CNU blogs

National links: Supply and demand

Greater Greater Washington - 1 hour 36 min ago
by Jeff Wood

More high-end housing can mean cheaper prices for all, the app Waze is changing the streets we use, and over 25,000 families are living in subsidized housing they're too wealthy for. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!
Photo by Simon Cunningham on Flickr.

Housing econ 101: Supply and demand can definitely be more complex than some give it credit for, but a recent California study confirms the basics: When you build more housing to meet high demand, prices drop. That means more units that low-income people can afford. (Post)

Wazed and confused: The crowd sourced driving app Waze is changing the way we drive. People have traditionally taken the path they know best, but the new technology is making any road fair game, much to the dislike of residents of quiet streets. (Men's Journal)

Million dollar squatter: 25,000 families are over the income limits required to stay in subsidized housing, according to a US Department of Housing and Urban Development audit. The worst offenders in New York had a household income of almost half a million dollars, far exceeding the $67K per year limit on the house in which they were living. (Boston Globe)

The NIMBY Club: Fighting NIMBYism, says Austin blogger Chris Bradford, requires an understanding of one of its key tenets: an effort to monopolize amenities in a way that maintains a "club" status. (Club NIMBY)

Third ring circus: Houston is currently building it's third ring road called the Grand Parkway. It's opening up more empty land to sprawl and changing the way ranch families live. (Houston Chronicle)

Cities in History: The first atlas of cities was compiled in 1572. 450 burgs were cataloged with images that could tell the reader what life there was like, as well as the growth prospects, much like an advertisement today. Is being named the location of a gruesome murder that happened in another city the ultimate in slanderous advertising? (Fast Company Design)

Quote of the week: "People in Los Angeles are lousy collaborators. Scholars in L.A. cite each other less often. Patents made in L.A. refer less frequently to other L.A.-based innovations." Josh Stephens of the California Planning and Development Report on a new book describing in part why LA is behind San Francisco.

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Categories: CNU blogs

The Week Observed: February 12, 2016

City Observatory - 1 hour 58 min ago
What City Observatory did this week

1. More evidence on the “Dow of cities.” We’ve argued before that evidence of shifting demand for urban real estate can be read as a sort of “stock” in cities—and that cities’ stock has been rising. A new report from Zillow underscores this trend. It finds that for the first time, the average urban home is worth more than the average suburban home—a major reversal of decades’ worth of demand for more suburban living. On a square foot basis, urban homes have been ahead for some time, and now enjoy a 25 percent price premium compared to suburban homes, and the gap is widening.

2. Why the first-time homebuyer is an endangered species. The percentage of all homebuyers who are purchasing their first home is at a historic low—30 percent. We look at a number of economic and demographic factors that are behind this trend, including lower incomes, more debt, and higher home prices. While homeownership isn’t going away, it is experiencing “gerontrification,” as a larger and larger percentage of homeowners are in late middle age or older.

3. Report: Market-rate housing construction is a weapon against displacement. For years, a large body of research has shown that regions that build more housing have lower home prices. But now, a report from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office has directly linked market-rate housing construction with lower rates of displacement. The study, which looks at neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area, finds that those with “high” levels of housing construction had a 26 percent chance of experiencing displacement, while those with “low” levels of construction had a 46 percent chance. Importantly, inclusionary zoning policies played little if any role in reducing displacement—the effect was nearly the same in areas without such policies.

4. Inclusionary zoning has a scale problem. While much of the debate over local policies to promote affordable housing has focused on inclusionary zoning—the practice of requiring market-rate developers to sell or rent some proportion of their units at below-market prices—a look at the record of such policies in addressing major affordable housing shortages suggests that they are working at simply too small a scale to be really effective. This isn’t a matter of tweaking existing laws, but a basic shortcoming in the approach. The most successful IZ policy in the country, in Montgomery County, MD, has produced 14,000 units in nearly 40 years, a quantity only possible because it has nearly doubled in population over the same period—and even then, by its own count, at least 78,000 households remain burdened by housing costs. More ambitious approaches to solving our affordability problems are needed.

The week’s must reads

1. In Texas, state legislators have effectively given themselves the power to single-handedly veto affordable housing projects in their districts. A feature by the Texas Observer examines how this system ends up segregating low-income housing into already low-income neighborhoods, exacerbating economic and racial segregation, and limiting low income Texans’ access to jobs and high-quality public resources. Although the focus is on state policy, the practice of giving vetos to individual state legislators, and its exclusionary consequences, reflects what we know about giving power over development only to local decision-makers.

2. President Obama has released his ambitious, $98 billion 2017 Department of Transportation budget proposal. At CityLab, Eric Jaffe covers many of its ambitious provisions: a doubling of public transit funding, to nearly $20 billion; more than doubling funding for the popular TIGER grant program; and $7 billion for high-speed rail. Beyond dollar figures, the budget would empower metropolitan planning organizations by passing funds directly to them, rather than through more highway-favorable state DOTs. It would also add a $10 a barrel tax on oil, raising revenue and pricing in some of the social costs of that polluting energy source. Oh yeah: and it’s all dead on arrival at the Republican-controlled Congress. But for an argument that it matters anyway, check out Robert Puentes and Joseph Kane at Brookings.

3. For decades, official policy in most US cities has been to dedicate large parts of the public way for private car storage, an effective subsidy to drivers and blow to other uses, both transportation-related as well as social, commercial, or artistic. Justin Fox of Bloomberg View takes a look at a rising backlash to that practice, with urban leaders taking a page from Donald Shoup’s groundbreaking The High Price of Free Parking and charging car owners for their use of valuable public land. He also notes the decline of another kind of automobile land use subsidy: the practice of requiring new buildings to include off-street parking spaces.

New knowledge

1. According to a new report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities,many state job creation programs are misguided. While many such policies are targeted at luring firms from other states, or lowering corporate taxes across the board, CBPP argues that more than 80 percent of job growth is actually driven by companies already within a state, and by startups and other small companies with little taxable income. In fact, while startups created nearly 3 million jobs per year from 1990 to 2009, businesses older than a year shed as many jobs as they created.

2. Research suggests that diversity and immigration can increase innovation and entrepreneurship. But a new study from Abigail Cooke of the University of Buffalo and Thomas Kemeny of the University of Southampton suggests that those benefits depend on “inclusive” institutions (like voluntary business and civic organizations, “third places,” and pro-immigrant ordinances) that help connect immigrants to the economy. In some cases, cities with fewer inclusive institutions see no statistically significant benefits from immigrant diversity, even as other cities with such institutions see strong economic benefits.

3. Housing Choice Vouchers (aka Section 8) provide low-income renters with a wider set of housing and neighborhood choice than conventional public housing—a feature that earns praise from affordable housing advocates (and from us at City Observatory). At The American Prospect, Jake Blumgart examines some of the barriers voucher holders still face in the Philadelphia region, and finds that they are numerous: from outright discrimination to a lack of guidance for voucher holders unfamiliar with many parts of the region. As a result, less than four percent of all vouchers were used in neighborhoods of “maximum opportunity,” and the program has done much less to mitigate patterns of segregation than many had hoped.

The Week Observed is City Observatory’s weekly newsletter. Every Friday, we give you a quick review of the most important articles, blog posts, and scholarly research on American cities.

Our goal is to help you keep up with—and participate in—the ongoing debate about how to create prosperous, equitable, and livable cities, without having to wade through the hundreds of thousands of words produced on the subject every week by yourself.

If you have ideas for making The Week Observed better, we’d love to hear them! Let us know at jcortright@cityobservatory.org, dkhertz@cityobservatory.org, or on Twitter at @cityobs.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Bike Lanes, floods, and goodbyes in the Flickr Pool

Greater Greater Washington - 3 hours 15 min ago
by Elizabeth Whitton

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.


6th Street Bike Lane community meeting. Photo by Brett Young.


The Washington Monument from the Tidal Basin. Photo by Jarrett Hendrix.


Flooding in Old Town Alexandria. Photo by John Sonderman.


Takoma Park. Photo by Jordan Barab on Flickr.


Crescent Moon. Photo by Maryland Route 5.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!

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Categories: CNU blogs

Emerging West Philly Food Mecca Still Needs Better Access To Capital

Next City - 4 hours 35 min ago

Pennsylvania and Philadelphia government officials stand in a commercial kitchen at the Center for Culinary Enterprise in Philadelphia. (Credit: USDA)

Since he was just a kid, Carl Lewis knew he wanted to be a chef. He grew up in a remote area of Jamaica, where everyone milked their own cows, raised their own chickens and goats, and grew their own herbs and vegetables. His mother first taught him about cooking and spices.

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As creator and owner of 48th Street Grille in West Philadelphia, Lewis brought a few aspects of his upbringing into his first restaurant, starting of course with the food and the atmosphere.

“When I looked around the Philly area there were a lot of Jamaican restaurants but they were all take out joints,” Lewis says. “I wanted to do it right, have people coming in and sitting down, seeing all the preparation and cooking going on and experiencing the smells.”

The restaurant opened in October 2014. Its 15 staff members serve up to 65 guests indoors and up to 25 more guests outdoors when the weather is nice. Island wings are a huge seller. Curry chicken, oxtail, black tilapia too. Jerk chicken sandwiches are a favorite, of course, including a jerk chicken cheesesteak. Having also mastered French, German, Italian and even some Japanese cuisine over his nearly-four decade career as a chef, Lewis has some creative combinations up his sleeves, like a Rasta Pasta that’s also a big seller. Today’s specials: pan-seared norwegian salmon, buttermilk fried chicken or blackened rib-eye steak.

Lewis also maintains two distinct catering businesses, one tied directly to the restaurant menu, and one high-end catering business. The high-end catering is actually still his biggest money maker, sometimes able to charge as much as $300 a plate given clients’ tastes and budget. With its different menu, the high-end catering also lets Lewis flex his creative muscles from his long career as a chef.

Lewis started out as a professional butler in the early 1970s, and eventually landed an apprenticeship with Intercontinental Hotels. He came to the U.S. in 1980, first to Virginia then to Philly, where he started as a banquet chef at the Downtown Marriott. Lewis worked there 24 years, rising to executive chef. He already knew it would be his last job in corporate America.

In 2012, after seven years as executive chef at Temple University Health Center and more than a few outreach phone calls from The Enterprise Center (TEC), a community and economic development organization based in West Philadelphia, Lewis decided it was time to finally visit TEC’s headquarters, inside the renovated original studios of American Bandstand.

The front entrance of the Dorrance H. Hamilton Center for Culinary Enterprises (Credit: The Enterprise Center)

In some ways, it was impeccable timing. That same year, TEC had completed the renovation of a former supermarket in the neighborhood, converting it into the Dorrance H. Hamilton Center for Culinary Enterprises. At a total cost of $6 million, the finished complex includes four production kitchens and one e-kitchen (for demonstrations and filming), available to rent on an hourly basis. Lewis regularly rents out the kitchens for his catering business. It’s quite affordable, he says. The complex also houses 48th Street Grille, as well as the soon-to-launch Common Table program from TEC.

Common Table, set to launch in the coming weeks, will allow food entrepreneurs to rotate in and out, giving them a chance test their concepts, recipes and menus before going all-in on their restaurant, food truck or catering business. For entrepreneurs of color, who typically lack the same access to family and friends capital as white entrepreneurs, it’s an invaluable resource to have in West Philadelphia as the city’s food scene continues to boom.

“We’re in a food city,” says Iola Harper, executive vice president for business programs at TEC. “The food truck scene is insane. It’s bananas.”

One of the baking kitchens inside the Center for Culinary Enterprises (Credit: The Enterprise Center)

The biggest obstacles to would-be entrepreneurs in Philadelphia are access to community and access to capital, according to Harper.

“Access to communities means having doors opened to them to various communities that are going to help their business grow and scale,” she explains.

While it’s still a challenge, TEC has figured out a lot of the access to communities piece, with industry clusters of mentors and partner organizations in food, construction, fashion and beauty, and professional services. Through their support ecosystem, TEC provided Lewis with a range of mentoring and training opportunities to help him get up to speed on running his own food business.

In Lewis’ case, the access to capital piece took two years to work itself out.

“Banks kept turning me down,” he says. And he’s not alone — in its ninth annual survey of 3,200 independent businesses, released this week, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance reports that 54 percent of minority-owned businesses reported being turned down for a bank loan in the past year (compared with one out of three overall).

It takes on average about $250,000 to open a restaurant in Philadelphia, Harper estimates. The eventual startup funds for 48th Street Grille included a $5,000 Kiva Zip loan (which got matched by a few different sources), a no-interest $15,000 loan from the Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia, a $50,000 Small Business Administration loan from TEC’s Capital Corporation, a conventional bank loan and a few grants from city programs for restaurants and retail.

How high are the stakes of easing access to capital for entrepreneurs like Lewis in West Philadelphia? There are the jobs within his own restaurant, of course. There are also the careers he and others like him may help start.

Personal development is another aspect of Lewis’ upbringing that he has brought to 48th Street Grille. Just as Lewis learned from his mother and from mentors throughout his career, he makes a conscious effort to mentor and train staff as they come and go. In a high-turnover industry like the restaurant industry, it can often be both the hardest and yet the most rewarding part of the job.

“Finding qualified staff is a challenge. You bring people on board, you train them, and once they get the skill they go on somewhere else that can usually pay them better,” Lewis says.

He ballparks having gone through 40 or 50 servers at the restaurant so far. Three cooks have left since he opened, one went to college, one to a hotel job. To his best knowledge, he’s taken in at least three formerly incarcerated individuals as staff so far.

Paying it forward has long been a habit for Lewis. Throughout the course of his career, he estimates having mentored 30-50 others who have gone on to become executive chefs at other hotels and businesses. Many of his former staff or colleagues come back, sometimes just to visit the restaurant, sometimes to help out with a big catering job.

“I think the greater part of life, the rewarding part of my career, is when I can give back, when I can touch other lives and I can take young men and women of the street who are aspiring to become leaders in the culinary field and I can point them in the right direction and I can expose them to the skills and they can walk away to somewhere even better,” he says.

There’s another Carl Lewis out there somewhere. Will it take two years for him to access the capital he needs too?

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

DC's first electric streetcar helped build Eckington

Greater Greater Washington - 4 hours 50 min ago
by John DeFerrari

DC got its first electric streetcar in 1888 when the Eckington & Soldiers Home Railway went into operation. A ban on overhead wires kept it from running downtown, and the company ultimately went out of business because it couldn't find another option.

I recently wrote about the 100-year history of streetcars in the District, from 1862 to 1962 (the span from the first and last times a streetcar carried passengers in DC), in my book, Capital Streetcars: Early Mass Transit in Washington, DC. The following story about the Eckington line has been adapted from the book.

Eckington developed alongside the streetcar

Eckington was perhaps the first "true" streetcar suburb in the District in the sense that it was designed from the start as a streetcar destination. It originally had been the estate of Joseph Gales Jr. (1786—1860), publisher of the National Intelligencer newspaper and one of the city's early mayors. He had named it Eckington after his birthplace in England.

Real estate investor Colonel George Truesdell (1842—1921) bought the Eckington tract in 1887 with the idea of building a modern bedroom suburb on it. Truesdell laid out his new subdivision as an idyllic suburban community with large house lots, stunning views of the city and desirable modern amenities—including paved streets, stone sidewalks and electric streetlights—that more established District neighborhoods still didn't have.

In 1888, Truesdell obtained a Congressional charter for a streetcar company specifically to serve his pretty new suburb. The line would include an electric station to power the railway as well as the brilliant streetlights to light up Eckington at night. Poles went into the center of the roadway to carry the overhead wires for the streetcars. It was an ideal arrangement.

The railway's original route started downtown at Mount Vernon Square, at the intersection of Seventh Street (the main commercial corridor of the day) and New York Avenue. It ran northeast from there to Third Street, then turned north, passing through the heart of the new development, and continued into the countryside along Fourth Street until it finally ended at the southern entrance to the Soldiers Home grounds, a popular spot for Sunday outings.


The route of the Eckington line superimposed on a modern map. Map by Matthew B. Gilmore

The Eckington line was not only the first mechanized streetcar line in Washington, but it was also the city's first electric trolley line—the word trolley referring to a streetcar that gathers electric power from overhead lines through a pole on the roof of the car.

Some dreaded "the evil of overhead wires"

For many Washingtonians, the revolutionary new Eckington trolley was a marvel to behold. But for other observers, notably Crosby S. Noyes (1825—1908), editor of the Evening Star, it was the incarnation of evil.

When plans for the Eckington project first became public in August 1888, the Star lashed out with a fierce editorial:

"The reform of abolishing overhead wires in the District seems to be progressing backward," it warned. "[N]ow the Commissioners add a new species of overhead wire to the existing network by permitting the Eckington railway to construct an overhead electric system." They should instead be working to "secure to the city the benefits of rapid transit without aggravating the evil of overhead wires," the Star insisted.

Spurred to action, Congress soon passed a series of laws that required all DC streetcar companies to convert from horsepower to some form of mechanized power by July 1893. But they simultaneously banned the use of overhead wires in the downtown area after that date.

The edict undoubtedly was frustrating for Truesdell. After the successful inauguration of Richmond's trolley system early in 1888, it was universally understood that trolleys using overhead wires were the cheapest and most efficient way to power streetcar systems. Trolley systems were already being planned and built in cities all over the country, but they were now banned in the District.

Still, the streetcar was initially successful, and it even expanded to Brookland

For several days after the new line opened in October 1888, crowds formed along New York Avenue, not only to see the streetcars zipping along without horses but also to see the street lit up at night by the electric lights mounted on the iron poles in the center of the roadway.


Opening day of the Eckington & Soldiers Home Railway. Photo from the Historical Society of Washington, DC.

Truesdell soon set about expanding his new railway to serve a wider clientele. Extensions were first built on the northern ends of the lines, one heading north along North Capitol Street and the other extending from the Soldiers Home to the Catholic University of America, which had just been established in 1887, and the adjoining new village of Brookland. With luck, the new destinations would soon fill with streetcar riders.

Truesdell had always wanted to extend the line on its southern end farther into the downtown area, but that meant coming up with an alternate power source because of the ban on overhead trolleys downtown. Truesdell was determined to find a propulsion technology that wouldn't break the bank. He, like other railway directors, was convinced that using underground electrical power was not economical.

Another power option was too dangerous, and batteries didn't work either

One alternative was to set electrical contacts right in the pavement between the tracks on the roadway, which was certainly a much less expensive approach than digging underground conduits lined with continuous power rails. Each streetcar would get power momentarily from one of these contact plates as the car passed over, propelling it on to the next plate.

The company experimented with such a system in late 1890 on a stretch of test track along North Capital Street north of Boundary Street. However, the "surface contact" system they tried was a bust. The contact plates in the street were supposed to be electrified only when a streetcar was directly over them, but there was no practical way to ensure that they did not stay charged when they were in the open. It was soon obvious that the railroad couldn't deploy a system that might randomly electrocute people or horses stepping on the plates, and the experiment had to be abandoned.


An experimental surface contact streetcar. Photo from the Library of Congress.

Next, when in late 1890 the company began building its downtown extension, it tried using battery-powered cars. The extension ran south from New York Avenue along Fifth Street Northwest and then turned east on G Street and continued to the Treasury Department, bringing the Eckington line into the heart of the downtown commercial district. With this southern extension in place, the company could offer a twenty-five-minute ride all the way from Brookland down to the Treasury Department, although it required a transfer at New York Avenue from a trolley-powered to a battery-powered car.

For the new Southern extension, the company bought the latest Robinson electric cars, elegant carriages finished in mahogany with gold trim that had three sets of wheels intended to facilitate going around curves. Pretty as they may have been, the Robinson cars were too pokey, and recharging their batteries was slow and expensive. In 1893, after just two years, the company gave up on batteries.

The struggle over overhead wires continued, but ultimately failed

The railway soldiered on, its fight for overhead wires soon degenerating into a game of chicken with the Star and the DC commissioners. Exasperated that an overhead trolley system could not be installed to replace the failed battery cars, the railway converted its downtown extension to horsecars, ignoring the fact that horsecars were supposed to have been phased out by that time.

More horsecar lines were added in 1894 while the original overhead trolley line along New York Avenue and to the north continued to operate. The company's directors figured that people would be so fed up with these outmoded cars that Congress would give in and allow them to install an overhead trolley system.

The Evening Star editors were doubly upset about this turn of events. Not only were horsecars back, but the Eckington company had also missed a revised July 1, 1895 deadline for taking down the poles and overhead wires on New York Avenue, which the newspaper referred to as "obnoxious obstructions."

After the Star redoubled its public complaints, the company tried a new tack. The overhead wire system on New York Avenue was removed, and that portion of the Eckington line began running…yes, more horsecars!

The Washington Post commented that switching to horses "will mean a considerable increase in the expense to the company, which already has its stables full of horses that are not in condition for use, and it will give the residents on the line a poorer service. But the company is taking a rather grim satisfaction in the matter, as they are already losing money on their horse service, and they think that the additional loss will be a sort of investment as an object lesson to the public on the benefit of rapid transit, trolley or otherwise."

As it turned out, the public was the one giving the lesson. "Eckington is at present a very much disgusted community," the Post reported. Customers stayed away from the balky, outmoded horsecar service, which they found insulting. Ridership plummeted as rapidly as expenses soared. A year later, the overextended company was bankrupt.

A final try didn't work

A last desperate effort went into making the Eckington line viable. In early 1896, the company hosted the demonstration of a streetcar powered by compressed air, which it gambled would be both publicly acceptable and economically viable. The compressed air system used the pressure of air from canisters stored underneath the passenger seats to push pistons that turned the car's wheels. The compressed air was heated with steam to increase its force as it moved out of the canisters.


This double-decker streetcar saw brief service on the Eckington line. Photo courtesy of the National Capital Trolley Museum.

However, the public did not care for the compressed air cars, finding them smoky, dusty and smelly. The cars also tended to be slow on uphill grades. The compressed air experiment, on which the hopes of the company had been pinned, was quickly abandoned.

At this point, the bankrupt line had already been purchased by a group of investors led by financier Oscar T. Crosby (1861—1947). In 1898, the Crosby syndicate also gained control of most of the other street railway lines in the District and began operating them under one holding company, called the Washington Traction and Electric Company. In compliance with the Congressional edict, the new conglomerate finally began installing underground electrical conduit systems on the portions of the former Eckington line that were within the downtown area. The struggle to find an alternative to underground conduits had failed.

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Categories: CNU blogs

Greater Greater Washington makes it easy to be an informed resident. Help us keep the blog running.

Greater Greater Washington - 6 hours 30 min ago
by Abby Lynch

Greater Greater Washington talks about complex issues in a way that that's easy for me, a total non-expert, to understand. I'm supporting GGWash because it makes me feel included and empowers me to take action, and I hope you'll do the same.

Click here to support Greater Greater Washington.

You've never seen my byline before, but I serve on the GGWash Board of Directors, where I add my expertise in fundraising and nonprofit management to the organization's mix of leadership. Long before I joined the board, though, I was a regular reader of the blog.

I found GGWash when I first moved to DC in 2008, eager to understand the place on a local level. I grew up in the outer suburbs, knowing little of the actual city outside of the National Mall and downtown office buildings. When I found some roommates on Craigslist and moved into a row house in Park View, I was curious to learn more.

GGWash's coverage of bike lane plans, street design, transportation, and city governance informed my understanding of what it is to live in an urban environment. And as DC has become my permanent home rather than a temporary place to live and work (that was the thought when I moved here, I admit), I have come to appreciate the organization's commitment to providing readers with the tools we need to take what we learn here and proactively engage with the city.

I've participated in forums as WMATA has examined the bus lines I take to work. I've attended my ANC meetings to get to know what local leaders are doing in my community. I've submitted comments to DDOT about pedestrian and cycling issues. And I'm keeping an eye on the development coming along Park View's stretch of Georgia Avenue, so that I can be an effective advocate for a walkable, inclusive, and growing neighborhood. Our coverage means I that I am aware that these opportunities exist, and informed enough to make productive comments.

So why are you hearing from me today?

I am thankful for the hard work both the editorial board and our contributors put in to bring the site to readers. But there is one more crucial element that makes this blog run: financial support.

We ask readers to support Greater Greater Washington through a monthly, annual, or one-time gift because the coverage you see here also comes from the hard work of our staff editor, our managing director, and the underlying infrastructure of the site. As we grow as an organization, a funding base that includes support from readers like you and me will be crucial to keeping that going.

That's why I donate to Greater Greater Washington, and why I hope you will too.

Comment

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today! Click here to support Greater Greater Washington.

Categories: CNU blogs

Breakfast links: Streetcar starts soon?

Greater Greater Washington - 7 hours 50 min ago
by Brendan Casey


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.Streetcar in February: Safety officials say final certification for the H Street Streetcar should come this month, and that further delay is "unlikely." The streetcar could start carrying passengers as soon as February 26. (WAMU)

Shake up at WMATA: Rob Troup, WMATA's top engineer and deputy general manager, resigned yesterday. The WMATA Board did not call for his resignation, but Troup often had to answer for Metro's ongoing safety and operational problems. (WAMU)

Progress for paid leave: DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson now supports the paid family leave proposal and says he would be willing to allow up to a 1% payroll tax to fund the program. Mayor Bowser remains opposed to the proposal. (Post)

Metro's close call: Last week's incident, where a Metro train operator ran a red light and came dangerously close to another train, occurred due to miscommunication between the train operator and a rail operations controller. Metro will now require supervisors to personally oversee unusual train redirections. (Post)

Tax relief for renters: If you rented in DC for all of 2015 and make less than $40,000, you're likely eligible for a tax credit. DC is reimbursing more tenants for some of the property taxes they effectively pay via rent. (Post)

Don't count on DCA: A member of Congress tried to expand National Airport's allowed service area to 1,425 miles so that he could get direct flights home. But local representatives Norton and Comstock pushed back, citing noise pollution and already exhausted airport capacity. (Post)

A bridge to Reston: An important pedestrian bridge near Reston Town Center has finally been repaired and reopened after several months of closure. The bridge suffered weather-related damage last year. (RestonNow)

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Categories: CNU blogs

Dallas’ Ambitious New Parks Plan Prioritizes Recreation

Next City - 8 hours 35 min ago

Dallas’ Fair Park (Photo by David Wilson)

With a growing population and shrinking funds for land acquisition, Dallas has just adopted a new Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan and the city’s first ever Recreation Master Plan, both developed in partnership with Philadelphia-based interdisciplinary design firm Wallace Roberts and Todd (WRT).

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The new plans aim to create an integrated, sustainable parks system for residents present and future. To date, Dallas has struggled to create parkland quickly enough to ensure access for all of its residents. Though the city has added 570 acres of parkland since 2002, the Trust for Public Land’s 2015 ParkScore index indicated that only 54 percent of Dallas residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park.

“Dallas is still in an area that is seeing a lot of growth,” says Andrew Dobshinsky, associate planner and urban designer at WRT. Now is the time, he says, “to make sure that they stay ahead of the growth and still look to acquire enough parks that they’re serving the population that they’re expecting to get.”

Parkland preservation and acquisition is one of 13 top priorities identified by the comprehensive plan. The new strategy updates the parks departments’ Renaissance Plan, which was adopted in 2002 as part of a citywide land use strategy.

Ryan O’Connor, project manager for the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department, says the focus of the earlier initiative was to recover the city’s park system after a period of disinvestment in the 80s and 90s. Parks hadn’t been well maintained, and capital improvements had been neglected.

“The last plan was really about regaining trust from the public in the park system … and trying to reposition the parks system so that people thought of it as an amenity again” says Dobshinsky.

That initiative was successful, thanks in part to two capitol bonds programs in 2003 and 2006.

“Now they need something that’s not just about getting back to a baseline, but about thinking about the future,” says Dobshinsky. “Now people not only think of the park system in a good light, but they’re expecting more and they have more ideas for what they’d like to see”

The comprehensive plan is a departmentwide guiding document supported by other asset-specific strategies: master plans for trails, downtown parks, aquatics and more. Recreation is another top priority, and the Recreation Master Plan is the first to look specifically at the programs the city provides and how to improve them.

O’Connor says Dallas Parks and Rec. already offers recreation services in nine core program areas, including adult sports, summer camps and senior fitness programs. Until now, these have largely been developed anecdotally, with the general manager at each local community center scheduling classes based on perceived need.

“We wanted to step back from that model and kind of take a more holistic approach,” says O’Connor. Consultants led by WRT evaluated the mixture of programs being offered and how they compare to regional peers.

The findings were surprising, says O’Connor. The parks department thought it had been offering the same or similar programs for a long time, but in reality had been introducing many new programs and not sticking with them long enough to let them grow and flourish.

“We also learned that we need to focus more on senior programs,” says O’Connor, a revelation that came out of the WRT-led public engagement process, which included town hall meetings, demographics research, and an online survey. Dobshinsky says WRT also contracted with another company to conduct a statistically-valid survey that would be representative of all of Dallas residents — not just the self-selecting group that shows up for public hearings.

Those surveys indicated a broad support for parks in Dallas. Almost 75 percent of people surveyed said they’d be willing to pay more for park services or be taxed at a slightly higher rate to fund them.

“People really do realize now that parks are a really integral component of quality of life,” says O’Connor.

Each of the 13 top recommendations in the comprehensive plan are accompanied by implementable action strategies. Other priorities include improving and connecting the city’s trail circuit, finding ways to recoup park costs and generate revenue, and improving marketing and communication. Dobshinsky says many Dallas residents know about the programming offerings of their local park, but aren’t aware of the opportunities available at a citywide scale.

Another top priority is a continued emphasis on high level design. Dallas has already run a successful program to bring artists into the parks to design picnic shelters; Dobshinsky says the city would like to build on that legacy.

The new comprehensive plan paves the way for Dallas’s park system to seek accreditation through the National Parks and Recreation Association’s CAPRA (Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies) program. Final revisions and design are still being finalized before the plans are released.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Plan to Turn “Granny Flats” Into Affordable Housing in Encinitas Falls Flat

Next City - Thu, 2016-02-11 15:03

(Photo by Nicolás Boullosa)

After a lengthy, hotly-contested debate, the Bend, Oregon City Council voted to ease rules restricting accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single-family residential neighborhoods last week, joining a number of cities including Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon in allowing homeowners to rent out extra spaces on their property. Proponents hope the so-called “granny flats” — which include small backyard cottages, apartments atop garages and the like — will increase affordable housing stock while generating supplemental income for homeowners. Detractors — of which there are many in Bend — worry about the negative impacts of increased density in single-family, residential areas.

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Both sides could learn from the recent flop of Encinitas, California’s plan to legalize ADUs, outlined in an article on Voice of San Diego Wednesday.

The program was intended to kill two birds with one stone: help the city meet affordable housing needs by encouraging homeowners to turn illegal accessory dwellings into legal homes reserved for low-income renters. To participate in the program, owners would be required to cap rents at an affordable rate for 20 years, after which they’d be permitted to rent at market prices.

Fixing up and permitting such dwellings can be expensive for potential landlords, so Encinitas waived the $900 application fee to participate in the low-income housing program. But the upgrades still proved too costly for many, and the incentive too low. According to a city report released in December, many people chose not to participate because investments to bring the property up to safety codes would not be earned back due to the rent restriction.

After a year, only six low-income units applied through the program, and only one has been approved as of Monday. The rest remain illegal. Voice of San Diego notes that removing the rent restrictions would result in more units that don’t technically factor into Encinitas’ affordable housing stock, but that would still create less expensive homes than typical for the area — a position supported by a recent report on market-rate housing decreasing displacement in California.

However, others point the finger at the “onerous requirements” and “red tape” residents have to deal with to get their apartments up to code, and say the city just needs to simplify the process to incentivize people to rent out their ADUs instead of using them as vacation rentals.

Encinitas extended its program for another six months, and is crafting a new policy to build participation.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Plan to Turn “Granny Flats” Into Affordable Housing in Encinitas Falls Flat

Next City - Thu, 2016-02-11 15:03

(Photo by Nicolás Boullosa)

After a lengthy, hotly-contested debate, the Bend, Oregon City Council voted to ease rules restricting accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single-family residential neighborhoods last week, joining a number of cities including Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon in allowing homeowners to rent out extra spaces on their property. Proponents hope the so-called “granny flats” — which include small backyard cottages, apartments atop garages and the like — will increase affordable housing stock while generating supplemental income for homeowners. Detractors — of which there are many in Bend — worry about the negative impacts of increased density in single-family, residential areas.

Both sides could learn from the recent flop of Encinitas, California’s plan to legalize ADUs, outlined in an article on Voice of San Diego Wednesday.

The program was intended to kill two birds with one stone: help the city meet affordable housing needs by encouraging homeowners to turn illegal accessory dwellings into legal homes reserved for low-income renters. To participate in the program, owners would be required to cap rents at an affordable rate for 20 years, after which they’d be permitted to rent at market prices.

Fixing up and permitting such dwellings can be expensive for potential landlords, so Encinitas waived the $900 application fee to participate in the low-income housing program. But the upgrades still proved too costly for many, and the incentive too low. According to a city report released in December, many people chose not to participate because investments to bring the property up to safety codes would not be earned back due to the rent restriction.

After a year, only six low-income units applied through the program, and only one has been approved as of Monday. The rest remain illegal. Voice of San Diego notes that removing the rent restrictions would result in more units that don’t technically factor into Encinitas’ affordable housing stock, but that would still create less expensive homes than typical for the area — a position supported by a recent report on market-rate housing decreasing displacement in California.

However, others point the finger at the “onerous requirements” and “red tape” residents have to deal with to get their apartments up to code, and say the city just needs to simplify the process to incentivize people to rent out their ADUs instead of using them as vacation rentals.

Encinitas extended its program for another six months, and is crafting a new policy to build participation.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Eckington is getting some much-needed retail

Greater Greater Washington - Thu, 2016-02-11 13:30
by Edward Russell

A new development in Eckington will bring housing and much-needed retail to the area, including businesses that are hyper-focused on the local economy. Some residents are being very vigilant to make sure the project benefits the neighborhood.


Eckington Yards overview. Image from The JBG Companies.

Called Eckington Yards, the project will facilitate a "maker economy" of businesses that keep things local, like breweries or coffee shops that roast their own beans on the premises.

"We try to think outside the box when we bring in new retail not just bringing in five or six restaurants," said Bryan Moll of the JBG Companies, the project's developer, at an Eckington Civic Association meeting earlier this month. "You're not just selling things, you're not just making things. You make it locally [and] you sell it locally,"

The maker retail component will line the interior corridor of Eckington Yards, which will be built on a three-acre site that stretches from Eckington Place NE to Harry Thomas Way NE between existing developments. The corridor will be a rough extension of Quincy Place NE.


Eckington Yards site. Image by Google Maps.

A coffee shop or small restaurant is likely at the corner of Quincy Place and Eckington Place.


The interior corridor of Eckington Yards. Image by JBG.

The additional retail will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Eckington lacks retail in its interior, something that the civic association says was done by design when the area was developed in the late 19th century. Today, the closest restaurants are in Bloomingdale, with a grocery store and pharmacy in NoMa.

Residents are circumspect

Eckington residents want guarantees from JBG and its partners that Eckington Yards will benefit the neighborhood. They point to the developer of the Gale Eckington, formerly Triolgy NoMa, and how they promised a dog park and some retail when it opened in 2012.

Today, only a small corner on Harry Thomas Way—the furthest point of the Gale from the center of Eckington—is a dog park and there is no retail.


The small dog park at the Gale. Image from Google Maps.

"Our goal is to activate the space," said Moll on the retail component of Eckington Yards. JBG promises to keep its commitments to the neighborhood, he added, pointing to a binding community benefits agreement they plan to sign with the civic association.

A draft copy of the agreement includes ensuring that the maker retail is viable in the development, investing in a new or expanded Capital Bikeshare station, and planting trees and in and round the site.

The project is light on affordable housing

Eckington Yards is slated to have 695 residential units in four new buildings, said Moll. Only 8% of these, or about 55 units, will be included in DC's inclusionary housing program, he said.

Built on private land, JBG and its partners are not bound to the public land-deal requirement that 20% to 30% of residential units be included in the affordable housing programme.

Of the 55 affordable units, 20% will be set aside for households of four that make up to 50% of area median income (AMI)—about $50,000—and the remaining 80% for households that make 80% of AMI, said Moll.

Not all of the units in Eckington Yards will be rental. JBG plans to initially put units in only one of the four buildings up for rent with the rest condo but, Moll said, they convert another building into rental units depending on demand.

JBG will include both rental and for sale units in the affordable component of Eckington Yards.

The developer plans to seek approval for Eckington Yards from the DC zoning commission in May with construction beginning around the middle of 2017 and opening by the middle of 2019, said Moll.

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Categories: CNU blogs

Why Market-Rate Housing Isn’t Making Displacement Worse in S.F.

Next City - Thu, 2016-02-11 13:08

(Photo by Ana)

Bay Area communities with the greatest expansion of market-rate housing are seeing the least displacement of low-income residents — independent of inclusionary zoning programs, according to a new report by California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office.

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The report, “Perspectives on Helping Low-Income Californians Afford Housing,” addresses the state’s housing shortage and resulting affordability crisis. In an earlier report, the analyst’s office recommended an increase in private home building to mitigate the crisis, a position that some fear would not benefit low-income Californians.

“Because most new construction is targeted at higher–income households, it is often assumed that new construction does not increase the supply of lower–end housing,” states this week’s study. “In addition, some worry that construction of market–rate housing in low–income neighborhoods leads to displacement of low–income households.”

But the report suggests otherwise. According to the study, the probability of displacement in high-construction neighborhoods is half of that in low-construction neighborhoods, even though most new construction is targeted at higher-income households. Housing becomes less expensive as it ages, dropping from “luxury” status to the middle of the housing market within 25 years. When new housing stock is available, wealthier residents are likely to move into it, freeing up less expensive units. Without new construction, though, they compete with lower-income residents, driving up costs.

(Credit: California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office)

Perhaps surprisingly, the connection between construction rates and displacement was nearly identical for communities with and without inclusionary zoning policies. Many Bay Area communities do mandate inclusionary housing policies, which require developers to set aside some affordable units in new construction.

(Credit: California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office)

But many more low-income Californians struggle to pay rent than are assisted by affordable housing programs. Because expanding those programs to serve more households would be “extremely challenging and prohibitively expensive,” the report’s authors conclude that more residents would be served by an increase in market-rate development instead.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 77

Greater Greater Washington - Thu, 2016-02-11 12:15
by Matt Johnson

On Tuesday, we posted our seventy-seventh photo challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 18 guesses. Only three got all five. Great work, AlexC, Stephen C, and We Will Crush Peter K!


Image 1: Wiehle Avenue

The first image shows the bus loop entrance at Wiehle Avenue's northern entrance. The greenhouse-like glass structure is a unique architectural feature in the system, unique even among its sister Silver Line stations. We've featured it before in week 21.

Ten knew this one.


Image 2: West Hyattsville

The second image shows the southbound platform at West Hyattsville from one of Metro's new trains (on its first day on the Green Line). The three distinguishing attributes here are the side platforms, the fence, and the roof over the escalator bank.

Side platforms, especially at outdoor stations, are very rare, which narrows the possibilities. This fence is unique and distinctive (and was featured in week 70). One final clue is the escalator canopy, visible at far left.

Fifteen got this one right.


Image 3: Cleveland Park

This picture shows the pair of street entrances to Cleveland Park station stradling Connecticut Avenue. Cleveland Park station, like its neighbors to the north, Van Ness and Tenleytown, has entrances on either side of the street. But unlike at Van Ness, where they both face north, at Cleveland Park, one faces north and the other faces south. This is the only place with that arrangement.

The retail corridor here is also very distinctive, and if you've used the station, you might have recognized some of the buildings. Seventeen were correct.


Image 4: White Flint

The fourth photo shows the underpass below Route 355 at White Flint station. The opposite direction-facing escalator canopies should have helped you narrow this down, as it's a fairly rare arrangement. The actual station entrance is visible at center left. Other clues include the stone wall median on Marinelli Street and a barely-visible Maryland highway sign behind one of the escalator canopy supports.

Fourteen guessed the right answer.


Image 5: Metro Center

The last image proved to be quite hard—harder than I anticipated. However, it should have been possible to deduce as Metro Center given the information provided.

The most distinctive element shown in the picture is the "thanks for riding Metro" sign, which is present in only a few major "gateway" stations. In this case, the sign sits above the 12th and G entrance to the station.

As Peter K noted in his comments, the wall here is without coffer tiles and much more vertical than you'd normally see from a mezzanine. That's because the vault is taller at Metro Center and also because this entrance is at the same level as the Red Line (it's accessed from the Shady Grove platform), as opposed to being one level up, as the 11th and G and 13th and G entrances are, above the Red Line.

The signage also indicates an elevator to street, and given the attributes described in the paragraph above, this has to be a station where the elevator comes straight to the platform, without stopping at a mezzanine (otherwise, the vault would be more horizontal). Rosslyn and Pentagon meet that criteria, but don't have this signage. Wheaton and Forest Glen also have direct platform-to-street elevators, but aren't "waffle" style.

That leaves the three downtown transfer stations. L'Enfant is out because the street elevator lands at the 7th and Maryland mezzanine above the Green/Yellow Line. That leaves a tough choice between Gallery Place and Metro Center. At Gallery Place, the street elevator (actually a pair of them) land at their own fare control area in an alcove off the Glenmont platform. The entry, though, is not as wide as the featured entrance here.

At Metro Center, the street elevator shares this opening with a pair of escalators and a staircase leading to the northeast corner of 12th & G NW, very nearly atop the center of the crossvault (which is under the intersection itself).

Kudos to the six people who correctly deduced that this was Metro Center. Great work, Eric P, AlexC, Paul in SS, Stephen C, and We Will Crush Peter K!

Thanks for playing! We'll be back in two weeks with our next quiz.

The whichWMATA quiz generally runs on the second and fourth weeks of the month, with quizzes on Tuesdays and answers on Thursdays. Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

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Categories: CNU blogs

DC once had its own Arc de Triomphe

Greater Greater Washington - Thu, 2016-02-11 10:46
by Dan Malouff

Paris's Arc de Triomphe is world famous, but did you know DC once had its own version?


Photo from the DC Public Library.

The Washington, DC Victory Arch sat on Pennsylvania Avenue, at the corner of New York Avenue and 15th Street NW.

It was a temporary structure built to commemorate the end of World War I. This photo, from 1919, shows the US Army on parade following the end of the war. Presumably the arch was made of plaster, like the White City of Chicago, and thus never intended to be permanent.

Here's another view, showing the arch from ground level.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Categories: CNU blogs

Inclusionary zoning has a scale problem

City Observatory - Thu, 2016-02-11 10:00

Over the last few months, we’ve outlined a number of policy ideas that address the problem of housing affordability by dramatically expanding the number of people receiving some sort of housing assistance. (Low-income people, that is. We think the number of affluent people receiving housing assistance is already pretty high.)

  • We suggested taxing the growth in residential property values. Not only might that provide a disincentive to speculation that drives up market prices, but just a one percent tax would have raised $1.6 billion in the Bay Area in 2013 alone—more than five times San Francisco’s historic, but one-time, bond issue for affordable housing under Proposition A.
  • We argued for making Housing Choice Vouchers an entitlement. At the moment, less than a quarter of households that qualify for low-income housing assistance actually receive any, because Congress simply doesn’t appropriate enough money. But we could pay for housing vouchers for every single qualifying person just by dropping one kind of housing subsidy—the mortgage interest tax deduction—for people making over $100,000 a year. Actually, that’s not quite true: we’d still have more than $10 billion left over to increase the value of the deduction for the middle class.
  • We suggested that, perhaps even better than expanding Housing Choice Vouchers, we could make low-income housing assistance just as easy and automatic as we make upper-income housing assistance. We could put it in the tax code, by creating a refundable housing voucher tax credit.

None of these policies is on the brink of passing in Congress, or any state capitol or city hall. But they’re worth talking about both as a vision for what an equitable housing policy of the future might look like—and also as a contrast to the failure of scale of today’s marquee housing policies.

Local housing subsidies are woefully out of scale with the problem of affordability

As we noted above, less than a quarter of those who qualify for direct federal low-income housing subsidies get them. But when it comes to housing assistance, that’s the good news. Local housing policies—which, for obvious reasons of political scale, are often the focus of neighborhood activists, researchers, and planners—are in even worse shape.

Take inclusionary zoning, or IZ. Details vary from place to place, but typically, IZ requires housing developers to sell or rent some proportion of their units below market rate. In exchange, the city often allows the developer to build more densely than otherwise allowed, as a way of defraying some of the cost of the below-market units. And sometimes the developers have the option of paying a fee into an affordable housing fund, rather than building the units themselves.

Politically, the appeal of IZ is clear. First and foremost, it’s a way of financing housing that doesn’t require raising property or sales taxes. Second, it creates another hurdle for development, which is almost always a popular move in homevoter regimes. And it has great symbolic value: because of the high cost of construction, new buildings are often the most expensive housing in a neighborhood. Including below-market units in new luxury buildings can be a statement about the value of economic integration.

Unfortunately, IZ is more powerful as a symbol than as a way of helping people. A chart published in a New York City Planning Department report last fall makes this point rather eloquently on its own.

There’s a lot going on here, but the most important lines are “Total Unit Production” and “Total In-Lieu Fees Collected.” Washington, DC, for example, created 80 units of affordable housing and collected no money in fees between 2006 and mid-2014. In the DC metropolitan area, 46 percent of renters are burdened by their housing costs. Even allowing for some differences in the District itself (and our quibbles with the 30 percent ratio used to get that number), it’s clear that it would be generous to refer to 80 units of affordable housing—roughly 10 per year—as “token.”

And while DC is a particularly egregious example, the other cities are hardly exemplars themselves. San Francisco looks relatively impressive at 1,560 units—until you realize that’s under 140 units per year in a city of over 800,000 people where median home prices are well above what even upper-middle-class, let alone low-income, households can afford. (Indeed, San Francisco’s “affordable” units go to families of four making as much as $91,700.) Nor do the city’s in-lieu fees make up much of a difference: about $5 million a year, which, according to numbers from Kim-Mai Cutler, might buy about 20 units.

The most successful inclusionary zoning program relied on extremely rapid population growth

Arguably the most successful inclusionary zoning program is in Montgomery County, Maryland, outside DC. Montgomery County’s IZ program, the first in the country, has created over 14,000 affordable units since 1974, or more than 350 a year. But while that’s relatively impressive, it’s hardly met the need: according to the County itself, there are at least 78,000 households that are still cost-burdened. Moreover, Montgomery County’s relative success has been predicated on truly massive population growth, nearly doubling from 564,000 to over a million people from 1974 to 2013. Without that kind of growth, the County would be unable to produce as many IZ units—and, indeed, as population growth has slowed, so has the number of new units. While Montgomery County produced an average of 441 units per year from 1976 to 1999, from 2000 to 2013, it has averaged just 245. Cities that are unable or unwilling to accommodate very rapid market-rate housing construction won’t be able to replicate these results—which still haven’t come close to solving the problem.

 

Montgomery County, MD’s has probably urbanized faster than any other suburban county in the nation. But that makes it a bad IZ role model for other jurisdictions unwilling or unable to match that kind of growth. Credit: Google Maps

 

None of this is necessarily an argument against inclusionary zoning on its own: local activists may reasonably conclude that this is the best that can be done at the moment. They may similarly decide that the tradeoff of slightly higher market prices is worth creating units at prices below what could otherwise be reached. (Though advocates frequently bristle at the suggestion that inclusionary zoning drives up the price of non-subsidized housing, evidence seems to suggest that it does, at least in markets with high demand and relatively restricted supply—that is, the sorts of markets where IZ is likely to be implemented. And, in fact, when IZ policies are being promoted to local homeowners, advocates sometimes pivot to arguing that affordable housing will be good for property values—in other words, it will make housing more expensive.)

We need to think bigger than inclusionary zoning

But there is no way to argue that inclusionary zoning is coming close to meeting the demand for below-market housing—or, importantly, that it will ever be able to do so. A hundred and forty units per year in San Francisco is not off by ten percent, or fifty percent, or even just one order of magnitude. Moreover, any dramatic expansion of IZ would also involve increasing the amount of private housing development by a similar amount, since IZ depends on piggybacking off of market-rate development—something that would be politically unthinkable in almost any jurisdiction.

In short, IZ needs to be reframed as not a centerpiece, but a minor part of an affordable housing agenda that actually serves everyone who needs help. Advocates need to push government to act on the scale of the problem, and one of the first steps is acknowledging out loud how far we have to go. At a local level, perhaps that can be done with a housing capital gains tax dedicated to funding affordable housing. At a federal level—and it seems more than likely that only the federal government has access to the resources to fully close the gap between the low-income housing assistance we need and what we currently have—expanding Housing Choice Vouchers, LIHTC, or creating something like the housing voucher tax credit could make a big difference. And, of course, broadly affordable housing requires reasonable market prices, too—which requires easing some of the regulations that prevent new housing for new residents and artificially inflate housing costs. Note the findings released just yesterday by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, which found a much stronger connection between market-rate construction and reduced displacement than inclusionary housing policies.

Again, the point is not that inclusionary zoning is the enemy of affordable housing. It’s that it’s not that great a friend. The fact that IZ may be on the edge of what is politically possible today should not blind us to the fact that the cities and neighborhoods we envision require vastly more ambition.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

Old gas station, or new urban place?

Greater Greater Washington - Thu, 2016-02-11 09:22
by Elizabeth Whitton

Gas stations are slowly becoming a thing of the past, but properties with abandoned stations can become vibrant community spaces. Transforming gas stations can add density, encourage foot traffic, and bring economic activity to neighborhoods.


Gan Shan Station. Photo by Gan Shan Station on Instagram.

According to the US Census Bureau, the number of stations declined by more than 12,000 over the last 15 years. Often on prominent street corners so they're visible from multiple angles, and many times connected to more than just one street, gas stations are properties that hold a lot of value for developers and businesses.

The reuse of old stations started to grow in 2002, when Congress authorized the EPA to use its brownfield funding for cleanup of properties with low risk underground storage tanks (for fuel).

Here are some great repurposed gas stations

In Adams Morgan, Richmond, Asheville, and Jacksonville, former gas stations are now restaurants, coffee shops, or mixed-use developments.

In Adams Morgan, an Exxon gas station was demolished and will soon be home to The Adamo, a four-story building with residential and commercial uses. Prior to construction, gasoline, diesel, and heating oil tanks had to be removed.


Rendering of 1827 Adams Mill Road. All media from PGN Architects.

In Jacksonville, FL, a prominent corner in the Avondale neighborhood went from Shell gas station to a new-concept Mellow Mushroom. The restaurant fronts the street, abutting the sidewalk and making the place more pedestrian-friendly (as opposed to a gas station placed several feet from the road).


The Mellow Mushroom in Jacksonville's Avondale Neighborhood. The building is on a lot that was formerly a Shell gas station. Photo by amateurphotographybymichel.

In Richmond, Lamplighter Coffee's Addison Street location is a repurposed gas station. The station's former canopy now protects patrons on the patio.

Lamplighter Coffee. Photo by Lamplighter Coffee on Instagram.

Asheville's Gan Shan Station even incorporates its former use into the restaurant's name. The East Asian-inspired eatery's conversion from a Gulf gas station can be viewed on its website.

Each of these projects turned eyesores into places that encourage people to visit via all forms of transportation.

There are environmental concerns

Even though they hold great potential, properties that used to house gas stations can be environmentally hazardous. Former gas stations are often classified as petroleum brownfields-land contaminated with petroleum because of underground storage tanks. The effects of these tanks vary, from minimal contamination and simple removal to costly clean-ups, but either way, converting the land is not a seamless process.

Also, the cost associated with the removing the tanks can harm redevelopment efforts, and the permitting process can lengthen the project's timeline and create uncertainty. The EPA's Brownfields program has an extensive list of resources on funding and best practices.

In our region, former gas stations offer opportunities to increase the available housing stock, aesthetically improve a neighborhood, and add economic activity without significant additional investment in transportation and infrastructure improvements.

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Categories: CNU blogs

Parks Get Help Navigating Public-Private Partnerships

Next City - Thu, 2016-02-11 08:30

San Diego’s Balboa Park (Photo by Oleg via Flickr)

As public-private partnerships become the norm for cash-strapped cities investing in capital projects, the term has become a buzzword and a catchall that says little about the actual structure of underlying deals. Is a nonprofit leasing public space from the city in exchange for managing its operations? Does a private corporation provide funding in exchange for branding?

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“We have one name for a thousand different arrangements that aren’t necessarily very similar to one another,” says Bob Cornwell, former principal at CSG Advisors, an independent financial advisory firm that represents public agencies, often as they structure such deals.

“It’s rare that there’s any major project done in any city — whether the originating side is on the public side or the private side — that doesn’t involve some kind of public-private partnership,” says Gene Slater, CSG’s chairman. “Some kind of development agreement, some kind of financial agreement, some kind of joint set of roles.”

Parks in particular are increasingly funded by high-profile and sometimes controversial public-private deals, even as agencies are still learning to navigate them. Last month, Cornwell gave a presentation on behalf of CSG to about 30 parks and recreation directors and leaders from around the country on structuring these agreements at the National Recreation and Park Association’s fourth “Innovation Lab.” The NRPA event, which took place in San Diego, was themed “Why Does Wall Street Care about Parks and Recreation?” and focused on the changing nature of park economics.

“It really is kind of a new world for park financing, especially in urban areas,” says Kevin O’Hara, NRPA’s vice president of urban and government affairs. “We’re finding that the deals are getting to be much more complicated. … How do we play our role as public agencies leveraging public dollars with private dollars?”

Cornwell says in CSG’s experience, the greatest challenge for parks departments is being invited to the negotiation table at the beginning, rather than after city financiers and developers have already come to an agreement.

At the Innovation Lab, “several of the participants complained either that they didn’t get to the table or they were invited after the deal was cut,” Cornwell says.

Luckily for parks departments, Cornwell says, they have advantage: “These park real estate assets, some of them are incredibly valuable public spaces. And they’re valued not just by the populace and the city government, but by developers,” says Cornwell. “Leveraging your role as custodians of these public assets is a way to get to the table.”

Once seated, he says parks representatives need to agree on public objectives. When representing the city of Anaheim in talks with Disney over a park expansion, Cornwell and Slater hit upon a model they recommend for other cities: Before conversations with outside entities begin, public representatives should establish terms of engagement defining public expectation.

For example, a city might say any agreement would be acceptable, so long as the city is protected from financial losses during construction.

Cornwell says the essential question is “how can this project be done in a way that the park agencies are able to do more of its mission elsewhere, as well as achieve it here, rather than less?” Slater recommends that guidelines be quantifiable and measurable, and set protections for public agencies, while being so politically apple pie that city council members could never oppose them.

Participants at last month’s Innovation Lab also heard from representatives of the Jefferies Group, the Aspen Institute and the Smart Cities Council, among others. Attendees also toured several San Diego parks, some of which were created using unique financing mechanisms. The county’s new waterfront park, for example, was funded using certificates of participation, and Balboa Park, one of the region’s most iconic, is run by both the city and a combination of many privately run organizations.

Brian Albright, the director of parks and recreation for San Diego County, says there’s no lack of financial institutions that will lend to municipalities. “The challenge is how do you build a facility like that that requires additional money outside of taxpayer revenue that won’t cripple the future tax base with long-term debt. … You have to be aligned with institutions that don’t simply care about maximizing their profit margin,” but are somehow aligned with community goals.

Many local banks, for example, are looking for ways to comply with the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires lending institutions to meet the credit needs of their local communities, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.

Albright says the Innovation Labs are some of the best professional learning experiences he has ever had. Because they are limited to a small number of participants representing big cities with similar challenges, “It’s just a great formula to learn from each other and to share best practices and gather in-depth knowledge and experiential information that you can take home and implement in your home city,” he says.

Previous Innovation Labs included a look at the health impacts of parks in Miami, the economic impacts of parks in Chicago and stormwater management in Philadelphia. NRPA intends to host about three a year, with upcoming labs scheduled for Boston in May — on data and technology — and Portland in August — on social equity.

“We wanted to give our leaders an opportunity to get together and think about how they fit into some of the bigger conversations that mayors are having, that elected officials are having,” O’Hara says, “and how we can continue to help solve problems that cities are going to be facing moving forward.”

He also says, unabashedly, that NRPA is looking to foster healthy competition between cities.

“Success begets success, whether it’s the High Line or Klyde Warren or the Maggie Daley in Chicago,” says O’Hara. “You’ve got a lot of these really cool signature spaces that we’re seeing in cities, and I think there’s a healthy degree of competitiveness among cities to want to be leaders in these spaces.”

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism

The Bicycle as a Tool of Social Justice

Planetizen blogs - Thu, 2016-02-11 08:00
Philosopher Ivan Illich believed that the bicycle could connect users back to the pace of community-oriented life, that the right of free movement does not lapse just because cities have strapped themselves into ideological seat belts.
Categories: CNU blogs

Breakfast links: Not about the money

Greater Greater Washington - Thu, 2016-02-11 07:31
by Joe Stenhouse


Photo by Jonathon Colman on Flickr.Purple waits on state: The Federal Transit Administration is ready to give the Purple line more than expected - $125 million in next year's budget plan - but Maryland can't get the money until it finalizes the rest of the project's funding first. (Post)

DC taxi app: DC finally has an app for taxis that works similarly to other ride-hailing companies' apps. The DC Taxicab Commission invested almost $500 million thousand in the app to be more competitive with companies like Uber and Lyft. (Post)

Reasons behind ridership drop: Metro ridership dropped to 2004 levels last year. What's the culprit? Metro believes the drop in rail reliability after the Silver Line opened, weather, the transformer fire, and free student rides are to blame. (City Paper)

More bad news for WMATA: WMATA took a $14 million hit over the course of Snowzilla, with $8 million lost in fares and $6 million spent in storm-related expenses. (Washingtonian)

Arena football in DC?: The owner of the Capitals and the Wizards wants to bring an arena football team to DC. Negotiations are underway to create a team that would play at the Verizon Center starting in 2017. (Post)

An idealistic budget: USDOT's 2017 budget plan is more transit-focused and less car-centric, but it stands little chance of actually passing in the current political climate. (CityLab)

A bridge for bikes: The Hatem Bridge, a toll road that spans the Susquehanna River in northeast Maryland, will open to cyclists this summer. The bridge will now provide a connection for major trails across the Northeast. (Post)

Less drastic on drones: The FAA has adjusted its ban on drones in the area around DC from a 30-mile to a 15-mile radius. Hobbyist parks that were forced to shutter when the 30-mile rule was enacted in December can now operate again. (Post)

Snowstorm slows housing market: For the first time in over a year, the DC regional housing market experienced drops in new contracts and new listings, mostly thanks to Snowzilla shutting the region down. (UrbanTurf)

Underneath the Capitol: Here's what it's like to take a ride on the US Capitol Subway System that connects the Senate and the Senate office buildings. (Untapped Cities)

The past is the future: Are historic preservation districts really so bad? Historic neighborhoods connect us to our past, and redevelopment of old industrial buildings can help address housing shortages. (CityLab)

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Categories: CNU blogs

Can Crowdfunded Real Estate Create Equitable Economic Development?

Next City - Thu, 2016-02-11 07:00

The front entrance of the Ace Hotel Pittsburgh (Photo by Rob Larson)

Even in what might seem like the most dire of circumstances, change is happening. Some of it emerges from within the community. Some of it comes from without. There’s never a guarantee that those visions line up exactly, but when they do, the result can be a beautiful thing: a community’s hopes, dreams, aspirations amplified by the support and solidarity of outsiders. Sometimes it’s the only way to move the needle when it comes to jobs, wealth and opportunity. While it can be hard to tell when such harmony exists, stories can speak for themselves.

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The story of the Ace Hotel Pittsburgh began with a community group, East Liberty Development Inc. (ELDI), purchasing the vacant former YMCA building in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood, a community that has experienced a tremendous wave of revitalization in the past few years. (Next City chronicled ELDI’s work that led to the hotel)

“I don’t know if I would have characterized it as blight, but for sure the building was a wasted asset for a long time,” says Zack Block, director of Repair the World: Pittsburgh, a local chapter of the service organization that embeds fellows in local partner organizations. Their Pittsburgh office is also in East Liberty. “It’s a really beautiful space from an architectural standpoint. Something this group did well was restoring it.”

The hotel finally opened in December 2015, at a total acquisition, rehabilitation and construction cost of around $25 million, of which around $17 million came via New Markets Tax Credits. That total also includes a $2 million loan for energy efficiency improvements from The Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia-based CDFI (community development financial institution).

The project was originally slated to cost around $23 million, but rehabbing buildings almost always means cost overruns, as fixing one problem can often reveal one or two more. The project’s $2.3 million in cost overruns were covered by an investment from the first-of-a-kind eREIT (electronic Real Estate Investment Vehicle) from FundRise, an online platform for crowdfunding real estate investment.

Congress created REITs in 1960 to allow a wider swath of Americans access to the benefits of real estate investment, including income from tenant rents. They have a few interesting features. REITs must distribute at least 90 percent of their income to shareholders each year. REITs must also be “widely owned,” currently defined by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as “no more than 50 percent of its shares held by five or fewer individuals during the last half of the taxable year.”

If you have a 401k or another retirement plan option that invests through mutual funds, check your mutual fund portfolio or ask your financial advisor if you own shares in any REITs. The answer is probably yes. More than 200 REITs trade on U.S. stock exchanges, with a total market value of more than $900 billion. There are also untraded public REITs and private REITs.

For the most part, REITs go about investing in real estate (usually commercial) in a very opaque way. Most people have no idea where their money goes when it gets into the hands of a REIT, not that it is typically easy to find out if they wanted to. Since most people who own shares in a REIT own them through mutual funds, they don’t even know they own them. Untraded public REITs and private REITs, meanwhile, are typically reserved for only the wealthiest and most connected investors.

FundRise’s eREIT is the first and so far only untraded REIT that is available directly to “non-accredited investors,” defined by the SEC as people with a net worth of less than $1 million or annual income below $200,000.

The minimum investment is $1,000, which anyone can make through FundRise’s online platform. It’s not an anytime thing, however. FundRise has been selling eREIT shares in monthly rounds, offering around $1 million in shares each time. The first few rounds, starting last November, sold out within hours of each round opening. The most recent round sold out in less than an hour. According to Ben Miller, co-founder and CEO of FundRise, the average investment so far has been around $5,000.

Investing in the eREIT isn’t recommended for everyone. As Miller says, “we’re looking at someone making $75,000-$150,000 a year, young professionals, who want to put maybe 20 to 30 percent of their investment portfolio in real estate.” Those making less than that should not consider investing in the eREIT, he recommends.

While FundRise does not disclose its exact underwriting process or methods and algorithms for parsing through the 7,000 deals it evaluates a year, it does showcase eREIT investments prominently on its website. It’s a huge appeal for investors like Pittsburgher Nick Orsborn, who has invested $5,000 in the eREIT so far. FundRise actually contacted him by email to ask about the Ace Hotel before making the eREIT investment. It was the first he had heard of FundRise’s involvement in the Ace Hotel project. It epitomized what he was hoping to get out of investing in the eREIT – a stronger connection to where his savings were being invested.

“It made it feel that much more real to me,” Orsborn says. “I actually bought my first house in East Liberty back in 2009. I’ve driven by the building so many times.”

The size of investments FundRise says it’s targeting for eREIT deals fall just beyond what urban infill developers like ELDI can raise from friends, family and community lenders like CDFIs, but also fall below the $5-$10 million minimum that most big institutional lenders like publicly-traded REITs or other large investors want.

“We operate in this sort of space, this gap in the market,” Miller says.

What other deals might lie in that gap? Miller credits those in Pittsburgh, from its public leaders to its business and civic leaders like ELDI, for creating a market that appeals to FundRise so much that they project investing another $20 million in the area over the next one to two years. If the Ace Hotel Pittsburgh is any indication, those could mean deals that lead to jobs and opportunity for communities that have long been denied both.

Ninety percent of Ace Hotel Pittsburgh Employees live inside Pittsburgh city limits. Twenty-eight percent live in East Liberty or in a neighborhood bordering East Liberty (18 percent of its full-time employees live in the same zip code as the hotel). There are also 30 local vendors that have ties to the hotel, including Strong II Dry Cleaners, located in Homewood, another underserved and largely black neighborhood in Pittsburgh.

There’s no guarantee that every project in the eREIT’s target investment market will generate that kind of equitable economic development. But Miller says if you can get FundRise a deal that can produce the kind of financial returns they’ve been advertising to eREIT investors — 12-14 percent on average — they certainly won’t count it against you if you’re doing all the above.

Categories: CNU blogs, New Urbanism
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