Creating Successful Mixed Use Communities
Housing Action Agenda
The concept of mixed use communities goes beyond incorporating residential, retail and commercial properties. It implies developing neighborhoods and towns with walkable streets that provide easy access to services and amenities such as schools, libraries, parks, and shops.
Affordable housing is a vital component of every mixed use community. Allowing people to live in the same communities where they work and shop improves the quality of life, increases residents' sense of belonging, and reduces traffic congestion. Having employment, shops, and schools nearby significantly reduces commuting and transportation costs. Mixed use communities promote inclusion and diversity by incorporating housing for people of all income levels along with supportive housing for the elderly and people with special needs. Ultimately, mixed use communities foster a sense of connection that bolsters the health and vitality of a community and its residents.
Creating Successful Mixed Use Communities, held on March 18, 2003, provided a fertile ground for a wide-ranging group of participants to identify problems and develop creative, workable solutions to the most pressing housing and community development needs in our region. Realtors, developers, bankers, housing advocates, architects, planners and representatives of municipal, county and state government worked together to identify barriers that prevent building affordable mixed use communities and develop concrete solutions to overcome those barriers.
Participants created the Action Agenda by listing suggestions and concerns at each breakout session, and filtering them through a consensus process at the final session. Most suggestions were rooted in participant's knowledge of successful implementation elsewhere. Participants' suggestions generally fell into six categories: affordability, land use, public/private partnerships, transit-oriented development, diversity and inclusion, and education.
Participants agreed that mixed use development in the region should consider the diverse needs of the population and provide adequate affordable housing.
Mixed use development in the region should include mixed income housing, providing adequate housing for low and very low income people.
- Current definitions of affordable housing units are still prohibitively high for many low income families. We may need a better definition of affordability (currently defined as a household spending less than 30% of their income on housing) to make sure that the needs of low and very low income residents are met, including the needs of people on fixed incomes and those at risk of becoming homeless.
- All new mixed use development should include provisions for low income people whether through incentives, greater cooperation between the public and private sector, regulation, zoning, and/or creative financing.
- In addition to providing affordable housing in mixed use development, it is important to develop mechanisms to ensure long-term affordability.
Mixed Housing Types
Mixed use communities should include a wide variety of housing types to address the needs of residents at all income levels, with particular emphasis on the needs of low income residents.
- A diversity of housing types should be offered to meet the diverse needs of the community. Housing types could include accessory units, multifamily units including duplexes and quadraplexes, small lots, condos, townhouses, and manufactured pre-fab homes.
- In order to prevent homelessness, a variety of housing types are needed including single room occupancy dwelling units and housing with appropriate supportive services.
- In addition to diverse housing types, changes to current zoning may be needed to allow for greater occupancy levels.
- Alternatives to single family detached homes will bring prices down and create more green space.
- Residents in the planning district have diverse needs and require a mix of affordable rental units as well as opportunities for home ownership. In order to meet the needs of low income people, it is necessary to increase the rental stock in the area and develop ordinances to ensure affordable units in any new developments.
Many participants suggested using land strategically to encourage compact development around existing village centers and preserve green space.
Participants suggested encouraging mixed use development around existing village centers and preserving open space as much as possible.
- Promote clustering around existing village centers to preserve open space.
- Increase density by looking toward infill of underutilized urban areas instead of encouraging sprawl.
Develop creative zoning to support affordable mixed use development and meet the diverse needs of the community.
- Zoning should support mixed use, human scale development, and be by-right inclusive.
- Where appropriate in rural villages and traditional neighborhoods, eliminate set back requirements to allow street front development and minimize lot sizes to allow for more affordable units.
- Change current zoning to be descriptive, not prescriptive, with inclusive, not exclusive language.
- Create zoning to incorporate single room occupancy (SRO) dwelling units for people who are currently, or are at-risk of becoming, homeless.
- Develop a regional agreement on zoning and utilities.
- Change zoning to allow small businesses in residential areas to promote mixed use, walkable communities.
Participants offered many ways that the public and private sectors could work together to create affordable mixed use communities.
Participants suggested a wide array of incentives to develop affordable mixed use projects.
- Offer tax incentives including enterprise zone tax credits, real estate tax credits for affordable accessory units, and other tax incentives.
- Create incentives for developers to increase density by encouraging affordable dwelling units (ADU).
- Encourage public investments in infrastructure that supports affordable mixed use development.
- Local municipalities can support affordable mixed use development by donating land.
- Provide developers with density bonuses.
- Streamline the permit processes for plans to develop affordable mixed use development.
- Encourage employer assisted financing such as setting up individual development accounts and promoting fund matching by the City, counties, or University to match their employees' funds.
- Use housing authorities to access or underwrite financing (i.e. bonds).
- Promote flexibility in development (i.e. planned unit developments, single room occupancy).
- Local governments should be able to require impact fees from developers for the cost of public infrastructure and facilities.
Participants agreed that greater cooperation among the University, the City of Charlottesville, the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Nelson, and Louisa, and the private sector is necessary to create viable, sustainable mixed use communities.
- Foster better cooperation among the city, counties, and the University of Virginia.
- Bring the University to the table to address affordable housing in the region since over 12,000 students live off grounds. Explore public/private partnerships to better accommodate UVA's growth (such as UVA "buy-in" to mixed use developments for additional student housing).
- Build public/private coalitions to promote better and more flexible ordinances.
A clear priority of many participants was to decrease traffic of single occupancy vehicles and encourage the use of public transportation.
Integrated regional transit
Many participants expressed interest in ways to decrease car traffic within Charlottesville by extending transit to rural and suburban areas.
- Provide greater public transportation from the outlying areas into Charlottesville. This will decrease the number of cars in the city, diminishing the need for more parking garages.
- Improve transportation systems within Charlottesville to decrease the number of students' cars.
- Ease the transportation cost burden for low income citizens in rural areas who commute to Charlottesville for jobs.
- In addition to the suggestions above, several participants mentioned the need to develop coordinated plans for the future transportation needs of the region.
Alternative transportation systems
Encourage alternate means of transportation within the City of Charlottesville as well as in surrounding rural counties.
- Mixed use development should focus on pedestrian oriented centers with compatible road design.
- Design should be pedestrian oriented and human scale.
- Encourage greater investment in community transit such as pedestrian walkways and rail.
- Seek a balanced use of automobiles including underground parking and putting parking lots behind buildings.
Diversity And Inclusion
Mixed use projects should promote diversity, include people of different income levels, integrate special needs populations, and improve access to services.
- Encourage co-location of elder-supportive housing with other community services such as day care centers and libraries.
- Change zoning to allow for supportive housing facilities by-right.
- Encourage diversity of housing types, people, and use of space.
- Support non-profit organizations that address the housing needs of special needs populations.
- Create model accessible homes and build retrofittably for people with physical disabilities.
- Encourage diversity in our communities through design standards.
Education And Awareness
Participants agreed that educating the development, investment, real estate, government and resident communities on the benefits of mixed use development was a top priority.
- Increase awareness among developers and real estate agents of affordable housing needs in mixed use development.
- Create and publicize model projects.
- Increase public awareness about the need for affordable housing.
- De-stigmatize affordable housing and break down myths about low income housing.
- Help homebuyers learn about creative financing options and develop reasonable expectations.
- Coordinate education and advocacy for under represented groups with particular housing needs.
- Provide financial skills, budgeting, savings, and homeownership education to adults and youth.
- Create a central information clearinghouse to provide information about financing, availability of housing, and services available.
- Make all outreach activities accessible to people with special needs.