Aug 25 2007
09:11 am

In his presentation on land use planning and sustainable development this week, Ed McMahon mentioned a couple of interesting programs you may not be aware of (I wasn't).

One is a farmland preservation program, funded by the farm bill. It looks like he is talking about the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, one of several environmental and conservation measures in the farm bill. FRPP will provide up to $280 million per year for preserving farm land. Here's a summary:

• FRPP provides matching funds (up to 50 percent of the fair market easement value) to help State, tribal, or local governments and non-governmental organizations purchase development rights to keep productive farm and ranchland in agricultural uses.

• Participating landowners agree not to convert their land to non-agricultural uses and to develop and implement a conservation plan for any highly erodible land. Landowners retain rights to use the property for agriculture uses.

The catch is that it provides matching funds, so there must be a state farmland preservation program in place. I believe Mr. McMahon said that Tennessee does not currently have such a program, so it might be something worth looking at in the next legislative session.

Another program Mr. McMahon mentioned in a discussion about affordable housing is the Location Efficient Mortgage program. This is a mortgage loan that promotes living in "neighborhoods where residents can walk from their homes to stores, schools, recreation, and public transportation."

The fixed rate 15 or 30 year Location Efficient Mortgage recognizes the cost savings from not needing an auto as additional income for purposes of loan qualifying, meaning that a borrower who may not qualify for a conventional mortgage can qualify for a LEM, or can qualify for a larger loan. The goals of the program are to:

• Increase home purchases in a variety of location efficient communities

• Boost public transit ridership

• Support neighborhood consumer services and cultural amenities;

• Reduce energy consumption

• Improve local and regional air quality

At present, it is only available under a pilot program in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. It was developed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Surface Transportation Policy Project, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Federal Transit Administration, the EPA, and several charitable foundations. Fannie Mae administers the program.

Mr. McMahon noted an interesting fact: The amount spent for a typical auto purchase will service an additional $100,000 on a mortgage loan.

rikki's picture


With that first program, I wonder whether conservation easements could be considered government investments eligible for matching funds.

Since the program matches investments made by non-governmental organizations, a group like Foothills Land Conservancy could take advantage of this without waiting for state or county governments to pass laws or provide funds.

Also, would a private forest under sustainable timber management qualify as a productive farm?

PerryStevens487's picture

Farm Bill Programs in Tennessee

Tennessee producers have access to Farm Bill programs, including the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), through an agency of the US Department of Agriculture--the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

The NRCS is a federal agency that operates at the local level through District Conservationists. The DCs work with private landowners to put conservation on the ground. There's more here:


Up Goose Creek's picture


a borrower who may not qualify for a conventional mortgage can qualify for a LEM, or can qualify for a larger loan.

Aah.... qualifying for a mortgage, seems like such a quaint idea in the wake of all those no-doc loans, mortgage fraud, and negative amortization.

I take issue with their figures of saving enough to borrow an additional 100K. At 6 1/2% 100K will cost $632/mo , then throw in $170 for taxes and insurance and that's for a low cost place like Knoxville, and you pay an extra $800/mo. If you figure a newish car at $5K a year that's 416 a month. So I figure closer to 50K to be equivalent, that's still an impressive number.

I don't want to see this argument being used to try to soothe people into paying too much for a home, our country has had enough of that problem already and the backlash will affect us all.

It does seem that people are beginning to take location into account when they choose where to live. As recently as 3-4 years ago less than 10% of prospective renters asked whether an apartment was within biking distance of UT or downtown. Now the figure is closer to 40-50%.

Less is the new More - Karrie Jacobs

Nelle's picture

Biking, etc.

It does seem that people are beginning to take location into account when they choose where to live. As recently as 3-4 years ago less than 10% of prospective renters asked whether an apartment was within biking distance of UT or downtown. Now the figure is closer to 40-50%.

Wow, that's awesome. I've noticed a lot more biking here just this summer. This morning I could hardly find a place to lock my bike on Market Square. What a great problem to have!

Regarding LEMs, I'm dubious that it would do a lot for a place like Knoxville. In many of the parts of Knoxville where there's public transportation and walkable/bikeable neighborhoods, there's plenty of affordable housing for moderate-income people. In most the parts of the region where housing is less affordable, access to public transit, walkability and bikability are rare.

But it's a great program for big cities where urban housing affordability is a serious problem.

Joe Hultquist's picture

LEMs, bikable living, etc.

In response to Nelle's comments, I suspect for many the equation is a little more complex than that. Let's say someone wants to live in an older, former streetcar suburb in Knoxville. They find a house that has appeal to them on a street that they like in a neighborhood they would like to live in. The house is very reasonably priced (perhaps under ($100,000) but will require extensive renovation to bring it up to code and decent standards, and to meet their needs. The extra borrowing capacity that a LEM would offer could make the difference. I know Jeff Talman has talked to me about the idea of combining a LEM with the 203K renovation lending program, which would boost their ability to fund these kinds of projects even more. I believe LEMs could be a welcome (and valuable) addition to the urban investment "toolkit" that is available to what is clearly a growing market segment.

Concerning biking, I was at a conference in Portland, OR a couple of weeks ago, and discovered that they now have so much bicycle commuter traffic that they sometimes experience traffic jambs on the bike lanes over their bridges during peak periods. It's not the same as sitting in a car in a traffic jamb, but it still takes getting used to for many bikers. They're not accustomed to having to cue up and wait (briefly) in line to cross a bridge into downtown. What this probably means in the long term is that more resources (bridge lanes and street lanes) will be shifted over time from motorized vehicle use to bicycle use. Portland has recently designated some streets as bicycle boulevards, meaning instead of having bike lanes bikes are given priority in the traffic lanes. Sensor loops in the pavement at traffic signals are designed to pick up bicycles (but not cars, apparently).

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