2007 Summit Summary

On March 1, 2007, CNU hosted an Affordable Housing Organizing Meeting to begin the conversation on the specific role CNU should play in order to help its members with the provision of quality diverse housing to benefit the larger community. The meeting was structured in four parts. In the first three sections, paralleling the various scales of the charter, each participant spoke for a few minutes on his or her specific perspective or specialty, followed by a discussion of specific action items for CNU.

Jim Carr, Senior Vice President of Financial Innovation, Planning and Research for the Fannie Mae Foundation began the conversation by framing affordable housing and poverty alleviation as ways to improve the overall economic and social well-being of America. He sees the challenge to providing affordable housing as how to attract public and private interest and investment, and stressed that searching for a panacea is selling ourselves short; we can do more with a variety of tools and approaches. Phil Nyden, Director of the Center for Urban Research and Learning at Loyola University Chicago continued the discussion, speaking about his research on racial and economic diversity, neighborhoods' images and resources, and how these factors affect the residential make up of a community.

Nancy Firfer of Chicago Metropolis 2020 and former president of the Village of Glenview, IL shared the results of a study on the changing Chicago metropolitan population, predicting an influx of both an Hispanic population and an elderly population over the next twenty years, and what these changes will mean for the type and amount of affordable options that will increasingly be in demand. Dena Al-Khatib, Executive Director of Chicago's infant Community Land Trust, explained how land trusts operate and the ways in which they utilize shared income and dual-ownership to provide perpetually affordable units across the City.

Perry Bigelow, developer of HomeTown Aurora, emphasized a market-driven way to provide affordable housing so that it satisfies the housing needs of everyone that contributes to a community - banker, farmer, and janitor alike - yet is profitable for builders. He stressed the importance of developer incentives such as density bonuses as well as the need for perpetual affordability, and mentioned the challenging stigmas associated with affordable housing in the suburbs.

Tom Gallas of Torti Gallas and Partners updated the group on the proposed reauthorization of HOPE VI legislation through 2011 at $600 million with a new emphasis on timely results, comprehensive neighborhoods, true partnerships with local governments and resources, and improved processes of resident support throughout relocation and possible displacement. Gallas emphasized the short timeline of the bill, introduced March 8, 2007. Doug Guthrie and Kevin Hardman of Kimball Hill Urban Centers then spoke about maneuvering through building requirements and political realities with two HOPE VI funded projects in Chicago, and the challenges they are facing at each unique site. Affordable units are scattered throughout each building type in both projects, though a more desirable product has proven to translate into higher building costs.

Mike Pyatok, an architect known for his creative approaches to providing affordable housing, described several of his design innovations in California, Arizona, and Seattle, WA. He compared the benefits and drawbacks to mixed-income housing, emphasizing the need for practical options for the specific residents that will live in the buildings. Neal Payton of Torti Gallas and Partners continued, emphasizing "maximum transparency" in a neighborhood with the desire to have children and adults interacting within and engaging with public space. After his assertion that challenges exist at every level of building affordable units, conversation shifted towards CNU's role in addressing these challenges and barriers.

As a membership organization, CNU encompasses a unique diversity of experiences, specialties, and perceptions that can be utilized as a vast resource. Talen and Pyatok both mentioned the importance of forming partnerships and collaborations so that the advantages and special knowledge of many outlooks can be most effectively utilized towards the provision of affordable housing.

Participants agreed that CNU’s overall expertise, however, is physical form. Board Member Todd Zimmerman stated further that design has the ability to impact human behavior. While the hope is that effective design encourages neighborhood diversity, Talen asserted that urbanism currently runs the risk of instead creating enclaves and encouraging gentrification and displacement.

At this point in the conversation, there has not been group consensus on where responsibility lies for creating affordable developments. CNU has the power, however, to encourage effective design that avoids these negative outcomes while in turn promoting affordability and diversity. While we are not a social advocacy organization, John Norquist expressed that there are ways in which we can approach social justice without defining ourselves by it through design and development. We believe “the urban form isn’t a problem, it’s a solution,” and that the incorporation of affordability into New Urbanism has the ability to improve the situation of the urban poor without hand-outs, without condescension, and without them having to say thank you; “and that’s pretty liberating.” As an organization with a range of valuable resources, CNU is able to approach affordability from a variety of angles in order to better serve the community at large.

Other Participants:
Sam Sherman of Sam Sherman Assoc. LLC New Urban Ventures LLC
Robin Snyderman of Metropolitan Planning Council

CNU Board Members in Attendance:
Ray Gindroz
Jim Murley
Todd Zimmerman