Sunday, April 20, 2008

April AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Royal Building, St. Vincent de Paul - Springfield

This month’s chapter meeting was one of the best attended in recent memory, as I counted 34 AIA-SWO members, associates and students on hand to listen to three outstanding local advocates for low-income and affordable housing discuss the work that their organizations do, the problems they face, and the funding sources and tax credits that make their work possible.

The three excellent speakers for our evening were:

The common theme throughout the discussion was the current shortfall in meeting the need for affordable housing. Rental vacancy rates are very low, while the percentage of households that are rent burdened – that is, those which must allocate more than 30% of household income to housing costs – is high. The past twenty years have been particularly rough, as the cost of market housing has inflated at twice the rate of workers’ wages. The availability of subsidies for affordable housing is very limited, and it is extremely difficult to make those funding sources that are available integrate well with each other. Tax credit strategies and bond financing can help meet some of the need, but are not always viable for smaller projects targeted at the lowest-income households or those with special needs.

West Town, Metro Affordable Housing Corp. - Eugene

Although the statistics may paint a discouraging picture, there are many success stories that can be pointed to by Metro, HACSA, and St. Vincent de Paul. The Eugene/Springfield community has been very willing to support the development of affordable housing. NIMBYism has not been the obstacle to the insertion of low-income or affordable housing into established neighborhoods that it has been in other areas. The high quality of the low or mixed-income housing projects that have been constructed in recent years is a big reason, and is a testament to the skills of the design teams that have been involved. It is also attributable to the creativity of developers like Metro and St. Vincent de Paul, which has resulted in projects like West Town (with its inclusion of live/work spaces) and the Aurora and Royal buildings (with their mixed-use programs) that are located on downtown sites, conveniently near public transportation, retail shops and services.

The large attendance for this meeting clearly signaled that the subject of affordable housing alternatives – and the political, financial and social mechanisms that can make them possible – was long overdue for discussion in our monthly meeting forum. Big props to Jody Heady, AIA-SWO President, for orchestrating the program and bringing to light the important work being done in our community to meet the increasing need for affordable and low-income housing.

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