Community Health

Considering All Options in the Affordable Housing Toolbox

In the National Housing Institute’s blog “Rooflines,” Alan Mallach, former director of housing and economic development for Trenton, NJ, encourages us to consider which tools are most effective in creating affordable housing. Sometimes, apartments and houses can be purchased and restricted to residents of certain income levels more cost-efficiently than building new affordable housing. Average existing homes in cities like Dallas and Phoenix (Mallach’s examples) can be bought for under $200,000 while building affordable housing can cost over $200,000 per unit.

Mallach doesn’t argue against new construction. In places like San Francisco, the market for existing homes is incredibly expensive. A per-unit construction cost of $300,000 or more is “still a good deal.” Mallach urges consideration of all affordable housing tools.

RSG maintains and analyzes a database of California’s affordable housing tax credit projects. The database for 4% projects shows that per-unit costs range from $85,000 to $782,000. Acquisition and rehabilitation may not be cheaper than new construction, depending on the specific market and the specific project.

RSG can analyze the market and project results to maximize the effects of affordable housing spending. If you wonder whether spending money on acquisition or new construction will provide the most benefit in your community, contact RSG today!

Written by Dima Galkin, an Associate at RSG

A Fresh Look at Economic Development

The Brookings Institution recently released a report with guidelines to prioritize growth, prosperity, and inclusion in economic development efforts. 

The goal of economic development, should be to “put a regional economy on a trajectory of higher growth that increases the productivity of firms and workers and raises standards of living for all, thus achieving growth that is robust, shared, and enduring,” according to the report. Economic development should prioritize building strong business ecosystems for core industries, improving the productivity of firms and people, and facilitating trade. These are the market foundations from which growth, prosperity, and inclusion emerge. The report recommends five action principles:

1.    Set the right goals, 
2.    Grow from within, 
3.    Boost trade, 
4.    Invest in people and skills, and
5.    Connect place.

The report has already received coverage from outlets with broad distribution, like CityLab, which said that the report calls for a paradigm shift in economic development thinking, away from competitiveness and growth for growth’s sake, and toward a more inclusive prosperity. Such coverage is important for the ideas and approaches to spread and be adopted more widely.

At RSG, we have long focused on making growth equitable for all community members: residents and businesses. Our economic development analyses incorporate Brookings’s action principles. Contact us to discuss how your city can achieve inclusive growth and prosperity.

Written by Dima Galkin, an Associate at RSG

Pitting Safety against Community Health?


It is easy to think of healthy communities as active, pleasant, green places where milkmen deliver organic milk in glass bottles and children learn to ride bikes in leafy, computer generated images of parks with engaged community members photo-shopped into the background.  People have to see and want the light at the end of the tunnel, but they might not see the challenges a community might face after the idyllic park is opened to the public.

The sometimes awkward interaction between public safety and community health was brought to my attention by a very insightful Master’s student at a Healthy Communities Seminar.  I wondered:

  •      Can a community succeed in becoming a healthier community before it achieves basic safety standards? 
  •      Is there a point to building more parks if those parks are hubs for violence and crime? 
  •      Can the health of a community actually improve the safety of the community? 

If more people are out in the evenings walking around, food shopping at local stores, and playing sports in parks instead of protecting themselves behind barred windows, maybe gangs and other criminal elements will be driven away.

The solution starts with respecting the individual challenges different communities face and being available to help with those issues.  We can’t just build pretty parks as showpieces and then leave them to disintegrate from lack of attention.  The pretty parks have to come with programming and organized events to keep them populated and utilized by the entire community.  

In other words, the work doesn’t stop at the ribbon cutting.  Community health and public safety have to go hand in hand and be accomplished simultaneously through sustained interest and prolonged focus on long-neglected communities.

Jane Carlson, Associate at RSG