We all know that local resistance to the construction of affordable rental family housing is a key factor affecting our industry and the housing opportunities we can provide. Communities tolerate—and often even welcome—the construction of seniors housing and even the rehabilitation of existing low-income housing. But where NIMBYism rears its ugly head is when plans include new family housing, especially low-income rentals for large families.
Homes for America develops affordable housing in several states, and we have had the unique opportunity to observe the importance of allocation policies and procedures in fostering or discouraging new family housing. Two adjacent states, Maryland and Pennsylvania, offer striking contrasts in their allocation policies. In the past five years, Maryland has awarded 23 percent of its affordable housing resources to newly constructed family housing. In the same period, Pennsylvania has awarded 56 percent, or two-and-a-half times as much new family housing as Maryland.
These results are directly attributable to the policies each state pursues in allocating its housing resources.
This state’s obstacles to developing new family housing start with state law. When Maryland’s housing programs were enacted, the governor and the legislature believed that local governments should be partners with the state in providing funding, so they required that all state-funded housing projects be approved by the local government, and that there be a “local contribution” for each project.
The state allocating agency compounded the problem in the mid–1990s by expanding these requirements from state funds to include federal low-income housing tax credits. The rationale was to have uniform requirements for all state-administered housing programs, regardless of funding source. The local approval and local contribution are treated as threshold requirements by the state, and applications are not accepted without them, thus giving local governments complete control over what can be considered for funding.
Applications to construct new family housing are then subjected to a rating and ranking process, which doesn’t do much to give this type of housing an advantage. The state’s qualified allocation plan provides only five points out of 315 for family housing. Maryland awards points for incomes served and leveraging of other funds. These categories have formulas based on the number of bedrooms, so family projects with larger units generally score higher than seniors projects.
No other special policies or procedures exist to promote new family housing over other types of housing by the rating system, a sore spot for many housing advocates who consider the failure to prioritize family housing a significant gap in Maryland’s housing policy.
How has Pennsylvania produced so much more newly constructed rental family housing than Maryland in the last five years? It has an affirmative set of policies directed toward promoting family housing and resisting NIMBYism. The key tenets:
- Local approval is not required, nor are any points given for having local support.
- Local funding is not required, but points are given for having it.
- If negative local feedback is received about a proposed project, the Pennsylvania agency typically stays out of it and lets the local land-use approval process run its course. Many times, the claim is made by the local government that there is “no market.” In this case, the agency will undertake a market study, and typically demonstrates there is a market.
- Ten points out of 260 are awarded for family housing, compared to five out of 315 in Maryland.
- Any development that has experienced delays or additional costs because of local opposition is allowed a 30 percent increase above the usual construction cost caps.
- If a project experiences local resistance or delays beyond its control and cannot meet the established deadlines, the agency will permit the tax credits or other funding to be extended by recapturing it and immediately reallocating the resources back to the project.
- When a region is underserved by family housing, the agency creates a set-aside for family housing proposals, only releasing it for other uses if no family proposals are submitted. This tale of two states shows pretty dramatically the role that allocation plans have on how housing resources can be used and what opportunities are created. I hope it will inspire my home state of Maryland and other states that allocate funds to consider new ways to combat local government resistance to family housing.