Planner Speak: So what do you mean by affordable housing?

If I can pay my rent or mortgage, then my home is affordable, right? What does it mean to have affordable housing, and how do I know if I’m paying the “right” amount for my housing? 

Affordable housing (n.) is a place to live where you can spend 45 percent of your household income or less on your housing and transportation. Household income is the money that people who live together in a home receive.

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In the past, when planners looked at housing in a community to see if it was affordable, they did not consider the cost of getting around. Planners used to think that housing was affordable if people could spend 30 percent of their income or less on their housing. Now, planners have started to realize that transportation costs affect whether or not a home is affordable. For example, you may spend less than 30 percent of your income on your housing, but if your home is two hours from your work, and you have no choice but to drive by yourself to get to work, you might spend more than 45 percent of your income on your housing and transportation costs. That means you will have less money for other things like food, clothing, and medical care.

The location of a home and the multimodal transportation options available in the area affect whether or not the home is affordable. If your job and shops are near your home, you won’t have to travel as far to reach the things you need on a daily basis. If it is easy and convenient for you to walk, bike, ride a bus or a train, or carpool, you won’t have to spend as much money as you would if you had to drive by yourself. Having the things you need close to your home and having cheaper ways of getting around mean that you can spend less money on transportation.

Below are two maps showing affordable housing in Hamilton County and the surrounding area based on two different definitions. In the map on the left, the areas in yellow are considered affordable if you only look at housing costs. In the yellow areas, people typically spend less than 30 percent of their income on housing.  In the blue areas, people typically spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

In the map on the right, the areas in yellow also represent affordable housing, but this map also looks at transportation costs. In the yellow areas, people typically spend less than 45 percent of their income on housing and transportation. In the blue areas, people typically spend more than 45 percent of their income on housing and transportation. As you can see, far fewer areas in Hamilton County are affordable when you include the cost of both housing and transportation. You can check out the map to see how our area compares to other areas or click the arrow to the right of the legend to look at more detailed information.

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In 2013, the Regional Planning Agency completed a Housing Study for Chattanooga. You can read more about affordable housing on page 35 – 40 of the study and strategies for making housing more affordable on page 46.  

Now that you know what we mean by affordable housing, tell us, is your housing affordable?

Where’s Tim Now?

Last week Tim was at the Chickamauga Lock. The lock allows barges and other boats to travel past the Chickamauga Dam, lifting and lowering them about 50 feet between Chickamauga and Nickajack reservoirs. The lock is owned by TVA and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. An average of .7 – 2.7 million tons of cargo passed through the lock every year between 1997 and 2010.

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Where’s Tim Now?

Last week Tim was at the Orange Grove Recycling Center in Chattanooga’s Glenwood Neighborhood. The center diverts more than 1 million tons of waste from landfills each month! It is a regional material recovery facility that accepts recyclables from curbside recycling programs, drop-off centers, businesses, and schools.

The Center employs over 130 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  The employees sort, separate, bale, and prepare the recyclables to be sold to manufacturers that can reuse them.

To find out how to recycle in your area, click one of the links below:

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Planner Speak: What on earth is infill?

It isnt’ an abbreviation for infiltrate. It isn’t what you’re supposed to do when you see “Name:                   ” written on a form.

Infill (n.) is the development of vacant or underused land in an area that already has roads, sewers, electricity and even possibly existing buildings1. An infill project could range in size from a small addition to an existing building, to the redevelopment of a single lot or an entire block.

Taking a vacant lot or an empty building and turning it into a place where people can live, do business, or do both, can bring new life and energy to an area. It also increases the tax base for the area. Developing in areas that are already built-up helps to preserve open space, farm land, and forests. It also makes use of the infrastructure that is already in place, which reduces the cost of providing new roads, sewer lines, fire stations and other facilities and services for the development.

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When planners and developers work on an infill project, it is important for them to determine if the infrastructure can support the additional people that the development will bring to the area. For a new housing development, for example, the planners and developers should make sure that the roads can carry the additional traffic and the schools have room for the children that might live in the new homes.

It is also important for developers and planners to involve the community early in the development process. That way neighbors can provide input about the design and ask questions about how the development will impact the community. Developers and planners will be able to determine whether or not the development is appropriate for the community and make sure that any new development fits in with the character of the area.

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The vacant lot at 728 Market Street in Downtown Chattanooga is a good example of a potential site for infill development. Here, you can see the redevelopment plan that was created for the site as part of River City Company‘s Urban Design Challenge. To make good use of the site until it can be redeveloped, River City Company transformed the lot into Center Park. Now the park is a place where people can meet up for lunch at the Food Truck Court or relax on the lawn for an outdoor movie screening. You can keep up with events and news of future development on the Center Park facebook page.

1  American Planning Association. (2006). Planning and urban design standards. Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons.

Planner Speak: What exactly is open space?

What do you think of when you hear the phrase open space? Is it that parking spot that you were so happy to find right in front of the shoe store? Is it the extra storage area you reclaimed in the attic when your grown son finally took his boxes of comic books and actions figures to his own house? Perhaps you think of the space between Earth and other planets, or maybe the chorus of “Wide Open Spaces” starts playing in your head. The Dixie Chicks song probably comes closest to describing what planners mean when they talk about open space.

Open space (n.) is land that is undeveloped or only lightly developed. Meadows, woods, and wetlands, such as marshes and swamps, with no buildings on them are examples of undeveloped open spaces. A dog park, community garden, playground, soccer field, and  walking path through a natural or landscaped area could also be considered open spaces even though people have changed these areas and built small structures on them. These are all lightly developed open spaces.

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Land that was once developed but is now vacant can be converted into open space. A good example is the Main Terrain Art Park, which is located on Chattanooga’s Southside at the end point of long abandoned rail lines. Not only does the park encourage physical activity through exercise stations, a running track, and interactive sculptures, but it is also designed to filter and reuse stormwater. 

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Open space can be used for recreation or conserved for its benefits to the natural environment. Many open spaces, such as Main Terrain, serve both purposes. Open spaces can benefit the environment by improving air and water quality, providing habitat for wildlife, managing stormwater, and reducing flooding.

The Trust for Public Land is a non-profit organization that works to create and protect open space. Local projects that they have been involved with include the University Greenway, North and South Chickamauga Creek Greenways, Stringer’s Ridge, and the Cumberland Trail. If you love open spaces, you can share why nature matters to you at tpl.org/ourland

Where’s Tim Now?

Last week Tim was on the Coca-Cola stage at the Riverbend Festival. The Coca-Cola stage is a barge that was converted into a stage. It floats in the Tennessee River just off shore during the eight-day music festival.

The RPA will be at Riverbend through Saturday so come on down and check out our booth in the concessions area just across from the Ross’s Landing playground. You can make your mark on our Live Work Play map, tell us what you love about our community, and pick up one of our Planner Speak fans.

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Planner Speak: What do you mean by density?

Your elementary school science teacher probably taught you about density. She might have shown you that an orange floats in water, but then peeled it, put it back in the water, and demonstrated how it sinks. She then explained that an orange rind is full of tiny air pockets that help to lower the density of an orange and allow it to float. “Density,” she explained, “is the mass of an object relative to its volume.” When planners talk about density in terms of land use, they have another definition altogether.

Density (n.) is the number of dwelling units per unit of area, such as 30 dwelling units per acre. A dwelling unit is the living quarters for a household, or one or more people who live together.  An apartment, house, townhome, and one side of a duplex are all examples of a dwelling unit. Calculating the density of an area is simple. Just divide the number of housing units by the number of acres.

Housing developments that have the same density can look very different as you can see in the images below. As Julie Campoli explained in her book Visualizing Denisty, “It is not density that makes a neighborhood appealing or appalling, but form – the street layout, arrangement of buildings, quality of architecture, and use of open space.” These are the factors that make a neighborhood feel crowded or spacious. Julie explains that people often assume dense neighborhoods have too many people, may not offer enough privacy, and the homes may be too close together; however, “how we perceive density has everything to do with how it is designed, not the actual ratio of units to acres.” To test your preconceptions of density, you can take this short quiz.

Last year Julie gave a City Share presentation in Chattanooga called Rethinking DensityYou can also learn more about density by visiting the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy site.

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Images Courtesy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Where’s Tim Now?

Last week Tim was on top of Orchard Knob in Chattanooga. Orchard Knob is part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. You can see several state monuments, cannons, and a great perspective of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge from the knob. To learn more about the history of Orchard Knob, you can visit the National Park Service site.

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