A week after celebrating the ribbon cutting on the its affordable housing – and a year and a half after applications were first accepted for these units – the Edge still has affordable units available. This is actually not news – for a month or two now, the Edge has been calling affordable housing advocates looking for more applicants.
You’re probably wondering how it is possible that thousands of applicants were unable to fill less than 350 units of affordable housing in a neighborhood desperate for affordable housing. The answer is lies in that murky intersection of AMI and income bands (and the probably set asides too). In this case, the project has two-bedroom units that it can’t fill because it can’t find families that earn between $50,278 and $61,450 (the mandated income band for a family of four). That income band is based on the AMI (area median income) for a family of four. And it’s a pretty narrow range – if you earn more, you aren’t eligible (that’s pretty obvious). But if you earn less, you also aren’t eligible – essentially, you are too poor for affordable housing. And in a neighborhood where the actual median income is about $35,000 for a family of four (less half the AMI, which is calculated for the metropolitan area), a lot of affordable housing is suddenly out of reach.
One answer is to set a wider range of income levels, both above and below the 80% AMI standard (a family of four earning $86,000 (about 120% of AMI) probably needs help affording an apartment in this neighborhood too). This is what New Domino is proposing – AMI set asides there would run from 30% to 130%. But even that will probably miss a lot of people in the community who really need affordable housing – in part because of the narrow income bands, in part because only half the housing will be set aside for residents throughout CB1, and in part because the median income in our community is so low (85% of the affordable units at Domino are targeted at families earning well above the $35,000 median income in the community).
This isn’t to say that Domino is wrong in targeting lower AMIs – we certainly need housing that is affordable at range of income levels. But as the experience at the Edge shows, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we can’t build our way out of an affordable housing crisis by adding more and more (and more) market-rate housing.