Kaid Benfield Archive


Preserving & upgrading rental housing for community sustainability

Kaid Benfield

Posted March 10, 2009 at 1:39PM

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The MacArthur Foundation is investing $150 million to demonstrate that preserving and improving affordable rental housing is a smart and cost-effective strategy for promoting community stability and sustainability. At the center of this effort is a $32.5 million investment in 12 states, cities, and counties to help them stem the loss of affordable rental homes across the country.

Interfaith Apartments, Boston rehab (by: Massachusetts Housing Partnership)Note the emphasis on rental, not for-sale, homes.  "For many years, the goal of home ownership has been emphasized in the US and as a country we lost sight of the value of rental housing in a balanced national housing policy," said MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton. "We now have an opportunity to reset the policy agenda, restore rental housing to its proper place, and reshape the policy environment so that it both encourages rental housing preservation and makes it easier to do. State and local governments are at the forefront of this effort, showcasing innovation and trying fresh approaches."

The Foundation's press release stresses that almost all Americans are renters at some point in their lives.  It notes that about one in three households - over 75 million people - rent their homes, and the number is rising because of the foreclosure crisis and overall weak market for home sales.  The release continues:

"Yet, the supply of affordable rental homes is shrinking. Over the last decade, more than one million affordable rental homes were lost due to demolition, conversion to condominiums, expiring government subsidies, and rapidly rising rents. An additional one million homes are expected to be lost in the decade ahead. For every affordable home built each year, two are lost. This means there are not enough affordable homes for millions of Americans all across the nation, not simply in urban areas."

      preserving rental homes (by: MacArthur Foundation)

Preserving homes in lieu of building new ones is inherently sound environmentally.  It re-uses materials and infrastructure, while obviating sprawl.  Existing homes in established neighborhoods are far more likely than new ones on the fringe to have decent access to public transportation, necessities, and services.  But, moreover, the 12 MacArthur grantees also include some aimed specifically at environmental performance:

  • Denver - The City and County will establish a new loan fund for transit-oriented development that preserves affordable rental housing near existing and planned regional public transit stations. This investment will also help residents access job centers throughout the region. The Denver metropolitan area is undergoing the largest expansion in the nation of its public transit system.
  • Pennsylvania - In the largest such effort in the nation, Pennsylvania will conduct comprehensive energy audits to determine the most appropriate and cost-effective improvements for increasing energy efficiency in rental homes. Results will help reduce anticipated 40 to 60 percent increases in utility expenses in affordable rental housing serving some of Pennsylvania's neediest families.
  • Vermont - With a relatively strong economy, more of the state's workers and seniors face high rents. As the price of heating oil increases, the costs to operate affordable rental housing also are rising. To help mitigate these increased rents, Vermont is engaging in several initiatives to lessen the rental burden on lower income households, including improvements that encourage energy conservation and the use of Medicare and Medicaid to assist in elderly housing.

Other grant award winners are located in Florida, Iowa, Los Angeles, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington State.  Here's a nifty video introducing the program: