Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of City and Regional Planning
On a late June afternoon, hundreds of spectators sat waiting in the yellow heat beneath a big-top tent. Young couples fanned children with folded programs and craned to see any movement on stage. Finally as organ music filled the tent, the master of ceremonies ascended the stage and barked greetings into the microphone. The crowd was captivated. But this was not the circus they had come to see. This was Resolution Trust Corporation's Affordable Housing Program! Since the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) took its first steps toward implementing the Affordable Housing Disposition Program in 1989, housing advocates, congressional sponsors, and the press have lambasted the agency's efforts to reconcile the competing statutory objectives of the program. In recent months, criticism of the program has been calmed somewhat by the RTC's success at moving huge numbers of low-priced homes in highly publicized public auctions. Unlike the RTC's earlier attempts to dispose of its affordable housing inventory, the auctions have been spared most criticism, attracting instead the fanfare and hyperbole of a big-top circus coming to town. As part of its sales blitzkrieg covering the Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest, the RTC sponsored a series of real estate auctions in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park in late June 1991. All of the properties, ranging from undeveloped land to small shopping centers, were taken from the real-estate-owned inventories of Raleigh's failed First Federal Savings and Loan. The 107 properties eligible for the Affordable Housing Disposition Program were sold during to two days of auctioning. Under the program, low-priced single-family and multi-family homes are separated from other assets and marketed for 90 days solely to low- and moderate-income households, nonprofits, and public agencies. According to its own criteria, the RTC considered the North Carolina affordable housing auction a smashing success. The question remains whether the auction was a success when measured in terms set by statute, housing advocates, public agencies, and the buyers themselves.