Ordinance Enforcement Basics

Community development activities may include public nuisance abatement or code enforcement of one kind or another.  It is therefore helpful for community and economic development professionals to know the steps that local governments may take to enforce their ordinances. This blog post describes the basic enforcement options available to cities and counties. Continue reading “Ordinance Enforcement Basics”

Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves Lives, Money, and Property

In December 2017, the National Institute of Building Sciences published Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report. This report shows that acting to reduce the impacts of floods, hurricane surges, wind, earthquakes, and wildfires is a sound financial investment. Such action, often called mitigation, can result in significant savings of lives, money, and property. The Institute’s objective is to provide information to key decision-makers at federal, state, and local levels so they can develop more resilient communities that can better withstand natural disasters. This post summarizes the report’s findings.

Continue reading “Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves Lives, Money, and Property”

Revolving Loan Funds for Affordable Housing

http://www.stapletondenver.com/property/northfield-apartments/In previous CED posts, the definition and benefits and disadvantages of a revolving loan fund structure have been described. For review purposes, a revolving loan fund is often defined as a replenishing source of capital or funding from which loans are made. Some of these same posts describe this financing tool is as way to provide a boost for small business owners in rural regions and provide an example of the revolving loan fund run by Kerr-Tar Council of Governments in Vance County. In addition to encouraging and supporting small businesses, revolving loan funds have been used to address and fund other charges facing local governments. One such charge? Affordable Housing. In places like Denver, Colorado, Santa Barbara, California and Arlington County, Virginia, revolving loan funds have served as a huge source of financing for affordable housing development. In North Carolina, local governments have ample authority to expend funds in support of affordable housing for low and moderate income persons; a revolving loan fund may be a useful framework to deploy funding. Continue reading “Revolving Loan Funds for Affordable Housing”

The CDFI Bond Guarantee Program

It is no secret that the struggle to preserve affordable housing and increase economic growth is more challenging than ever. Subsidies are growing smaller and building costs are increasing, making affordable housing more difficult to develop. However, a federal program known as the Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Bond Guarantee Program (BGP) is making it possible for CDFIs across the nation to invest in the distressed communities of the United States.

The CDFI Bond Guarantee Program was created by the U.S. Treasury’s CDFI Fund through the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010. The program was designed to provide long-term, low-cost capital for community revitalization and economic growth. Through this program, federally certified Qualifed Issuers (CDFIs or approved designees) are eligible to apply to the CDFI Fund for the authorization to issue bonds worth a minimum of $100 million total. These bonds are guaranteed 100% by the U.S. Treasury, up to $1 billion per year. The proceeds from these bonds can be used to extend credit for community development purposes or to refinance existing obligations. Continue reading “The CDFI Bond Guarantee Program”

The Olmstead Decision: Compliance and Action in North Carolina

The 1999 Olmstead v. LC decision, also known as the Olmstead Decision or simply Olmstead, marked one the most important civil rights cases for people with disabilities in the United States. Underpinned by the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Olmstead Decision brought forth a framework that would oblige states to provide support services to disabled Americans in the community as opposed to in institutional settings. This blog post will provide an overview of Olmstead and its significance in North Carolina, including its history, challenges with compliance, and opportunities to provide integrated transitional housing. Continue reading “The Olmstead Decision: Compliance and Action in North Carolina”

Hidden in Plain Sight

Mobile homes are a vital but generally unloved part of North Carolina’s affordable housing stock. They come to public attention in times of extreme weather, particularly high winds and floods. Their condition and location make them especially vulnerable to damage, and often their occupants – the elderly, people with disabilities, and the poor – are least able to cope with the consequences. This blog looks at some of the challenges and opportunities for improving conditions and expanding affordable and safe housing for low-income North Carolinians, particularly in our more rural counties.


Continue reading “Hidden in Plain Sight”

Self-Driving Cars and the Changing Real Estate Market

In a world where technology seems to be advancing exponentially, very few advancements will manage to have the effect on real estate that the evolving transportation industry will. We have already seen how a shift towards walkability and the introduction of ride hailing services, such as Lyft and Uber, have impacted parking requirements, and introduced new programmatic elements to multifamily buildings across the country. But what happens when the cars can drive themselves?

As conversation in the automotive industry orbits around the premises of electric, self-driving cars, we are often fed stories about the amazing ways the technology will change our lives. For example, consider the claims of decreases in vehicular accidents and traffic, increases in vehicle travel speeds (the result of cars “talking” to one another), and gains in productive time. However, very few examine the effects these changes will have on physical real estate. Continue reading “Self-Driving Cars and the Changing Real Estate Market”

From Gas Station to Gastro Pub: The Potential of Gas Station Redevelopment

Geer St. Garden, Photos by Gary Kuber

According to the National Association of Convenience Stores, more than 50,000 gas stations have closed their doors since 1991, which accounts for nearly 25% of the 200,000 gas stations nationwide. With the advent of hybrid cars and a greater penchant for transit, gas stations are on the decline, with busy street corners being replaced by boarded-up stations and vacant pumps. Per the New York Times, many of these abandoned gas stations serve as entryways to business districts; thus, the redevelopment potential of these properties can be attractive to developers. Underutilized gas stations present a unique opportunity for towns and developers alike, particularly if they are at desirable intersections. However, these gas stations also present unique challenges, such as environmental remediation and small lot size, that must be planned for and managed appropriately.

In the past, the CED blog has explored the basics of brownfields programs in North Carolina, how they are administered and implemented, their role in revitalizing communities, and flexible opportunities in North Carolina’s Brownfield’s Program. Brownfield redevelopment is certainly a complicated process, but there are a variety of federal, state, and private funding mechanisms that make these projects more feasible. Previous brownfield projects in North Carolina have centered around historic manufacturing and mill sites, but gas stations could well be the new frontier of downtown redevelopment and revitalization. Continue reading “From Gas Station to Gastro Pub: The Potential of Gas Station Redevelopment”

What Barn Raising Looks Like in Petaluma, California

My last post argued that we should think of the role of local government in communities more in terms of “barn raising” than the more transactional metaphor of a vending machine. This idea was put forth in the great book Community and the Politics of Place by former Missoula, Montana mayor Daniel Kemmis, and later picked up in a popular article written by Frank Benest, former city manager of Palo Alto, California. The crux of the notion is the need for communities to move away from an “us” and “them” relationship between citizens and community organizations on the one hand, and local government on the other, and rather think of local government as a key community institution that is both part of and an extension of the community.

Continue reading “What Barn Raising Looks Like in Petaluma, California”

Our Shared Fate, Part 2

The ongoing debate about the deepening divide between rural and urban America and how this plays out in North Carolina was the topic of a previous blog post, Our Shared Fate. This post discusses some ideas about how the divide can be bridged.

The Triangle J Council of Governments held its regional summit in September 2017 on A Future Together: Connecting Our Urban and Rural Communities. The Triangle region faces challenges of rapid growth and the associated issues of land use, urbanization, and transportation. The framing for the rural-urban discussion is how to ensure that the benefits of increasing prosperity are fairly distributed. Continue reading “Our Shared Fate, Part 2”

Catawba County’s Innovative Water Service Partnership Model

It seems like almost everyone, including regulators and utility organizations, recognize the benefits and need for expanded partnerships and collaboration in the water and wastewater sector. Small towns are finding it difficult to meet their growing infrastructure and regulatory needs and are talking with each other and their larger neighbors about different regional service models. Partnerships are not limited to small systems; the cost of new water and wastewater supply is so great, that even large, financially healthy systems are increasingly working together to share costs and partner on  large facilities. Most of these partnerships involve two or more utilities working together, but in at least one North Carolina county, one of the key partners in many of the region’s recent water partnerships is a local government (Catawba County) that is not a direct utility service provider.  For more than 20 years, Catawba County has assisted many of the municipalities in the County install Continue reading “Catawba County’s Innovative Water Service Partnership Model”

Lessons for CED from Europe: Inclusive Communities and a New City-Run Food Pantry

The photo was eerily familiar to anyone interested in CED.  The headline from the New York Times article on September 20, just days before the German national election, read, “Merkel Says Germans ‘Never Had It Better.’ But Many Feel Left Behind.”  The accompanying photo by Gordon Welters, shown here, features Continue reading “Lessons for CED from Europe: Inclusive Communities and a New City-Run Food Pantry”

What’s the deal with modular construction?

AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown

In May of this year, Marriott International announced that it would ramp up the use of modular construction in its hotels. Marriott said they anticipated signing on at least 50 hotels in 2017 alone that would be primarily modular, citing that this type of construction would enable them to generate returns for their partners faster, decrease waste, and employ a steady and reliable skilled labor force. In fact, one of these 50 properties is in Chapel Hill; the new AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown. The four-story above-ground structure (with two levels of parking beneath) will boast 123 guest rooms, all built using modular construction. Continue reading “What’s the deal with modular construction?”

Legal and Business Reasons Why Downtown Development Programs Should Involve Secured Loans—Not Grants

Dr. Blaine Beeper is a retired hospital administrator who was recently elected to council in the Town of Bushwood. Dr. Beeper thinks he has figured out how to jumpstart revitalization of Bushwood’s historic downtown. He proposes for the Town to offer annual cash grants to any owner who redevelops a commercial property within the downtown. Dr. Beeper reasons that redeveloped properties will carry a higher tax assessed value, and the additional tax revenue can be “granted back” to the owners in the form of cash grants for five years, calculated as some percentage of the additional property taxes received by the Town.  When Dr. Beeper floats this idea, he runs into resistance from the Town Attorney and the Economic Development Director, each for different reasons. The Town Attorney raises serious concerns about the legality of such a program, while the Economic Development Director says it doesn’t make good business sense and a loan program would better address owners’ financing needs. This post explains the legal and business reasons why Dr. Beeper’s proposed grant program should be scrapped in favor of a loan program. Continue reading “Legal and Business Reasons Why Downtown Development Programs Should Involve Secured Loans—Not Grants”

Property Buy-Outs: A Good Option for Local Governments and Homeowners?

The devastating impact of flooding is once more in the public spotlight following the unprecedented rainfall from Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Nearer to home, residents in Princeville, Fair Bluff, Seven Springs, Windsor, Kinston and Lumberton NC are planning how to build stronger and safer after Hurricane Matthew last October. These two major events are only the latest in a long string of natural disasters that have wreaked havoc in our communities in recent years. Giving greater attention to finding ways of reducing the toll in lives and property has become more urgent. One significant effort is through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). This program helps communities implement mitigation measures and supports cost-effective post-disaster initiatives that eliminate or reduce long-term risks, and in so doing reduces reliance on Federal funding in future disasters. These efforts can include preparing hazard mitigation plans, elevating homes above potential flood levels, and structural retrofitting of homes to make them more resistant to floods, earthquakes and wind. One measure promoted in the program is funding to help communities purchase and demolish flood-prone property. Between 1993 and 2011, FEMA spent over $2 billion on acquiring some 20,000 homes (1), but in spite of its popularity, little research has been done on what happens to the land and the people after the buy-out process.

Continue reading “Property Buy-Outs: A Good Option for Local Governments and Homeowners?”

The Missing Middle: An Affordable Housing Solution?

Throughout the United States, the cost of housing is rising faster than incomes. While there are many discussions taking place around this issue, an important one is how the types of housing being developed can have an impact on affordability, particularly in areas where demand is high – namely, walkable places with transit service.

According to proponents, the “Missing Middle” is part of the solution to meeting the demand for housing that is affordable. Missing Middle housing is composed of a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types that are compatible in scale to single-family homes. Continue reading “The Missing Middle: An Affordable Housing Solution?”

One Neighborhood at a Time: The Incremental Development Alliance

In the Town of Riverdale, Betty Cooper is taking a walk through her neighborhood. She notices the dilapidated structures and blight that plague the area, and thinks to herself, “someone should do something about this.” Is Betty just a disgruntled citizen…or a developer in the making?

The Incremental Development Alliance (IDA) is a not-for-profit alliance of real estate development practitioners, private sector partners, and grassroots groups who train citizens like Betty to become small developers, helping to support neighborhood revitalization and assist city champions with coordinating development across the country. IDA began in 2015 as a collaboration between small developers John Anderson and Monte Anderson (no relation), who believe that small-scale, incremental development is a key approach to economic development. Continue reading “One Neighborhood at a Time: The Incremental Development Alliance”

4% LIHTC Use in North Carolina’s Triangle Region

A Brief Introduction to the 4% Low-Income Housing Tax Credit

Development of low-income housing in the United States continues to be a challenge for local governments, affordable housing developers, and policy advocates. Institutional, market, and financing obstacles are all barriers to increasing the supply of affordable housing. Since the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) have helped finance 2.6 million low-cost housing units. The LIHTC program seeks to address the financial barriers by incentivizing private investment in the affordable housing market. Despite lower vacancy and debt service common in affordable housing deals, lower rents often result in a project that are not feasible for private developers, resulting in a funding gap. Developers of low-income housing units, therefore, must gain access to various sources of gap financing such as low-income housing tax credits.

The LIHTC program offers two tax credits types: the 4% and the 9%. The 9% credits, limited by federal law and distributed on a per capita basis to states, amount to a larger benefit for the tax credit developer, usually accounting for 70% of total project costs. However, use of the 9% credits prohibit the developer from using additional federal subsidy programs and a competitive application process allocates limited credits to a few successful bids. The 4% credits, on the other hand, leave open the opportunity for developers to take advantage of additional federal subsidies and are accessible through a noncompetitive application, but cover a smaller portion of the total project costs (usually nearing 30%). The additional funding sources eligible for 4% LIHTC projects help to close this larger funding gap. Continue reading “4% LIHTC Use in North Carolina’s Triangle Region”

Our Shared Fate

Our Shared Fate was the title of an Aspen Institute report from 2008, which argued that bridging the rural-urban divide created new opportunities for prosperity and equity.  A Brookings Institution report published in the previous year, made the case that rural and urban areas are interdependent and that national prosperity requires both a healthy and sustainable rural economy and culture and vibrant, well-functioning cities and suburbs. This suggests that rural and urban communities should be looking for common cause…and removing obstacles that currently get in the way of meaningful dialogue. Yet a decade later, the longstanding debate about the future of rural America, and specifically, about an apparently deepening divide between rural and urban America continues unabated. This blog is the first of a two-part exploration of how this plays out in North Carolina.

Continue reading “Our Shared Fate”

Community Resilience: Some Practical Questions

The research project on community resilience at the School of Government aims to help communities think differently about how they prepare for disasters and how they can become more resilient. This is the fourth blog in a series that looks at what enhancing resilience means for North Carolina’s communities. Previous blogs have discussed the importance of resilience thinking and ways of measuring resilience and vulnerability. However, resilience planning raises a number of practical questions. Continue reading “Community Resilience: Some Practical Questions”

A Closer Look at Multifamily Construction Types

A recent blog post examined the benefits of wood-framed construction. However, in the few months that have lapsed between that article and this post, The Metropolitan, a 241-unit apartment building under development in Raleigh inexplicably caught fire and subsequently burned to the ground, causing severe damage to several adjacent buildings in the process. Due to the hard work and heroism of The Raleigh Fire Department, thankfully no loss of life occurred. However, the fact that this was the largest fire in the City of Raleigh for nearly a century has North Carolina residents wondering if wood-framed construction is really safe. So today, the CED blog will try to answer this question by examining different construction materials and the tradeoffs associated with each. Continue reading “A Closer Look at Multifamily Construction Types”

Fighting Blight with Property Tax Bills

How can a city more effectively fight blight—vacant, abandoned, and dilapidated housing? The city of High Point tried to find some answers last year with help from the Center for Community Progress and the UNC School of Government.

My economic development expert-colleague Tyler Mulligan and I were honored to play a part in this extensive effort that included a variety of city departments, Guilford County officials, and neighborhood organizations. Tyler focused on how best to navigate housing code enforcement law. My focus was on how best to use property tax collection remedies to recoup housing code enforcement costs.  You can read the full report produced by the Center for Community Progress here; today’s blog summarizes the relevant property tax collection issues.

My best advice to High Point and other cities combating blight was simple: use your property tax bills! Continue reading “Fighting Blight with Property Tax Bills”

Boosting LIHTC: Difficult Development Areas & Qualified Census Tracts

The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program was designed to encourage the private development of affordable rental housing in the United States. (If you are new to LIHTC, check out the CED blog’s primer on low-income housing tax credits before proceeding.)   But even with the dollar-for-dollar reduction in tax liability, affordable rental development is constrained in some areas by high costs or concentrations of low-income households.

To incentivize private developers into these “hard-to-serve” areas, the U.S. Congress mandates that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) designate special zones that can receive higher credit allocations.  Projects situated in a Difficult Development Area or Qualified Census Tract qualify for a 30% boost in the LIHTC eligible basis, a significant increase in equity for a project. The eligible basis includes development costs that are subject to depreciation such as new construction, rehabilitation, and building acquisition and excludes costs such as land acquisition. Continue reading “Boosting LIHTC: Difficult Development Areas & Qualified Census Tracts”

The Challenges of Movie Theater Redevelopment

In the age of video-on-demand and digital projection, many movie theaters across the world have found themselves stuck in the past, struggling to adapt to the advancements in technology and consumer reference. With the costs associated with transitioning theaters into fully functioning digital cinemas often surpassing the $100,000 mark, it has been estimated that up to 1 in 5 of the theaters in the USA will end up permanently closing their doors. Theaters that at one time were prized jewels of their communities, will cease to operate, leaving behind dark, strange, and empty voids, not only in the fabric of the community, but also physically in the empty building space left behind. Previous posts on the CED blog (links here and here) have explored how historic theaters can be redeveloped in line with their original use through a public-private partnership — a movie theater or a performing arts space. This post will explore other uses for historic theaters. Continue reading “The Challenges of Movie Theater Redevelopment”

Utility Customer Assistance Partnerships

Reports such as the recently released American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card shine light on the critical infrastructure investment needs facing communities throughout the country. Given recent funding trends and future state and federal fiscal challenges, local utility customers will likely carry most of the responsibility for paying for these infrastructure upgrades. While the price of water and wastewater services is relatively modest, many households still find meeting their monthly obligations difficult. Even the wealthiest communities in the state have low income communities that may be challenged to pay their bills now and in the future. Continue reading “Utility Customer Assistance Partnerships”

Fitwel, a Health Promoting Building Certification – Part 1 of 2

Rating systems have helped make buildings more energy efficient over the last two decades, but they overlooked something important: the well-being of the people inside those buildings. ‘Health and wellness’ is an emerging concept that strives to change that, by redirecting the focus to building occupants. Continue reading “Fitwel, a Health Promoting Building Certification – Part 1 of 2”

Making the Case for Affordable Housing: Using BLS Statistics to ask Hard Questions About Salaries vs. Local Housing Costs

Last year, nursing assistants in Goldsboro earned $11.83 an hour (median wage) for a mean annual salary of $24,610.  Is this a sufficient wage to sustain a person who wants to live and work there?

Affordable housing for different demographic groups in North Carolina communities has been discussed in several prior blogs, including ones about affordable housing for teachers, seniors and those living in rural areas.  A different perspective is available with the use of easily-accessible, wonderfully-detailed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Continue reading “Making the Case for Affordable Housing: Using BLS Statistics to ask Hard Questions About Salaries vs. Local Housing Costs”

May a City Mow an Overgrown Lot without a Court Order?

The Town of Manicure has been working hard to revitalize the historic neighborhood adjacent to downtown. As part of the effort to improve conditions in this and other neighborhoods, the town has been more vigilant in enforcing its overgrown lot ordinance, which prohibits property owners from allowing grass and weeds to grow above 18 inches in height. Whenever the town’s inspection department verifies that grass and weeds on property located within the corporate limits are more than 18 inches high, the owner receives a citation informing her that, if she doesn’t bring the lot into compliance within 15 calendar days, town employees will mow the lot and bill the owner for the cost of corrective action.  The town routinely follows through on such warnings without first obtaining a court order authorizing the action taken.

May the town mow a noncompliant lot without first obtaining an order of abatement from the appropriate court? Continue reading “May a City Mow an Overgrown Lot without a Court Order?”

Periodic Inspections, Permits, and Registration of Residential Rental Property: Changes in 2017

Local governments establish residential rental property inspection, permit, and registration (IPR) programs to ensure that residential rental properties within their jurisdictions are maintained in a safe and decent condition. In recent years, the General Assembly has sought to protect code-compliant landlords from what legislators perceived as overly zealous IPR programs. The most recent legislation in this area, Session Law 2016-122, became effective on January 1, 2017, and is explained in Community and Economic Development bulletin #9. This blog post offers some highlights from the new law. CED Bulletin #9 should be consulted for more detail. Continue reading “Periodic Inspections, Permits, and Registration of Residential Rental Property: Changes in 2017”

Policy, Sports, and Economic Impact

With the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend now behind us, it seems relevant to reflect on the impact state policy can have on economic and real estate development in cities and towns. NBA All-Star Weekend, an event held annually to highlight the skills and abilities of the best and most exciting players in the league, brings in an average of $117.2 million dollars of economic impact over the course of three days.

As a result of the in-pouring of money the event brings, hosting it is highly sought after; competition between cities is fierce, with many footing the bill for major arena and infrastructure improvements to entice the committee’s selection. The 2015 selection for the 2017 location was no different. After agreeing to $40 million worth of improvements to their arena ($33.5 million of public investment) Charlotte, NC was selected. If Charlotte could achieve the average economic impact of the event, the investment into the arena would deliver a 293% return on investment. Continue reading “Policy, Sports, and Economic Impact”

What is the “special character” of the historic district?

After a city or county establishes a historic district or historic landmark, the local historic preservation commission is authorized to prevent certain changes that “would be incongruous with the special character of the landmark or district.”  But, what is the special character? And what is incongruous with it?  This blog reviews applicable laws and cases to outline the procedural requirements for establishing the special character (through formal report, ordinance description, and design guidelines) and subsequently determining whether a particular change is incongruous (through a quasi-judicial evidentiary hearing). Continue reading “What is the “special character” of the historic district?”

Community Resilience Has Many Faces…Part 2

The research project on community and regional resilience at the School of Government aims to help communities think differently about how they prepare for disasters and how they can become more resilient, providing data and information that can spark realistic conversations about a community’s future.  This blog looks at some of the main elements that determine resilience and vulnerability in North Carolina’s counties. Previous blogs, Strengthening Resilience in North Carolina’s Communities and Community Resilience Has Many Faces…Part 1 referred to a set of measurements that have been developed for resilience and vulnerability for every county in the United States. These look at four dimensions: economic, social, infrastructure, and environmental. This blog looks at the infrastructure and environmental dimensions, and sets out to answer the questions: what do these mean and how can they be measured? How do the four measures come together to describe community resilience? Continue reading “Community Resilience Has Many Faces…Part 2”

What’s Old is New Again: Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

adusThe granny cottage, in-law suite, or guest apartment, among its various names, might seem like a quaint relic of the past. But proponents are touting the Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) as the new frontier of housing development in an era of rising demand for diverse housing stock.

Ranging in size, but averaging roughly 550 square feet, ADUs are large enough to be self-contained (equipped with bathroom, kitchen, etc.), but small enough to remain subordinate to the main house.  An ADU can be attached to the main dwelling with a separate exterior entrance or detached on a residential lot that is separate from the main dwelling—but either way smaller than the main unit; by  definition, an “accessory” to the home. (The Accessory Dwellings website includes a breadth of information on designs, costs and local permitting.)  Continue reading “What’s Old is New Again: Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)”

Solar Power Heating Up in Commercial Real Estate

solarThe cost of installing solar panels has been in steady decline since 2010, and the residential market for solar panel installations on home roofs is experiencing rapid growth. With growing demand and several policy incentives for solar installations, incorporating solar power into real estate development projects can be an attractive option for investors. Continue reading “Solar Power Heating Up in Commercial Real Estate”

Local Governments and Non-Profits: Building Community Through Partnership

Photo by Crissy Pascual, Argus-Courier (Oct. 20, 2016)

NBC News recently aired a short feel-good story during its Nightly News broadcast about a code enforcement officer working for the City of Petaluma, California. Joe Garcia had received multiple complaints about a dilapidated home surrounded by overgrown weeds. Clearly the home was out of compliance, and so the natural course of action would be a warning and fine. But that’s not what happened. What happened instead is an example not only of decency and caring, but of the power within communities to build community and improve quality of life through partnerships. In this case, Joe learned about the homeowner, WWII vet Albert Pericou. He found out that Mr. Pericou lacked the resources and physical ability to keep up with his property. Joe realized that something could be done about it. He knew about a non-profit organization called Rebuilding Together and made a connection between Mr. Pericou and the organization. Before long, community volunteers, including Joe Garcia, with the help of a $10,000 donation by Home Depot, were giving Mr. Pericou’s home and yard a makeover.

Continue reading “Local Governments and Non-Profits: Building Community Through Partnership”

Biophilic Design, Part III: Cities

bioBiophilic design offers solutions in the face of a world that is quickly urbanizing and taxing our health, our wallets, and our environment. Compared with more rural settings, urban environments make people more stressed, do greater harm to the environment, and cost their taxpayers more money. There are costs to city life. Urban environments – with their steel, concrete and crowded spaces – are, quite literally, unnatural. Yet that’s where the world is headed and we need answers on how to best exist in these spaces.

As discussed in the first and second blogposts of this series, biophilic design is the idea of bringing aspects of nature indoors and it offers numerous benefits to a building’s occupants. It boosts worker productivity, decreases the length of hospital stays, improves student test scores, and increases residential property values, to name just a few. Continue reading “Biophilic Design, Part III: Cities”

Does affordable housing negatively impact nearby property values?

affordable_housing_damson_way_suckley_2008_-_geograph-org-uk_-_813412Despite public perceptions of affordable housing negatively impacting nearby property values, there is evidence to suggest that the impact is minimal if at all. Trulia, an online residential real estate site, recently conducted a study indicating that low-income housing tax credit (read more on LIHTC here) projects have no impact on the value of nearby properties. According to Trulia’s study, there was no significant effect from 1996 to 2006 on home values located near a LIHTC project. Trulia studied 20 markets across the country and of the 20, there was a negative impact in only 2 cities, Boston and Cambridge. There was drop of near $20 per square foot in housing prices; however, this was explained by quick bursts in the construction of affordable housing. In Denver, there was actually an $7 per square foot increase in value.

Based on available literature, negative perceptions of affordable housing potentially outweigh research suggesting that affordable housing does not negatively impact property values. This blog post will dive into some of these academic studies to better understand the monetary and social facets of affordable housing and its impact. Continue reading “Does affordable housing negatively impact nearby property values?”

Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Areas

nrsaThe Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area (NRSA) designation was established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 1995. The intent of the program is to address economic development and housing needs within economically disadvantaged communities. To achieve NRSA status, a municipality must file an application in conjunction with their Consolidated Plan as part of the overarching Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. In order to be approved, the proposed NRSA must be a contiguous area primarily zoned for residential use. Additionally, the application must be produced in collaboration with community stakeholders and must include a thorough assessment of the existing economic conditions and detail steps that will be undertaken to improve the vitality of the community. Continue reading “Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Areas”

Community Resilience Has Many Faces… Part 1

The 2016 Disaster Recovery Act was signed into law in December 2016 and provides over $200 million to help recovery after Hurricane Matthew and the wildfires in western North Carolina. This appropriation is intended to cover needs not met by Federal disaster recovery funds allocated to the state in the form of grants, loans, and insurance payments, which to date total well over $400 million. Many daunting challenges lie ahead in determining the most effective way of deploying these funds. The research project on community and regional resilience at the School of Government aims to help communities think differently about how they prepare for disasters and how they can become more resilient, providing data and information that can spark realistic conversations about a community’s future.  This blog looks at some of the main elements that determine resilience and vulnerability in North Carolina’s counties.

Continue reading “Community Resilience Has Many Faces… Part 1”

Interim Evaluation of HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD)

public_housing_RAD, or the Rental Assistance Demonstration program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), may not be as radical in its approach to preserving low-income housing as its acronym suggests, but an interim evaluation of the pilot program indicates it shows promise. Continue reading “Interim Evaluation of HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD)”

Reshaping Suburban Spaces

There is no constant in community. Population ebbs and flows; market preferences shift; the economy fluctuates. Each community evolves. In many suburban places across North Carolina—indeed, across the U.S.—that evolution includes a move toward more density, more mixed uses, and more connected neighborhoods. Communities are grappling with questions about how these places will change. What is the local government’s role in this transition? How does a city or county encourage the redevelopment of suburban spaces? And what are the practical and political implications?

A new School of Government report, Reshaping Suburban Spaces, considers these questions and explores how communities across North Carolina are responding. Continue reading “Reshaping Suburban Spaces”

Biophilic Design, Part II: Case Study

bio1Note: This is the second of three blog posts on biophilic design, a design philosophy that seeks to incorporates nature into man-made spaces. Part 1 introduced the topic of biophilic design. This post, Part 2, discusses a case study on biophilic design. Part 3 will explore the idea of biophilic cities.

Manassas Park Elementary School

Manassas Park Elementary School, located in Manassas Park, Virginia, was chosen for this case study because it illustrates the many simple ways that biophilic design can be incorporated into buildings. Manassas Park Elementary features naturally lit classrooms, large windows with views of nature, and outdoor learning spaces. The architects at VMDO chose these biophilic features in an effort to create the best possible environment for children and teachers. While this case study focuses on a school environment, the biophilic design features can be applied to other building types, such as offices, stores, hospitals, and homes. Continue reading “Biophilic Design, Part II: Case Study”

The Power of Partnership: The Case of the NC Commerce Park in Alamance County

NC Commerce Park
The Times-News, 3/22/2016

The N.C. Commerce Park in Alamance County, North Carolina is an economic development success story that underscores how vital interlocal and regional collaboration is for community and economic development. It highlights the power of partnership and also the importance of local leaders that share a collaborative mindset.

Continue reading “The Power of Partnership: The Case of the NC Commerce Park in Alamance County”

Strengthening Resilience in North Carolina’s Communities

Hurricane Matthew and its aftermath underscore the urgent need to find ways to encourage communities to think differently about how they prepare for disasters and how they can become more resilient. Part of this is having data and information that can spark realistic conversations about a community’s future.  Another part is having the tools to turn these conversations into concrete actions to improve long-term resilience. This is the focus of a research project on community and regional resilience underway at the School of Government in conjunction with colleagues at the University of Missouri. Continue reading “Strengthening Resilience in North Carolina’s Communities”

The Past, Present, and Future of Wood Construction

Google Street View, New Construction 5 over 1, Village Plaza Apartments, Chapel Hill

Did you know that the world’s oldest wooden structure is found in Japan, the Horyu Temple, and has managed to withstand rain, wind, and earthquakes for over 1,300 years? Although wood construction dates all the way back to Stone Age! For thousands of years’ humans have relied on wood to build structures because of its strength and durability.

The benefits to wooden structures are plenty. One, they weigh about a quarter of the weight of equivalent concrete material thus requiring a smaller foundation. In downtowns with decreasing land and increasing land costs, this could be a major benefit. Plus, building with wood can be cheaper and wood structures act as CO2 sinks absorbing and storing carbon dioxide emissions. Although wood is costlier per cubic foot than steel-and-concrete, building with timber is faster potentially resulting in a cheaper construction cost overall and boosts the efficiency of the building. Continue reading “The Past, Present, and Future of Wood Construction”

The Tortoise, the Hare, and Demolition in Historic Districts

216peytonA few blocks from downtown in the town’s historic district sit two houses built in the early twentieth century: the Hare House and the Tortoise House. The houses retain their historic elements and contribute to the architectural character of the neighborhood. While the houses have seen better days, they are not falling in.  At least not yet.  The houses are on the path toward demolition, just at different speeds. For the Hare House, the owner wants to tear the thing down. Now.  As for the Tortoise House, the years without maintenance are starting to show.  The slow process of demolition by neglect has begun, and without some maintenance soon it will be beyond repair.

What, if anything, can the town do to avoid the demolition of these historic resources?  Can the town slow down the speedy demolition of the Hare House? And can the town speed up maintenance to avoid the slow-motion demolition of the Tortoise House?

This blog explores two options under the authority for local historic preservation: (1) delayed certificates of appropriateness for demolition and (2) ordinances to address demolition by neglect.  Continue reading “The Tortoise, the Hare, and Demolition in Historic Districts”

Historic Mill Redevelopment: Taylors Mill

millIn this post, CED will continue to look at the impact that redevelopment of historic mills can have on local communities. In previous posts the CED blog examined how historic tax credits can help finance adaptive reuse projects like the Renfro Mill and Monroe Hardware Warehouse. This post will take a closer look at how these projects can act as a catalyst for local economic growth.

Taylors Mill, Taylors, South Carolina (pop. 21,617[1])

Taylors is a small community located in upstate South Carolina eight miles northeast of Greenville. The origin of Taylors dates back to the mid-19th century when the Southern Railway expanded its service from Charlotte to Greenville. Located adjacent to the Enoree River, the Southern Bleachery was built in Taylors in 1924 to service the booming textile industry prevalent in the area at that time. While the bleachery didn’t actually produce textiles, it did convert them through bleaching and dyeing prior to sending them off to be incorporated into finished goods. During World War II, the Southern Bleachery produced cloth for uniforms, bedding and tents, and at its peak employed over 1,000 workers. The mill remained operational until 1965, when it was purchased by the Burlington Company. Continue reading “Historic Mill Redevelopment: Taylors Mill”

Solar Schools and Environmental Finance

North Carolina is one of the leading states in the country when it comes to installing solar energy. The growth of solar in North Carolina has been a fascinating opportunity to study the impact of different environmental finance systems. While the financial incentives and environmental finance systems available to solar developers across the state have been critical to supporting the growth of solar; not all property owners have had equal access to these incentives. Given the importance of income tax incentives to solar developers, it’s not surprising that Continue reading “Solar Schools and Environmental Finance”

Biophilic Design, Part I

unknown-2Note: This is the first of three blog posts on biophilic design. Part 1 introduces the topic. Part 2 will discuss a case study on biophilic design. Part 3 will explore the idea of biophilic cities.

Given complete freedom to choose their ideal home or office, people generally choose spaces that connect them with nature. This instinctive attraction to nature, called biophilia, is explained in part by the way humans evolved. Humans spent 90% of their existence as hunter-gatherers, living in caves and other dwellings seamlessly integrated into their natural surroundings. They evolved to respond to and thrive amongst these surroundings. Only relatively recently, with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, did humans move into cities en masse and begin to separate themselves from nature.

Since then, the human habitat has shifted indoors to the built environment, where people spend the vast majority of their time.  Imagine the modern office. “We put people in windowless offices and give them a computer and a desk and think they should be able to work just fine because they’ve got all the obvious things they need, like air to breathe, artificial light to see by and access to all kinds of information,” says Stephen Kellert. “But we find that they don’t actually work all that well in those kinds of environments. They are more likely to experience fatigue, lack of motivation and higher rates of absenteeism.”

Insert biophilic design. Biophilic design aims to address the human-nature disconnect and improve human well-being by bringing nature into the built environment. It does this by incorporating environmental features (water, air, sunlight, plants), natural shapes and forms (shapes resisting straight lines and right angles), and natural patterns and processes (sensory variability). It can be seen in buildings small and large, from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater to Bank of America’s One Bryant ParkContinue reading “Biophilic Design, Part I”

Conveyance of Local Government Property for Affordable Housing

A developer of affordable housing for low and moderate income persons has approached the City and County about an affordable housing project near the City’s downtown. The developer’s plan is to acquire and assemble two adjacent parcels—one owned by the City and one owned by the County—and then develop 20 units of affordable housing on that site.  There’s a catch: The developer has asked the City and County to provide the two parcels as a gift to the project. Local governments are generally not permitted to make gifts to private individuals or entities, so the developer’s request is immediately problematic. Can the local governments convey their property to the project in order to encourage the development of affordable housing? This post explains North Carolina law pertaining to the developer’s request. Continue reading “Conveyance of Local Government Property for Affordable Housing”