Robert Schultz Consulting, LLC

A land use and strategic planning consultancy with an emphasis on social ecology. Also web home for Bob's personal interests

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ADUs a relatively low impact way to accommodate more people.

There are zoning, neighborhood, and economic barriers to creating small rental units on existing SFH sites. Planners are reassessing zoning requirements in many location to facilitate construction of accessory dwelling units. The financial barriers are an issue as well. Here is an effort in CA to facilitate the economic side of the issue.

The great recession gave pause to the rapidly escalating real estate prices in the Roaring Fork Valley and most of Colorado. The last two years have brought prices back out of relationship to market wages. County Assessors in Eagle and Garfield County have determined that assessments have increased 30-60% for most residential properties.

The great British economist E.F. Schumacher is best know for his book “Small is Beautiful”, however he wrote another insightful book titled “A Guide for the Perplexed”. My recollection from reading it many years ago is that he makes an important observation about the difference between convergent and divergent problems. His example of a convergent problem is that if a team of engineers arrived from another galaxy and you told them to create a two wheeled, man-powered vehicle, they would come up with something like a bicycle. The criteria lead to a single best solution to the problem.

He uses education as an example of a divergent problem, the more info you have and the importance of values in the developing a solution leads to multiple “best” solutions- Waldorf Schools, Expeditionary Learning Schools, Open Schools, Montessori Schools, charter schools, public schools, etc. Schumacher notes that one of the challenges for Americans is that we mistake every problem as convergent.

Affordable housing is a complex and divergent problem. There are land cost issues, construction cost issues, zoning issues, fees issues, growth control issues, and quality of life issues. While at its heart there lies a social justice issue, hard working people deserve a decent place to live, it is tied up in a much more complex web of values.

I have come to believe that it is best to see affordable housing as a practice rather than a problem to solve. A practice in the sense that meditation is a practice or yoga is a practice. Just because I did yoga yesterday does not mean that I do not need to do it again today. If we built enough affordable housing for today’s workers, there would be hundreds more attracted to the community tomorrow.

Using the Roaring Fork Valley as an example, there is a huge pool of people that would love to live in the valley, far greater than most residents would imagine as within the carrying capacity. Thus this is not a problem that becomes “solved” but that is not a justification for inaction. We need to continually sharpen our saw.

Doing nothing is not an option, that would not be just or fair, so what would we include in our practice:

1.) Stop the leakage. We need to work with landlords and purchase existing units. If we don't we will lose ground faster than we can make up with new construction. For instance, a Housing Study in Boulder found that the market will lose about 1,000 market affordable units per year, while adding back about 123 units of deed restricted annually. That is a net loss of 877 units per year, even with the Herculean efforts required to site 123 units per year in skeptical neighborhoods.

In resort areas, the strategy may include limitations on the number of VRBO rentals, easing regulations on accessory dwelling units, and purchasing rental stock and deed restricting the units. An example of the latter is taking place in Boulder at this time in order to turn 238 apartments into permanently affordable rentals.

None of this is easy but the benefits of an economically diverse community area manyfold. The community benefits from new ideas and volunteerism from young people, diverse population groups, and the wisdom of seniors.

This can only be accomplished if communities prioritize this issue and assign staff to work on it daily. An affordable housing advocate is needed to work with landlords, put together collaborations, and shepherd projects through the process.

2.) Build new units. There are several critical components to managing the subsidy required for affordable housing. The cost of land, the soft costs (to design, permit, and pay local government fees), infrastructure, and construction costs. Let's start by inventorying all of the publicly-owned land federal, state, county, local, special districts, etc.) from the Pitkin County line to West Glenwood or beyond.

Fortunately, geographic information systems give up the tools to accomplish this relatively easily. Utilizing staff and local advocate expertise, the soft costs could be minimized. Targeted locations that are not on public lands could be pursued through the use of grant and gift money under the umbrella of a Community Land Trust. We are fortunate to have an active and effective Habitat for Humanity program in the region that is also part of the practice.

Inclusionary housing requirements and commercial housing mitigations should be the same in Eagle and Garfield County as well as the incorporated towns therein. The system should be fair and consistent.

In addition to inclusionary zoning, we need an open discussion of requiring a deed restriction for Resident-Occupancy on all new developments that require a zone change. No more upzonings for empty houses.

While we cannot build our way out of the problem, we can extend our practice into new development.

Wasting Away

Screw It, We're Retiring to Margaritaville

Behold the first dad-rock-branded retirement city. On February 16, a team of Canadian real estate developers announced a partnership with singer Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Holdings Inc. to create a Buffett-branded "active adult" community, dubbed Latitude Margaritaville, in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Nibblin’ on sponge cake

Cause right now my dentures ache

All of these parrotheads covered with boils

Feelin’ my back sting with every golf swing

Smell that smoke

Next door has hash oil

Wasted away again in Margaritaville

Searchin’ for growth that’s smart

Some people claim this subdivision is lame

But at least my golf cart will start

Visualizing 35 Years of Income Distribution in USA

Income inequality is a growing concern across the world. In the United States, the distribution of income controlled by the wealthiest Americans has been growing for some time now. View our Voronoi diagram below to see a time-lapse of the distribution of income in the U.S.

Not Just your Imagination

These charts would look worse for net worth, this is income only.

Denver experiments with alternatives to traditional parking requirements

Micro Apartments done well

throw in some outside storage and we have something that could fit in the mountains.

The Mighty Amazon

When Amazon refused to pay taxes, I boycotted them but slipped back into the convenience when they agreed to pay state taxes. The Institute for Local Self Reliance raises additional concerns for those looking to use the power of the pocketbook to grow the local economy.

I-70 to go to 10 lanes in Downtown Denver, portion in a tunnel

Bill Gates bought land in Arizona to build tech city

Philanthropist and inventor Bill Gates paid $80 million to kick start a a smart city.

Utopia or blue screen of death?

Since Thomas More gave us the phrase utopia 600 years ago, there have been a variety of attempts at different scales to create pockets of idyllic living. The most recent comes from Bill Gates in the desert near Tonopah, AZ.

Will Affordable Housing Lower My Property Value?

In some locations there is a a piece of “common wisdom” that affordable housing in my neighborhood will lower my property value. My personal belief is that this thinking is a remnant from the days of Cabrini Green-style housing projects rather than more contemporary approaches.

Today’s planners and designers are much more sensitive to neighborhood context in designing income-restricted projects. In addition, it is increasingly common to see mixed income projects.

Trulia recently studied the effect of projects that were granted HUD Low-Income Tax Credits in 20 of the least affordable cities in the US. The results were that in most places the projects had no effect on nearby housing. The exceptions were Denver, where prices actually increased more than the market in general (likely another variable at work) and Boston/Cambridge, where prices were negatively impacted. In other markets the impact was negligible.

A Story for our New President

Indra and the ants

After the defeat of Vritra, Indra had no interest in ruling the kingdom of the Devas. However the other Devas convinced Indra that he had done a great service to all people everywhere. Vritra was an evil asura. Indra being the King of the Devas, had done his duty to defeat Vritra, by hook or crook.