the much cherished and highly valuable power of eminent domain and contorts its purpose and operation to such a degree as to be unrecognizable. Make no mistake, MRP’s advocacy of this strategy will have consequences for cities generally and for Richmond in particular.

If anything was learned in the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case of Kelo v. City of New London, it is that state legislatures and Congress will look askance at local efforts to overreach on use of eminent domain. Mortgage Resolution Partners does a disservice to cities in urging them to take this approach to help borrowers at risk of foreclosure.

James Brooks is NLC’s Program Director for Community Development & Infrastructure. Follow him on twitter at @JamesABrooks.

Strategies for Transforming the “Rust Belt”

Many cities, especially the old manufacturing centers hardest hit by economic transformation and demographic shifts, are developing and implementing strategies to attract new residents and new investment. Options that have been or are being deployed to once again grow these cities include targeting immigrants and knowledge workers (“creative class”) as well as place-based initiatives focusing on downtowns and neighborhoods or on amenities like the arts, open space and transit. Leveraging the capacity of so-called anchor institutions – partners including foundations, universities and health centers – continues to be an important part of these efforts.

Economist Jeremy Nowak, who also is the Chair at the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia, argues that there are several trends that should help older “legacy cities” grow. Factors he and others view as significant include:

• Suburban and exurban empty nesters seeking urbanized spaces with amenities;
• Adults in their 20’s starting to form new households, albeit often households of one;
• Cities as critical gateways for new immigrants;
• The value of academic and health centers and other “growth nodes” found mostly in cities;
• Knowledge workers and those connected to the arts and to cultural institutions arts and culture congregate in cities;
• Societal trends in support of sustainability, walkability, dense social networks and place making are aligned with the values of the urban environment.

Even a casual observer of cities will agree that challenges remain. Research by NLC and other institutions acknowledge that cities must work through issues of poverty, crumbling infrastructure, low quality schools and general conditions of blight as well as perceptions about the ineffectiveness of government institutions in general. Most importantly, says Jeremy Nowak, “a city must come to terms with the cost of public benefits and the actual worth of those goods or services.”

In order to attract middle class families, a city must provide amenities that have broad public value – great public spaces, transportation systems that connect to jobs, residences and recreation opportunities, places that are safe and clean, and services that are fairly priced. City leaders also must embrace the shared governance and management models (partnerships with CDC’s, neighborhood associations, nonprofits and private sector firms) that offer innovations in delivering public goods and services toward the goal of achieving prosperity for all.

Practical Examples

Baltimore’s Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake seeks to grow the city’s population by 10,000 in 10 years. Efforts include the Vacants to Value program, which is rehabilitating vacant housing and offering home buyer incentives, demolishing 4,000 blighted structures, and leaving some land vacant as green space, urban agriculture plots or adjunct yards for existing homes. The mayor wants to cut city property taxes by 20% (reducing the cost of government in the process) and invest in core infrastructure including mobility strategies. A partnership with the state will invest $1.1 billion in new school construction (10-15 buildings) and rehabilitation of others.

There is useful data to help the city target resources. Research from the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance discovered that 35% of neighborhoods in the city (19 of 55) experienced some recent growth. Historic preservation tax credits were an especially critical incentive bringing older houses into prime condition for habitation. Neighborhoods that grew were accessible to roads and transit networks allowing residents to get to jobs, shopping and recreation easier and faster. By contrast, little growth occurred where there is blight and vacant properties. Even where there is good access to mobility networks, neighborhoods with vacant properties are not growing.

In the Idora neighborhood of Youngstown, Ohio, keys to future growth were upgrading the image of neighborhoods, strengthening the real estate market, and engaging large numbers of residents in the renewal process. The goal was to rebuild confidence so that property owners again would be willing to invest both dollars and time in owning and managing a quality home and community. The city’s Lots of Green program acknowledged the need to manage empty space in neighborhoods and encouraged the active role for residents.

Geneva, New York undertook image building initiatives to first create and then strategically market a dozen unique neighborhoods. Working through the city’s Office of Neighborhood Initiatives and in partnership with volunteers from the Geneva Neighborhood Resource Center, residents are engaged in a process of setting standards they expect from their blocks and houses.

Some revitalization tasks are symbolic like creating a neighborhood mural or new place-centric signage. Other tasks strengthen the real estate market through rehabilitation and sale of formerly vacant houses, aggressive promotions of neighborhoods with the help of real estate agents, and targeted first-time homebuyer incentives.

Other, more tangible efforts, such as strengthening grass roots community associations that engage in problem identification, assessment and solution, often depend on support from city government. That support may take various forms such as advocate, facilitator and champion. I believe that an essential role for city government is to help make recoveries possible by using grants, special lien programs, and clean-up assistance to support confidence-building efforts implemented by residents in concerts with local nonprofits or other community-based institutions. Through such actions, cities create an enabling environment for actions by community stakeholders.

Future Thinking

The analysis presented here was gathered during a forum that brought together thought leaders from the cities of Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia. These leaders were convened by the Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities and four of the Federal Reserve Banks, with NLC as a supporting partner. Three more such gatherings will be organized during the balance of 2013 and into 2014. In our role of knowledge partner, NLC will contribute to these cross-city discussions but also facilitate the dissemination of knowledge beyond the four target cities.

Financing Housing

A number of discussions were held during NLC’s Congress of Cities on the topics of housing, housing finance and home mortgage foreclosures.  From these discussions a picture emerges that is hopeful at one level but deeply troubling at another.

Despite the improvements in the housing sector in the form of sales prices, construction permits and foreclosure declines, mortgage financing remains a complex and risk-prone proposition.

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index is up for 18 metro markets (New York and Chicago excepted). Prices are up 7 percent through the first nine months of 2012 which is the strongest performance since 2005.

However, mortgage financing through FHA still accounts for a much higher proportion of mortgage loans than is desirable or sustainable over time. The status of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac remain unpredictable and are a source of continued anxiety in the market.

More disturbingly, the massive losses from securitized mortgages in the portfolios of the GSE’s are an ongoing drain on Federal resources and the taxpayer. The Federal Reserve is buying up on average $40 billion per month of Fannie and Freddie mortgage backed securities.

Mainstream financial institutions need to return to the market for mortgage origination for the average consumer. Improvements in the housing and real estate markets and rising demand may eventually lure banks back into this business. But the unknown and unpredictable disposition of a fully functioning secondary mortgage market will inhibit increased private sector involvement.

Until some kind of reform is implemented for the GSE’s the Feds will continue to be the lender of first resort and the great and powerful guarantor of all risks in the market. That is, and will continue to be, an untenable position.

Foreclosure Fatigue Sets In as Housing Market Improves

Imagine my surprise at how quickly the attention paid to mortgage borrowers suffering through foreclosures, short-sales and default notices is quickly abandoned as good news continues to arrive in the form of rising home prices and sales. As with wars, famines, natural disasters and celebrity meltdowns, issue fatigue is finally sweeping the mortgage foreclosure crisis into a neverland of footnotes and asterisks.

It’s fine to celebrate positive housing news. Sales of new single family homes surged 5.7 percent in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 390,000, the highest level in 2 ½ years. September year-over-year increases were 27 percent. Census figures earlier in the month reported a 15 percent increase in new housing starts during September and an 11 percent increase in building permits.

Nearly all the numbers focusing on housing show improvement. But the experience of the 21st Century’s most significant economic recession ought to remind us that numbers are inherently selective. By the time this housing debacle finally ends nearly 5 million Americans will have lost a home and be left with credit so badly damaged they won’t qualify for a mortgage until well after the next Presidential election. And if rules are adopted that demand larger down payments and smaller debt-to-income ratios, the Millennials won’t be buying houses until they reach their 40’s.

Arguably, the “crisis” has abated and it’s hard to focus on housing when confronted with World Series baseball, Dancing with the Stars and a new Tom Hanks-Halle Berry movie. Fatigue is real and if we get tired of floods and wildfires and famine, the plight of the “dislocated homeowner” hardly warrants any greater attention.

But while fatigue may be understandable, the out and out thieving actions by state governments of the funds dedicated to housing from the National Mortgage Settlement is not only intolerable but possibly criminal. In a report from Enterprise Community Partners researchers discovered that nearly half of state governments are bleeding off portions of the funds allocated to help states pay for housing counseling, mortgage mediation, legal aid and other housing programs to instead address shortfalls in state general fund budgets.

Among the worst offenders are Alabama and Georgia, the latter which sent its entire $99 million share of funds to economic development programs. Missouri used its $39 million to prevent higher education cuts. California used $410 million from its share to fill budget holes for its $15 billion deficit which did include some old debt service on affordable housing bonds. The South Carolina legislature, over the veto of Governor Nikki Haley, and sent its $31 million share to business attraction programs and to the general fund.

The mortgage settlement intended that a modest $2.5 billion, out of $25 billion overall, go to help distressed homeowners facing the calamity of losing a home. In the absence of more federal money to stabilize neighborhoods and preserve communities this sum offered a considerable level of assistance. If the well of sympathy as indeed gone dry, the very least that can be expected is that those who have been provided for in the mortgage settlement get what is due to them without any interference by revenue-hungry states.

Development, Housing Affordability, and Gentrification: Utilizing the Tools (Part 3 of 3)

This is the final post in a three –part series that explores gentrification as an ‘unintended consequence’ of the (re)development of a place, and identifies innovative tools that cities are using to address the overlapping issues of mobility and affordability.

The previous blog posts (part 1 and part 2) in the series highlighted some of the consequences of place-based economic redevelopment on long-time residents in city neighborhoods, specifically calling for a re-examination of how and with whom we plan the future of our communities.  In this post, I highlight a few priorities, as well as tools that are already readily available to local governments and community organizations to realize a vision based on equitable development.

Guiding Priorities:

The types of stakeholders, community conditions, and market potential for each neighborhood within a city varies, so no single strategy works everywhere.  Regardless, certain universal priorities help to ensure that equity and affordability are comprehensively addressed in the development process.


  • Housing affordability and variety. If an end goal is to see that long-term residents are also able to stay in the neighborhood and enjoy the fruits of development, ensuring the affordability and availability of housing – at a variety of incomes levels- is critical.  Given the potential for development to very quickly drive up the cost of surrounding housing, local governments must use a variety of tools to make sure that future housing needs of low- and middle- income residents are met as well.  Similarly, it is important to provide a variety of types of housing (i.e. to accommodate families as well as single, young professionals) and an adequate mix of owner vs. rental housing that responds to the dual characteristics of long-time and future residents.
  • Job diversity and quality. The creation and/ or retention of short- and long-term jobs for current residents is as vital to guaranteeing that they  are able to stay in the neighborhood as quality, affordable housing.  Jobs that require diverse skillsets, pay living wages, and offer opportunities for growth ensure that all residents are able to stay and actively participate in the local workforce.
  • Community amenitiesA (related) negative consequence of redevelopment is the potential to displace critical community services such as neighborhood centers and social services. These facilities often foster a sense of ownership and attachment to the neighborhood and should be preserved during and after development. In her book, Root Shock, Dr. Mindy Fullilove uses the consequences of Urban Renewal to illustrate the importance of preserving and cultivating social networks and institutions as a critical aspect of vibrant, healthy communities.

This report, produced by Puget Sound Sage, discusses these priorities (and others) through an in-depth assessment of transit investment and the threat of gentrification in Seattle’s Rainier Valley. 

Proven Tools:

Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs)In instances where a proposed development does not have a direct positive effect on a community, local governments may choose to use a CBA, which requires developers to follow additional requirements in order to  be able to build their project. CBAs are project-specific, legally-binding agreements that ensure that the needs of local stakeholders (such as municipal infrastructure) are addressed in return for approval of the development of a new project in the neighborhood. These agreements, which are the outcome of a negotiation process between the developer and the community coalition and/or the local government, create additional requirements that the developer must adhere to. Local governments can encourage CBAs in order to increase community engagement and support for an economic development effort, and meet specific needs of current residents.

The Bayview- Hunters Point CBA in San Francisco is an example of how the community worked with a housing developer to incorporate affordable housing requirements, housing assistance funds, and job training funds as part of the CBA.  (developed by The Partnership for Working Families)

Transit- Oriented Development (TOD) Fund: Given that (re)development often takes place along transit nodes, local governments can use a TOD fund to preserve land for a specific purpose such as affordable housing. TOD funds are often revolving loan funds that provide capital to purchase and hold sites strategically along corridors that are either under development for public transit or are scheduled for transit construction.  By utilizing TOD funds to preserve affordable housing along such central areas, local governments can also help minimize the transportation burden placed on low- and moderate-income workers.

Several partners from the Mile High Connects initiative- including Enterprise Community Partners and the Urban Land Conservancy, as well as the city and county of Denver- have worked together to create a TOD acquisition fund.  Denver’s TOD Fund will help create and preserve over 1,000 units of affordable housing along current and future transit corridors.

Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) Policies:  Local governments adopt inclusionary zoning (IZ) policies to ensure that new developments provide affordable housing units, either within the development itself or elsewhere, in return for (non-monetary) compensation to developers. IZ policies are flexible– they can be either mandatory or voluntary and their structure is largely determined by the needs and demands of the jurisdiction, allowing them to be responsive to a community’s particular needs. IZ policies are attractive tools for local governments because they rarely require funding from a jurisdiction, and although local governments eventually take on the burden of affordable units from developers, inclusionary zoning has proved to be a cost-effective strategy in the long run.

PolicyLink has developed a comprehensive toolkit to further explain IZ programs; outline financing opportunities; and highlight policy challenges and opportunities.  The toolkit includes case studies from various jurisdictions- including the City of Cambridge- that have successfully utilized IZ policies to retain affordable housing in developing areas.

‘Sustainability’ is quickly catching on in small, medium, and large cities throughout the country—and, undoubtedly, the environmental and economic results of sustainability initiatives have proven extremely successful. My hope is that, as we (re)invest in our neighborhoods and corridors, in our transit system, and in our small businesses, we don’t lose sight of the fact that truly sustainable communities will only emerge from the inclusion of diverse narratives and visions for the future.  The threat of gentrification is very real; however, local governments can utilize a variety of strategies (and a dose of creativity) to cultivate healthy, quality communities for all residents and encourage place-based economic development at the same time.

Is your city utilizing any of these tools already? What do you think about these issues? Feel free to email and/or comment below!

California’s Homeowner Bill of Rights Provides Solutions

Political leaders at the state and local levels in California have delivered not one but two aggressive efforts to address the home mortgage foreclosure crisis. One effort, the Homeowner Bill of Rights, is likely to be a powerful stick which will help borrowers negotiating a loan modification from nearly all banks and mortgage servicers. The other effort, an attempt by San Bernardino County and nearby municipalities to use eminent domain powers to modify mortgages, has run into opposition from several quarters and may prove unfeasible.

The recently signed Homeowner Bill of Rights law does a few things that even the national mortgage settlement agreement between 49 states and the nation’s five largest loan servicers does not. First, the law applies to all banks (with a few exceptions for very small ones) not just the big five. Second, the law provides a private right of action for borrowers against banks who demonstrate “significant, material violations of the law.” Hopefully, this will eliminate any vestiges of the “dual track” practice where servicers continued a foreclosure process even while at the same time negotiating a loan modification with the borrower. Coincidently, this dual-track practice already is illegal under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), but it continues nonetheless.

The proposal concerning eminent domain is an effort to render some further assistance to underwater borrowers. Legal scholars are now dissecting the reasoning behind this proposal. Questions surrounding issues of public purpose and just compensation valuation are only the most obvious matters for attention. The partnership with Mortgage Resolution Partners (MSP) needs explanation since this firm will ultimately receive the mortgages in some as-yet-unknown transfer process. Finally, the necessity of protecting investors in mortgage backed securities, while unpopular with many, is nonetheless an underlying principal of contracts which cannot be ignored even to help underwater borrowers.

One only needs some awareness of politics as opposed to law in order to understand why the eminent domain proposal is facing so much opposition from banks, real estate agents, title companies and chambers of commerce. Following the rightly-decided U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo vs New London, which upheld an eminent domain action by a local government, various states tightened the laws under which local governments could exercise eminent domain authority. The victory handed to localities by the Court was very quickly curtailed by many state governments because of the perceived lack of public purpose evidenced in the Kelo case.

The desire on the part of local officials in San Bernardino County to help homeowners has led them down a path which while creative in the near-term may run counter to the longer-term interests of local government autonomy. In short, by taking a broad reading of eminent domain powers there is some risk to local governments in California and elsewhere. The possible consequence is mobilization of opposition to such a viewpoint within state legislatures and in Congress resulting in action to eviscerate local eminent domain authority across the board.