Pollakowski and his colleagues wasted no time tackling their assignment. In the past year they have produced research that is already changing the way municipal leaders, real-estate professionals, and lenders think about affordability.
The initiative’s first report, released in April, took on one of the most prevalent myths developers face when seeking approval for projects–the fear that affordable and high-density housing projects will depress the value of nearby single-family dwellings.
Pollakowski, David Ritchay, MCP ‘04, and Zoe Weinrobe, MCP ‘04, studied the effects of seven affordable-housing projects in six suburban Boston towns. They used data from 36,000 property sales between 1982 and 2003 to compare housing values in the affected areas with those in other parts of the same towns.
“In every case,” says Pollakowski, “house price movements in the impact areas simply tracked those in nearby market areas.” The study’s release was like a small explosion, garnering both media and industry attention and underscoring the value that the initiative can bring to the affordable-housing issue.
“A study of this sort could have been very useful to us,” says Kramer, who became all too familiar with the “not in my backyard” syndrome while working on Elm Brook. The project was delayed for a year by the appeals of neighbors who feared it would drive down the value of their properties. In fact, Elm Brook turned out to be an affordable-housing success story.
The seeds for Elm Brook were planted in 1995 as part of a rezoning when a local company offered to swap the 13 acres on which the houses are built for other property in Concord. This enabled the town to create a housing complex while honoring a conservation restriction to retain much of the surrounding property in its natural state. Affordability was an objective from the outset, and the houses were priced from $150,000 to $300,000.
In 1999, following a three-year feasibility study, Peter Roth was selected to create Elm Brook. Roth was the ideal developer. He founded Boston-based New Atlantic Development Corporation in 1994 with a specific focus on affordable housing. Under his guidance, Elm Brook successfully addressed a number of different affordability-related issues.
First, the project’s houses were priced for families with incomes specified between $56,000 and $98,000. Moreover, each home was sold subject to a deed restriction that requires owners to sell only to buyers who are in the same income bracket. The resale price must not exceed what would be affordable for families earning incomes comparable to those of the original owners when they purchased the home.
Next, qualified buyers were selected through a public process involving four informational meetings attended by more than 400 families. Those meetings culminated in a lottery to determine the buyers. Of the 12 homes, four were sold to minority households. Six of the buyers were teachers (including four who work in Concord public schools).
Others included a nurse, a social worker, and a computer technologist. The project, which relies upon higher housing density than is traditional for Concord, is surrounded by meadows and woods that serve as a buffer between Elm Brook and its neighbors. This landscape will be preserved as open space, benefiting both the Elm Brook residents and their neighbors.
It has now been four years since the Elm Brook homes sold and, says Kramer, “It has lived up to all our hopes and expectations.” The surrounding property values have held firm.