Posts tagged with "Housing":

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Obama Goes Home

President-elect Barack Obama gave a half-hour interview to CNBC tonight (full interview here, transcript here) that was impressively policy heavy--a real treat for the wonks out there, though who isn't these days--in advance of the unveiling of his nearly $800 billion stimulus package tomorrow. One of the issues he necessarily touched upon was the housing crisis (video), given its place at the center of the current meltdown.
I think the most important thing when it comes to declining home values is, number one, preventing further foreclosures. That just erodes home values across the board. And that's why I think for those of us who are still paying a mortage--you know, you hear sometimes folks up in the country say, 'Well, I've been responsible. Why should I provide any help to somebody who maybe took out a mortgage that they couldn't afford.' Well, this goes back to the adage that if your neighbor's house is burning, you got to first worry about putting out the house, even if they'd acted irresponsibly. I think that's true when it comes to foreclosures as well. We've got to prevent the continuing deterioration of the housing market.
Sadly, he didn't say much more on the subject, except that we need to make long-term investments as well, like "weatheriz[ing] homes all across the country, which can "drastically cut the country's energy bills, increase energy independence, [and] reduce global greenhouse gases." As for his stimulus plan, he didn't say much about that, either--presumably he's saving all the fireworks for tomorrow--but without mentioning infrastructure once, or saying much about new housing or other construction, we're a little worried. After all, we need him now more than ever.
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No One Buying New Housing Marketplace

There has been a lot of talk lately about how it is now up to the government to spend stimulate our way out of the current economic doldrums, and how much of that will come through infrastructure spending. One place where such investment is critically important is affordable housing, especially in light of all the foreclosures. While New York has fared better than other areas on that front, it is still unwelcome news that the city has rolled back the timeline for its New Housing Marketplace Plan. Back on December 14, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave one of his weekly radio addresses, which focused on the rising foreclosure rate and how his administration was coping with the challenges that presented (text). In addition to mentioning expanded mortgage advice and anti-abandonment measures, the mayor highlighted the New Housing Marketplace Plan, which is run by the city's Department of Housing and Preservation:
"The New Housing Marketplace - our Administration's affordable housing initiative, and the most ambitious such effort ever made by an American city. Our ten-year goal is to fund development and preservation of 165,000 homes - enough to house the entire population of Atlanta."
But, the mayor continued:
"Now, with the economy stalling and even the most qualified developers having a hard time getting credit, we know we can't keep that pace up. So we're stretching out our schedule for completing the second half of our housing program to six years instead of the five years we'd planned for at first." [Emphasis added.]
As the Times pointed out today, "Mr. Bloomberg announced the extension in December during a speech and in one of his weekly radio addresses, neither of which received much attention beyond housing advocates." Whether it was impacted by the news the day before that HPD head Shaun Donovan would be taking over HUD for the Obama administration, we're also not sure (the HPD press office has yet to return our call). But according to the Times, a spokesman for the mayor said the extension was tied to Bloomberg's announcement in May that he would stretch a four-year construction plan for the city to five years amid signs of a declining economy. Still, this isn't exactly news. In September, when the mayor was trumpeting the successes of the program at its halfway mark, the Observer was already calling them into question. Eliot Brown reported that the administration was already shifting gears:
[A]s the financial industry hits major turbulence and the city’s once lush climate for development turns dry, the Bloomberg administration is struggling to meet its goals for new construction (currently targeted at 91,637 units) and will likely need to shift the balance more toward preservation (73,395 units).... Although city officials say the original plan emphasized preservation in its early years, the reality of an inclement market has caused reevaluation, and the administration says it will likely need to lower its goals for creating new units, and increase its goals for preserving current ones.
There are other factors at play, such as the impact of changes to the 421-a tax program, which, along with inclusionary housing bonuses--like those in many recent rezonings--encourage for-profit developers to include low and moderate income housing in their projects through tax breaks. But still, with the paucity of credit having dragged the city's construction sector to a halt and many predictions of a new recession, what the administration can do to continue to stimulate affordable housing remains an open question. This is especially bad news for out-of-work architects given all the affordable housing work they've had of late. Perhaps the mayor should try giving Secretary Donovan a call.
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The Downturn of the McMansion?

 <bobs>/flickr
Amid the anxiety, speculation, and real hardship caused by the ongoing economic downturn, the provocative thesis of this Washington Post article stands out, which, if correct, could hold a silver lining for architects. Reporter Elizabeth Razzi interviews housing historian Virginia McAlester about how previous periods of economic declines shaped consumer demand for housing. The answer is simple and somewhat obvious: the demand for small houses rises. Her predictions for this cycle are less so. While McAlester argues the downturn of Depression through World War II, and the resulting shortage of materials, led to the construction of smaller houses, specifically Levittown and its progeny, she argues that this cycle could lead to a different landscape. While she argues that McMansions, with their multiple gables and double height foyers, will fall out of fashion, they will not be replaced with rows of modest Cape Cods repeated in endless rows. She argues that some McMansions will be converted into multiple unit “manor houses.” New construction, she argues, will likely be more compact, attached and more closely located to shopping and other amenities. While a spokesman for the National Association of Homebuilders refutes some of McAlester’s predictions, he agrees that highly energy efficient houses will be increasingly in demand.
deatonstreet/flickr
What could this mean for architects? While many architects design lavish, over-scaled homes, speculative builders, who rarely employ architects, dominate the McMansion segment of the market. Architects have for the past twenty years, been increasingly designing mixed-use buildings and districts, as well as compact, urban, and green projects. So it seems logical, then, that developers who are looking to salvage their unfinished subdivisions or respond to future demand may give enterprising architects a fresh look.

Hope for Housing (Update: And Carrión)

President-elect Barack Obama named Shaun Donovan, chair of the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD bio), to serve as his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The announcement came during his weekly web-address: AN had heard from a number sources that Donovan--an outside candidate--had taken a month off in late October and early November to prepare a white paper on affordable housing for the Obama campaign, though HPD did not return numerous calls seeking confirmation on this or his possible nomination. Well, now it's official. If confirmed, Donovan will be returning Washington, where he served as Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Multi-Family Housing in the Clinton Administration. A graduate of Harvard, Donovan has been acclaimed for his work on the mayor's New Housing Marketplace plan, which seeks to create 165,000 affordable units over a decade through construction and preservation. Get acquainted with the appointee's thoughts on housing policy, which AN published after a chat with Donovan last year. Update: Both Posts--that being The New York Post and The Washington Post--are reporting that Bronx Borough President Adolofo Carrión Jr. will serve as Director of Urban Policy for the Obama administration. The Bronx Beep had been also in the running for the HUD position, though whether he has been awarded a greater or lesser prize remains to be seen as the exact mandate of directorship has yet to be laid out by the administration, as we reported. Carrión is less known for his work on land-use issues than his compatriots in Manhattan and Brooklyn--partly a result of the relative levels of development in each borough--though the Baychester-raised Bronxite did receive a masters in planning from Hunter, according to his official biography, followed by stints at the Department of City Planning, Bronx CB5, and local non-profit developer Promesa before he moved to City Council and then the borough presidents office. Politco points out that the number of New Yorkers in Obama's cabinet is beginning to rival the number of Illini there, which hopefully means the Feds will stop ignoring the city as it has in the past.