Since publicly owned land may be sold or transferred for any number of purposes, communities that wish to use publicly owned land for affordable housing development will need to clearly articulate that as a priority. Local ordinances can authorize and require the use of suitable public land for affordable homes, or at least establish the inclusion of affordable homes as a default expectation, subject to review.

One approach used by several states and local legislators is to adopt a public land disposition policy that offers publicly owned land first to affordable housing developers (whether for sale or lease). There are limitations of this approach, however. First, it does not ensure that publicly owned sites are protected as development opportunities for affordable housing at times when the development community is not ready to build affordable housing at an offered site. And second, it does not necessarily lead to the provision of public land at a discounted price. However, a right-of-first-refusal policy can still be helpful in facilitating access to publicly owned land for affordable housing development.

Case Studies

Disposition of District Land for Affordable Housing Amendment Act (Washington D.C.)

Washington, D.C.’s Disposition of District Land for Affordable Housing Amendment Act of 2014 (PDF) requires that all new multifamily residential developments on city-owned surplus land include at least 20 to 30 percent affordable housing. The exact level of affordability depends on the site’s location; the percentage rises to 30 percent for sites within a half-mile of a Metrorail station, within one-quarter mile of a streetcar line or within one-quarter mile of a Priority Corridor Network Metrobus Route.

The law allows for property to be transferred at less than the appraised value, and the city may provide additional subsidies to ensure that affordability requirements are met.

The mayor may waive or reduce the affordability requirements as necessary, but only under certain circumstances, such as the appraised value of the site being insufficient to support affordable housing in light of all other available sources of public funding for supporting the affordable housing component, or the disposition of the property enabling the financing of a “significant public facility.”

Half of for-sale affordable homes must be affordable to households earning less than 50 percent of area median income (AMI) and half to households earning up to 80 percent of AMI. One-quarter of the rental affordable homes must be affordable for households at 30 percent of AMI, and three-quarters for households at 50 percent of AMI.

For More Info:

Andrew Trueblood, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development
Email: [email protected]

Prioritizing Public Land in Montgomery County (Md.)

Since the late 1980s, Montgomery County has developed a comprehensive county land inventory and facilitated mixed-income housing on multiple county land holdings.

To maximize its opportunities for using public land to help address local affordable housing needs, the County Executive and the County Council have endorsed a strategy in which, whenever possible, affordable housing will be included in the development of county land. All capital improvement projects or county agency plans to redevelop or dispose of county-owned land are required to assess the potential for affordable housing as part of the site’s redevelopment and to present this analysis to the County Council. (A similar assessment is required of the potential for child care facilities.)

Additionally, the County Council has passed legislation that expresses a preference for at least 30 percent affordable housing on public land. Proposals from county agencies for the redevelopment of county land that would involve less than 30 percent affordable housing are subject to greater scrutiny from the County Council.

Lastly, most county-owned land is owned by a single agency: the Department of General Services. A chief exception is school district property. Single ownership has aided in the compilation of a comprehensive inventory of county-owned land and ensured better coordination among agencies in its development.

For More Info:

Jay Greene, Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs
Email: [email protected]

Ordinance 12394 (King County, Wash.)

King County’s Ordinance 12394, approved in 1996, states that any surplus parcels that are suitable for housing should be sold or leased for the development of affordable housing. Each year, the surplus property list is updated, and suitable properties are offered for development as affordable homes. Factors considered in determining suitability of public sites include topography, zoning and availability of utilities. In its first examination in 1997, King County found that 52 out of 750 surplus county-owned parcels had housing development potential. By the beginning of 2007, the ordinance had generated 400 new affordable housing units, including 170 units in the Greenbrier Heights development in Woodinville.

For More Info:

Bob Thompson, King County Real Estate Services Division
Email: [email protected]