Responding to Affordable Infill Criticisms

Affordable infill development often faces inaccurate and exaggerated criticisms. Compared with expansive housing or sprawled development, affordable urban infill provides many economic, social and environmental benefits. Critics tend to overestimate problems and underestimate total benefits.

Affordable-Accessible Housing Benefits

Increased Household Affordability Reduced Vehicle Travel Reduced Sprawl
Improved housing options, particularly for disadvantaged householdsHousehold financial savings

Reduced homelessness and associated social problems such as crime

Creates more diverse neighborhoods, allowing “aging in place”

Higher property values and tax revenues

Reduced regional traffic and parking congestion

Reduced road and parking infrastructure costs

Reduced traffic crash costs

Reduced traffic accidents

Reduced chauffeuring burdens

More efficient public transit services

Reduced per capita land consumption

Reduced costs of providing public infrastructure and services

Improved accessibility and economic opportunity for disadvantaged residents

Energy conservation and pollution emission reductions

More local economic development

Compared with unaffordable or sprawled housing, affordable-accessible housing provides numerous benefits.

 

Critics sometimes claim that affordable housing will attract crime and social problems and reduce local property values. Although special supportive housing for people with special needs may attract higher-risk groups and reduce nearby property values, most occupants of the market-based affordable infill housing advocated by Cities for Everyone they are workers, students and seniors with low crime rates that cause no local property value reductions, and by reducing poverty concentration and improving disadvantaged people’s economic opportunities, affordable infill tends to reduce overall regional crime. Allowing higher densities tend to increase land prices per acre while reducing housing costs per unit.

Although affordable infill may increase parking and traffic volumes on local streets, these impacts are far smaller than most models indicate, and more than offset by reductions in total region vehicle traffic. Conventional trip generation models fail to reflect declines in urban trip generation rates, resulting in what experts call phantom trips. Recent field studies found that infill developments generate 50-90% fewer trips than conventional models predict. These overestimates are particularly high for affordable infill since lower-income households own about half as many vehicles as the overall average, as illustrated below. As a result, conventional traffic and parking generation models greatly exaggerate local traffic problems caused by affordable infill development.

Lower-income households own about half as many vehicles as the overall average, particularly if located in walkable urban neighborhoods. Conventional traffic and parking generation models fail to account for these factors into account and so greatly exaggerate the parking and traffic problems caused by affordable infill.

 

Although more compact areas may have more intense traffic congestion (percentage peak-period traffic speed reductions), but this is more than offset by shorter average trip lengths and lower automobile mode shares, so residents tend to have lower per capita congestion costs (annual delay hours). Empirical research indicates that compact development tends to reduce congestion costs overall. For example, one major study found that residents of older neighborhoods with more compact and mixed development, more connected streets, better walking conditions, and better public transit services experienced less congestion and spent less total time traveling than residents of lower-density, automobile-dependent suburbs.

Although any development may displace local greenspace, but because residents consume less land per housing unit and avoids urban expansion, compact affordable infill tends to reduce sprawl, helping to preserve farmlands and wildlife habitat, and reducing total stormwater management costs.

The table below responds to common affordable housing myths.

Affordable Infill Housing Myths and Reality

Myths Reality
Increases social problems and crime Most affordable housing residents are responsible workers, students and pensioners. Exclude lower-income households from economically successful neighborhoods concentrates poverty which increases social problems and crime overall.
Reduces local property values Allowing higher densities tends to increase local property values by allowing more development per acre.
Increases traffic and parking congestion Affordable infill development may increase local traffic, although far less than most traffic models predict, and because households tend to reduce their vehicle travel by moving to walkable urban neighborhoods, total traffic problems decline.
Reduces greenspace Although infill development may displace local greenspace, such housing requires minimal land per unit and so preserves greenspace overall compared with lower-density urban expansion.
Destroys community character Affordable infill can enhance a community’s character: it creates more diverse and vibrant neighborhoods that include workers, students, pensioners and artists. Many people who currently oppose affordable infill development may need such housing for themselves or loved ones sometime in the future.

Opponents often exaggerate the costs and overlook benefits of affordable infill housing. Their criticisms reflect inaccurate or incomplete analysis. 

 

Urban residents may have legitimate reasons to support preservation of local heritage buildings and open space, but in doing so they should also support denser infill development in their communities to serve the growing demands for affordable housing in walkable urban neighborhoods.

This indicates that restricting urban infill does not really reduce problems, it simply shifts them to other locations, and by concentrating poverty and increasing sprawl tends to increase total social problems, crime, traffic congestion and open space displacement. More affordable infill development reduces the causes of these problems, providing benefits overall.