Call it the "green shoots" of local housing policy.
Our friend, industry sage, and columnist George Casey notes in his latest piece for BUILDER that like the "green shoots" of recovery we looked for in housing's landscape in 2009 and 2010, he's started to detect bright spots on what's been relatively arid terrain on the innovation front.
So, too, we begin to observe more local, county, and state governments willing to concede that housing affordability--which aligns so closely with profoundly held American beliefs in economic mobility, opportunity, and a healthy society--is an "everybody's challenge" issue, not just the province of residential developers and builders.
A New Yorker piece, "Why the High Cost of Big-City Living is Bad for Everyone," by writer Mark Gimein concludes with a passage that speaks to the shared high-stakes around economic, opportunity, and housing disparities.
"The cost of living in New York, San Francisco, and Washington is not just a local problem but a national one. That these cities have grown into centers of opportunity largely for those who already have it is not good for the cities, which need strivers to flourish. It would be a shame if the cities that so resiliently survived the anxieties of the atomic age were quietly suffocated by their own success."
The mathematics around developing and building homes and communities both affordably and profitably are complex. It inevitably involves known quantities, variables, rates and ratios, derivatives, unknowns, and unknowable political, social, and climatic events that can change every measure and metric overnight. Today, though, supply constraints on housing are one of the principle causes of demand constraint, and one of the leading factors--one that's commonly regarded as an untouchable and worsening variable--in suppressing supply is local, regional, and national regulatory burdens in money, time, and talent.
Building more, responsibly, profitably, and ultimately, with a reverse effect on vanishing affordability in our cities and towns is, in fact, the arithmetic end game here. This reality puts enlightened city, county, state, federal, and code agencies and officials and property-owning voters on the same page with home builders and developers, not in opposition to one another.
This is why we're spotlighting and celebrating "green shoots" in local or broader housing policy, regulation, credit access, etc. that recognizing that housing is an issue and an opportunity that's central and critical to our nation's and our society's capacity to be resilient in the face of change, and challenge, and constant stress to its past and current models.
Whether it's at the household level, the firm or enterprise level, the community level, the social network level, the national level or a global arena, what we find increasing narrative around is that our successes of the past are potentially the very force that can obliterate our futures.
So, here's another example of such enlightened efforts--admittedly, to few and far between, not to mention untried and uncertain as to whether they'll stand the test of time--where government, agencies, property-owning constituents, planners, developers, and builders are starting to look at affordability vacuums as a shared risk, a common enemy, a challenge that can be solved for. Sacramento Business Journal staffer Allen Young writes:
Lawmakers handed the governor an encouraging bill for homeowners that would lift some regulatory barriers to building granny flats, or secondary housing units constructed in a backyard.
Touted as one way to ease California’s housing crisis, Senate Bill 1069 would stop local governments from demanding that secondary units provide additional parking and an uncovered pathway to the street. The bill, approved Tuesday by the Senate, would make an array of other streamlining changes, such as lowering fees for connecting the small dwelling units to water and sewer lines.
Efforts are also picking up in municipalities and towns, whose citizenry have begun to awaken to the downside of massively polarized "haves" vs. "have-nots" geographies.
Don't cringe, or wince, or turn a deaf ear as to the implications of this trend in perhaps greater receptiveness-with-reservations-and-hesitations among cities, towns, and counties. One of those ramifications, as we've said here before is that housing and its residential developer and builder players are contending with a public relations problem when it comes to Regulators writ large. If you think there's truth to this statement, then you'll agree that the challenges would be susceptible to public relations effectiveness.
In which case, it speaks to the kinds of talent you need in your ranks. Your cost-risk mitigators continue to be absolutely critical as you try to carry operational process excellence across into the house unit by house unit level through each subdivision, neighborhood, division, and region. On the other hand, your revenue-opportunists--the ones who'll lead the charge vs. forces ranging from land sellers, to lenders and investors, to local planners--are the ones who'll need to lead the charge that will make or break the affordability deadlock that puts our slow, steady trajectory toward recovery at risk of fizzling out before the magic happens.
So, add to your list of priorities talent with "soft skills," people skills, ones who can listen sympathetically as well as speak knowledgeably about what development might be good for a community, and how it will work in their ultimate best interests in a viable, vital, sustaining value for people who live, work, and visit there.