President Recommends Affordable Housing Policies
For the first time, the White House has waded into local zoning policy. Because of the role that NIMBY groups play in planning and zoning board decisions, the White House recently published a Housing Development Toolkit of Economic Evidence and Policy Fixes to assist local leaders to advance housing policy. Many high density projects are proposed as affordable housing. Neighborhood groups are quick to organize in opposition, often citing the change in quality of the neighborhood. Zoning boards are reluctant to fight and change laws and policies and when they do, approvals come with high cost to developers. These costs are passed on to tenants via rent.
The Toolkit recommend policies that would help reduce development costs and improve zoning laws. For example, cities are encouraged to eliminate parking requirements for high density, urban projects. Parking is a high cost component of construction which is passed on through rent. Tenants in urban areas should be encouraged to use public transportation or walk. Vacant land owners should be taxed higher as an incentive to develop sooner. This tax revenue should be donated to non-profit developers. The permit process should be shortened. Eliminate restrictions on accessory dwelling units such as basement and garages. And, height restrictions should be eased. While this would increase density, the increased revenue will off set higher land costs.
President Obama also announced that the FY 2017 budget will include $300 million to offer grants to cities that update zoning laws that promote higher density development. These laws would in turn off set higher land costs, help to push back against NIMBY groups and make housing more affordable. Any tools, incentives and assistance that the federal government can give to local government which in turn can be passed on to developers to help increase affordable housing stock is a welcome shot in the arm. Local policy makers can not continue to be intimidated.