You hear a lot about “affordable housing” these days, but it can be hard to make sense of the rhetoric since the term can have at least two different meanings.
1. “Affordable housing” can mean that new luxury developments must offer some of their units to selected people at low (i.e., subsidized) prices for some number of years, such as ten or twenty. Developers complain but they often wind up going along with these demands, even though it means a big subsidy from their full-price renters/buyers to the lucky few who get “affordable” places. This definition is popular with the sleazier sort of activist groups that are looking to get a handout.
2. “Affordable housing” can also mean building low budget cheap housing on expensive land. This definition is popular with the wonkier, more public spirited-type of Yes In My Back Yard activists. But this is usually less popular with property-owning neighbors than the first kind of affordable housing. One big problem with building cheap housing is that while when the building is brand new, it might attract a decent type of tenant, but a few decades later when it’s aging and dingy it’s likely to become a real slum. So neighbors who own property are generally not at all happy about plans to create affordable housing by putting in new construction with, say, 7.5 foot ceilings and a lack of amenities. In contrast, if you build new upscale housing, while it may well decline in relative price as it gets older and more bedraggled, it’s less likely to turn into an outright slum in the future whose undesirable tenants drag down the property values of neighbors.