Home  /  RESOURCES  /  Housing Virginia Toolkit  /  The Basics  /  Myths of Affordable Housing  
Bookmark and Share


Myths of Affordable Housing - Housing Virginia


The 6 most common myths about affordable housing are:

1. Affordable housing is ugly.
2. Affordable housing produces more traffic.
3. Affordable housing increases crime.
4. Affordable housing overburdens schools and infrastructure.
5. Affordable housing lowers property values.
6. Affordable housing is not a community asset.
 
1. Affordable Housing is Ugly.
TRUTH
Affordable housing is designed to fit the community character in size and style. It is privately owned, designed and developed.
 
All over the country, the old public housing projects of the mid-20th century are being torn down and replaced by attractive townhomes and apartments through the HOPE VI program.
 
Affordable housing will look like "cheap housing." It will be unattractive and won't fit in with other homes in the area. It will be unclean and dilapidated and will lower the aesthetic character of the neighborhood. Due to its height and mass, affordable housing will be out of scale with the neighborhood and will obstruct views. Affordable housing is "low cost" because it is cheaply built and poorly maintained.
 
Most contemporary affordable housing is in the same style as, and often the same materials as, surrounding homes. Most people are unaware of this precisely because the new affordable housing blends in so well. Affordable housing must comply with the same building restrictions and design standards as market-rate housing. Because it is often funded in part with public money, sometimes it needs to comply with additional restrictions and higher standards than market-rate housing. Nonprofit developers typically have volunteer boards of directors from the community who have a long-term interest in and concern for the whole community. These boards ensure that the affordable housing fits into the community and is well-managed over the long-term. Public agencies funding affordable housing have a long-term interest in ensuring that the public investment provides a long-term benefit to the community. These agencies award funding to developers who share this long-term commitment. Proper siting and planning with community involvement can eliminate the concern of an unattractive development. Affordable housing is not "affordable" because it is cheaply built or operated. It is "affordable" in the sense of less costly to live in because it is supported by financing from a variety of public and private sources.
 
2. Affordable housing produces more traffic.
TRUTH
Building affordable housing near jobs supports the increased use of public transportation, shortens commutes and lessens congestion.
 
The National Personal Transportation Survey found that low-income households make 40% fewer trips than other households.
 
"Studies indicate that the average resident in a compact neighborhood will drive 20-30% less than residents of a neighborhood half as dense.” "At densities of 8 units per acre and higher, neighborhoods begin to support bus and rail transit….”
 
Higher density housing will increase traffic. With an increase in population, the neighborhood will be more crowded. The peaceful environment will be disturbed.
 
Studies show that affordable housing residents own fewer cars and drive less often than those in the surrounding neighborhood. Proper planning and design can prevent the perception that higher-density neighborhoods are "overcrowded." When families can afford housing, they do not need to "double up" to pay rent.
 
3. Affordable housing increases crime.
TRUTH
There is no correlation between safe, decent and affordable housing and crime. Studies show that what does cause crime (and a host of other socio-economic ills) is community disinvestment, overcrowding, lack of jobs and community services.
Failure to build affordable housing leads to slum conditions of overcrowding, absentee owners and deteriorating properties with no alternatives available to low income families.
 
Affordable housing will increase crime and threaten the safety of children in the neighborhood. Affordable housing residents will be involved in drug trafficking. Affordable housing will attract other dangerous people or criminals. Affordable housing residents will disrupt the peace of the neighborhood. They will have different values and will cause disorder, such as public drunkenness, loitering, graffiti, and vandalism.
 
There is no evidence of an increase in crime resulting from the introduction of affordable housing into a neighborhood. In fact, much of the affordable housing now being developed in inner cities and older neighborhoods replaces broken-down and crime-ridden buildings and can serve to reduce the neighborhood crime rate. Careful screening, proper management, and security measures help assure that illegal activities do not take place and that, if they do, they are dealt with swiftly and decisively. Most affordable housing residents want nothing more than to become part of the quiet, peaceful life of the surrounding community. They have sought out affordable housing so that they can live independent, self-sufficient lives.
 
4. Affordable housing overburdens schools and infrastructure.
TRUTH
Studies show that traditional single-family home neighborhoods have 2 to 3 times the number of school-aged children than those residing in apartments.
 
Higher density housing provides economies of scale for utility infrastructure in trunk lines and treatment plants.
The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment found that it cost $10,000 [per unit] more to provide infrastructure to a lower density suburban development than to a more compact urban neighborhood. (OTA-EII-643, 1995)
 
Infrastructure costs per housing unit significantly decline as density increases: in developments at 30 units per acre or greater to about $10,000 from $90,000 per unit when built at 4 units per acre. (Urban Land Institute, Wieman, 1996)
 
5. Affordable housing lowers property values.
TRUTH
Academic studies and market analysis all prove otherwise.
 
Just like many other studies, one from Wayne State (Michigan) University tracked property values before and after affordable housing was built and found that affordable housing often has an insignificant or positive effect on property values in higher-valued neighborhoods and improves values in lower-valued neighborhoods.1
 
Further studies that support this truth can be found at:
www.habitat.org/how/propertyvalues.aspx
www.inhousing.org/house1.htm
 
Affordable housing will lower the value of surrounding homes. More people will try to sell their homes when affordable housing is introduced to the neighborhood. Affordable housing will become quickly run-down.
 
One housing development can't affect an entire neighborhood. Property market movement results primarily from neighborhood desirability, characteristics of the housing being sold, and the overall development and prosperity. Research has found that affordable housing has no negative impact on the price or frequency of sales of neighboring homes. Because contemporary affordable housing is attractively designed, professionally managed, and well-maintained, it preserves its good appearance, usefulness, and value over time. It will not reduce the desirability of the surrounding area. Property values are affected by a wide array of factors, and it is unlikely that one affordable housing development would adversely affect the property values of an entire neighborhood. In fact, a number of studies have that contemporary affordable housing development have not impact on nearby property values, and in some cases contribute to increased property values. One study conducted in Minneapolis found that "proximity to nonprofit-developed subsidized housing actually enhances property values." New affordable housing developments are high quality, attractive units that blend in well with the surrounding community.
 
Affordable housing, particularly high density, multifamily housing, will lower property values in the surrounding neighborhood – right?
 
Not necessarily! This belief has been refuted by numerous studies conducted over a period of many years and in various locations. For example, a study, commissioned by the Family Housing Fund in Minnesota, studied affordable apartments in 12 Twin Cities neighborhoods and found "little or no evidence to support the claim that tax-credit family rental developments in the study eroded surrounding home values." [1] Likewise, a study of six metropolitan areas – Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Sacramento and Austin – by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies confirms that apartments pose no threat to nearby single-family house values. [2] A study of Low-Income Housing Tax Credit properties in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin found that these developments did not reduce nearby property values. And, more recent work in New York City also found no adverse effects from these types of properties. [3] These studies and others show that property values are primarily determined by the condition of the particular property for sale and other broader, more complex factors such as overall area development and prosperity. [4] Nearby units of affordable housing have no significant impact on these other factors, which are the real drivers of property values.
 
That said, some research suggests the effects on surrounding property values may depend on the context, concentration and scale of the affordable homes. One review of the research literature found that affordable housing has no adverse effects and may even have positive on property values when well-dispersed. When highly concentrated, however, there may in some cases be more negative impacts on property values, especially in neighborhoods that already are facing other challenges. [5] This suggests the importance of carefully developed affordable housing strategies that ensure that concentrations of poverty are avoided and that affordable homes are well-designed and constructed to ensure they are strong community assets. One of the major lessons from this body of research is that higher-density affordable housing that is well designed not only does not adversely affect property values, but may even enhance the value of existing homes in the neighborhood. Researchers at Virginia Tech University have concluded that attractively designed and landscaped higher density units actually increase the overall value of area single-housing. [6] How? New apartments often signal that the local economy is healthy and growing. They also create the density needed to create more retail and other services, thereby increasing the attractiveness of the surrounding area. Finally, the residents of the new multifamily housing can bolster property values by a larger pool of potential buyers for existing owners when they decide to sell their houses.
 
[1] A Study of the Relationship between Affordable Family Rental Housing and Home Values in the Twin Cities. [PDF] 2000. By Maxfield Research. Minneapolis, MN: Family Housing Fund.
[2] America's Working Communities and the Impact of Multifamily Housing. [PDF] 2004. By Alexander von Hoffman, Eric Belsky, James DeNormandie, and Rachel Bratt. Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University and the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation.
[3] Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Housing Developments and Property Values. [PDF] 2002. By Richard K. Green, Stephen Malpezzi and Kiat-Ying Seah. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Center for Urban Land Economics Research.
[4] Higher-Density Development: Myth and Fact. [PDF] 2005. By Richard M. Haughey. Washington, DC: Urban Land Institute.
[5] A Review of Existing Research on the Effects of Federally Assisted Housing Programs on Neighboring Residential Property Values. [PDF] 2002. By George Galster. Washington, DC: National Association of Realtors.
[6] Price Effects of Apartments on Nearby Single-Family Detached Residential Homes (Working draft). 2003. by Arthur C. Nelson and Mitch Moody. Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Tech University.


6. Affordable housing is not a community asset.
TRUTH
Affordable housing is unattractive, attracts crime, and reduces property values. Housing is an economic drain on cities.
Affordable housing is an asset to the community and part of the solution to our communities' problems because: Affordable housing located near jobs or public transit reduces traffic congestion and improves air quality by reducing the commute times of low-paid workers who must otherwise commute long distances. Workers have higher productivity and better morale. Employers can reduce the amount they must spend to comply with the states air quality and traffic mitigation requirements. Affordable housing reduces overcrowding. In some cases, affordable housing replaces deteriorated buildings, attracts new investment to the area and encourages nearby owners to reinvest. A full range of affordable and available housing is critical for restoring a competitive business climate. Locally, access to affordable housing enables low-paid workers to pursue education and training leading to higher-paying careers and to establish roots in the community. These lower-paid workers are critical to the economy and we all regularly depend upon them to help us maintain our quality of life and well being. Access to affordable housing enables low-paid workers and others to avoid homelessness and to avoid the need for public benefits. Affordable housing enables individuals to stabilize their lives so they can pursue jobs, access needed services, and deal effectively with their any problems they may have. Availability of affordable housing enables the city to attract and to retain employers who require affordable housing for their lower level employees. The high cost of housing is one of business' most frequently cited impediments to recruiting and maintaining employees. Affordable housing keeps the costs of doing business down. Homebuilding creates a significant number of jobs and generates tax revenues. Homebuilding generates three to four jobs, including manufacturing jobs, for every onsite construction job. Homebuilding creates a significant amount of indirect economic activity. Construction wages generates more ripple effects - adding purchasing power and sales taxes - than most unskilled service sector jobs. Affordable housing cannot solve our communities' fiscal problems, but it is one part of the solution because it reduces the stress on other government-provided. social services. And, affordable housing developments bring large federal, state, and private subsidies to local communities. These subsidies in turn support existing local jobs and create new ones, particularly in the construction and services industries. Affordable housing, including housing with support services, is the most cost-effective way of helping the most vulnerable members of our community, such as the seniors and the disabled, reach their potential. Without this kind of assistance, higher levels of public services are required.