Regional Approaches to Affordable Housing

PAS Report 513/514

By Stuart Meck, FAICP, Rebecca Retzlaff, AICP, James Schwab, FAICP

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Do regional approaches to affordable housing actually result in housing production and, if so, how? Regional Approaches to Affordable Housing answers these critical questions and more. Evaluating 23 programs across the nation, the report begins by tracing the history of regional housing planning in the U.S. and defining contemporary big picture issues on housing affordability. It examines fair-share regional housing planning in three states and one metropolitan area, and follows with an appraisal of regional housing trust funds — a new phenomenon.

Also assessed are an incentive program in the Twin Cities region and affordable housing appeals statutes in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. The study looks at recent private-sector initiatives to promote affordable housing production in the San Francisco Bay area and Chicago. A concluding chapter proposes a set of best and second-best practices.

Supplementing the report are appendices containing an extensive annotated bibliography, a research note on housing need forecasting and fair-share allocation formulas, a complete list of state enabling legislation authorizing local housing planning, and two model state acts. 

Product Details

Page Count
Date Published
March 20, 2003
Adobe PDF
APA Planning Advisory Service

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Affordable Housing as a Regional Planning Priority
About This Report • How This Study Was Conducted • Previous Studies on the Topic

Chapter 2. Historical Development of Regional Housing Planning in the U.S.
Statistical Studies of Housing Conditions • Federal Promotion of Local and Regional Housing Planning • Regional Fair-Share Housing Planning • Technical Manuals Supporting Regional Housing Planning

Chapter 3. The Big Issues
Defining Affordable Housing • The Regional Dimension of Affordable Housing • The Weakness of Regional Planning Authority • The Chain of Exclusion • The Nimby Problem

Chapter 4. Fair-Share Programs and an Incentive Program
New Jersey • California • Portland Metro, Oregon • New Hampshire • Metropolitan Council, Twin Cities Region, Minnesota

Chapter 5. Regional Housing Trust Funds
The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board • A Regional Coalition for Housing, King County, Washington • Sacramento, California, Housing and Redevelopment Agency • Columbus/Franklin County, Ohio, Affordable Housing Trust Fund • Montgomery County, Ohio, Housing Trust Fund

Chapter 6. State Affordable Housing Appeals Systems
Massachusetts Comprehensive Permit Law • The Rhode Island Low-and Moderate-Income Housing Act • The Connecticut Affordable Housing Appeals Procedure

Chapter 7. Private-Sector and Other Initiatives


Report faults idea of regional affordable housing

By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 3/12/2003

Researchers of a new national report are skeptical of the idea of making regions instead of individual towns responsible for minimum levels of affordable housing, a strategy that Romney administration officials are considering.

''Unless local governments are under extraordinary pressure to provide opportunities for affordable housing,'' it won't happen, said Stuart Meck, senior research fellow at the American Planning Association, which analyzed 23 programs nationwide designed to produce affordable housing.

Douglas Foy, secretary of the new Office of Commonwealth Development, said recently that he was ''intrigued'' by the idea of a geographical region meeting the standard of 10 percent affordable housing, rather than every town having that goal.

Under the state's current ''anti-snob zoning'' law, otherwise known as Chapter 40B, residential developments that include below-market rate units get fast-tracked in communities in which less than 10 percent of the housing is classified as affordable. Governor Mitt Romney recently appointed a task force to study ways to revamp the 33-year-old law.

Chapter 40B is a classic example of a ''builder's remedy,'' the APA report says. That is, it clears the way for the construction of more housing through a permit process that overrides local zoning, but it ultimately relies on developers to push the projects through.

The role of state government is ''passive'' in this system, Meck said. The state does not review plans or follow up, intervene aggressively in the appeals process, or withhold money to local governments that don't meet housing production goals, he said.

As a result, little housing may actually get built, because ''no one is really in charge, there are limited resources for subsidies, or there are no consequences for failing to carry out plans,'' Meck said.

States must be tough when trying to get communities to build affordable housing, because cities and towns won't do it on their own, the report concludes.

The report, ''Regional Approaches to Affordable Housing,'' took two years to compile and is the first analysis of its kind in a decade. Its conclusions are one more indication that planners and organizations associated with the ''smart growth'' movement are zeroing in on the need for more housing, rather than efforts to contain growth and development.

In addition to Massachusetts, the report looks at programs and policies designed to increase housing in New Jersey, where the Mount Laurel court rulings require suburban communities to produce a ''fair share'' of affordable housing; regional housing trust funds in California, Ohio, Vermont, and Washington; a new incentive-based program in Minneapolis-St. Paul; housing appeal statutes in Connecticut and Rhode Island; and private-sector and nonprofit initiatives in San Francisco and Chicago.

Chapter 40B Thought-for-the-Day: New Book by the APA

The American Planning Association has just this week published a major book describing 23 different approaches taken around the country to address the problems that Chapter 40B addresses. It's entitled Regional Approaches to Affordable Housing.

There is nothing we haven't heard before about Massachusetts, but the sections on other states are interesting. For instance, it has the most detailed description I've seen of the response in New Hampshire to the Supreme Court's Britton v. Town of Chester ruling, which overturned exclusionary zoning in that state. It also has comprehensive descriptions of the programs and results in New Jersey, California, and Oregon. And there is a lengthy concluding chapter with recommendations.

—Werner Lohe, Chairman, Housing Appeals Committee, Department of Housing and Community Development, Boston