Removing Barriers to Housing Will Require Action at All Levels of Government

February 7, 2020 | Mike Kingsella
Reading time: 6 minutes min

Last June, Up for Growth participated in the launch of the White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing. Created through an executive order, the Council is designed to target and mitigate myriad barriers to housing affordability that exist across the country, at every level of government.

Last week marked an important inflection point  as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development accepted comments on questions central to the work of the Council. Up for Growth submitted a response, which you can read here, addressing several topics, including federal, state, and local barriers to affordable housing, as well as what tools are needed for future research and policy-making.

Up for Growth responded by engaging our broad member network to offer expertise and on-the-ground perspectives of how regulatory barriers affect their work and communities. We are especially grateful to Abundant Housing LA, Old Boise, 1000 Friends of Oregon, Oregon Smart Growth, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, Colorado Association of REALTORS, Evergreen Housing Development Group, Holland Partner Group, Convergence MREF, Camden Property Trust, and Wood Partners for providing insight. Open and continued engagement with our members is central to Up for Growth’s mission, and our Federal Register response attempts to synthesize diverse perspectives and influence the conversation around making housing more affordable and accessible.

If you aren’t able to read the full response, here are some top suggestions for how HUD, other federal agencies, and lawmakers can advance affordable housing.

1. Provide bonus scoring or expedited consideration for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnership Program applicants committed to zoning reforms that would create more housing. CDBG and HOME are both critical programs for helping marginalized and vulnerable communities, and the impact of each program can be enhanced when housing is easier to build.

2. Support existing federal legislation that would enable housing production, including proposals included in Up for Growth Action’s federal legislative agenda:

3. Reduce parking requirements near public transit to free up more space for housing development while also encouraging greater ridership and less car usage.

4. Tie some level of Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) and Highway Trust Fund dollars to local zoning reforms that lead to more housing development.

5. Expand and make permanent the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Planning Grant program to help communities create mixed-use communities and better connect housing to transit.

6. Expand Housing Choice Vouchers to help low- and moderate-income families access affordable housing as a stopgap measure while zoning and land use reforms spur the creation of more housing.

At the state and local levels, many of our recommendations stem from the observations gleaned in our national and state Housing Underproduction reports. We believe states can play a constructive role through setting minimum standards around zoning, such as those reforms in Oregon’s HB 2001, and density bonuses should be used as offsets to leverage private investment to generate additional affordable homes. Meanwhile, unpredictable and subjective permitting and appeals processes and poorly calibrated inclusionary zoning policies are two of the biggest hindrances to development of housing of all kinds – affordable, missing middle, and market rate. Exorbitant impact fees and restrictions on accessory dwelling units (ADUs) also keep the supply of housing at artificially low levels.

Up for Growth believes our Housing Policy and Affordability Calculator is a critical tool for local governments and stakeholders to assess housing policy decisions. In each host city, recent, detailed, and local market data is paired with existing and proposed policies allowing users to visualize effects of incremental changes to those policies. By allowing users to see how policy interactions affect factors like development cost, rent, and the likelihood of building under existing market conditions, policymakers are better positioned to create nuanced policies that produce desired outcomes more efficiently and effectively. Our first calculator focused on Seattle, Washington, and next week we’ll unveil our second one in Charlotte, North Carolina.

We are encouraged to see federal policy makers engaging in solutions to our national housing shortage and affordability crisis. The housing ecosystem is dynamic, and finding innovative solutions requires thoughtful engagement at all levels of government. Up for Growth looks forward to advancing rigorous research, convening diverse stakeholders, and developing thoughtful policy that helps every American family find a home they can afford.