Testimony to the Illinois House Housing and Urban Development Committee - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Testimony to the Illinois House Housing and Urban Development Committee

Metropolitan Planning Council President MarySue Barrett testified on the need for state level policies to encourage development of better housing options.

Thank you, Chairperson Hamos, for the opportunity to participate in your inaugural meeting, and for your leadership on housing redevelopment issues in Illinois. I am thrilled by the formation of this committee, and look forward to supporting your many successes in the future. 

My name is MarySue Barrett, and I am President of the Metropolitan Planning Council, which is a 68-year-old regional policy and advocacy organization promoting sensible growth, economic competitiveness and equity of opportunity in northeastern Illinois. In the housing area, since our founding, this has translated into an over-arching objective to promote a range of quality housing options throughout the region near jobs and transit.

My assignment for today's presentation is to give you a sense why the idea of locating housing near jobs is a policy challenge worthy of your attention, as well as some of the relevant tools we hope you'll use and expand as part of your committee work.

The jobs /housing mismatch is a term used to describe both an economic and a locational disparity.  In metropolitan Chicago during the 1990s, when population grew by 11 percent and the number of jobs increased by 16 percent, the rental housing stock actually shrunk. What does this mean in terms of economics?  That housing in high job growth areas and revitalizing neighborhoods was beyond the reach of average working families.  And in terms of location?  Where housing was less expensive, jobs and other opportunities were scarce — contributing to the traffic congestion, economic disparities and racial segregation taxing our region. Hundreds of thousands of commuters on our highways are stuck there because the housing they can afford, say on the South Side of Chicago, is too far away from their jobs, for example, in the northwest suburbs. 

Local businesses are directly affected by these trends, which is why MPC has been working with Chicago Metropolis 2020 and others to cultivate employers as a critical constituency to engage in housing policy solutions. The private sector, through employer-assisted housing programs, is learning that its investment in housing pays for itself quickly. This has been helped greatly by a $270,000 pilot fund (which is soon to be exhausted) by the Illinois Housing Development Authority to provide dollar-for dollar matching funds and a state donations tax credit to workers and companies offering such programs.

The shortage of apartments and homeownership options for the local workforce in high job growth areas is not just about available funds. Community resistance often gets codified into zoning and building laws that are too frequently barriers to the development of needed housing options. 

Complicating this is the fact that typical supply and demand models are not at play in our region.  In 1999, we released did a comprehensive Regional Rental Market Analysis to inform a number of policy issues heating up at that time.  The bulk of this research looked at quantitative information such as vacancy rates and rental costs throughout the six-county region.  But one of the surprise findings noted by our researches was that compared to other metropolitan areas, the Chicago region rental market was underproducing.  Non-economic barriers were interfering with our market's ability to meet the local demand.

Those include everything from community resistance to the fact that our region includes 274 municipalities, each with different systems for addressing housing needs. Absent a state housing policy to guide them, the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus asked MPC to help them form a housing task force.  That group recently adopted a housing action agenda and housing endorsement criteria that spell out how housing for a growing workforce can be a community asset. 

I urge you to support the work done locally, via the Mayors' Housing Endorsement Criteria , to step away from the stereotypes and misconceptions related to past failures in housing, and instead focus on developing the kind of housing that can and must succeed — housing affordable to the local workforce and a broader range of incomes and that is well-managed, well-designed, and located near jobs and transit. The Mayors' agenda calls for additional resources and incentives to promote better planning, coordination, production and preservation strategies for housing.  It also promotes employer-assisted housing programs and other strategies to leverage private sector dollars, while recommending improvements and expansion of the the Housing Choice Voucher federal rent subsidy program.  I am encouraged by the Mayors' progress and the national attention they are receiving.

What can you do?  Model codes and ordinances from the State and incentives to utilize them could assist local leaders in eliminating barriers to needed housing in a responsible and systematic fashion. Your leadership in this area will be helpful as you work to promote a state housing policy and implement the Local Planning Technical Assistance Act.  Local leaders supported this legislation last year because they understood they couldn't solve their housing challenges alone.  I hope you will meet them halfway.

Thank you for your time and leadership.


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