"Promoting housing affordability by combating exclusionary housing policies"

 

CFC # 41863 (Combined Federal Campaign) 

 

 

            “Housing is a necessary of life.”

United States Supreme Court

Block v. Hirsch, 256 U.S. 135, 156 (1921)

(per Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)

 

Despite the general recognition of the crucial importance of a good home to human development, tens of millions of low- and moderate-income Americans do not have the opportunity to buy or rent decent housing in wholesome neighborhoods. 

Exclusionary governmental housing practices (“regulatory barriers to housing affordability”), such as exclusionary zoning, are a major part of the problem. "State and local regulations are among the principal culprits behind the nation’s persistent affordability problems,” according to the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies. For more about those regulatory barriers, please click on EXCLUSIONARY HOUSING PRACTICES.

The Equitable Housing Institute (EHI) is a charitable organization that focuses on eliminating exclusionary housing policies in the United States, in order to reduce homelessness and poverty. EHI is the only national organization focused primarily on removing those barriers for all low- and moderate-income Americans. For more, please click on ABOUT EHI.

 

EHI ARTICLES

 

EHI works toward creation of better “carrot” and “stick,” to encourage more local governments to approve needed, new housing

 

By 2017, a virtual consensus had emerged—among housing policy experts, economists, and even Presidents of the United States—that land use regulations often include major, widespread barriers to housing affordability (a/k/a exclusionary housing practices), and that serious reform is needed. (For more on that consensus, please click on EMERGING CONSENSUS ON REGULATORY BARRIERS TO HOUSING AFFORDABILITY.) 

In addition to exclusionary zoning (mentioned above), those barriers include provisions of many local subdivision codes, and many other regulations that unduly restrict housing development where it is needed. Those provisions deprive low- and moderate-income Americans of the opportunity for housing they can afford, within a reasonable distance from their jobs.

Those exclusionary land use regulations also interfere with the opportunity of low- and moderate-income Americans to live in safe, wholesome neighborhoods with high-quality public schools, health care facilities, and other key services. For more about those regulatory barriers, please click on EXCLUSIONARY HOUSING PRACTICES.

The emerging consensus on the need for reform is very gratifying to the Institute (EHI), which has been advocating the removal of those barriers, and has been taking action locally to remove them, since its formation in 2008. EHI is the only national organization focused primarily on removing those barriers for the benefit of all low- and moderate-income Americans.

EHI now is focusing on effective ways to remove those barriers. The vast majority of land use regulations and decisions in America are made by local governments, through their elected officials (mayors, council members, etc.). Because the voters are the current residents of the jurisdiction, residents’ attitudes are crucial to whether enough housing will be permitted in the community. EHI believes that a better “carrot” and “stick” are needed to motivate more local governments to meet housing needs.

 Toward a better “carrot”: pursuing “win/win” solutions with current residents to resolve concerns about permitting needed, new housing in their area

 

Residents’ resistance to permitting new housing in their area is probably the chief, underlying obstacle to creating enough housing in the right places, suitable for the low- and moderate-income people who need it. That resistance—often called NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) sentiment—is quite powerful, because the local officials responsible for decisions on housing issues are either elected by those residents, or appointed by elected officials.

Any new housing development, or any other land use that has potential side-effects on existing residents, will get a predictable response from those residents: “How will the development impact me and my family?”

Residents in the area may have a myriad of concerns. Typically, among the biggest worries are the risks of increased traffic congestion, loss of open space, lower property values, and/or higher taxes resulting from the development. Such adverse impacts generally can be avoided, but doing so takes careful planning and follow-through.

The surest way to overcome the NIMBY syndrome is to make sure that the vast majority of people in the area understand that the benefits that will flow to them and their community from the new development will outweigh whatever costs and impacts they are likely to experience. It appears that such a “win/win” solution often can be achieved through: (1) sufficient analysis and explanation to residents of the actual facts, combined with (2) a reasonably supportive attitude by the local government.

For example, the local government often can provide assurances pro-actively, early on, that it can commit adequate funding to make the needed infrastructure improvements (roads, schools, and other public services)—without heaping new tax burdens on current residents. The necessary public funding usually can be supplied from the increased tax revenue generated by new development overall, including commercial growth (such as new office, retail, and industrial development). Commercial growth typically provides a great deal of net tax revenue to the locality.

For more about strategies for overcoming the NIMBY syndrome, please click on PURSUING “WIN/WIN” SOLUTIONS TO MEETING HOUSING NEEDS.

Toward a better “stick”: making local governments responsible for the full cost of their exclusionary housing practices

 

Recent analyses have concluded that the limited efforts to date at the local, state and federal levels, to control regulatory barriers to housing affordability have failed to solve the overall problem. (For more on those studies, please click on EMERGING CONSENSUS ON REGULATORY BARRIERS TO HOUSING AFFORDABILITY, p. 4.)

Among the needed reforms is effective legislation to prohibit and remove those barriers. EHI is analyzing the lessons learned from previous reform efforts, in order to create a more effective approach.

EHI recently has studied a legislative approach that has substantially increased the ability of victims of exclusionary zoning to overcome it—albeit in a quite different context. That approach is embodied in a federal statute that protects religious institutions from discriminatory land use practices. Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq.

There is general agreement among commentators that a key to RLUIPA’s success is its provision for reimbursement of the full costs (including necessary legal expenses) of proven victims of exclusionary zoning. Other laws and judicial decisions that have prohibited exclusionary land use practices generally do not authorize reimbursement of the legal expenses of the victims.

The federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) is an exception. It permits full reimbursement for necessary legal expenses and other costs, where the victims are members of a protected minority group. (The FHA protects people from housing discrimination based on their race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, and national origin.) Maximum use should be made of the FHA in those situations.

However, the FHA is not designed to solve the overall problem of exclusionary housing practices. Though the FHA helps “level the playing field” for minority group members, exclusionary housing practices would keep the “playing field” of American housing opportunities seriously deficient, even if it were level. Residential segregation of Americans by income has increased a great deal during the last several decades, even though residential segregation by race has been declining, with the help of the FHA.

Effective, new legislation at the state and/or federal level appears necessary to overcome the general problem of exclusionary housing practices. Whatever legislative approach is taken, we recommend that it include a provision for full reimbursement to successful claimants of the necessary expenses of vindicating their rights. For more on EHI’s analysis of cost reimbursement under RLUIPA, please click on MAKING CHALLENGES TO EXCLUSIONARY HOUSING PRACTICES FEASIBLE: THE RLUIPA EXPERIENCE.

American housing market is regaining strength, but housing costs are unaffordable for high proportion of low- and moderate-income Americans

 

The United States housing market is finally returning to what had been typical for decades before the onset of the severe recession of 2007-2009—which was precipitated by housing sector dysfunction. But that “typical” condition includes a widespread lack of affordability, especially for low- and moderate-income Americans.

For example, more than one-quarter of all rental households in America spent more than half their household incomes on housing costs in 2015. Overall, almost half of America’s 43.3 million rental households were “housing cost burdened” that year, meaning they spent more than 30 percent of household income on housing costs. That figure was down less than 2 percent from five years earlier, when recovery from the “Great Recession” had just begun.

In EHI’s home area, the Washington, DC region, where EHI has concentrated its local advocacy, multi-family construction has been among the most vigorous in the nation recently. As a result, rents overall rose only 1.1%, year-over-year, as of July 2017—compared to the 2.6% national rate of rent growth during that period.

However, the region still is one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation. There is little new housing being built for middle- and low-income renters in the DC region—even though investments in lower-end multi-family construction offer attractive returns on investment. Thus, DC region trends continue to push up rents substantially for low- and middle-income residents. For more on the region and the nation’s housing markets, please click on HOUSING MARKET PERFORMANCE 2017, and HOUSING SUPPLY AND HOME BUILDING 2017. For background material, please click on EHI HELPS ITS HOME REGION TO MUCH-IMPROVED RENTAL HOUSING COST RECORD 

Loudoun County, Virginia, Supervisors continue to be skeptical about recommendations for meeting County's housing needs

 

EHI has been providing input to Loudoun County, Virginia—a rapidly growing outer suburb of Washington, DC—on the County’s future housing needs, since 2015. Loudoun’s residential development planning—especially near its future Metrorail (commuter rail) stations—will have a substantial impact on housing costs and supply for Loudoun residents and the rest of the Washington, DC, region.

Whether and where to permit a substantial increase in housing continue to be highly controversial topics in Loudoun County. The County’s Dept. of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) issued a draft Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CP) for the County on May 7, 2018. The draft plan, which covers the period until 2040, calls for a huge reduction in the number of new housing units planned for the County’s Transition Policy Area (TPA), compared with DPZ’s initial scenario. (The TPA is a largely residential area of east-central Loudoun County that is intended as a buffer between the rural west and more suburban east (see Policy Areas map above).)

The draft CP reduces to 1,500 the number of additional residences envisioned in the TPA by 2040—down from the 12,000 or more additional housing units initially suggested as an option for the TPA, by DPZ and the County’s Stakeholders’ Committee. (Those units would be in addition to up to 2,800 new residences already provided for in the current comprehensive plan, which was adopted in 2001.)

Those reductions are consistent with the adverse reaction of numerous members of the Board to the initial recommendations. Various Board members have emphasized that most of the voters they hear from object to planning for new housing in such great amounts.

Loudoun’s DPZ and Stakeholders Committee are attempting to deal with the forecast in the County’s recent Housing Needs Assessment of a net shortfall of more than 18,000 housing units in the County by 2040. (For more on that report, please click on our website article LOUDOUN HOUSING NEEDS SURVEYS 2017.)

DPZ and the County’s Planning Commission had recommended permitting roughly 15,000 new housing units near Loudoun’s future Metrorail stations, to absorb much of the housing demand that will be created by job growth due to new commercial development there. However, those recommendations were not accepted by the Board in June 2017. Instead, the Board folded the planning for those areas of eastern Loudoun County (the “Silver Line Small Area Plan” process) into the slower, County-wide Comprehensive Plan (CP) revision track (the “Envision Loudoun” process).

Even with the newest housing reductions, however, the draft CP’s recommendations for housing and overall growth have been met with skepticism by many residents of the County. EHI hopes that supporters of housing growth and skeptical residents can come up with approaches that meet housing needs while satisfying the legitimate concerns of county residents about new development. If well-enough planned, the necessary growth might be achievable with general public support. 

For information on Loudoun’s CP proceedings during 2017, please click on LOUDOUN DELIBERATES HOUSING GROWTH.

 

MORE EHI ARTICLES

 

  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing practices that have a disproportionately adverse effect on members of minority groups—unless those practices have a justifiable purpose and properly limited scope. For more, please click on SUPREME COURT DISPARATE IMPACT DECISION.
  • For background information on the U. S. Dep't of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD's) Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (July 2015), please click on HUD issues AFFH Rule.
  • Major report by McKinsey Global Institute finds that overcoming exclusionary housing policies is the most critical step in providing affordable housing--in the United States and around the world. For more, please click on McKINSEY REPORT ON MEETING GLOBAL HOUSING AFFORDABILITY CHALLENGE.
  • EHI memorandum summarizes how exclusionary housing policies aggravate housing problems that have been linked to increased developmental problems among low-income children. Among those problems are children's health (physical, mental and emotional), safety, educational achievement, and general cognitive and behavioral development.. For more, please click on CHILDREN'S DEVELOPMENT & XHPs
  • Inside Philanthropy urges funders to support EHI’s efforts to break the grip of exclusionary zoning and other exclusionary housing policies on housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income people. For more, click on Inside Philanthropy urges funders to support EHI
  • EHI letters printed by Washington Post highlight serious, adverse effects of local housing and land use policies For more, click on EHI LETTERS IN WASHINGTON POST
  • EHI analyzes whether Congress has Constitutional authority to prohibit unwarranted state and local regulatory restrictions on housing supply, if those restrictions affect interstate commerce—as a number of recent studies indicate they now do. For more, click on INTERSTATE EFFECTS OF RBHAs (2014).
  • One affordable housing unit per day is added to plans in EHI's home county, following EHI's advocacy, during its first five years (2008-2013). For more, click on EHI's FIRST FIVE YEARS.

 

Equitable Housing Institute

P.O. Box 1402

Vienna, VA 22183