Teaching, nursing, firefighting, police work. Most of us would consider these honorable professions. And most of us would welcome these professionals into our neighborhoods.
Most of us also respect and admire the senior citizens we have in our communities. They have been contributors to society and many of them continue to contribute through volunteer work and paying property taxes.
Also, most of us have no desire to live in a homogenous community made up totally of our peers. That would be as bland as a steady diet of milk.
This country, however, is rapidly moving in that direction by putting in place exclusionary housing practices.
In the interest of saving green space and keeping our roads from becoming overcrowded, we are pricing the above individuals right out of our housing markets. And in doing so we are undercutting the tax base that supports and improves that green space and those roads.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, 15 years ago an average, wage earning 30-year-old could buy a mid-sized home and have mortgage payments that would equal 21 percent of his or her income. Today that home would cost 45 percent of that income.
Statistics provided by the Niagara Frontier Builders' Association, Inc., show that by 1992, out of the 58.7 million Americans who will have entered the prime home buying ages of 25 to 34, less than half can expect to own a home. And that doesn't begin to address what the situation will be for the next generation.
Even in Buffalo, which has been a mainstay of affordable housing for years, the median price of a home rose 12.5 percent last year, to $77,300. Yet, there are those in Western New York that are legislating lot size restrictions and transfer costs that edge even more home buyers out of the market.
National studies have shown lot sizes to account for 25 to 30 percent of the total cost of a new home. Communities like Orchard Park, however, have chosen to increase minimum lot sizes by approximately 33 percent. This could increase the price of a single family home by $40,000, said Joe McIvor, executive vice president of the NFBA, a trade group that worked to block the legislation in Orchard Park and continues to be an advocate for affordable housing.
A development analysis done on a typical Orchard Park subdivision showed that under the old regulations the average house would cost $184,000, McIvor said. Under the new regulations the price increased 22 percent, to $225,000.
With a 10 percent down payment, the annual income needed to buy the house at $184,000 was $87,800 per year. The annual income required to buy the house under the new regulations with a 10 percent down payment is $106,000, an increase of more than $19,000.
According to Erie County population and income information, said Monica Linsin, director of public affairs for the NFBA, less than 20 percent of residents of Erie County have a total household income of more than $50,000. Many of the teachers, nurses, police officers and senior citizens mentioned before are not a part of this percentage.
In the Town of Amherst, where no-growth or slow-growth policies have also become popular, the average sale price of a home rose 8.7 percent in the past year to $114,000. The Greater Buffalo Chamber of Commerce reports the average per capita income of Amherst as $14,381.
These statistics, McIvor said, clearly indicate a need for affordable housing within the town.
These towns believe by controlling lot size and thus the density of development, they are preserving the lifestyle of residents, ensuring adequate green space and roads that are not overloaded. In truth, high density development provides many benefits, and it need not be unsightly or of low quality.
High density developments typically have home associations to look after road repairs and snow plowing, relieving the responsibilities of the town. Police, fire prevention and other services become more efficient. More families without children are attracted to multi-family units, providing a greater tax base to support public education, without offsetting that base with greater use of the schools.
In addition, federal revenues that affect such services as schools, highways, sewers, and community block grants can be lost when density levels fall.
Low density is one of the most misunderstood planning factors, according to an article in the Washington Post. In fact, quality of life in a community, the accessibility of green space and the development of infrastructure is not necessarily dependent on density.
A number of communities across the country have conducted projects researching high density planning that works for those who live in the developments and reduces the cost of housing.
Homogenization may be a great process for milk, but it's not the ideal way to form a community.
Jeffrey Freedman is a Buffalo-based attorney who handles real estate, bankruptcy, social security disability and personal injury claims.