How Zoning and Regulations Can Produce Barriers to Housing Affordability

Filed in Housing Affordability by on February 3, 2020 3 Comments

Despite improved conditions in the housing industry, a recent episode from The Hill.TV highlights how communities are still grappling with how to overcome the challenges of housing affordability for many of their residents. Cities such as Washington, D.C., have seen housing prices vastly outgrow household income gains, putting homeownership increasingly out of reach. One of the issues facing some of these areas are single-family zoning restrictions that restrict the types of housing developers can produce to help make homes more affordable in this area.

“Land-use regulations tend to make it so that there’s less housing and more expensive types of housing, like detached single-family homes, than what people would prefer,” shared Emily Hamilton of George Mason University. “A huge focus has rightly been on detached single-family zoning, which means that home builders can only build a single-family home on its own lot, blocking out more affordable types of housing, like apartments or even duplexes or triplexes that allow one piece of expensive land to be shared by multiple households.”

The New York Times examined the amount of single-family zoning in various U.S. cities to showcase the scope of this issue. A little more than one-third of Washington, D.C., for example, is zoned for only single-family detached homes, while cities such as Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Charlotte have between 70% to 85% of their land restricted for detached single-family development. There’s an increased need to update zoning regulations to address a need for “missing middle” housing to provide homeownership options for a greater variety of needs and income levels.

Although changing zoning laws — such as Oregon has done — to permit a greater variety of housing is a key step in the right direction, it’s not the only issue at hand.

“Another reason we don’t see more dense housing in the Washington [D.C.] area is because people in existing neighborhoods don’t want more dense housing in their neighborhoods,” observed Leah Brooks, associate professor at the George Washington University School of Public Policy. “I say that changing zoning laws is necessary, but it’s probably not sufficient to solve the problem.”

The issue of NIMBYism isn’t always relegated to the types of homes that can be built in a neighborhood either; it can also extend to the types of materials that can be used, such as vinyl siding, which can also drive up the cost of a home. Such materials are viable, code-approved options that help provide a variety of housing styles and price points to ensure housing affordability, defined as no more than 30% of a household’s income spent toward rent or a mortgage.

“I think the American Dream is very specific to an individual family,” shared Alex Fernandez, director of advocacy for the Vinyl Siding Institute. “It’s just giving people an opportunity to choose what works for their family.”

Watch the full episode below.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Jerry Runta says:

    NAHB better watch out what they forward. They were already co-opted in the January meeting in Minneapolis where the local politician called for not stopping with eliminating SF zoning, but went into the need for RENT CONTROLS and more government oversight. Not wanting a multi-unit structure next to my SF home is NOT nimby-ism – it is preserving the way of life I chose when I built in that SF subdivision.

    NAHB is getting schooled by the proponents of such a drastic and life-changing suggestions. I am skeptical that if a lot next to me was OK’d for up to a 4-plex, they would be priced just below the median SF price in my neighborhood – NOT priced to be affordable or attainable. Profit margin still reigns.

  2. Thomas Marston says:

    Jerry, you make an interesting point. If your community was developed in the 60’s, you bought the home knowing Red-lining was a restriction and the Supreme Court banned discrimination, are you planning to move when a family of color or LGBTQ member buys next door.

    That law addressed discrimination because it was unfair to restrict where people choose to live.

    This issue speaks to how we manage land in order to allow more people to live near work, family and recreation. Imagine telling your children and their children we want you living with us so we can spend more time with the grand kids, but not in our home as an extended family. The affordable home they can buy is outside the growth ring, 60 miles away. Why aren’t you visiting more often, you ask. Because work, the kids, the community keep us apart. Too bad affordable housing isn’t closer to you. Or better yet, you buy an investment property nearby and add an ADU above the existing 2 car garage.

    These types of homes were built decades ago and worked well to allow people to live close to public transportation. They ensured a strong social fabric and enabled young people to place their feet on the first step of homeownership.

    I learned in high school that life is unfair. If change happens, you deal with the change if the majority wants the new path.

  3. Bob Carroll says:

    They briefly mentioned Oregon as wanting to make more ADU or Accessory Dwelling Unit lots available by allowing, not demanding that more lots be allowed to accommodate that, which is fine if looked at as a stand alone assist in developing more affordable housing. Having said that, it’s important to note that the State of Oregon is the primary culprit in causing the price of land to artificially rise by restricting the amount of land that can be developed. Excess land use laws, excess zoning laws, unrealistic changes to the state’s adopted building code (One size fits all. Florence, Oregon (average winter 40 deg. average summer 70 or a 30 deg. variance) has the exact same insulation and “energy efficiency” requirements as Pendleton Oregon who gets a 40 degree variance DAILY. Not much in the way of common sense there. All of things add to the cost of housing unnecessarily, yet the people who make those laws complain about the lack of affordable housing…………..go figure.

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