Thursday, June 21, 2007

Affordable Housing Effort To Begin In Suburbs

Some years ago, there was a proposal for each Milwaukee suburb to accept one - - only one - - subsidized single-family home as a gesture towards inclusiveness.

All the suburbs declined except Shorewood.

It is against this history - - actually decades of self-defeating economic and racial segregation in the Milwaukee region - - that a group of activists has begun an effort in Waukesha to embrace more open and fair housing.

It will be an uphill climb, with few suburban officials attending an introductory meeting, the activists found.

Note also that the regional planning commission, SEWRPC, has not written a housing plan for its seven-county region since 1975, and despite statements of good intentions, has yet to launch an update.

SEWRPC has found the money for a freeway expansion study and a water supply study, both serving the commission's suburban membership (no City of Milwaukee commission members) and vision.

No housing priority. No housing study recommendations for the region.
Was it surprising that the Public Policy Forum found five years ago that 70% of the suburbs do not even contain - - if that is the right word - - apartments?

That's the triumph of exclusionary zoning that either bars multi-family housing outright, or calls for large lots and certain kinds of subdivisions not suited for apartments - - and the perhaps low-to-moderate people that might occupy them.

I'll have more to say about the racial separation in the Milwaukee-Waukesha, two-county area in upcoming posts.


James Wigderson said...

Wouldn't multi-family housing just add to the water requirements, sticking more straws into the ground than larger single family developments? They would certainly add to the demand for services, which would then cause the suburbs to seek more high-end development to pay increased taxes to pay for the increased demand in services. Here comes more sprawl.

Wouldn't it make more sense to encourage higher density development to occur on the other side of the water divide? And given your desire for mass transit, wouldn't keeping the lower property valued "affordable housing" out of the suburbs actually encourage mass transit since as business expands to the west there would be an increasingly tight labor pool?

James Rowen said...

Apartment dwellers are not watering lawns, so they use less water per residential unit, than single-family suburban homes.

Apartment dwellers do not cause or trigger sprawl.

Development should be encouragaed where services are already in place, usually in cities, or built-up suburbs.

Remember that light rail for region, with its hub in the city where there is density and the labor pool, was killed by Waukesha.

So even when transit expansion is proposed with the city as the major beneficiary, the suburbs kill it.

Dave said...

Here's a great calculator that shows the benefits of density:

James Wigderson said...

That doesn't make sense. Water conservation rules (like the city of Waukesha has now) can control how much someone waters their lawn. Charging a single family for excessive water use also makes sense.

But by increasing the population density (building affordable housing), you are literally sticking more pipes into the ground. Worse, each family has a minimum water requirement that would tap into that aquifer at lower levels than those that may trigger conservation requirements (higher costs, etc) but there would be more of them so you'd end up sucking up more water. So adding more multi-family units or higher density population will only add to the water burden.

Heck, compared to the apartment building down the street my occasional filling of the kiddie pool is a bargain compared to what that place is sucking in water.

And then, after you've added a population that sucks up more city services than what it pays for via taxes, in order to offset that additional burden to the city budget you've just encouraged city leaders to approve more high value development that can not only pay for the services they consume but subsidize the so-called affordable housing.

Jim, how does this help any of your goals?

James Rowen said...

Large single-family homes generate large water usage. They also need fire prevention, police protection, roads and other services - - and the farther they are towards the outskirts, the higher is the service-extension cost.

Somehow you think that people who live in affordable housing cost more in services than people in your higher-value housing.

Who says?

Affordable housing doesn't mean poor people housing. It means low-to-moderate, including many blue-collar wager earners.

And other property users pay taxes, too - - and business is generated by retail customers - - of which there are far more per acre where there are multi-units/apartments than single-family homes.

James Wigderson said...

"It is quite the interesting number—referred to often in Waukesha City Council discussion and in news reports of developers approaching the Waukesha Plan Commission. Don’t look for it in the ordinances; it’s more like a principle, a benchmark, a little nugget of conventional wisdom.

Here it is: A new single-family dwelling in a new subdivision shall, ideally, carry a $360 thousand sale price/assessed value, in order to be worth Waukesha’s while.

Jim Payne, City Administrator, did the number crunching several years ago, and asserts--even today-- that this number is right-on-the-money. It is what's needed to produce enough tax revenue for the city of Waukesha to stay solvent and expand services to meet the increase in population." - Jim Bouman

Although I have seen higher numbers than that.

If you plan on exanding the pre-existing modest housing base to accomodate more people from Waukesha, tell them to bring some water. In really, really big buckets.

(For the record, in 2000 I moved into pre-existing modestly priced housing, which can be found even now in my neighborhood.)

I think a conservative case can be made for resisting sprawl. Look what's happening in New Berlin. Mark Belling once supported a user fee on new development in Waukesha County. Etc.

But proposing to make the problem worse isn't going to make converts of the local conservatives.

By the way, I love, "Apartment dwellers do not cause or trigger sprawl." If you're proposing more of them move out here, and more housing being built to accomodate them, how is that not sprawl? What are you going to do? Bulldoze the pre-existing McMansions? On the other hand, I know of some handy dandy empty wetlands the developers would looove to put apartment buildings on. Come on a drive with me along hwy 164/59 and I'll show you.

James Rowen said...

I keep saying in earlier comments and multiple posts:

Housing and other development needs to be concentrated where infrastructure and other develpment already exists. The opposite - - development at the borders, or on former farm land and other open space, and that's what annexation is all about - - is what is meant by sprawl

Sprawl is not necessarily about the number of new residents. Or development per se.

It's about location.

If you put 50 new homes 20 miles from the city center, 15 miles from a school, 10 miles from a fire station and five miles from a grocery store - - necessitting multiple vehicle trips daily - - you are creating, or in the middle of, or exacerbting sprawl.

The City of Waukesha has many square miles of annexation on the drawing boards. It's water and sewer service territory will grow, too - - becaues of and adding to, sprawl.

All those costs are more expensive the farther they are from where people in large numbers are concentrated.

James Rowen said...

Jim: Consider these "traits' of sprawl rather a definition:

'Noted policy analyst Anthony Downs, at a May 1998 Transportation Research Conference, identified ten "traits" associated with sprawl:

1. unlimited outward extension
2. low-density residential and commercial settlements
3. leapfrog development
4. fragmentation of powers over land use among many small localities
5. dominance of transportation by private automotive vehicles
6. no centralized planning or control of land-uses
7. widespread strip commercial development
8. great fiscal disparities among localities
9. segregation of types of land uses in different zones
10. reliance mainly on the trickle-down or filtering process to provide housing to low-income households."

Sound familiar? Remind you of the bigger Milwaukee-Waukesha picture, too?

PurpleAvenger said...

Well, here's what US Dept of Energy has to say:
"There are significant environmental benefits to multifamily buildings as well. Concentrating residential units in one building or complex conserves land and transportation resources. Sharing outdoor areas can minimize landscaping and maintenance efforts and reduce yard waste and water usage. And multi-use swimming pools and playgrounds are certainly more cost effective than privately-owned ones."

DOE does go on to say that OLDER multifamily buildings were often inefficient and used too much water . . . but newer technologies and energy efficient appliances can help address those concerns.

No, they shouldn't be putting apartments on wetlands either, or in fields away from public services. But they shouldn't be putting McMansions there either. Waukesha, and other suburban counties, should be taking their fair share of affordable housing. Make it possible for people to live near where they work - something well beyond the ability of many working families now.

But beyond that . . . maybe it's time to let farms and wetlands be farms and wetlands. Development isn't always the right thing.