YIMBY: Yes in My Back Yard. Affordable?

Yes in my Back Yard.

The hand wringing over Riverside house affordability is bringing plenty of irrational thinking from city planning and zoning.   The most recent madness is to re-zone 69 parcels in the city to incorporate of 4700 units of affordable housing.  In our neighborhood, the corner of Blaine and Watkins will see a zoning change to allow higher density housing

As a native of the Midwest, and the St. Louis area I am well familiar with high density housing projects.  Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis is a classic example of misguided scale and policy in public housing.

I’m also familiar with the consequences of high density development intermingled with single family houses.  Frankly, no one wants this governmental housing experiment plopped next door to their house.

We need to see some more heads up thinking about how these housing projects would integrate into neighborhoods.  If developed along the lines of current practice, the low-income housing units will be built in areas with no walkable amenities requiring a cars for transport, not a great setup for someone already dealing with the complexities of low income or poverty.

Building 10 or 50 unit complexes is not a great fit for infill development in our existing neighborhoods.  It will completely fail to blend into any neighborhood.  Every more disconcerting is the density of the concept.  I can hardly think of a street in our University Neighborhood that could swallow a giant development with a major disruption.  Lacking reasonably walkable destinations, University Neighborhood would have trouble serving individuals that are not car capable.

Rather than building large developments I’m advocating small infill and reuse projects to help accomplish the goal of affordable housing at much lower density.  In the University we have the advantage of suburban land use and lot sizes.  Many homes in the area could be converted into higher density uses.  We are all aware of the bad actors in the neighborhood: the absentee landlords, the absent minded owners, and the people that just don’t care. I would propose that the higher density permits only be available to owner-occupants.  I want residents and owners that have skin in the game to benefit from the permitting process, not real estate trusts that are maximizing their yields in our back of our neighbors.

In this way our neighborhood (and the rest in the city) can shift in a controlled and useful way to higher housing density (duplex, triplex, granny flat).  The density change would improve property values and at the same time allow for affordable housing to be more available.  This isn’t a new idea.  Before development and zoning fanatic city management became the vogue, homes were routinely divided into units that served the owner’s needs.  Granny flats and duplex conversions where not that strange and typically integrated well when the owner’s had their own money and neighborhood standing in the game.

This can be part of a long range vision where we can slowly evolve our neighborhood from the post-war suburban experiment so common in Southern California into a valuable, walkable, enclave between the mountains and UCR.

What do you think about this idea?  Comment and feedback on this post.  We need to have our opinions heard by the city council and the planning and zoning commission.