Why Is ‘Affordable’ Housing So Expensive to Build?

It’s a problem that isn’t going away: the so-called “affordable” housing we’re building in many cities—by which we mean publicly subsidized housing that’s dedicated to low- and moderate-income households—is so expensive to build that we’ll never be able to build enough of it to make a dent in the housing affordability problem

. . . . More broadly, the case has been made that much publicly subsidized affordable housing costs much more to build than market rate housing. Private developers are able to build new multi-family housing at far lower costs. One local builder has constructed new one-bedroom apartments in Portland at cost of less than $100,000 a unit, albeit with fewer amenities and in less central locations than most publicly supported projects. In Portland, local private developer Rob Justus has proposed to build 300 apartments and sell them to the city for $100,000 each on a turn-key basis to be operated as affordable housing. Another possible cost savings measure: off-site construction. The University of California, Berkeley’s Terner Center has a report that explores the possibility for pre-fabricated, off-site construction to reduce construction costs.

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Oregon May Strip Portland of Its NIMBY Powers

People can’t afford to be poor in Portland, Oregon. Nearly half of the households that rent in the Portland metro area pay too much. Almost one-quarter (24.3 percent) of these households are severely cost burdened, meaning half of their household income goes to keeping a roof over their heads. The median income of Portland metro homeowners is nearly twice that of renters: $81,900 versus $41,600, per a new Harvard report on housing. Oregon has decided to do something to boost affordable housing in the state. A new law before the legislature has opened unexpected fault lines in the already fractured political debate over housing costs. The bill represents something of a mixed blessing for affordability boosters: it’s designed to remove barriers to new construction, but at the cost of local authority.

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