Making Housing Affordable: Breaking Down Regulatory Barriers -- A Self-Assessment Guide for States
Unnecessary or cumbersome building and development regulations contribute to high housing costs, discourage innovation, and limit residential options for lower income families. Although the design and implementation of such regulations are regarded as primarily local concerns, States also have an important leadership role to play. A recent HUD-sponsored publication, Making Housing Affordable: Breaking Down Regulatory Barriers -- A Self-Assessment Guide for States, is designed to help States identify regulatory barriers and foster affordability and choice in local housing markets.
States are in a unique position to spearhead regulatory reform. They are invested with Constitutional authority over land use, which they delegate in turn to localities through their own constitutions and enabling legislation. Thus, States are usually the sole entity with the jurisdiction to respond to regional housing and labor market imperfections. In addition, States have a direct interest in promoting attractive residential and business environments and in seeing that their tax expenditures on housing are used efficiently. Although most States are reluctant to intervene in local land use matters, they can be effective sponsors of education and technical assistance to encourage responsible regulatory reform.
The guide recommends that States first determine the nature and extent of housing affordability problems within their jurisdictions. Planning statutes and practices can be evaluated in light of affordability gaps that may exist within particular geographic areas or segments of the housing market. States may wish to consider requiring local governments to develop comprehensive plans -- subject to State review -- that would include an affordable housing element. Moreover, planning approaches could include a requirement for each locality to provide a "fair share" of the region's current and future affordable housing need. Finally, States could institute programs encouraging local governments to implement regulatory reform, perhaps by making particular sources of State aid available only to those jurisdictions that meet affordable housing targets.
As a part of their review, States also need to identify practices that create regulatory barriers in specific areas such as zoning, land development and site planning, building codes and standards, infrastructure, administration and processing, and impact fees. Making Housing Affordable provides a question-and-answer checklist to help readers evaluate statutes, policies, and regulations in each of these areas. The questions focus on how State legislation or regulation may restrict or encourage local planning practices, standard-setting, and flexibility. Following each checklist, the guide outlines specific regulatory reform strategies and techniques for implementing them.
The guide concludes by offering examples of successful education and technical assistance programs that help build the State-local community partnerships necessary to enact comprehensive regulatory reform. Programs in Oregon, Washington, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are highlighted.