ULI Philadelphia Blog

Reflection on the ULI Housing Opportunity Conference

Nancy Bastian, Cecil Baker + Partners

It was my privilege to attend the ULI Housing Opportunity Conference in New Orleans from September 10-12. Leaders in the affordable housing industry gathered to share learnings and discuss solutions for the future of equitable housing. The conference marked the ten-year anniversary of the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing, which conducts research and develops recommendations related to all residential product types, with a special attention to workforce and affordable housing. Discussions ranged from new models for affordable homeownership to the future of affordable housing for seniors to innovations in design and construction.

It is abundantly clear that the need for more affordable housing across the country is substantial. In his opening plenary, Ron Terwilliger noted that only one in four who qualify for housing vouchers receives them and that most politicians don’t realize there is a housing crisis. Major U.S. cities are trying to tackle the problem in various ways. For example, an official from Seattle shared the city’s 80/80/80 requirement for lands near light rail: 80 percent of land must be offered for affordable housing, and of that affordable housing, 80 percent of units must be for families at 80 percent of AMI or below.

Several themes that resonate at the national level are ripe for serious consideration here in Philly, too. As we prepare for ULI Philadelphia’s upcoming Housing Affordability Forum on October 11, here are a few takeaways from the 2017 ULI Housing Opportunity Conference.

  1. Mixed Income Housing   housing-2

For several hours on Sunday, September 10, a group of us toured the historic Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans to visit several new housing developments, as well as a new greenway and a mixed-use retail project.

Four large-scale housing projects were abandoned post-Hurricane Katrina and redeveloped as mixed-income communities. We visited two of those projects – Faubourg Lafitte and Bienville Basin Apartments. Located on the site of the original Iberville Public Housing Project, the new projects were born of a partnership between the City Housing Authority and private housing developers. What had been a mega-complex of 75 buildings was reconfigured to save only a select portion of the buildings, reconnecting the city grid that had long been abandoned. The new Faubourg Lafitte and Bienville Basin Apartments are home to a mixed-income community that appears stronger and healthier than it had ever been.

We toured a unit at Bienville Basin Apartments. It is a 4-story, new construction building with 57 One Bedroom Units. This project was described as a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 project. That is, one third of the units are public housing units (tenants pay 30% of their income in rent); one third are Low Income Housing Tax Credit units (tenants have to meet, but can’t exceed, minimum income requirements); and one third are market rate (the going rental rate for a 650-square-foot One Bedroom unit runs between $1200 and $1400/month).

Unit types are fully dispersed throughout the building, and all have the same level of finishes – granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, luxury vinyl plank flooring, etc. Demand for all types of units has apparently been very high.

  1. Housing & Health

Across all ages and community types, health and housing are intertwined. A panel focused on building healthy and culturally vibrant communities noted some available resources to help promote healthy living through housing:

  • ULI offers an online toolkit as part of its Building Healthy Places Initiative.
  • Fannie Mae has a new program called Healthy Housing Rewards, which provides a financial incentive for borrowers who incorporate healthy design features for newly constructed or rehabilitated affordable multifamily rental properties. The initiative targets properties where at least 60 percent of the units are serving tenants at 60 percent of average median income or less.

When it comes to affordable senior housing, these developments are most valuable when combined with access to services. A panel on the future of affordable senior housing noted that the presence of an on-site services coordinator can lower hospital stays among residents by 18 percent.

Here in Philadelphia, NewCourtland Senior Services does an excellent job coupling housing with services. Its new campus in the city’s Allegheny section provides one-bedroom units designed for independent living on the same site as its NewCourtland LIFE Center, where participants access healthcare and supportive services.

  1. Cross-Sector Partnerships

Throughout the conference, many developers noted that they took on mixed-income housing in partnership with a non-profit developer of affordable housing units. Here in Philly, we need a framework for creating partnerships that bring the necessary expertise together. A market rate developer will not become a successful affordable housing developer overnight. Affordable housing developers, who are accustomed to navigating a complex and highly unpredictable web of potential funding sources, often have a difficult time finding land in Philadelphia. A partnership that leverages the expertise of both types of developers has potential to bring affordable units online at a greater pace.

I look forward to learning more at ULI Philadelphia’s upcoming forum, “The Housing Affordability Question – How National Models Can Help Greater Philadelphia” on October 11.

bastianNancy Bastian is a Partner at Cecil Baker + Partners. An architect with 30 years of experience, Nancy has a particular expertise with residential, multi-family architecture. She enjoys working both with private developers on market rate housing and with social service and non-profit clients on affordable housing. Nancy has a special affinity for those projects that serve our most vulnerable populations. She has presented workshops on accessible housing and design to support thoughtful reconsideration of housing for the disabled to obtain maximum usefulness for its residents.

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