Some friends (correctly) pointed out that talk is cheap; what are these next steps? Good job, friends! Keep demanding clearly outlined policy from all your candidates and elected officials; it’s how we move the conversation forward as constituents.
Without further ado, I offer you some ideas for what I’d like to see in Lincoln housing policy.
Build more housing.
First, we need to build more housing any chance we get. There are viable projects that don’t get built because they don’t meet purely aesthetic zoning requirements. That’s ridiculous. For the last two years, a developer has been trying to do infill multi-tenant housing on an empty lot, but the building that makes the project viable is taller than what zoning allows. The NIMBY neighbors have successfully lobbied the mayor & council to deny the necessary permit two years in a row, because they don’t want all those market-rate apartments blocking their view. At a time when we need to be driving down the cost of housing by boosting supply, that’s just unacceptable.
Use Section 8 more effectively.
The city disburses federal housing choice vouchers (AKA Section 8) to help people afford a rental, but very few landlords in Lincoln accept them. So, people who are offered vouchers can’t actually use them because they aren’t able to find a place to live before the voucher offer is revoked and offered to the next person in line. We need to work on reducing stigma with landlords, smoothing out the administrative issues that make landlords think the process for accepting vouchers is too burdensome, and potentially look at an ordinance forbidding housing discrimination based on source of income. (Which other cities have done successfully).
Shift other HUD $$$ towards rental assistance.
Third, (and this one’s a big one): The city also distributes federal housing money through programs called CDBG and HOME funds. For the last 30+ years, those funds have primarily gone to support people buying their first home, even though it’s legally allowed for them to support rental assistance, too. That program has been quite successful, but I think it’s time to start shifting more CDBG and HOME funds towards rental assistance based on current market conditions. It seems like the Lincoln Housing & Urban Development department is starting to get this idea too, but they don’t feel like they have a clear mandate to do it, so it’s moving very slowly.
Target use of TIF
Finally, who doesn’t love talking about TIF reform? I’d like to make sure that Lincoln is incentivizing the right kind of development — perhaps fewer luxury condos, and more market-rate, workforce housing options. Maybe even with some units mixed in that are reserved for people at the lower ends of the income scale! There are ways to improve the TIF process to compensate for the higher costs on developers so it becomes a win-win for all sides. I’m still exploring those options but have heard really promising ideas in discussions at the South of Downtown Community Development Organization Housing Sub-Committee.
In case you’ve read all that and want more, members of Renters Together including myself wrote this editorial on housing issues in response to Mayor Beutler’s plans for a study on affordable housing needs. Mayor Beutler responded, though he seems quite unfamiliar with the role Renters Together has played in bringing the affordable housing issue to the forefront of Lincoln politics over the last year. You can see my response to his response to Renters Together’s response (whew!) in the comments of his editorial.