Acute Affordable Housing Shortages Engender New State and Local Approaches

To address the high nationwide costs of affordable housing, states and local governments are working to find innovative ways to remove barriers to affordable housing construction and to be more involved in planning for higher density.

In the U.S. as a whole, localities are commonly responsible for setting housing density policies, which can occasionally lead to a patchwork of regulations and zoning issues that can prevent houses and apartments from being built where demand for them is high. Having localities set density policy allows individual citizens to have a measurable impact on any potential changes to their neighborhoods, and requires that new development have some degree of local buy-in.

Massachusetts considers affordable housing policy

Due to longstanding local government policy, only a handful of states have had an active role in promoting affordable housing. Facing housing shortages, one of those states, Massachusetts, is considering asking local partners to take up their share of the burden of new construction and encouraging density. State lawmakers have proposed a measure, currently in committee, to require cities and towns to set aside part of their metro areas for multifamily housing while also offering state compensation for any subsequent increases in related school district costs.

The measure is intended to help boost growth and increase connectivity and accessibility for the Boston metro area without having to continually expand mass transit further and further away from the city center due to increases in sprawl.

San Francisco council requests housing report

Local governments are also active in trying to find innovative solutions to the affordable housing crisis. In San Francisco, the city council has requested an economic impact report for development and land use rules and regulations as a way of making the benefits of less-restrictive zoning more apparent. The report is intended to help detail the trade-offs inherent in regional housing decisions to provide a balance between the benefits of increasing affordable housing stock and protecting existing neighborhoods. The ability to have data regarding the inherent costs of restricting housing growth inform decision-making at the local level could help make additional affordable housing development part of a consensus-driven decision process. The report is due back to the city council later this year.

Innovative policies critical for affordable housing

Innovations at the state and local levels that support affordable housing policies are critical now that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has started requiring fair housing development plans.

The opportunity that states and local governments have to increase overall economic activity can potentially be put at risk due to the inconvenience of traffic-causing construction activity that cannot, by itself, solve regional housing supply and demand problems. The current status quo has seen declines in quality of life indicators for areas with high market demand for affordable housing while, simultaneously, states have seen overall growth in affordable housing stock that is too slight to more than moderately improve urban connectivity and job growth.

Innovative planning policies are central to meeting this challenge and letting states and localities reap the rewards of greater cooperation and coordination.

About the Author
Jeff Bates is APA's State Government Affairs Associate.

May 18, 2016

By Jeffrey Bates