I attended the housing + transit conference at the LBJ school this afternoon. First, some notes:
- At one point, a speaker asked the audience how many people had come to the conference via mass transportation. No more than 5% raised their hands. I’m not surprised most people drove, but 5%?
- No respect for buses. “Transit” universally meant fixed rail to most people. Occasionally, bus rapid transit would be thrown in there. Never ordinary buses.
- Planners love planning. Nothing more fun than stacking up blocks and imagining what the city ought to look like.
- Planners are pretty sold on affordable housing programs; the major constraint on the programs and major topic of art is how to get more funding. No other limitations of these programs were discussed at all.
I still came away from the discussion unclear on the point of the affordable housing programs. A few of them were for people with incomes less than 30% of AMI (area median income)–and I can understand those, as people who make <30% AMI might have difficulty finding any housing–but the vast majority of the programs were for people less than 60% of AMI. The only personal experience I have with these programs was a graduate student I knew, destined to make big money in the technology sector, explaining that he got subsidized housing easily because there were so few people who made enough money to be considered for an apartment at his complex yet little enough to qualify for subsidies.
Compare this with a program like foodstamps: in foodstamps, you never stop qualifying for a program because you make too little money; many people don’t qualify for subsidized housing because they don’t make enough to pay even the subsidized rent. Everybody who’s eligible for foodstamps gets them; there’s no waiting list or lottery to it.
The only person on the day who made sense to me was Terry Mitchell, of Momark Development. He didn’t focus on affordability at all and instead talked abundance; how many people are going to move in, and where are we going to put them all. I don’t believe another speaker addressed the important of providing adequate housing to house everybody.