Teaming up to ease building codes; US-local effort to spur new housing

A new concept is being tested that could result in more-affordable new homes for more American families.

The concept centers on one key word -- cooperation.

Like many things in today's complex world of business, it's almost too simple to be recognized as a workable solution to a pressing problem. Yet the idea is already beginning to prove its value.

The US home-building industry is experiencing its worst year in the past three decades. Current forecasts point to the production of just over 1 million housing units in 1982 with a total value of $62.6 billion, according to McGraw-Hill Information Systems Company.

During the first half of the year, however, only 41 percent of that predicted residential construction was achieved. A minimal production rate to satisfy consumer housing needs would be about 2 million units a year, most industry leaders agree.

One of the key problems holding back needed production of new housing, in addition to super-high interest rates and construction costs, has been difficulties in dealing with local government regulatory agencies.

In recent years, for example, city and county agencies have become more restrictive on home builders and developers. This has translated into longer delays in getting plans approved and has added to the costs that are then passed along to home buyers.

When builders face serious problems with financing and construction costs on one hand, and government agencies on the other hand, often the result is no new housing.

A new program has been launched, however, that might turn the tide for builders and generate more affordable housing. The program, called ''joint venture for affordable housing,'' is sponsored by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

It includes the participation of the International City Management Association, the National Association of Counties, the Council of State Community Affairs Agencies, and the National Association of Home Builders.

The objective is to see what can be accomplished by government agencies and builders working together in a unified, cooperative effort.

The first phase of the program is to test the concept with 12 local ''affordable-housing demonstration'' programs. Included are the planning and development of new home projects under a set of cooperative guidelines.

Projects are in various stages of planning or construction in Lincoln, Neb.; Riverside and San Diego, Calif.; Mesa, Colo.; Tulsa, Okla.; Wichita, Kan.; Birmingham, Ala.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Coral Springs, Fla. Units are already being sold at the 52-unit Parkside development in Lincoln, Neb.

A report shows that Parkside homes are being sold at prices 10 to 20 percent less than other comparable homes in the area. Yet the builder, Karl A. Witt of Empire Homes, is still making a fair profit. Witt credited the positive attitude of city officials for the success of his development.

''We could not have achieved cost savings of this magnitude without the help of the Lincoln mayor and city council,'' he asserts. ''Their concern that citizens have access to affordable housing motivated a great spirit of cooperation.''

The pilot housing development in Lincoln produced 800-square-foot, two-bedroom units for $39,850. Similar housing units in the area are priced from

Most of the cost saving was realized by the city's approval of a higher-than-normal density, as well as modifications to the usual development rules allowed by the city, such as:

* Requirements for accessible recreational facilities were softened.

* Setback requirements were decreased.

* Parking requirements were modified.

* Curb requirements were waived and drainage was provided by inverting the crown of the road (inward slope for drainage flow).

None of the projects in the ''affordable housing demonstration'' program are subsidized. In other words, builders assume all financial responsibility for their projects.

At the same time, they receive technical assistance from both HUD and the NAHB.

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