A Decent Home

Planning, Building, and Preserving Affordable Housing

By Alan Mallach, FAICP

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What is a decent home? Does it simply provide shelter from the elements? Is it affordable enough that you can buy the other necessities of life? Does it connect you to a community with adequate social and economic resources? Noted housing expert Alan Mallach turns his decades of experience to these questions in A Decent Home.

Mallach's nuanced analysis of housing issues critical to commu...

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Page Count
Date Published
April 1, 2009
APA Planners Press

About the Authors

Alan Mallach
Writer, scholar, practitioner and advocate, Alan Mallach has been engaged with the challenges of urban revitalization, neighborhood stabilization and housing provision for fifty years. A senior fellow with the Center for Community Progress, he has held a number of public and private sector positions including serving as director of housing & economic development for the city of Trenton, New Jersey, and currently also teaches in the graduate city planning program at Pratt Institute in New York City. His publications include many books, among them Bringing Buildings Back: From Vacant Properties to Community Assets, which has become the principal resource on vacant property strategies and reuse for thousands of planners, city officials and advocates around the country; as well as numerous scholarly articles, book chapters, and research and policy reports. He is a member of the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners, holds a B.A. degree from Yale College, and lives in Roosevelt, New Jersey.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1. The Case for Affordable Housing
The Need for Decent Housing
Affordable Housing Needs and the Private Market
Is Affordable Housing a Housing Problem or an Income Problem?

Chapter 2. Affordable Housing in the United States: A Short History
The Rise and Fall of Public Housing
Federal Funding, Private Ownership
The Age of Devolution
Affordable Housing Policy Today

Chapter 3. Designing Affordable Housing
Why Design Matters
Housing for Whom?
Housing That Works for People
Cars, People, and Open Space
Safe Spaces
Designing Housing That Fits In

Chapter 4. Finding Sites and Gaining Approval for Affordable Housing
Criteria for Selecting Sites
Good Sites are Hard to Find
Getting Projects Approved

Chapter 5. Making the Numbers Work: Financing Affordable Housing
Defining Affordability
Filling the Gap
Capital Grants and Tax Credit Equity
Putting the Pieces Together: Subsidy Layering and the Development Pro Forma

Chapter 6. Developing Affordable Housing, Step-by-Step
Thinking the Project Through
Forming the Development Team-Finding a Site
The Predevelopment Process
Construction, Marketing, and Rent-up

Chapter 7. Concentration and Opportunity: Undoing the Exclusion of Affordable Housing
The Practice of Suburban Exclusion
Challenging Exclusion in the Courts
State Planning Laws and Affordable Housing Mandates

Chapter 8. Affordable Housing, Community Development Corporations, and Neighborhood Revitalization
Affordable Housing and Poverty Concentration
The Role of Community Development Corporations
Toward Communities of Choice
Balancing Affordable Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization

Chapter 9. The Risks and Rewards of Affordable Home Ownership
Home Ownership-The American Dream
The Costs and Benefits of Home Ownership
Public and Nonprofit Strategies to Foster Lower Income Home Ownership
Low-income Home Ownership and the Subprime Meltdown

Chapter 10. Preserving Affordable Housing
Preservation: A Critical Issue
The Problem of Expiring Use Restrictions
Preserving Affordable Home Ownership
Preserving Affordability in the Private Market

Chapter 11. Homelessness and Affordable Housing
Who Are the Homeless?
Why Are So Many People Homeless?
Changing Approaches to Housing the Homeless
Affordable Housing and Housing First

Chapter 12. Inclusionary Housing: Using the Market to Create Affordable Housing
What Is Inclusionary Housing?
The Legal Status of Inclusionary Housing
Economics of Inclusionary Housing
Making Inclusionary Housing Work

Chapter 13. Policies, Politics, and the Future of Affordable Housing in the United States
Drivers of Housing Policy Change
Shaping Future Affordable Housing Policy

Appendix: Resources for Further Information



"In A Decent Home, Alan Mallach combines a compelling case for affordable housing policies with useful guidelines for how to actually produce it. This book is an important one-stop resource full of practical information for public-policy makers, nonprofit leaders, and private housing producers-indeed, for all community-builders working to add to the stock of badly need affordable housing."

— Henry Cisneros
Executive Chairman of CityView and Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

"With the nation in the grips of a mortgage crisis and plummeting home prices, this excellent book reminds us that the nation's housing affordability problems are widespread, serious, and chronic. But more than that, the book provides practical advice about what to do about these problems. Practitioners and students will find in this book a full array of tools for delivering affordable housing and a rich understanding of what it takes to make them work. Readers will also find an intelligent treatment of some of the most vexing problems facing the field-how to preserve affordable housing, how to overcome exclusion, and how to think about the risks and rewards of low-income home ownership. Mr. Mallach has written an important book."

— Eric Belsky
Executive Director, Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University

"Alan Mallach ably fills a significant void in the affordable housing arena by marrying practical information with thoughtful analysis. This work addresses an ambitious range of issues in an accessible style that reveals the author's considerable breadth of experience and deep insights. A Decent Home should find a home among planners, developers, students, policy makers, and concerned citizens alike."

— Alan Berube
Research Director, Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution

"The quest for adequate shelter accessible to all in the United States has been fraught with false starts, ideological battles, and controversy. In A Decent Home, Alan Mallach does an outstanding job of confronting misinformation and stereotypes, tying together the production of affordable housing with information on the broader context, and laying out the choices facing decision makers at various levels. This book is a must-read for anyone charged with addressing their community's housing challenges, or just seeking to understand them."

— Diane Sterner
Founding Director of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey

Because the market does not provide satisfactory housing opportunities to some, Mallach argues for the use of public and charitable funds to close the gap between those who are well housed and those who are not. He views remedial efforts to date as inadequate and as having led to a lottery type outcome where the lucky poor receive housing assistance while the large majority in need of help is left out. Mallach's goal is to layout what affordable housing is and how it can be planned and developed, should serious efforts be made to fulfill the goals of the 1949 Housing Act. While his discussion covers well-trodden material, including federal programs commonly critiqued in housing books, Mallach pays substantial attention to state and local efforts that promote and also retard the growth of affordable housing. Among the means he favors as part of a serious housing policy are establishing a basic housing allowance; inclusionary zoning to foster deconcentration of the poor for new development; and preservation to limit the decline of existing affordable stocks. The volume includes photos; tables effectively summarize the text's discussion of the planning and development processes. A useful primer for those interested in initiating housing assistance efforts. Summing Up: Recommended.

— January 2010 issue of CHOICE