As I was working with our editors on profiles of the 32 finalists in our Readers’ Choice Awards competition for this issue, I was amazed by the wide range of excellent projects our industry has delivered. But I was also struck by what the best projects have in common and wondered why I don’t see much more of it.
One thing they have in common is creativity, but there’s plenty of that out there. Another thing they share is dedicated sponsors and professionals who persevered until they overcame all the obstacles and got the deal done. I commend them.
But there’s one other thing that distinguishes most of these fine projects: Teamwork and collaboration among disparate interest groups and organizations.
Private housing developers, for-profits and nonprofits, government housing agencies, and city and state political leaders worked together to get tough deals done. In almost every case, skeptical neighbors had to be convinced to give the developers the benefit of the doubt.
In several large California deals, luxury single-family home developers collaborated closely with nonprofit housing providers, going beyond the immediate requirements of inclusionary zoning to provide equity investments or soft loans to help get the deals done.
Bankers and investors took substantial risks on most of them, too.
But why are such collaborations so rare? What will it take to break down the barriers of narrow self-interest that cause these groups to fight more than they collaborate?
Big builders as a group are more likely to fight inclusionary zoning than to work with it. Real estate agents pay lip service to the need for affordable housing but, in California, they refuse to even entertain the idea of allowing the state to tap housing transaction fees as a revenue source for housing.
Even staunch affordable housing advocates fight over the allocation of resources, and argue about which income groups are more deserving of scarce government assistance.
And, of course, government agencies often work at cross purposes, with conflicting requirements and incompatible timetables for the deals they assist, and that’s just at the state and local level.
When you look at our finalists carefully, you realize they all had to build not just housing but bridges—lots and lots of bridges.
Perhaps I’m naïve, but it seems to me that it’s in everyone’s interest to work together on the full spectrum of housing needs and stop finding reasons to obstruct, instead of assist, development.
Look at the stories in this issue and think about what can be done when we work together.
Healthy communities with homes available to persons of all incomes are in everyone’s interest, including builders and real estate agents. With the price of new homes at record levels and interest rates rising, builders and real estate agents are beginning to see that collaboration to provide affordable housing makes sense, but they must do more.
Recently, I toured a new SRO in LA’s Skid Row and a rehabbed family project in Sacramento. For me, there’s nothing as powerful as seeing a new or renewed property that is starting to heal the torn urban fabric. Or better yet, hearing the laughter of children playing in a place where they once rightfully feared getting shot.
We can do so many more of the kinds of projects you see on these pages, even with today’s limited resources, if we all try harder to put aside differences and work together. If you have ideas on how to encourage more collaboration, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And don’t forget to vote for your picks to win our Readers’ Choice Awards. Subscribers can fill out the ballot and fax it back to (415) 315-1248 or go to www.housingfinance.com.