ITHACA, NY – On Monday the White House released a document exploring an issue of relevance to many Ithacans: housing development.

The document, known as the “Housing Development Toolkit” calls on states, cities and counties to revise their housing regulations and zoning codes to lower the barriers to new housing development.

“The growing severity of under-supplied housing markets is jeopardizing housing affordability for working families, increasing income inequality by reducing less-skilled workers access to high-wage labor markets, and stifling GDP growth by driving labor migration away from the most productive regions,” the document reads.

The toolkit notes that while many local laws include development requirements for environmental protections, they also create barriers to multi-family or affordable housing. These barriers include things like land use restrictions, zoning restrictions, off-street parking requirements and historic preservation regulations that may be arbitrary or outdated.

While the report stops short of actually mentioning the term, it includes a sidelong reference to the “NIMBY” issue prevalent in Ithaca and many other growing cities. NIMBY stands for “Not in my backyard” and refers to the tendency for people to oppose new developments near them due to the adverse affects, such as traffic, noise or changing the character of the neighborhood.

“In more and more regions across the country, local and neighborhood leaders have said yes, in our backyard, we need to break down the rules that stand in the way of building new housing,” the report reads. “Because we want new development to replace vacant lots and rundown zombie properties, we want our children to be able to afford their first home, we want hardworking families to be able to take the next job on their ladder of opportunity, and we want our community to be part of the solution in reducing income inequality and growing the economy nationwide.”

NIMBY-like sentiments have cropped in several recent development debates in Ithaca, such as the ones over the Old Library site project and 201 College Avenue, with “I like this project, just not here,” being a somewhat common refrain.

“The White House’s participation in this discussion shows how far we’ve come in recognizing the effects that barriers to housing development can have on the most vulnerable members of the community,” said 2nd ward Alderperson Ducson Nguyen. “Urban planners and economists have been saying this for a while. But the White House report, articles in Vox and The Washington Post favoring housing construction, events like a recent YIMBY conference, and discussions in our own community all show an increasing awareness of these issues.”

Solutions

The toolkit offers ten potential policy solutions municipalities might use to address the issue.

“The policies <the toolkit> highlights — eliminating minimum parking requirements, high density zoning, inclusionary zoning, tax abatements, streamlining and clarifying process — the City of Ithaca has tackled recently or is currently discussing,” said Nguyen. “The toolkit also makes the case for more housing in case it’s not obvious: development addresses affordability, sustainability, economic growth, inequality, and quality of life.”

Other possible policies include: taxing vacant land or donating it to non-profit developers, allowing accessory housing and granting “density bonuses” to developers.

You can see the full report here.

Image courtesy of Flickr

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.