CNU launches task force on affordability
ROBERT STEUTEVILLE    OCT. 1, 2006
The Congress for the New Urbanism is creating an affordability task force to be co-chaired by Emily Talen, associate professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Illinois, and Neal Payton, principal at Torti Gallas & Partners in Los Angeles. The task force was prompted by concern among some CNU members about affordability in new urban projects, and is tackling a broad and challenging issue. “The establishment of the task has been approved at the executive committee level, and approval from the full Board is expected,” says Talen. “There is widespread support for the effort among board members, I have been told.” Many members of the organization “have expressed support and interest, so we expect this to be a particularly active task force,” she says. One of the missions will be to get a baseline understanding of the level of affordability in new urban projects, Talen explains. “Gauging this in a comprehensive way has never been attempted, as far as I know.” The task force will also explore the tools available for achieving mixed income and where and when they have been most successful — in what kinds of markets, for example, and what types of projects. A third goal is to develop mechanisms to increase income mix in NU developments by fostering better communication, knowledge, use of tools, and any other feasible means of achieving realistic goals for income mix, Talen says. “We are not all about government subsidies and controls, but neither are we content to stand helplessly by while new urban developments gravitate toward social homogeneity and affluence,” says Talen. “If the latter case appears unavoidable, we want to know why, and whether additional mechanisms could have garnered better results.” The first task will be to develop a database of projects, focusing particularly on those that have attempted to achieve affordability. The survey of tools and policies will cover taxes and expenditures, value capture, planning law and policy, land assembly, ownership, and community engagement, Talen explains. The committee will look at barriers that can be addressed uniquely by CNU. “For example, are there space standards that prevent small houses?” she asks. “Are there obstacles that prevent for-profit developers from easily using the affordability instruments available to nonprofits? Does the emphasis on new construction ignore opportunities for creating new units through rehab and conversion of existing housing?” The committee plans to create a toolkit on affordable housing for practitioners, developers, public officials, and community groups.