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Rochester’s City Council insisted the College Town project include affordable housing in exchange for a $20 million taxpayer-backed loan. President Lovely Warren said developers wanting public money should make sure their projects are open to all.

Mt. Hope Neighborhood Association leaders were livid. Richard Rowe, owner of Rowe’s Photo, wrote to City Council:

Our community does not lack “affordable housing,” however “affordable” is defined. Our community already cares for citizens in need and we are also blessed with good housing inventory at low prices, compared to other cities.

Whenever we encumber an investment with the words “affordable,” “low income,” “subsidized” and/or “controlled,” somebody is leaving money on the table and someone else is paying for the privilege.

Only 10 of the 150 apartments at College Town will be for low to moderate income residents. The Urban Land Institute says moderate income is usually defined as 80 to 120 percent of an area’s median income and low income is defined as 50 to 80 percent of the area’s median income.

Will these 10 units threaten the project’s viability and be a scourge on the neighborhood?

Mixed-income housing developments are now the norm. The days of herding low-income residents into “projects” are over. Cities are tearing down “projects,” which were often places filled with crime and hopelessness. Concentrating poverty has consequences, especially for schools and children.

The old housing project on Mt. Hope Avenue was torn down and replaced by Erie Harbor, where rents are quite high. Only 27 of the 131 apartments are set aside as affordable units, but the manager said they are not for “low income” families. The Hamilton high rise next door serves the poorest residents. The Erie Harbor apartments are renting fast, proving that having an affordable component doesn’t stop high-income residents from moving in.

Living in a city means living with people from all walks of life.

The Urban Land Institute wrote a paper called Mixed-Income Housing: Myth and Fact. Here is an excerpt:

…mixing incomes has become a popular way to supply affordable housing options, increase absorption in large planned developments, revitalize urban neighborhoods, and decrease the concentration of poverty in publicly assisted housing. When located close to job centers and services, mixed-income housing provides more than just another housing product—it also activates smart growth principles by reducing travel times and congestion.

A friend said to me, “If I’m paying $1,000 a month, why should the guy in the next apartment over be paying only $600?”

The answer is the guy makes a lot less money and probably doesn’t have as nice an apartment. The guy likely has a job and his tax dollars also helped finance the project. My friend’s attitude also assumes there is something special about these apartments. The only thing special about them is the location, which may have been inaccessible to poorer residents.

Staggered rents already exist throughout the city with the Section 8 program, which typically limits rent to 30 percent of a resident’s income. These lower-income residents just aren’t near you – until now.

10 Responses to What is “Affordable Housing?”

  1. April 21, 2012 at 2:50 pm lynn e responds:

    The real question is where do all the poor go? There are fewer housing units for them and poverty isn’t going away. A girl I know who used to live in Mt. Hope, said when we were driving buy, “Oh look! Now they have housing for rich people!” Another former student of mine who attends U of I at Urbana says that city has many poor people of color moving in because the public housing is being demolished in Chicago and the poor are pushed out of that city and are ending up in smaller cities that have cheaper housing. The poor still don’t have work are making those cities more dangerous and the areas are unprepared for the social needs of the residents. So much for Chicago schools getting better, it was ruse to get ryid of the poor and take the areas they live on.

  2. April 21, 2012 at 3:24 pm Edward Richards responds:

    The more and more I hear about upscale housing (instead of affordable) the more I get upset. How about reasonable? Rent within reason. $600-$650 for ALL. Nobody is better than anyone else. Afterall, you are only twenty something college students. Besides, the Rochester market does not justify that high a rents anyway. It just doesn’t.

  3. Reasonably priced rent would be nice to find. It’s hard to find for a family of modest means. It seems like there is no help out there for those of us on the lower income side. My family qualifies for no help but we have limited options. We want to move to a bigger place, but larger places are out of our price range.

  4. Oh, “affordable housing” is another one of those newspeak terms like “sustainable xxxx” and “public initiative” and/or “investemnt” which has been substituted for “public” or “subsidized” housing so the public can’t quite grasp what income groups is being referred to as future occupants of the so designated housing.

    Then you have the affordable housing community with which we can all identify because if your of the norm, you will purchase housing that you can afford whether it’s subsidized or not. There’s a lot of affordable housing in Pittsford and Mendon, too. You just need to have more money to afford it.

  5. April 21, 2012 at 7:07 pm Edward Richards responds:

    Let me get this straight.

    The government (local, federal and state) subsidizes the College Town housing project by paying for it all. But there is a problem with accepting government checks for rent?!! Excuse me? WTF is going on here? Who’s in charge? Somebody needs to speak to the landlord.

    Acceptable, affordable and reasonable rent for ALL!

  6. April 21, 2012 at 10:44 pm sarah johnstone responds:

    Most people don’t know that there is a difference between HUD subsidized section 8 housing (what many people think of as welfare) and “affordable” housing, which is a reduced rent from market rate based on regional income levels. Letting some number of units of College Town (or any) project be designated “affordable housing” doesn’t mean that welfare queens or drug dealers or any other low or non-income individual can live there. It means that someone or some family making 80% of the median regional income can rent that apartment at a slightly reduced rate. Much of the country, particularly the east coast, has a mandatory 20% “affordable housing” rule for ALL new build housing efforts. There has not been a groundswell of opposition to this rule, and those that live in the newer communities have not made the media aware that the “affordable” units made a negative impact. In the South Wedge, the new Erie Harbor development has 20% of their units designated as “affordable” housing, and the rent structure for the affordable units is not significantly below that for full market rate (and this is a pretty high-end development). Granted, the structures are not all finished and rented, but I do not anticipate a great influx of complaints from resident that they are living next to “affordable” patrons. How would they know?
    And to speak to one of Rachel’s earlier posts, why the heck isn’t the UR putting any skin in this game? They have a 2 billion endowment and won’t ante up 20 million toward what is essentially their development? Geez.

    • SJ: why use your own money when there are so many public patsies around to do it for you?

      Look, the whole affordable housing term is a way to edge into place like the suburbs and staid institutional urban areas with below market rental or purchase rates in order to spread the burden of other taxpayers absorbing the process without legal enforcement to do so.

      So, “let’s take initiative to collaborate in a sustainable effort to provide affordable housing for all.” Quick, hid your wallets and run for the hills.

  7. April 22, 2012 at 9:33 am Jim Fraser responds:

    While the points made in the piece about the benefits of mixed-income neighborhoods are valid, there remains the question of how to get there. Like enforced integration of schools in the ’60s and ’70s, it is based on sound principles, and is a step in the right direction. But founding it solely on government policy is, in my view, inherently unsustainable. We need to do better.

    We might begin by recognizing that neighborhoods used to do this well. Looking at Rochester’s revitalized older communities, we see places with a relatively high degree of mixtures of income, age and ethnicity. Places like South Wedge, Maplewood, CornHill, and much of the 19th Ward have revitalized organically, with little or no direct government intervention, be it planning, policy or funding.

    While the model offered by these examples is limited, it clearly points the way to dense, diverse – and sustainable – housing development. The difficulty is in adapting the model to economically constrained housing, such as new construction, with its high, up-front capital costs, or the persistently blighted neighborhoods of Rochester’s so-called ‘Crescent’. Again, a view to past successes is helpful. Government’s proper role is as an enabler, providing infrastructure assets such as transit. It also has a role in helping communities to organize, so that leaders may emerge who can speak for what assets and amenities a neighborhood actually wants and values – choices that belong to neighborhoods’ residents and stakeholders and to nobody else.

    There are good projects and bad, but the best are sustainable ones, achieved through bottom-up strategies, developed organically – not bestowed from on high, in a high-stakes fashion. College town seems to have aspects of both. Get the process right, the projects will follow.

  8. April 22, 2012 at 9:52 pm Edward Richards responds:

    Actually, if it’s apartment $450-$550 sounds right. The right price.

  9. May 3, 2012 at 3:28 am Real Tax Payer responds:

    make these people get off welfare and go out and get a job instead of us paying for there freaken housing.

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