Rising home prices and a historic shortage of houses for sale spells trouble for many first-time homebuyers. But it’s not just buyers that face challenges: Local governments may struggle to meet their community development goals as a result of these trends. Clearly, the need for affordable housing development is great, both in the Finger Lakes region and nationwide.
In the latest episode of the Building Stronger Communities podcast, Matt Horn, MRB Group’s Director of Municipal Services, discusses the link between economic and housing development, different approaches to affordable housing, and what local leaders need to know about the development process.
The first thing you show know: Economic and housing development go hand in hand. Horn said when he started working in economic development, housing was often viewed as a separate issue. Now, said Horn, economic and housing development are “inextricably linked.”
Most development pursuits lean heavily on workforce analysis. Firms follow workers, and workers follow livability. While it’s true that employer recruitment happens in a shorter timeframe than substantial housing market shifts, if local leaders neglect housing development, they will inevitably fall behind on community development and quality-of-life issues.
Working on economic and housing development in tandem can lead to what Village of Perry Mayor Rick Hauser calls the “virtuous cycle.” The virtuous cycle occurs when a community has new residents as a result of development investments, and those new residents generate new revenues for the community. The community, in turn, invests in quality-of-life amenities, which attracts new residents, and so the cycle continues.
“Without the ability to attract new residents to your community, the residents you have today are likely maxed out in terms of what they’re willing to contribute to continue to develop amenities. So, developing housing stock is really key to building your community all the way around,” said Horn.
Housing affordability exists on a spectrum. There’s heavily subsidized housing on one end and market rate housing on the opposite end, with a lot of opportunity in the middle for local governments to influence the market. To do so, local leaders must first decide what housing demographic to target for development.
Once that target is determined, it’s time to ask, “What do you have in your arsenal to support accelerating development in that piece of the market?” said Horn.
For more established, older communities, that ‘arsenal’ might include housing stock assets like vacant buildings or other underutilized spaces. Newer or more rural communities without dense downtowns or neighborhoods might turn their attention towards existing land for potential housing development opportunities.
“Where is [the land]? What is it? What is its current situation relative to infrastructure availability? What is it currently zoned? Who owns it? What do they want to do with it? Identify all of those issues around existing land,” said Horn. “Most municipalities wouldn’t own large tracts of land where you might develop housing. So, sit down with the owners, find out what are their plans? Did they even have a plan? What’s in it for them? How does it threaten them? Try to get them aligned with your vision so that you can be ready to move to the next step.”
If this sounds like an arduous process to you, don’t get discouraged. No matter the scope- be it a five-year plan, 10-year plan, or even beyond- you can get the ball rolling on your community development goals by chipping away at the process piece by piece.
“As these developable properties become clear, market the heck out of them. Talk to local developers, host roundtables and other sessions that would get investors to the community, hang the opportunities on your website, push them out via social media,” recommended Horn. “Do whatever you have to do to tell your story. ‘Here’s what we want. Here’s what we got. Here’s what we’re willing to do to advance a project.’”