The Need for Affordable Living

Often when people are looking for affordability, they look at mortgage or rent payments but perhaps housing costs are not the only aspect we need to focus on when trying to lower the costs of living.

Dan Zack, for Better Cities and Towns, discusses the “need to make affordable options available in other aspects of people’s lives, which can offset high rent.” This idea is something to consider when new developments are coming to our area, like in the White Flint district. We want to make sure that the developments are affordable for all type of individuals.

Zack describes 2 areas that help create and maintain affordable living, and which we hope we can also incorporate into the White Flint district.

1). Reduce household transportation costs

The combined cost of housing and transportation is what really affects the affordability. It seems that these 2 elements are inversely related. The trend is that, as housing gets cheaper the further you move away from the city center, the transportation costs will increase, “often erasing the benefit of the lower-cost housing.”

Elements such as transportation funding and zoning laws often discourage walkable and bikeable urban neighborhoods and designs. Also, an American household drives an average of 20,000 miles per year.

Zack suggests that expanding various transit programs- creating more transit-oriented development such as BRT networks that connect the fringe to the center city is one way to address this issue. The BRT system, such as it is for the White Flint district, will allow residents in a region (i.e. Montgomery County) travel around that region using an alternative to their cars.

Another way is to “build walkability into everything,” by maintaining functional and connected sidewalks. Creating a network of sidewalks that connect is extremely important in creating a successful walkable city. Again, if walkable elements are incorporated into more of  the built environment of the city, living costs, such as gasoline, have a higher chance of decreasing.  Another suggestion Zack makes to reduce transportation costs by “facilitating shorter driving tips.” This strategy includes ideas like creating mixed-use developments that provide high-density residential space above commercial and retail space that provide services and amenities in close proximity, that can also help lower living costs.

2.) Support smaller living spaces

Often Americans are looking for larger homes that provide a lot of space but large homes provide many downsides: the cost of building and upkeep, heating and cooling, furnishing, e.t.c… Large homes and their popularity reflects growth and prosperity, which are good things for communities and neighborhoods to have. Are there other solutions, however, to decrease issues with affordability?

These solutions include allowing micro apartments. Cities usually have minimum unit sizes but cities such as New York and San Francisco are easing regulations so developers can try different apartment sizes.

Another solution would be removing obstacles from allowing group living. Rooming houses may become an option as cities are lifting tight restrictions on the type of living and amount of people who are unrelated that can live in a single unit.

Zack also encourages “creat[ing] walkable, mixed use downtowns and neighborhood centers.” Creating residential space above amenities and services cuts down on other costs, such as gas and car payments. Creating these developments allows for walking or biking as the main form of transportation.

The White Flint district is working hard to incorporate many of these strategies and elements to create affordable living spaces for residents. Mixed-use developments, transit-oriented development projects, walkability environments are all essential to the White Flint development.

Interested in the Mixed-Use Revolution?

Next week, BisNow is hosting the Mixed-Use Revolution, examining the trend to transform surface parking lots and office parks into vibrant communities.  It’s taking hold, of course, in White Flint and around the world.  The event is next Wednesday morning, April 23rd, at the Mayflower Renaissance downtown.  More details and registration information is available by clicking here.

Of particular interest, one of the featured speakers will be David Kitchens of design firm Cooper Carry.  They are redesigning the White Flint Mall property and here’s what BisNow has to say:

David…says new mixed-use projects have to be respectful of their communities. “You can have any architectural style as long as you respect context of scale in any given community.”… CooperCarry has been working on the White Flint Mall transformation in Rockville, and David says adding connectivity to the site is paramount, since for years it’s been perceived as an onerous, isolated, car-dominated venue. There’s also a 12-foot-high wall separating the mall from the neighborhood, which David says will be taken down to help original home owners and brand-new residents of White Flint (as well as shoppers checking out the new retail) connect with each other in a way that wasn’t possible before. (As Reagan said: “Mr. Gymboree, tear down this wall!”)

It’s the most we’ve heard on the project in a while, so we wanted to share!