New Developments: Inspired by Summer Reading

4 min read

With the National Housing & Rehabilitation’s Summer Institute in our rearview mirror and Congress on summer recess, I’m looking forward to taking a few days off in August for some R&R. While I’m definitely inclined to novels, each summer I try to stretch a little and do some professional development as well. In recent years, my summer NH&RA reading included Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, and Jonathan Rose’s The Well-Tempered City. All are very interesting books that explore themes related to poverty, community development, affordable housing and/or sustainability. I’ve also really enjoyed (and keep coming back to) Harry Kraemer’s From Value to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership, which has been a great entry point for me on aligning values and ethics with company culture and leadership development.

This summer, I’m planning on taking a deeper dive into source materials behind a recent posting by Solomon Greene and Jorge González of the Urban Institute – “How Communities are Rethinking Zoning to Improve Housing Affordability and Access to Opportunity.” Greene and González highlight how local governments are “increasingly recognizing that restrictive zoning and outdated land-use regulations can suppress housing supply, drive up housing costs and widen racial and economic disparities. Leveraging smart zoning reforms and easing building restrictions can unleash housing supply to help meet the needs of current and future residents.”

I was surprised to learn how much recent activity there has been at the local level to remove barriers to development. Greene and González highlight several local strategies including:

  • Minneapolis, MN – First major city to eliminate single-family zoning;
  • Fairfax County, VA – Easing height and density restrictions;
  • Washington, DC – In-law units;
  • Seattle, WA – Rezoned single-family neighborhoods as “residential small lot” areas;
  • Santa Rosa, CA – Streamlining review for infill housing;
  • Pinellas County, FL and Austin, TX – Expediting review processes and waiving fees if the project involves dedicated affordable housing;
  • Buffalo, NY, Hartford CT and San Francisco, CA – Eliminating off-street parking requirements;
  • New York, NY – Mandatory inclusionary zoning;
  • New Orleans, LA – Tailored neighborhood inclusionary zoning; and
  • King County, WA – Affordable housing providers get “first look” at county-owned land.

We need an all of the above solution if we are going to make an impact on the affordable housing crisis. It is imperative that we expand federal resources for affordable housing by, amongst other things, enacting the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act (S. 1703/HR. 3077). We must take pains to preserve the affordable housing we already have (there were lots of great takeaways and strategies at our Symposium on Preservation Strategies last month in Newport). Local solutions to help increase production are also important. This means incorporating features from NH&RA’s Bond Policy Toolkit (see pg. 10 for a current summary) into state Qualified Allocation Plans (QAPs), as well as adopting common sense local solutions highlighted in Greene & González’s recent research. Hopefully, President Trump’s recently announced “White House Council on Eliminating Barriers to Affordable Housing” can recommend further enhancements to remove other regulatory barriers that add to the cost of housing.

For the first time in my memory, presidential candidates are actually talking about affordable housing as a major campaign issue (see President Trump’s Task Force and the New York Times recent editorial titled, “A New Approach on Housing Affordability: Some Democratic presidential candidates are emphasizing the need to build more housing. That could make a big difference”). There are literally dozens of bills in Congress addressing affordable housing and community development, as well as new initiatives almost every day in state legislatures. Now, more than ever, there seems to be some will outside of our industry to tackle the challenge of housing affordability head-on. We are ready to make the case and must also be ready to deliver results.

Thom joined National Housing & Rehabilitation Association (NH&RA) in 2004 and currently serves as its as Executive Vice-President and Executive Director. NH&RA is a national trade association and peer-network for affordable housing and tax credit developers and related professionals including: investors, lenders, public agencies and professional advisers. Thom directs the association’s day-to-day operations including legislative and regulatory advocacy, committee activities, conferences and events, publications, financial management and strategic planning. Thom also serves as the Executive Director of the Tennessee Developers Council, a state-wide trade association for affordable housing developers and professionals active in Tennessee. In 2013 he spearheaded the launch of NH&RA's Preservation through Energy Efficiency Project, a major educational initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Thom also serves on the Board of Directors for International Center for Appropriate & Sustainable Technology (iCAST) as well as the Advisory Board for its ResourceSmart program, a turn-key, cost-effective, green rehab provider for multifamily affordable and market-rate housing communities and nonprofit facilities. Thom is a frequent speaker at affordable housing, sustainable development and tax credit industry events and has been published in a variety of industry journals including Tax Credit Advisor, Independent Banker, and the Novogradac Journal of Tax Credit Housing. Thom also serves as the Associate Publisher of Tax Credit Advisor, a monthly magazine for tax credit and affordable housing professionals and is an Executive Vice-President at Dworbell Inc., a boutique association management and communications firm in Washington, DC. Thom was previously employed at a national lobbying firm focusing on financial services and technology issues. Prior to moving to Washington, Thom worked in media relations in the New York State Assembly and as a research assistant for New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Thom graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University with a double major in Political Science and History.