Monday, May 10, 2021

City Council, May 10th - Housing

Council convenes tonight, and they'll be getting an update on "multifamily housing." The Housing Needs Analysis adopted in 2016 used data up to 2014 in its calculation of a 207 acre deficit in land zoned for attached housing. The report at Council updates this with data from 2014 to 2020.

There's so much going on in it, that our housing policy could easily merit one or more work sessions on it alone. Here are some notes in passing.

We have seen from both local data and statewide data that we used to build a lot more. The report to Council does not give enough attention to building homes as the primary object of policy and analysis.

From the SKATS 2019 RTSP appendices
(comments in red added)

We are currently underbuilding homes
(Oregon Office of Economic Analysis)

The formal summary is instead on zoning:

The City of Salem Planning Division has been working to implement the Salem Housing Needs Analysis (HNA) Work Plan since directed to do so by City Council in 2016. The work plan advances recommendations in the HNA to address the projected 207-acre deficit of multifamily land (2,897 dwelling units) in Salem’s portion of the urban growth boundary (UGB). This staff report outlines what has been accomplished, what is planned, and the progress toward eliminating the projected deficit.

Of course the one thing the City can control is the count of acres zoned for apartments and attached housing. They don't directly control the building. But the relevant metric is homes built, not land zoned. Land zoned is a supporting and instrumental detail, a means, but the report here is nearly framed as if it were the end.

Just dots on the map aren't so useful

Particularly with the focuses in Our Salem, in the report the City missed an opportunity to analyze our current "complete neighborhoods." How many of these new apartments and homes are being built near restaurants, grocery stores, and other employment centers? How many on the core network for transit? How many are utterly car-dependent?

In a letter supporting a recent annexation, the Home Builders Association wrote

[Home buyers in Dallas and Independence] predominantly commute to Salem for employment, and as we know from Salem's recent Greenhouse Gas Inventory, transportation is our biggest contributor...An inadequate supply of building lots pushes development activity out of Salem and into surrounding communities....we should be taking every opportunity to make sure that we're not pushing home buyers to commute in from surrounding communities.

It was great to see the acknowledgement of emissions, but it also missed on the way that single detached housing, as well as three-story walkup apartment complexes, on the edges still require car trips and do not offer support for carfree or car-lite living.

We should also then connect more strongly our housing policy and transportation policy. While electrification is necessary, simply shifting fuel sources will not be enough and will introduce new problems. We do not talk enough about the manufacturing and disposal of batteries. That's a full lifecycle cost we are eliding.

NY Times front page on Lithium mining, Friday

A small section on ADUs is largely buried. "As of the end of 2020, 77 building permits have been approved for ADUs in Salem." But it does not ask whether we have made ADUs easy enough, relying only on the implication that the reduction in SDCs, averaging $4,000 per ADU is sufficent. But perhaps there are still barriers.

Recently the costs of inputs, especially labor, lumber, and land, are getting attention as ingredients in the struggle to build more housing.

Expensive Lumber: May 2nd

At Salem Reporter, "Salem needs more housing. But the building industry has its own problems," and some questions here on the land factor.

But in a piece about the 990 Broadway tax abatement, Salem Reporter also noted

Since 2015, four projects have used the exemption....Prior to that, three projects used the exemption from 1977 to 2000.

Kristen Retherford, urban development director, said there weren’t housing developments until the rent rates started to increase to a point where projects penciled financially.

If an incentive is not sufficient to boost projects when rents are lower or the economy is slower, Council may need to consider stronger countercyclical incentives. This again is evidence this particular incentive may not be structured correctly to achieve our actual policy goals.

Altogether the report to Council is a little bland, offering small technical details that look significant - "we're making progress! - but does not grapple with the full scope of policy realignment we need to make for more housing, for housing that is affordable for more people, and for housing that reduces our driving and greenhouse gas pollution.

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