Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Documentary on "transformation of public housing": "70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green," premiering tonight on the WORLD Channel

World Channel is a programming service produced by WGBH, the Public Broadcasting Station in Boston, and is available in many television markets across the country, broadcast on subsidiary HDTV channels (with digital television broadcasting, each station has a main channel, and secondary channels).

Unfortunately, the World Channel isn't available in the DC-MD-Northern VA area, but it is available in many markets, and online.

(WRT the value of access to such programming, see "Culture planning at the metropolitan scale should include funding for "local" documentary film making" and the section on community media in this post, "Voting vs. civic participation | elections vs. governance.")

America ReFramed is the channel's premier documentary series and tonight, at 8 pm, is the premiere of "70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green,"by Ronit Bezalei.  From the press release:
Filmed over two decades [the program] is a remarkable 20-year look at the Cabrini Green redevelopment process, starting int he mid-'90's as the demolitions begin. Concerns quickly arise over the implementation of the Plan for Transformation and the lack of input afforded to existing residents. The community fights back; they file lawsuits, march and rally. Yet many families wonder if the new housing will accommodate the old residents, or if they will be forced to find affordable housing elsewhere.
Later today I will post a review. But I didn't want that delay to forego advanced notice about tonight's broadcast and the need to plan your day.

The documentary is important because it illustrates the many (unintended?) consequences of the "public housing transformation" program dating to the mid 1990s and the Clinton Administration's HOPEVI program, which gave money to housing authorities to rebuild projects.

Not only did these redevelopments make the housing projects smaller, it incorporated market rate housing into the developments, but at the expense of the number of units made available to lower income households.

Plus, while a majority of residents were made the promise that they could return many did not.  And in the interim, the destruction of these developments and the dispersal of the residents had negative impacts on the people and sometimes, severe consequences for the broader community.

In terms of people, they lost their neighborhoods and their social networks and "social and community capital," or what Logan and Molotch in Urban Fortunes: Toward a Political Economy of Place, called "the use values of place."  People of limited means are far more reliant on use value than people with money, who can buy what they need.

While not citing Urban Fortunes, in the widely acclaimed Root Shock, Doctor Mindy Thompson Fullilove makes the same kinds of arguments on the highly negative impact on individuals, their social networks, and communities as a result of urban renewal.

Types of Use Values*

Daily Round: The place of residence is a focal point for the wider routine in which one's concrete daily needs are satisfied.

Informal Support Networks: Place of residence is the potential support of an information network of people who provide life-sustaining products and services.

Security and Trust: A neighborhood also provides a sense of physical and psychic security that comes with a familiar and dependable environment.

Identity: A neighborhood provides its residents with an important source of identity, both for themselves and for others. Neighborhoods offer a resident not only spatial demarcations but social demarcations as well.

Agglomeration Benefits: A shared interest in overlapping use values (identity, security, and so on) in a single area is a useful way to define neighborhood.

Ethnicity: Not infrequently, these benefits are encapsulated in a shared enthnicity... When this occurs, ethnicity serves as a summary characterization of all the overlapping benefits of neighborhood life.

(* From chapter four of Urban Fortunes: Toward a Political Economy of Place.)

Community effects.  But in an effect not widely studied, there were sometimes significantly negative community effects. For example, the rise in crime from the late 1990s and the economic problems of the hospital system in Prince George's County, Maryland can in part be attributed to systematic "transformation" of public housing in DC's East of the River neighborhoods, which forced many of these residents out of the city--many relocated to Prince George's County.

The now sadly defunct Suburban Gazette newspapers published a brilliant piece in 2003 about this, called "Shouldering the Burden."

Similarly, the violent crime epidemic in Chicago--which is an outlier generally because for most major cities over the last decade crime has dropped--probably is in part attributable to the massive dislocation of residents and communities that has resulted from the changes to the city's public housing communities, leading to battles over turf much more violent than the kinds of disputes discussed by Elijah Anderson in Streetwise and Code of the Street.

See the 2005 blog entry, "In a rising real estate tide, some communities get swamped."

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Winners of Capitol Hill BID Banner Contest

Reprinted with permission from the Capitol Hill Corner blog by Larry Janezich.

The Adams Avenue Main Street/business improvement district in San Diego has done this for many, many years.  Back around 2002-2003, I suggested that the H Street Main Street program consider this, but I left the Board in 2004.

This is a separate project by the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District.

Winners of Capitol Hill BID Banner Contest

“Chilly Day at Eastern Market” – by Linda Norton
“Chilly Day at Eastern Market” – by Linda Norton
“Effervescence Hill” – by Rindy O’Brien and Elizabeth Eby
“Effervescence Hill” – by Rindy O’Brien and Elizabeth Eby
"Hill Icons” – by Tara Hamilton
“Hill Icons” – by Tara Hamilton
"Capitol Hill in Living Color” – by Kay Fuller
“Capitol Hill in Living Color” – by Kay Fuller
The  Capitol Hill Business Improvement District (BID) held an unveiling ceremony February 2nd at the Eastern Market Metro Plaza.  Four winners (seated) from left to right, Linda Norton, Tara Hamilton, Elizabeth Eby, and Kay Fuller.  At left, BID President Patty Brosmer.
The Capitol Hill Business Improvement District (BID) held an unveiling ceremony February 2nd at the Eastern Market Metro Plaza. Four winners (seated) from left to right, Linda Norton, Tara Hamilton, Elizabeth Eby, and Kay Fuller. At left, BID President Patty Brosmer.   Photo:  Jeff Fletcher
Winners of the Capitol Hill BID Banner Contest
by Larry Janezich
In October of 2016, the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District (BID) and the Capitol Hill Art League (CHAL) collaborated on a competition to give artists a unique opportunity to celebrate our community through art.
The theme for the contest was “It’s all here on the Hill!” The winning designs, submitted by Capitol Hill Art League artists.
The winning designs are:
“Capitol Hill in Living Color” – by Kay Fuller
“Hill Icons” – by Tara Hamilton
“Chilly Day at Eastern Market” – by Linda Norton
“Effervescence Hill” – by Rindy O’Brien and Elizabeth Eby
The new banners were unveiled on Thursday, February 2nd in a ceremony at the Eastern Market Metro Plaza.

A silent auction for the original art work will be held at the BID’s Annual Meeting on Tuesday, February 28, 8:00am – 10:00am, at Hill Center.  The proceeds will be split between the artists and the BID’s “Ready, Willing & Working” program.

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Custom decorative concrete developed by Aggregate Industries brings hockey imagery to life in sidewalk and square pavements at the Boston Bruins practice facility (Warrior Ice Arena)

1. Aggregate Industries is a multi-site concrete manufacturer. One of their plants is on Fort Totten Drive NE in Washington, DC, on the west of the CSX Metropolitan Branch railroad/eastern leg of the Metrorail Red Line.

2. I believe in utilizing opportunities for urban design treatments, public art, and aesthetics presented by "transportation infrastructure," in this case concrete for sidewalks and plazas, to promote placemaking and atractive public spaces. See "Ricardo Burle Marx streetscape treatments."

3.  WRT the project discussed below, the practice facility for the Boston Bruins hockey team, the Warrior Ice Arena ("Bruins unveil dazzling Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton," Boston Globe), is part of a mixed use development called Boston Landing in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston.

Boston Landing will include a new MBTA commuter rail station, office and residential buildings, and retail.  The Ice Arena complex includes other athletic facilities including a gym, indoor track, and an outdoor park. The Boston Celtics basketball team will also be building their practice facility in the development ("Celtics break ground on new practice facility," BG).

The athletic shoe manufacturer New Balance (also a sponsor of the Hubway Bicycle Sharing system) has their headquarters at Boston Landing ("New Balance opens new world headquarters at Boston Landing," BG).  The development agreement includes NB's title sponsorship of the arena, and partial funding for the rail station.  They've also opened a flagship/concept store featuring their products.

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From a press release from Aggregate Industries and LafargeHolcim:



When the Warrior Ice Arena was built, the architect wanted to bring the imagery of hockey from the interior to the exterior of the complex. With a landmark 68-foot-high hockey stick, the new 75,000-square-foot practice complex of the Boston Bruins hockey team includes an ice rink with seating for 660 fans, a lobby featuring displays of Bruins accomplishments, a modern locker suite and team lounge and expansive training and weight rooms. Aggregate Industries US (AIUS), a subsidiary of LafargeHolcim Ltd., designed and developed the product that allowed the vision to come to life.

To achieve the aesthetic and LEED-certification goals of the project, AIUS created custom-designed mixes of its Artevia® brand of decorative concretes that contained unique colors, aggregates and textures, as well as treatments to reduce the urban heat island effect.

The Warrior Ice Arena hardscape was awarded the Scofield Decorative Concrete Award during the 2017 World of Concrete show in Las Vegas, Nevada for its creative and sustainable sidewalks and courtyards.

“We’re proud to have played a part of this project which, for Boston, is closely tied to our passion for sports,” said René Marais, Ready Mix sales manager for the Northeast Region of Aggregate Industries US. “The hockey imagery concepts for the arena’s main entrance were very detailed and creative. For example, the curvature lines by the hockey stick reflect the lines a player makes when he cuts hard on the ice, and the additional exposed white stones illustrate ice shavings kicked over by the skating blade.”

To achieve the design goals for the hardscape, AIUS developed Artevia® Color and Artevia® Exposed samples with white and gray cement. The specialized concrete mix incorporated an integral coloring admixture from L. M. Scofield Company to create vibrant solar-reflective colors that conform to LEED 2009 requirements for reducing the urban heat island effect.

This cool pavement technology helps keep concrete temperatures lower and provides a high solar reflective index value that qualifies the Warrior Ice Arena for a credit under the sustainable sites section of LEED.

AIUS also collaborated with Massachusetts-based Triad Associates, Inc. to produce mockup panels to ensure alignment with the design the customer intended. Due to uniform aesthetics and consistency, the finished decorative hardscape included Artevia® Color and Artevia® Exposed aggregate concretes, which combined design flexibility and strong visual appeal with low maintenance and durability. The Artevia® Color concrete, with onyx black and custom gray alternating strips, was placed at street level, while the Artevia® Exposed concrete, with colored stones and glass, was used for the elevated 2,000-square-foot courtyard.

“The vibrant color and textured effects of our Artevia® concrete enabled the architects to create visually stimulating and architecturally exceptional hardscape that is built to last,” commented Marais.

“All this landscaping creativity helps make the Warrior Ice Arena a unique, desirable and a pleasant place to visit and watch Boston Bruins hockey.”

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Today entrance to all US National Parks is free

Each year, the US National Park Service has free entrance days.  One of those days already past is the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday (January 18th).

Another of those days is the President's Day National Holiday (February 20th).

Other free entrance days later in the year are:

  • April 15-16 & 22-23, 2017 — Weekends of National Park Week
  • August 25, 2017 — National Park Service Birthday
  • September 30, 2017 — National Public Lands Day
  • November 11-12, 2017 — Veterans Day Weekend
Of course, a number of National Park Service facilities are always free.

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Issues concerning National Parks

The Find Your Park promotion and marketing campaign was launched by the National Park Service to celebrate its 100th anniversary in honor of its formal founding in 1916.

The Utah Office of Tourism, believing that the National Park Service wasn't adequately marketing the national parks in the state has done their own marketing program, called The Mighty Five, resulting in a significant rise is attendance, maybe even to a detriment ("The mighty wait at The Mighty Five (Utah's national parks) Salt Lake Deseret News; "In the Footsteps of Many: Collaboration is Key to Preserving the National Park Experience," EDR blog, University of Utah).

The National Park Service has a severe maintenance backlog ("National Park Service delayed $11 billion in maintenance," Washington Post).

In DC, underfunding of NPS facilities is complicated by the tendentious relationship between Congress and "Washington."  The average Congressperson would rather fund facilities in their home districts or states, rather than in the National Capital.

WRT management of the National Mall see:


Separately, many Members of Congress have antipathy towards federal ownership of land in their states ("2 House GOP rules change will make it easier to sell off federal land," "Congress’s latest target for reversal: An Obama attempt to modernize how we manage public lands," Washington Post).

Although there are legitimate issues with local vs. federal interests in managing public lands and parks:

-- "Park service land and planning woes: local vs. federal," 2011)
-- "A gap in planning across agencies: Prioritizing park access for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users compared to motor vehicle access," 2015
-- "Federal shutdown as another example of why local jurisdictions should have more robust contingency and master planning processes," 2013

The Outdoor Industry Association is moving their national conference from Salt Lake City to protest the campaign by Utah legislators at the state and federal levels to shift nationally-owned public lands to the state ("Largest outdoor gear show abandons Salt Lake City after 20 years," Washington Post).

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Tampa Bay Times investigative report on transit in the Tampa-St. Petersburg Metropolitan Area

In the US, outside of the major cities, transit is seen as a social service, provided to people of limited means, people who can't afford to own a car.

On the other hand, in major cities, especially "older" center cities like Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, transit is not only a social service, it is a transportation demand satisfier and enabler of economic growth, success, and density. (Subway systems in Atlanta, the San Francisco Bay [BART], and Washington date to the 1970s, and were developed out of a different set of conditions, more focused on dealing with sprawl, whereas the original transit systems were designed to enable mobility and ease congestion in very densely populated places.)

(It is density that enables efficient exchange, and facilitating exchange is why cities exist, and the cities with more exchange do better than those with less exchange, e.g., Detroit vs. Boston.)

Tampa-St. Petersburg is a Top 20 Metro in terms of population, but it significantly lags its peer metros in terms of transit provision and efficiency.

Over the past few years there have been a number of funding referenda, held separately, in Hillsborough (Tampa) and Pinellas (St. Petersburg, Clearwater) Counties, to fund transit expansion, but none have been successful.

By contrast, metropolitan areas such as Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Diego, and Seattle have been developing extensive light rail systems.

tampa-teco-streetcarsAnd while Tampa has a heritage streetcar operation of limited utility as it is tourist focused rather than mobility focused, cities like Atlanta, Dallas, Portland, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Washington have been adding streetcars to their mobility mix, while more recently Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Tucson have launched streetcar systems, which may be a precursor to a greater commitment to rail transit.

The Tampa Bay Times (which in the past couple years has also done amazing investigations of the provenance of food sold at farmers markets as well as the economic cost to local jurisdictions from dealing with crime at area Walmart stores) has just published an investigation of the state of transit in the Tampa Bay area, including comparing Tampa Bay to the nation's 20 largest metropolitan areas.

-- "A long way to go: Tampa Bay has one of the worst public transit systems in America. Here’s why"

The Howard Franklin Bridge connects Tampa and St. Petersburg across Tampa Bay.  TBT photo by Skip O'Rourke.

From the article:
  • Tampa Bay spends far less on transit each year than any other major metro area. It is the only top-20 metro region to spend less than $213 million annually. Its $141 million operating budget is on par with Bridgeport, Conn., and Buffalo, N.Y., each of which have 1.5 million fewer people.  
  • County leaders in Hillsborough and Pinellas have drawn up more than a dozen plans to close the gap — then scrapped almost every one.
  • While action in Tampa Bay stalled, other similar-sized cities began treating their limited public transportation infrastructure as a crisis. Their systems improved while Tampa Bay’s stagnated.
Interestingly, the article focuses on the failure of transit there in terms of social services:
In other American cities, public transportation helps connect the working poor to jobs, schools, shopping and health care. That social safety net barely exists here — forcing many to plan huge swaths of their lives around the bus schedule.
rather than transit as a mobility enabler with multiple positive impacts, including easing congestion, enabling business attraction, and shaping residential choice decisions.

Comparisons from the article:
Job statistics are only one indicator of how little the system does.

Almost every other top-20 metro area has at least 600 busses. Tampa Bay has the fewest, about 360.

San Diego and Minneapolis/St. Paul are roughly the same size as Tampa Bay, but each had at least three times the ridership in 2015.

Spending per capita is half of San Antonio’s, a third of Denver’s and a quarter of Pittsburgh’s. At $57 per person, it’s comparable to Sheboygan, Wisc., and Macon, Ga.

This isn’t just because Tampa Bay is the only system without a rail line. Denver, Pittsburgh and Baltimore spend twice as much on bus alone as Tampa Bay, despite being similar sizes. Austin and Milwaukee each have a million fewer people and spend $10 million to $20 million more a year on bus service.
The problem with trying to pass transit initiatives in areas that are dominated by automobility is that they have limited experience with transit, and certainly can't ever see the possibility of transit as a preferred choice over automobility or as an economic development tool.  That's despite the fact that most people in the Tampa Bay area must have a passing familiarity with the Ybor City streetcar.

From the article:
Transit critics say leaders are smart not to spend more because Tampa Bay is too big and too spread out for transit to ever be successful.

“We don’t have the density,” said Karen Jaroch, HART’s vice chair. “It just doesn’t make sense to make those sorts of investments here.”

But a University of Utah study found that 11 other metro areas, including Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Phoenix and Louisville, Ky., all rank worse than Tampa Bay when combining density, land use and sprawl — and all have transit networks that rank above Tampa Bay’s.
By contrast, as the recent PBS American Experience documentary "The Race Underground" showed in its presentation about Boston's being the first American city to build a subway, transit service, and underground service in particular areas where the business case can be made, can be the best way to get around, especially in the densest areas.

Rightly, the Times story attributes lagging transit in Tampa-St. Petersburg to the choices made by the region's leaders and stakeholders. From the article:
Not long ago, many car-loving major cities faced the problems Tampa Bay does today. But starting in the ’90s, other regions began making different choices.

Denver’s leaders first asked voters to approve a sales tax for transportation in 1997. They voted it down — but local leaders put it back on the ballot seven years later and it passed. When a 12-mile light rail line finally opened in 2013, downtown development boomed. The city now has the 14th highest transit ridership in the country. ...

Phoenix and Tampa Bay faced many of the same challenges in the mid ’90s. Both Arizona and Florida are small-government states with limited transit funding. Both struggle with car cultures and swaths of sprawl, though Phoenix’s is much worse, ranking 14 spots behind Tampa Bay in density among the top 50 metro areas.

In 1995, Phoenix’s bus system ranked 24th in ridership nationwide. Tampa Bay was 28th. Over the next decade, both regions developed and voted on plans to substantially expand bus routes and to build light rail. Then Phoenix’s passed, and Tampa Bay’s didn’t.

Phoenix’s first 20-mile light rail line opened in 2008. Within eight years, the system expanded six miles and plans were made to open two more spurs and launch a modern streetcar. Ridership reached 54,000 weekday riders by April 2016 — a number it wasn’t projected to hit until 2020 or after.

By 2014, Phoenix’s bus ridership rose to 18th in the nation. Tampa Bay’s hardly moved, bumping up two spots to 26.
The end of the article quotes people questioning the value of transit, and of course the majority of comments are anti-transit as well.

-- "Quote of the day: rail transit is antiquated, like delivering a bucket of ice to Congressional offices," 2015 (about Phoenix)
-- "Richmond Virginia area transit is deficient," 2014
-- "What to do transit-wise in Baltimore since the Red Line light rail program has been cancelled," 2015
-- "Maybe the Purple Line light rail project in Suburban Maryland is a lot bigger deal than is recognized," 2016

Note that my experience with DC, despite the current failures of the transit system, communicate very strongly the value of transit. Without subway service in the city, in all likelihood the City of Washington would be more like Baltimore vis-a-vis the suburbs ("Transit planning in Baltimore").

People wouldn't have chosen to live in the city, the city wouldn't be adding population, and outside of the federal government agencies based here, likely commercial activity would have long since relocated to the suburbs.
food guide for AOM in NoMa. Red dot is AOM
The NoMA transit station is the red dot.  It was expected to facilitate improvement west (to the left), but is equally facilitating improvement on the east side (to the right), north of Florida Avenue (Union Market District) as well as south of Florida Avenue (H Street neighborhood).  

Witnessing the impact of the infill station, now called NoMA-Gallaudet University, on the attractiveness of the H Street neighborhood and as a significant accelerator of neighborhood revitalization--while it was expected to support the NoMA district west of the Union Station railyard, it was little anticipated that it would make living north of H Street an attractive choice, driving improvement forward--turned me towards transportation planning and away from neighborhood and commercial district revitalization planning, because I realized that when the right investments are made, transportation infrastructure has the best and fastest return on investment for "neighborhood revitalization."

Basically, most all of the neighborhoods served by high quality transit--Metrorail stations--and "short distances" (no more than 5-6 miles from the core) have experienced significant revitalization and improvement, while the areas lacking those characteristics still languish.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

What people don't get about the DC housing market: supply is much less than demand, so prices keep rising (a/k/a basic economics)

The Washington City Paper's daily e-letter calls our attention to the Mark Lee column in the Washington Blade, "Is D.C. destined to be the domain of the well-to-do?"

The answer is "Yes."

Apparently, last fall I wrote a similar "blog entry in response to an article in The Atlantic, titled "Will D.C.’s Housing Ever Be Affordable Again?" My answer was no, but with a more detailed analysis than the one below.  The fact that so many people write similar articles is an indicator of the need to move from lament to solutions.

Also see "Canada's Housing Crisis: Twenty-Two Solutions" from The Practical Utopian blog.
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1.  For historical reasons, when legacy cities like Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington were built out during the primary period of growth, pre-1920 especially, in comparison, DC had much less population therefore much smaller buildings were constructed.  This has major consequences more than a century later.


A tenement building in Manhattan can house multiple families, while the same amount of space for two tenements in Manhattan would cover three small two-story rowhouses in DC.

2.  For a long time that wasn't a big deal, because demand was commensurate with the inventory--even less than the available inventory.

3.  But finally around 2000-2005, the trends favoring urban living finally hit critical mass, and urban living became appealing to many more segments of the housing market.

Now having three story apartment buildings from the 1920s instead of six-story tenements, small rowhouses instead of big rowhouses split up into apartments, building most rowhouses without English basement apartments, medium sized apartment buildings (four to six stories) instead of larger, elimination of alley dwellings and restrictions on constructing carriage houses on the back of properties, etc., means that the available inventory of rental and owner-occupied housing is significantly smaller than the demand.

These DC rowhouses are larger than the typical two-story rowhouse constructed before 1914 because they were built with basement apartments. (Google photo).

That's why prices keep rising.

4.  Because of DC's limited housing stock, even small marginal increases in demand, led and lead to significant price appreciation.

5.  And each new addition to supply isn't enough to meet the latent demand, so housing prices continue to rise regardless (plus the fact that new housing, constructed at current prices, is always priced at the top of the market).

6.  Because of DC's limited housing stock, people wanting to live in the city were driven to consider neighborhoods (H Street, Trinidad, Petworth, Shaw) that they weren't originally willing to consider, because they were priced out of more popular neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, and Georgetown, extending price appreciation and demand outward.
East Ohio Street, Pittsburgh
This grouping of mixed commercial and residentially-used buildings on East Ohio Street in Pittsburgh are far larger than the buildings typically constructed in DC's commercial corridors outside of Downtown, Georgetown, and Dupont Circle.  It's rare for there to be a 3- or 4-story building in a DC neighborhood commercial district constructed before 1940.

This leads to housing appreciation in neighborhoods that may have remained "affordable," had there been more housing options available in those neighborhoods more highly preferenced.

I wrote a few years ago in "Exogenous market forces impact DC's housing market," about how because more neighborhoods in DC have been integrated into the residential housing market "at the metropolitan scale," people shouldn't be considering solely within DC criteria and characteristics shaping neighborhood and housing attractiveness and pricing.

That's still the case.

I haven't seriously delved into the list of housing priorities created by a group of business and housing advocacy interests, touted in posts in Greater Greater Washington ("Diverse groups agree: DC needs more housing and more affordable housing now" and "Meet the housing demand: A priority for DC housing").

My initial reaction is that of course housing prices are going to continue to escalate and people of lesser means are going to be pushed out of the city, because regardless of good intentions, most residents seem to oppose the kinds of development measures that would take the edge off (but not eliminate) the ongoing upward repricing of DC's housing stock in most neighborhoods west of the Anacostia River, and increasingly in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

In short, in capitalism, people with more money bid up and acquire scarce resources ("Low income, high income, the market and the right to the city").

In DC, high quality housing and neighborhoods ("The eight components of housing value") are scarce resources. So people with less money are not equipped to compete for attractive housing, even with extranormal assistance.

But there are ways to take the edge off. This is what I wrote (edited and somewhat expanded) on the first GGW post:

I have been calling for a real housing plan for at least 10 years. My biggest lesson from the past 16 years of change in the city is that not being armed with good plans and vision at the outset of change/growth opportunities puts you seriously behind the market, and without the ability to shape change the way you want it.

We had no idea on what kind of change and the velocity of change that was unleashed by Anthony Williams becoming mayor, coincident with a reaching of critical mass interest in urban living.

Not having robust proactive plans in place such as a good Comprehensive Land Use Plan, a good housing plan, a plan for WMATA, etc. put and continues to keep us really really behind. As a result, it's almost impossible to change the trajectory as it relates to housing affordability.

WRT the group and the support it has by developers, it should be no surprise that the Growth Machine favors affordable housing. It's still growth. (And I don't have a problem with it.)

One, many companies don't want to get involved, but are happy others are. Some build affordable housing as a regular part of the portfolio, e.g., Related Companies, and make a lot of money doing so. Other companies focus on it, e.g., WC Smith, and do a great job.

But the biggest problem is that residents (supported too often by elected and appointed officials) want to do everything in their power to restrict housing supply, which is counter to the stated objectives of keeping the city affordable. The reality of economics and markets is that they are not confoundable:

- Any report on housing policy needs to explain how economics works and that serious restrictions on supply increase prices

- that additions to inventory shape pricing only over very long periods of time--multiple decades, 30 to 50 year periods

- that new additions to inventory are always priced at the top of the market

- that neighborhoods with a greater variety of housing types and options tend to be more affordable and more resilient

- that subsidies, including density bonuses, can lower cost of new additions but only so much

- that every floor you knock off on a project to placate stated resident opposition to density has long term consequences and opportunity costs in terms of inventory, housing access, pricing and business income, personal income, sales, and property tax revenue streams for the city

- not enough do people discuss the benefits of growth, one is that adding density supports amenities development and provision which makes neighborhoods more attractive and convenient to live in, e.g., H St., Columbia Heights, Petworth, and Capitol Riverfront/Barracks Row are the best examples in the city, maybe on a different scale, Takoma, where the addition of small amounts of multiunit housing at the core have led to a significant strengthening of the retail offer, mostly restaurants sure, but also the addition of a hardware store, etc.

- plus more residents supports the provision of more robust and frequent transit

- which means that there should be density bonuses awarded to buildings in areas proximate to high capacity transit, especially Metrorail station catchment areas (one-quarter to one-half mile radius especially)

- land tenure issues in mixed use communities, specifically adding owner occupied housing to mixed use districts, specifically condominiums, may have unintended long term consequences in terms of quality of design and willingness of future owners to pay special assessments for upgrades -- get it right the first time or problems can result.

- condominiums can be a problematic ownership structure for smaller properties, or in lower income areas, as the properties age, and if there are problems on the part of owners paying assessments, and the increasing cost of maintenance leading to assessment increases, making it difficult to stabilize the properties.

- need for programs to assist funding improvements to small multiunit properties ("Tower renewal: The Watergate and Southwest DC, and Toronto" and "Deeper thinking/programming on weak residential housing markets is required: DC example, Anacostia")

- that a housing priority plan needs to consider different types of housing segments such as SROs, types of housing (co-housing, cooperatives), and mixed age multiunit housing as households age, etc. ("More on mixing multiple housing types within multi-unit buildings")

- that innovative programs to support housing inventory expansion through English basements and accessory dwelling units need to be created (Edmonton and other cities have grant programs to facilitate the construction of accessory dwelling units)

- the need to "encourage" developers building to the maximum density where allowable, rather than at lower densities that are matter of right, because they don't want to go through the community approval process, which takes more time

- encouraging properties to build add housing to commercial properties where feasible (think of the wasted space above the Safeway on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Upper Georgetown or the Walmart on Georgia Avenue NW)

etc.

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Below is the list of what DC's housing priorities should be according to the statement.  My reaction is still more, "yeah, yeah, whatever."

For example, in order to "meet the housing demand" and "equitably distribute housing" and "utilize areas near transit" you need to take practical steps as identified above.  Now, it's all nice language with little practical import.


● Meet the housing demand.​ Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should forecast, plan for, and encourage the creation and preservation of a supply of housing (market-rate and subsidized affordable) to meet the demand at all income levels. The supply of housing should be sufficient to slow rising costs of rental and for-sale housing.

● Equitably distribute housing. T​hrough the Comprehensive Plan, the District should fight against segregation, foster equitable access to opportunity, and comply with Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) priorities. The District should require that every part of the city participate in adding housing to meet the need for all income levels, with an emphasis on transit and commercial corridors.

● Best utilize areas near transit.​ When redevelopment occurs on blocks surrounding Metrorail stations and priority transit corridors, the District should, through the Comprehensive Plan, permit and encourage mixed-use developments of medium to high density. To the extent feasible, redevelopments involving increased zoning should include affordable housing in excess of what is required by inclusionary zoning

● Include families.​ The District should be a city that houses people of all income levels and of all household sizes, including families. Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should promote the creation and preservation of 3+ bedroom units along with other housing types.

● Prioritize affordable housing as a community benefit.​ When rezoning or granting significant zoning relief, the District should affirm through the Comprehensive Plan that affordable housing (in addition to any underlying requirement) is the highest priority benefit and that other community benefits should be long-lasting.

● Preserve existing affordable housing.​ When redevelopment occurs on properties with housing made affordable through subsidy, covenant, or rent control, the District, Zoning Commission, and neighborhoods should work with landowners to create redevelopment plans that preserve such units or replace any lost ones with similar units either on-site or nearby. These entities should provide the necessary density and/or potential funding to ensure it is financially feasible to reinvest in the property with no net loss of affordable units.

● Protect tenants.​ Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should ensure that when affordable housing is undergoing redevelopment, tenants have a relocation plan, are allowed to continue their tenancy with minimal disruption, and will have the right to return to their units or an equivalent replacement. Whenever feasible, redevelopment should observe build-first principles.

● Support neighborhood commercial corridors.​ Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should encourage the success of neighborhood commercial corridors and locally owned businesses, especially in disadvantaged communities. This includes increased housing density that supports businesses and providing equitable opportunities for locally owned businesses in mixed-use and commercial developments.

● Clarify zoning authority​. Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should affirm that the Zoning Commission has the purview to allow increased density for Planned Unit Developments that supersedes the levels in the Comprehensive Plan’s maps in exchange for community benefits.

● Improve data collection and transparency. T​ he District should provide the highest quality public data. It should standardize housing-related data collection across agencies, and release all data and forecast analyses to the public, to facilitate transparency and regular reporting on the status and progress of housing-related programs. Data should include a comprehensive housing database and demand-based forecasts alongside existing supply-based (pipeline) forecasts.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

DC DPW Mural program, call for participation

I happened to be in the Anacostia neighborhood yesterday, and saw a Murals DC production on the side of a building near the Metrorail station.

The murals were renditions of old DC concert posters and I thought they came across very well.

From a DC Government email:
The DC Department of Public Works has a program called MuralsDC, a graffiti prevention project. DPW is now accepting applications from commercial property owners who are interested in receiving a free mural to replace or prevent a wall vandalized with graffiti. This program has been very effective for those owners dealing with repeat taggings. 
The information to apply for a mural is contained in the flier below. Please forward this to any business owners you may know of who would be interested. If there are any businesses within your ward that have been vandalized with graffiti, please encourage them to apply.

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Photo: Lloyd Wolf Photography.

This MuralsDC production is on the side of the Deanwood Post Office.

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A brief comment on local government finance: Fairfax County, Virginia

In "The real lesson from Flint Michigan is about municipal finance," and other writings, I make the point that the system in the US for financing local governments was created during the time when the country was growing furiously, and since it was based on property taxes, local governments could rely on growing revenues.

Being dependent on property taxes is increasing risky.

Now, being reliant on property taxes puts many governments at financial risk, even if they are still successful and growing, because legacy programs cost more to maintain over time, and new programs cost more money, etc.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post had a story ("Fairfax, Va.’s largest county, again trims budget requests as revenues stay tepid") about financial issues in Fairfax County, Virginia. 

Fairfax County is economically successful, with more than one million residents.

According to the World Atlas ("Richest Counties In The United States") Fairfax is the second wealthiest counties nationally when rated by median household income (interestingly, Loudoun County is first, Howard County in Maryland is third, and Arlington County in Virginia is fifth).

But Fairfax's checkbook is not unlimited. From the article:
Long’s proposed $4.1 billion budget reflects a local economy still feeling the effects of the 2008 recession and 2013 federal sequestration cuts and a county bracing for the possibility of further reductions in government spending by the Trump administration.

County revenue — generated mostly by real estate taxes — increased by $88.2 million last year, not enough to cover rising pension costs, a growing public school student population and more elderly and low-income residents seeking government aid in a county of 1.1 million residents.

“Slow economic growth is, I think, here to stay,” Long told the county’s Board of Supervisors during a bleak presentation that also fell $13 million short of what agencies requested for disability services, public safety, maintenance of county trails and raises for nonschool county employees. ...

Long’s budget also leaves about $21.7 million in planned police department improvements unfunded, including $5.3 million for a “Diversion First” program that steers people with mental illnesses to counseling instead of jail.

It does not cover about $6.7 million in services for people with disabilities, and defers maintenance of county sidewalks and trails.
According to the article, property taxes make up 65% of the county's revenue stream. Even though parts of the county are booming, primarily those areas served by transit, other parts are not, and commercial property values are dropping in those areas that are more automobile-dependent.

When the nation's second richest county has problems financing local government, there is no question that the system of local government finance that we have created isn't working for today's conditions.

The article on Flint covers other potential revenue streams, including income taxes.

Cities with low property tax capacity.
Ten lowest per capita taxable real estate, out of 250 largest US cities
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Toronto.  Note that this is a problem in other countries.  Toronto Star columnist Edward Keenan wrote about that city's budget travails despite being a world city ("What happens to Toronto when things get tough?")  From the article:
Toronto is a fantastically prosperous city: growing faster than almost any other place on the planet, enjoying a period of sustained economic boom, able to brag of being home to “12 key business sectors” (it is the most tax-competitive city in the world according to KPMG) that keep the city “resilient” and its population relatively wealthy.

And for all that, Toronto is a city that expects to shutter 7,500 units of social housing in the near future because it will not spend the money to keep it from falling apart.
Furthermore, after giving signs of agreement, in January, the Provincial Government refused to give Toronto authority to charge tolls on the city's two locally-controlled expressways, instead giving cities more gasoline tax revenues ("No tolls? Tory wants provincial money for DVP, Gardiner," Toronto Globe & Mail).  This was done to placate suburban jurisdictions, whose residents would pay the bulk of tolls were they to be assessed.

But Toronto countered that this will raise less money than tolls, and that unlike locally-controlled tolls, they will not be able to do debt financing against monies handed down and controlled by the Province, thereby reducing the city's ability to finance transit infrastructure.

The UK.  And cities in the UK are totally screwed by the central government's austerity program. There, the national government provides most of the funding for local government, and mandates, and by contrast to property tax collection in North America, local governments don't have similar revenue streams.  Local governments are finding their budgets cut by 50% ("Britain's local councils face financial crisis," Economist).

Medicine Hat.  Interestingly, Medicine Hat, Alberta, which through a fluke of history maintained ownership of the natural gas resources underneath the city, is planning on creating the equivalent of a sovereign wealth fund to better reap the benefits of this revenue stream going forward ("A Canadian City Thrives on Gas, Like a 'Wealthy Little Country'" New York Times).

Over the decades, the city has used the revenues to keep taxes low, and to recruit industry, including providing free or reduced price natural gas.

Now, with industrial decline and a fall in the price of gas and oil, the city needs to be more judicious about the use of this revenue stream.  Hence the proposal to create a wealth fund.

Oklahoma.  The Governor, Mary Fallin, proposes adding a variety of services categories to the sales tax, which would raise almost $800 million for cities and counties, and $900+ million for the state ("Gov. Mary Fallin's tax plan clarifies choices in Oklahoma," Daily Oklahoman). From the article:
The proposal is based, in part, on a desire to overhaul Oklahoma's tax code so it reflects the modern economy. Fallin's budget plan notes that, according to Bureau of Labor statistics, in 1939 service industries employed more people than manufacturing by a ratio of 2-to-1. Today that ratio has grown to around 5-to-1.

This means a sales tax applied primarily to goods reaps far less money than in decades past. Yet the impact of addressing that discrepancy in a single year is jarring to many citizens.
The master list.  Expanding the activities eligible for sales taxes is another item that should be added to what I thought of as the master list in the Flint blog entry.  

Yet another item would be dealing with "payments in lieu of taxes" for properties held by certain nonprofits, such as colleges and universities (past blog entry, "Changing the structure of local government revenue generation," 2013).

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The answer is: Receivership

The question is posed by the headline of this Washington City Paper article, "What Can Elected Officials Do About D.C. Slumlords?" From the article:
“It’s frustrating because we have incredibly strong tenant protections, and yet negligent landlords still find a way to persist,” [Councilmember] Nadeau says. “That’s one of the biggest challenges that we face.”
I wrote about this earlier in the month (See "Receivership as a strategy for notorious nuisance properties"), in response to a City Paper cover story on a slumlord, making the same point:
Receivership.
In that article, Mari commented (which I seem to have missed), writing:
Why they aren't being seized... might be because of what happens the day after the property is seized.

DC government is a lousy landowner. When DC Gov takes a property it will sit vacant for years..... YEARS. DC Gov also doesn't appear interested in being a landlord. To hand if off to a non-profit seems interesting, but what non-profit out there that presently exists that is a real non-profit and not a "non-profit" that only exists to get contracts from municipalities? 
Taking a property would make an impact, but it would also use up a lot of resources.
This is my response:
I missed this comment. You are of course, absolutely right.

In my early writings, I joked that DC's primary property management strategy is "demolition by neglect." And that in an objective evaluation, using criteria of the Housing Courts in Ohio, DCG wouldn't be deemed a credible and eligible receiver, based on past practice.

That's why starting from the very beginning, I've argued that DCG shouldn't be the receiver, but capable nonprofits.

In Ohio, such activities are monitored by the Housing Court, so a receiver has to act, implement the plan to cure the nuisance, or they lose control of the property too. And receivers that fail don't get properties awarded to them in the future.  [added -- Failure is not rewarded, unlike the current process.]

I can't claim to know all the ins and outs of the various nonprofits in DC, but one that I observe to be very credible is Jubilee Housing. An organization like that could become a receiver.   (There are some good for profit property managers. They could act as receivers too.)

In Cleveland, it was the Cleveland Restoration Society (but because the job was so difficult, they got out of it for awhile). They were motivated to save historic properties from demolition.

And recently I wrote about a "nonprofit" business in Philadelphia set up to cure nuisances and make them habitable, usable properties that strengthen the neighborhood. (I can't claim to like their design choices but they do good work otherwise.) See "A great example of the market at work: making a business in restoring blighted properties/curing nuisances (Philadelphia)."

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Next week is Phoenix Urban Design Week

-- Phoenix Urban Design Week
-- "Phoenix Urban Design Week 2017: Here's everything you need to know," Phoenix New Times
-- "Roosevelt Row murals," Phoenix New Times

El Mac and David Choe mural near Second and McKinley streets. Photo by Lynn Trimble, Phoenix New Times.

Yes, Phoenix and its metropolitan area is a poster child for sprawl.  That being said, there is enough going on there to keep a traditional urbanist occupied for awhile, from various urban design and transportation initiatives in Tempe, the light rail system, the Roosevelt Row arts district in Phoenix, and many other elements, such as a regional bike trail system or the Phoenix Biotechnology Campus and initiative.

I like the idea of an "Urban Design" week as opposed to an "Architecture Week," because you get place into the picture, and aren't solely focused on "the buildings."  What people call "historic preservation" I argue is the nexus of place, architecture, and people.

-- Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center, Alley of the Arts mural
-- Roosevelt Row temporary street art
-- alley and public art walking tours
-- Local First Arizona, Cultivating Temporary Uses forum

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Will a BQX light rail along the waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens have extra-normal economic impact?

Proposed routing for the Brooklyn Queens Connector light rail line in NYC.

Notions Capital (not a fan of the DC streetcar) calls our attention to the Village Voice cover story ("Light Rail’s Dark Side: How Will NYC Pay for the BQX?") casting doubt on the economic impact assumptions of the proposed BQX light rail line along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts.

While it is true that development on the Queens waterfront lags other areas, there is no question that development along the Brooklyn waterfront has been on fire for a long long time.

The argument, according to the Voice, is that the economic impact is significant enough to allow for the city to pay for the system--as a local transit project, it would not be paid for by the MTA, which runs the subway and bus system in the city--conceding that the proposed line isn't addressing "transit desert" issues--or improving transit service and access in areas under-served by transit. From the article:
BQX's location far from the city's transit deserts has been one criticism of the plan, which has otherwise drawn cheers from advocates eager for any new mass transit construction. While some gentrification-wary residents suspect a stealth ploy by developers like David Walentas's Two Trees Management — which not only first concocted the idea, but continues to play a central role in planning discussions — the city has a simpler explanation: BQX may not be the transit system New York City most needs, but it's the one we can get. By building in a hot neighborhood along the waterfront, officials insist, they can use the magic of "value capture" to grab increased property tax receipts to pay for the project's estimated $2.5 billion construction cost, getting the city a new light rail line entirely for free.
Given all that I've written ("Update on the DC Streetcar program on the verge of launching Sunday service") about the DC streetcar being wildly successful in auguring development intensity and velocity at a level comparable to that of Metrorail station catchment areas, even though most of the H Street corridor is significantly outside of the Metrorail transit shed, I am not convinced that the proposed light rail line is the right choice for New York City.

(Note that when I first read about the idea in the NYT years ago, I was skeptical, because light rail has an inherent capacity limitation that doesn't make sense for such a densely populated city as New York. "Streetcars are not a good inter-borough transit choice for New York City").

1. Unlike H Street NE, the Brooklyn waterfront already is undergoing extensive redevelopment and has been for some time.  Therefore, it is arguable that a light rail line will add that much in the way of incremental development.

Does it make sense to encumber the property tax revenue stream from this area to build a light rail line, when other parts of the city are in much greater need of better and higher capacity transit service?

For example, the proposal for the Triboro RX, which probably should be train, not subway, service, to be able to interact with extant freight rail service.

-- "How About A Subway Linking Brooklyn, Queens & The Bronx WITHOUT Manhattan?," Gothamist
-- "This Commuter Rail Line Could Revolutionize Outer-Borough Transit," Curbed

From the Curbed article:
The above-ground line would intersect and connect with 17 existing subway lines and four commuter rail lines, and will also include 24 of its own new stops. RPA estimates that about 100,000 people would take the Triboro daily, which trumps the daily ridership of the Staten Island Ferry by about 30,000 people.

As with all things, the concern is: but how much will this cost? RPA nails the initial estimate at $1 billion to $2 billion (which is, er, pretty lenient) including the cost of installing signals, new track, rail cars and stations, and possibly power substations.

The plan is still in its conceptual phase, but an RPA representative said that the project's development could be partially funded through Move NY, the city's on-the-table plan to add tolls to the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges as well as create a surcharge for entering Manhattan by car below 60th Street.
2. Although one advantage of the addition would be another transit line directly connecting Brooklyn and Queens without having to travel via Manhattan  in between.

Today, the G Line is the only subway line that travels directly between these two boroughs.

Rendering of an in-street BQX train.

3. Is light rail even the right choice? In transit-intensive cities, light rail tends to be used in areas with significantly less ridership potential, which tend to be outside of the core, such as on the outskirts of Paris, where orbital light rail lines connect subway and railroad passenger lines, not unlike how the pending Purple Line project in Suburban Maryland will connect four legs of the Metrorail system as well as all three MARC railroad passenger lines.

On the other hand, the Docklands Light Railway in London serves about 340,000 riders daily. But over time it has grown from 8 miles of track, 15 stations and 3 branches to 7 lines, 45 stations, and 24 miles of trackage (with further plans for extension), becoming a more extensive system rather than merely a line.

When the DLR was launched, the Docklands was in the beginning of its revitalization program.

Built originally on an abandoned railway line, the system has dedicated trackage, not shared with roadways.  It's also computer controlled, cutting labor costs, and affording frequent service.  To increase capacity, the system has gone to three-car trains, which has necessitated platform extensions and other changes.

-- "Docklands Light Railway: A success story that spans a generation," Global Rail News.

4. The TransitCenter, in "What the Paris Trams Can Teach U.S. Cities," suggests that the Paris tram system offers many lessons not typically considered in the US, especially the utility of trams in transit cities as a way to provide additional connections to existing lines, the value of dedicated right of way, and fare integration practices that don't require an additional payment to use this mode.

Another key point in the article is that transportation planners there have used the implementation of tram service as a way to create new roadway and traffic patterns that emphasize sustainable mobility over privileging the automobile. This for the most part, doesn't occur in the US, putting serious capacity limitations on LR as a mode.

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Smell, maintenance, allergic tenants: why restrictions on dogs/pets isn't unreasonable

Last Spring, I wrote about the negatives of Amtrak's decision to allow pets on board trains--smell, maintenance, and most importantly, other passengers may have allergies to pet dander ("Amtrak's allowing cats and dogs on trains disses people with allergies").

Charity Struthers, right, holds her dog, Benny Goodman, on the roof of the Park Chelsea Apartments. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)


Accommodation for dogs is an increasingly popular amenity in high end property buildings.   I"An apartment building in Chelsea is luring tenants with doggie day care,"Boston Globe; "Going to the Dogs: Pet Amenities Aren’t a Luxury Anymore," Multi-Housing News, "Welcome to 'Yappy Hour': Developers lure D.C.’s dog-lovers with parks and perks," Washington Post).

Historically, this level of accommodation hasn't been present in public housing.  The Washington Post reported earlier this week ("Some pets now allowed for disabled and elderly residents in D.C. public housing") that in senior housing buildings, the DC Housing Authority will remove most restrictions on having pets.

But some advocates say that the policy doesn't go far enough.  From the article:
For a large majority of public-housing tenants — meaning thousands of people living in apartment complexes that are not designated strictly for elderly and disabled residents — the no-pets rule will still apply. Among those tenants, the only people exempt from the prohibition are residents who are legally certified as needing pets or service dogs to help with mobility or emotional problems. That has been the case for years.

Because of the continuing ban, the two biggest advocacy groups for allowing pets in public housing say they are not satisfied with the revised policy. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Rescue Alliance called the housing authority’s decision merely “a positive first step.”

The groups argue that all tenants should be allowed to keep pets. In reviewing the pet policies of 150 public-housing agencies in the United States, the ASPCA says, it found that only three are as strict as the D.C. regulations.
My response.  There is a difference between a ban and a restriction.  I do think it's reasonable to extend the ability to have pets across the portfolio of public housing properties, not only for senior and disabled tenants.  However, there is no reason to not limit certain types of pets--dogs and cats in particular--to particular floors or buildings, to constrain the potential for problems.

Usually, to control for smell, maintenance, and allergies, for profit housing organizations tend to "restrict" pets to particular buildings or wings of buildings. And they charge for the privilege of having a pet.

From the Globe article:
A dog lover himself, Szary gambled that the convenience of an on-site doggy day-care facility, in addition to standard luxury amenities like hot tubs, game rooms, and fire pits, would be key in attracting young professionals to Chelsea. One North charges $50 a month per dog, and $35 for each cat. It reserves the right to restrict so-called aggressive breeds and limits dogs to two per unit. The day care is an additional $19 a day.
Restricting pet accommodation to particular floors and buildings is a reasonable action for public housing authorities, just as it is for privately owned housing.  

I do think it's worth considering adding a small monthly fee for allowing animals, to cover the costs they incur to the property.

And take it the next step and add, where appropriate, dog parks and other placemaking accommodations on public housing sites.

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