According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Bryn Mawr Hospital (a local hospital that wants to expand) has been acquiring property by using the old-fashioned, pre-Kelo method of paying people whatever it takes to get them to sell! The most recent price paid by the hospital for what are run-down old rowhouses (I’ve seen them) was $300,000. The hospital intends to tear them down — a fact which does not please local activists, who accuse the hospital of destroying something they call “affordable housing”:

The loss of affordable housing in Bryn Mawr, resident Amanda Bergson-Shilcock said, costs “the opportunity to live in safe neighborhoods with good schools and tight community bonds.”
Hank Wilson, president of the Bryn Mawr Civic Association, said that “in one shot,” the community would lose 25 percent of its affordable housing in the planned demolition. However, Bob Duncan, director of township building and planning, put that figure at “roughly 10 percent,” about 50 of about 450 residences in the downtown area.
“The real story here,” said Bergson-Shilcock, who has stayed in her Summit Grove twin, is that “the teachers, police officers, firefighters and other sorts of community contributors can’t afford to live here anymore.”
In the meantime, those who have not left are in a bind. If they eventually sell, they’ll likely end up living in less desirable housing and paying higher mortgages and taxes.
“People want to stay where they are, debt-free, the mortgage paid off,” said Central Avenue holdout Nicholas Lyons, organist at St. Francis Xavier the Oratory Church in Philadelphia.
The hospital notes, and Zelov agrees, that those who left went willingly. “Most were quite pleased with the purchase price,” Wells said.
It was when the hospital doubled its 2001 offer of $125,000 for rowhouses and $145,000 for twins that “people began leaving in the middle of the night,” Giersch said, laughing. She said the hospital recently bought a rowhouse across the street for $300,000.
“Three hundred thousand doesn’t get much in Lower Merion,” said Giersch, who paid $36,000 in 1979 for her house. “Of the 13… owners who sold on Central Avenue, only two were able to relocate in Bryn Mawr.”

True, $300,000 doesn’t get much in Lower Merion — but a cheap rowhouse is certainly not “much” to begin with.
While I don’t know whether these people are being pressured to sell, I’m glad to see the hospital going about this the way it’s supposed to be done. Buy the place legitimately, for what it’s worth.
But that’s not my primary question. What I want to know is, what the hell is meant by “affordable housing”? If a house is placed on the market and it sells, or if an owner agrees to an offer to buy it, doesn’t that mean that the buyer could afford to buy it — and that therefore by definition it was affordable? If the word “affordable” means anything at all, then all housing for which buyers can be found is affordable. And, of course, houses that don’t sell because the price is too high would be unaffordable. Because it usually isn’t in a seller’s interest to not sell a house, this generally means that prices of unaffordable housing will be lowered until it becomes affordable.
Somehow, I don’t think this what the activists mean by the term. I suspect that what they mean is housing with a price low enough that certain people can afford it. The article specifically refers to “teachers, police officers, firefighters and other sorts of community contributors.” I’m not about to conduct detailed research as to the current salary levels for teachers in the Lower Merion School District, but according to this site, the average teacher salary in 1998 was $64,900, and I’d be willing to bet they’ve gone up since then. Can a Bryn Mawr schoolteacher afford one of the $300,000 rowhouses? Assuming a 30% of that salary goes towards a mortage payment, such a teacher, if unmarried, could afford to pay around 21,000 per year on a mortgage. With a 30 year loan of $300,000 at 5.75%, the monthly payment would be $1,751, which seems pretty close to me.
While it’s true that Bryn Mawr has become very expensive (according to the last census data, the average Bryn Mawr home cost $472,588), the fact is that $300,000 can buy a much better house somewhere else, within driving distance. (The average price in nearby Norristown was $157,403.) I seriously doubt that any of these sellers would be crazy enough to buy another Bryn Mawr rowhouse for $300,000, though, and I think attaching the “affordable housing” label to them is very misleading. Unless, of course, the goal is for the government to fix prices on real estate. But if it is, why don’t they say so?
Do teachers or police officers (or other “community contributors”) have any particular right to be able to “afford” houses in Bryn Mawr?
For that matter, does anyone? Do I have a right to live in Manhattan at a price I can afford?
According to the logic of the “affordable housing” people, I guess I do.
No wonder activists love undefinable communitarian phraseology.
The problem is, there’s no way to make something “affordable” to someone who can’t otherwise afford it unless someone else pays. What they’re not saying is exactly who’d end up having to pay — or who’d end up with the privilege of getting an “affordable” house.