Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What is the Effect on Affordability as Small Cities Invest in Market Rate Housing in their Downtowns?

Martin McMurry
Alan Lloyd
Cary Retlin

Olympia's city planners hope that market-rate downtown housing will solve some of the city's downtown challenges. What is the effect on affordability as small urban cities reinvest in market rate housing in their downtown cores? Small cities should be confident that investing in market rate housing is positive for their community after considering the impacts of gentrification. In this paper we will discuss this research issue, outlining the epistemology and paradigm that frames it and review the literature related to understand the effect downtown reinvestment has on affordability. Our research efforts and sources are largely informed by a post-positivist epistemology. There is substantial emphasis in establishing a research model to gain greater understanding through the construction of knowledge on the impacts of housing revitalization in small urban centers. Neuman refers to this as interpretive social science, or ISS, which seeks to increase knowledge rather than see substantial reform or dramatic change (2006). Real change is ideal, but not primary in intention. The post-positive epistemology and qualitative paradigm in social research have historically rejected the positivist, scientific mode of thought and practice (Adams 1992). Yet, our efforts closely reflect that of Neuman's definition of interpretive research, which illustrates that the qualitative research methodology is equally important to quantitative, scientific contributions (2006). Only, its emphasis primarily rests in qualitative, subjective understanding.
The sources analyzed in this literature review are mostly qualitative. The bulk of research articles utilized focus groups, surveys, interviews, and literature reviews to gain a better understanding of a particular instance in urban renewal. What are the measured financial benefits or shortfalls of market rate housing in small downtowns? Do municipalities recoup tax abatements with the onset of market rate development? What is the impact of existing lower income renters when governments subsidize new market-rate condominiums? To answer these questions effectively requires a review of studies with cost benefit analysis or other technical information. There is a tripartite importance in understanding who is impacted by market-rate housing subsidies, why and at what cost. There is limited research available that assesses the impacts of small municipalities reinvesting in downtown market rate housing on affordable housing. Most esearch on this issue is represented, within the greater purview of urban planning, specifically gentrification or urban renewal with a focus on large metropolitan cities. (McGreal, Berry, Lloyd & McCarthy, 2002; Kennedy & Leonard 2001). As such, this review will analyze literature that contains elements central in discussing urban planning: small city downtown investment, gentrification, infill housing, high-density neighborhoods, downtown redevelopment, and financial incentives. It will be important to synthesize the main arguments from contemporary research and get to the core of what implications arise with regard to downtown housing development.
Robertson (1999) explores the revitalization of small cities and their (25-50,000 population) downtown cores. It focuses on how small cities have and plan to, revitalize their Central Business Districts, including investing in downtown housing. The study includes a national survey of 57 small cities and five case studies.

Los Angeles Rier half mile park and scholls, image by The City Project

read more articles about gentrification and reitalaization:

Rural gentrification and the production of nature: a case study from Middle England

From Urban Wastelands to New-Build Gentrification: The Case of Swiss Cities

What’s Wrong With Gentrification? The displacement myth

Gentrification and Resistance in New York City

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