June 6, 2017

New Enterprise Research - Public Benefit from Publicly Owned Parcels: Effective Practices in Affordable Housing Development


Communities across the country are facing a range of challenges to ensuring access to affordable homes, particularly for low- and moderate-income households. One innovative approach to confronting these challenges is the use of publicly owned parcels for affordable housing and other community benefits. In strong markets, creative use of these sites can expand opportunities for affordability, especially when mission-driven developers struggle to acquire sites against better-funded market-rate developers. In markets or neighborhoods with less competition for land, publicly owned parcels offer an important opportunity to catalyze development and seed revitalization. However, these parcels can present significant challenges in planning, solicitation and development.

In fall 2014, Enterprise Community Partners began researching national examples of publicly owned parcel development, including interviews with practitioners, reviews of past research on the subject and reviews of publicly owned parcel solicitation documents. We compiled and reviewed 60 public solicitation documents from across the country, including Atlanta, Boston, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

The scope of this research initiative was developed in partnership with several public agencies in the Seattle region, including the city of Seattle, King County, King County Metro Transit and the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. Additionally, we conducted a case study (released separately) on publicly owned parcel development efforts in the Seattle region. As part of this process, we discussed project pipelines with local public agencies to determine the most helpful typologies to research. The case study was also informed by the experience of staff from Enterprise’s Pacific Northwest office as well as outreach to practitioners.

Public Benefit from Publicly Owned Parcels: Effective Practices in Affordable Housing Development identifies leading practices and recommendations for overcoming challenges to creating affordable housing and other community benefits through the publicly owned parcel development process. In today’s current environment of resource scarcity, publicly owned parcels represent a rare opportunity to provide a range of benefits to both public agencies and broader communities. However, efficiency is critical to delivering on this promise, as numerous complexities and competing pressures can chip away at the value that such efforts can create.

This research identifies leading practices and recommendations to:

  • Adopt general policies that balance agency goals, community benefits and efficient real estate development practices.
  • Streamline the process for developing, responding to and evaluating solicitations for publicly owned parcels.
  • Support efficient inter-jurisdictional and cross-sectoral collaboration.
  • Facilitate a robust yet efficient community outreach and engagement process.
  • Align affordable housing resources with the solicitation process.

Related publications and resources can be found on the Public Parcels for Homes website and the Enterprise Policy Development and Research webpage. For more information on this research and other issues related to publicly owned parcel development, contact Michael A. Spotts, senior analyst - project manager.

This research is part of Enterprise’s Expanding the Supply of Affordable Homes program, which provides research and implementation support to improve housing affordability through financial innovations, regulatory optimization and development/preservation cost-effectiveness. This program also includes a workplan that goes beyond research and supports implementation with the inclusion of a set of market-based engagements to supplement local capacity.




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