Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Home, Home on the Strange

It's axiomatic that real estate always increases in value because "they aren't making any more of it". Nonetheless Ryan Petty, director for Tacoma's Community & Economic Development Department, and his staff may have found a way to create more room for downtown Tacoma's housing boom by making downtown bigger. To some, this might seem like a strange solution, but it's probably a necessary--and positive--change in policy.

While downtown is more and more becoming a residential neighborhood for Tacoma, it's one unlike any other--the civic and commercial hub of the city. Nearly 50% of downtown's extant housing units are low income, which should be a cause for concern for all Tacomans. One way (arguably the best way) to remedy this problem is to slow development of low income projects and speed up building of market rate projects until a balance results; this strategy was the goal in the mid-1990s of the Miller Amendment and Housing Tax Incentives.

Results of these actions have been generally positive, increasing the stock of market rate housing units and contributing (as part of a national trend) to today's downtown housing boom. As some City leaders have observed (most notably Councilmember Tom Stenger), the growth of downtown has tended to push problems out beyond its borders--principally to the Upper Tacoma neighborhood.

What Petty has suggested is that the definition of "downtown" be expanded to include Upper Tacoma and the Stadium District, areas that most people are surprised to discover are not technically part of the city center. Petty's suggestion for a boundary expansion came out at the Tacoma City Council's Study Session today, which largely focused on downtown housing policies.

More on this topic in a future post...

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:30 PM

    The presentation by Ryan Petty and Rick Teasley before the City Council setting out mixed income housing model for Tacoma was very encouraging. I think all of the city council members had some favorable comments concerning the presentation.

    This was a big step for to Tacoma toward joining many other major cities in the US in this manner and implement the mixed income housing policy as recommended by HUD.

    Hopefully, the days of trying to construct large vertical housing “projects” is over as well as trying to locate an exceedingly high percent of low income housing downtown.

    The Tacoma Weekly had good coverage of the presentation as well:

    Petty suggested the following policy changes:

    * Require council approval of such projects prior to consideration from funding by TCRA

    * Establish a financial limit of TCRA approval of projects, with the council making larger funding decisions

    * Establish boundaries for a new “large footprint”

    * Adopt guidelines to encourage mixed-use projects

    * Affordable projects should have a limit on the number of units

    * Affordable projects should have a limit on units per acre

    * Such projects should be a minimum distance from each other. He suggests an average downtown block, 400 feet.

    * Limit the number of affordable units in a mixed-use project

    * Require affordable projects to offer support services to residents

    * Encourage or require participation in the city’s Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design program for affordable projects that seek federal funding

    * Encourage or require the use of the city’s Historically Underutilized Businesses program, which aims to steer contracts to companies owned by women and minorities, and its Local Employee Apprenticeship Program on such projects.

    Petty stressed that it is up to the council, and not him and his staff, to determine such policy changes.

    Councilmember Tom Stenger said he likes the idea of adding Martin Luther King, Jr. Way to the downtown zone.