As a resident of Folsom, California, a city just east of Sacramento, I have often reflected on the potential impact of affordable housing in our area. Folsom is the quintessential “upper middle-class” suburb with great schools, low crime, and wonderful lifestyle amenities. It has experienced rapid housing and economic growth over the past 10 years and is widely regarded as one of prized places to live in the Sacramento Region.

Folsom also has a reputation for being anti affordable housing–so much so that the city was sued in 2001 by state affordable housing advocates. The city has since settled the lawsuit, agreeing to develop 128 acres of land for nearly 3,000 affordable units; a move that has infuriated many in the community. Personally I have mixed feelings about affordable housing. On the one hand I strongly support the socio-economic and racial diversity that affordable housing often brings to the table.This, in fact, is an aspect of Folsom that is sorely lacking, a sad reminder of the economic and race based housing segregation that continues to haunt our nation to this day.

At the same time, I sympathize with many of the concerns that my fellow Folsom residents have about the potential impact of low income residents in our community. By way of example, North Natomas, an unincorporated section of Sacramento, has seen a rapid rise in property and violent crime in recent months; a fact that many are attributing to the growth of affordable housing complexes in the area. An interesting connection here is that North Natomas has the distinction of being Sacramento’s first area of expansion under the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance, requiring 15 percent of new housing to be affordable to low and very low income residents. Needless to say, many residents of Natomas, an otherwise successful city in terms of its diverse makeup, are outraged.

Community activists on the other hand believe that the problems in Natomas largely stem from the affordable income apartments in the area being densely grouped in complexes of up to 200 units (versus the dispersal of housing throughout area neighborhoods).This issue of affordable housing density brought back memories for me of Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes, low income, high-rise housing complexes in Chicago that became the model of crime, poverty and urban decay. Counter that view though with the highly successful low income housing efforts in South Bend, Indiana. In one such instance a vacant department store in the downtown district was converted into a low income residential high-rise called the Robertson Apartments. My experience as a resident in this building back in the late 90’s left me with enormous hope regarding the peaceful co-existence of people from all walks of life and income groups in a housing community.

In light of the housing reform legislation recently signed by President Bush, it appears that these sorts of debates regarding affordable housing are unlikely to abate in the near future. Among other provisions, this legislation creates a permanent housing trust fund to benefit low income housing financing. These funds would be allocated to states who would subsequently use the funds to produce and preserve affordable housing focused on the lowest income households.

In the end I think affordable housing will be among those concerns taking center stage among our nation’s domestic issues. In fact, with the current economic downturn and record numbers of foreclosures we are experiencing, those who have been such staunch advocates against affordable housing may find themselves unwittingly benefiting from the very same housing arrangements that they have passionately denounced.

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