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How Municipalities Can Address Housing Affordability Through Code and Zoning Reform

Historical patterns of land use policy and zoning have either disincentivized or disallowed production of various housing types and price points. Many U.S. cities have zoned the majority of their residential land for single-family detached housing, which not is not the right choice for everyone. Code and zoning reform can help increase home supply and address the nation’s housing affordability crisis.

NAHB’s new resource, Model Housing and Land Development Code Guide, includes information about how updating housing and land development code can have real impacts on the costs and availability of housing. NAHB members in communities considering these changes can share this document with local officials and housing advocates to help educate them on the value of code and zoning reform.

Making the approval and review processes as efficient as possible should be a top priority. Lengthy and unpredictable processes add costs to housing development and hurt affordability. One potential solution to address this issue is to enact a housing approval shot-clock — for example a 60-day limit on issuing approval or denial for each housing proposal. Even better, cities such as Sacramento are now issuing policy that makes certain housing types by-right or able to bypass these entitlement processes all together. Another expediating strategy is to release preapproved plans for housing types.

The Model Housing and Land Development Code Guide also discusses the importance of legalizing and incentivizing a greater variety of housing types, including missing middle housing. Removing excessive and burdensome regulation that artificially raises the cost to build and sell homes should be closely examined. Often these come in the form of architectural design standards that have little to do with the safety, health and welfare basis of zoning. The guide provides good examples of pro-housing, sensible codes from across the United States.

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