2006-07 High School Essay Contest

Expanding Housing Choice and Affordability through Planning

Note to Students: Although the following scenario is hypothetical and may not precisely match the characteristics of the place where you live, whether that is in an urban, suburban, or rural area, we would like you to respond to the question as best you can using facts about your own community and the various needs people there may have for housing.

Your local government has recently acquired a vacant, five-acre lot located adjacent to the downtown and to an older residential neighborhood. In the early days of your community, this site was once a family farm. Later generations of the family sold off much of the land for development and used the remaining land for a landscaping business and nursery. That business has now relocated out to the edge of the community. The five acre parcel is suitable for development but also has a stand of small woods and a wetland on one part of the property, left untouched by the family over the years.

A public meeting will be held to solicit recommendations from citizens and interest groups concerning the best reuse of the property. Various ideas are already circulating in the community. Some people would like to expand the commercial district with more retail shops and offices. Some would like the city to use the site for a new public library and civic auditorium. Environmentalists and families with young children would like to see the woods and wetland preserved, with the rest of the site used for a nature science center, park and playground.

While all these ideas have merit, you are the leader of a citizens group that thinks the site should primarily be used for housing, because the need is so great. After having had several discussions, the group has asked you to prepare a written statement of no more than 1,500 words summarizing your group's proposal and strategy to be reviewed before the public meeting. Your goal is to make a succinct but compelling case to your fellow citizens and elected officials for the use(s) of the property you think best. While there many factors you should take into account in your analysis, here are a few you might consider:

What are the various groups that need housing in your community? How can you describe that need? Using data available from your local government or other sources, can you quantify the need in terms of demographic information, such as households in different income ranges? Are there trends in housing that are affecting your community, such as increases in retired persons, single parent households, or immigrant families?

  1. What type(s) of housing would best suit this location while serving some of the demand you have identified? Should it be single family houses, townhouses, or apartments? Should the units be for sale or for rent, or both?
  1. What uses in addition to housing, if any, would you propose for the site or for the building(s) on the site?
  1. How would the new use for the site relate to adjacent uses? How would the transportation needs of people living on or using the site impact the surrounding area?
  1. Does the community already have a plan for this area? If so, would the current zoning need to be changed to permit housing or mixed uses? (Although the site and its location are hypothetical, consider how the current plan for your own community might guide development decisions for a property located between a traditional commercial district and an older neighborhood. If your community has no plan, consider guidance offered by your county's plan, if any.)
  1. Assuming the group endorses your proposal, how would you build support for the idea among other interest groups in the community? How would you solicit their opinions and engage them?