Housing Plus Offers Great Opportunity

The Housing Plus concept offers an exciting pathway to develop affordable and accessible housing with little need for public subsidy by leveraging existing buildings to add new units. In the 49th ward, there are an estimated 1200 buildings that can accept at least 1 new unit; in some of the larger courtyard or corner apartment buildings or in unused commercial space, 5-6 new units could easily be added.

Unlike a new construction program, Housing Plus is very inexpensive. The cost to build out existing space in an existing building is a fraction of what it would cost to build a stand-alone building, because the structure and essential systems are in place already. Unlike a voucher program, it is not dependent on finding an available unit and a willing landlord. Housing Plus is literally about creating units in partnership with willing property owners.

The biggest risk of Housing Plus is the potential to exacerbate parking demands when new housing units are created without accessory off-street parking. This risk is mitigated by 3 factors. First, private car ownership is on the decline, with the advent of better transit, car-sharing, and alternative work arrangements (co-working, remote working, etc). Second, the population for whom Housing Plus units are targeted don’t own cars. Third, in a transit-oriented community like ours, Housing Plus can be introduced as a “transit-oriented development” concept, linking it specifically to proximity to transit.

Owners who participate have to agree to maintain rents affordable for at least 10 years. 10 years seems too short and extending it to 15 years feels better. Whatever the term, any extension can not be so long that it kills off interest in the program entirely from private landlords. Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good (or great, in this case) is not going to help people desperate for housing today.