"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. 

Among the biggest barriers to those opportunities are exclusionary governmental housing policies (“regulatory barriers to housing affordability”), such as exclusionary zoning. "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.

Examples of exclusionary zoning are the widespread requirements for large lots and home sizes in American suburbs—where most jobs now are located, and where almost all new urban jobs are being created. Other exclusionary housing policies include costly, high-end building, housing, and subdivision code requirements that are unnecessary for health and safety; and protracted, unduly expensive permitting procedures.

Such regulatory barriers often nullify reasonable efforts to increase the supply of moderately-priced housing. In other cases they increase the cost of that housing tremendously. Rigorous economic research has found that such barriers have caused prices for basic houses to be 40-50 percent above the costs of construction in most of the major metropolitan areas studied, across the United States. In certain high-opportunity metros (including Pacific Coast metros such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle), prices exceed construction costs by several times that amount. For more, click on ECONOMIC EFFECTS OF EXCLUSIONARY HOUSING POLICIES.

Similar problems with unjustified regulatory barriers pose the biggest obstacles to housing affordability worldwide. For more, click on McKINSEY REPORT ON MEETING GLOBAL HOUSING AFFORDABILITY CHALLENGE.

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.

EHI’s primary tools are education and public policy advocacy. During its first five years (2008-2013), its advocacy was a catalyst in the addition to local housing plans in its home county of more than one additional affordable unit per day, and more than eight additional housing units per day overall (on average). (EHI’s headquarters is in Fairfax County, Virginia, in the Washington, DC, region).) For more, click on ABOUT EHI. 

Nationally, EHI’s website provides information on many aspects of exclusionary housing policies and ways to remove them. EHI also has advised people in various regions of the United States regarding specific issues in their areas.

EHI “holds one of the keys [to] the goal of more integrated communities and schools,” and is an “obvious candidate for funding,” according to Inside Philanthropy magazine.  “With its detailed research on housing law, and its ability to help municipalities take a hard look at their assumptions and priorities, EHI has an important role to play in the fight for fair housing.”  For more, click on Inside Philanthropy urges funders to support EHI.




Emerging consensus recognizes importance of removing regulatory barriers to housing affordability


A virtual consensus has emerged recently—among housing policy experts, economists, and even Presidents of the United States, across the political spectrum—that land use regulations often include major barriers to housing affordability. It also is generally recognized that the adverse effects of those barriers on low- and moderate-income Americans are so serious that broad-based reforms of those regulations are needed.

The barriers consist of provisions of many local zoning and subdivision codes, and other regulations restricting housing development, which deprive low- and moderate-income Americans of the opportunity to live reasonably near their jobs. Such land use regulations also interfere with the opportunity for low- and moderate-income Americans to live in safe, wholesome neighborhoods with high-quality public schools, health care facilities, and other key services.

The emerging consensus on the need for reform is very gratifying to the Institute (EHI), because EHI has been advocating the removal of regulatory barriers to housing affordability, 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.

No consensus has emerged yet as to which reforms will effectively control and minimize those barriers. Recent studies have concluded that reform efforts at the local, state and federal levels have had very limited effects to date. EHI is preparing an analysis of lessons learned from those efforts, including recommendations for more effective methods of removing those barriers. For more, please click on EMERGING CONSENSUS ON REGULATORY BARRIERS TO HOUSING AFFORDABILITY.

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. For background material, please click on EHI HELPS ITS HOME REGION TO MUCH-IMPROVED RENTAL HOUSING COST RECORD 

Loudoun County, Virginia, Board of Supervisors deliberates housing growth


EHI has been providing input to Loudoun County, Virginia—a rapidly growing outer suburb of Washington, DC—on the County’s future housing needs, for more than two years. EHI’s President, Tom Loftus, is now a member of the County’s Housing Advisory Board (HAB).

Loudoun’s residential development planning, especially near its Metrorail stations (Loudoun Gateway and Ashburn), which are scheduled to open by 2020, will have an important impact on housing costs and supply for Loudoun residents. They also will have a significant impact on people living elsewhere in the Washington, DC, region.

The Loudoun County (Virginia) Board of Supervisors (“Board”) in June deferred a decision on its Planning Commission’s (PC’s) recommendations for substantial residential and commercial growth near the County’s future Metrorail (rapid transit) stations. Instead, the Board folded the planning process for those areas of eastern Loudoun County (“Silver Line Small Area Plan”) into the slower, County-wide Comprehensive Plan (CP) revision track (“Envision Loudoun”).

Board members express concerns about initial Transition Area planning

At the October 3 Board business meeting, representatives of DPZ and the Stakeholders Committee offered their respective preliminary scenarios for future land use types in the Suburban and Transition Policy Areas. Those areas are portions of eastern Loudoun County. The Transition Area was created many years ago as a buffer zone between the more suburban east and the more rural west.

DPZ’s preliminary scenario showed that there could be as many as 12,076 new residential units in the Transition Area within the next 20-25 years. Under the Stakeholders Committee’s preliminary scenario, there could be as many as 18,323 such units there by that time.

Those potential increases were questioned by several Supervisors at the meeting. Those Supervisors emphasized that most of the voters they hear from object to planning for new housing in such great amounts. A major concern is the traffic impacts of new development on existing residents.

DPZ and the 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 the Metrorail stations, to absorb much of the housing demand that will be created by commercial development there. However, those recommendations were not accepted by the Board in June.

The Envision Loudoun process will involve many more steps, and it is scheduled to take at least one more year to complete.

Board holds Housing Summit

On October 16, the Board held a County Housing Summit. Representatives of approximately 20 private organizations spoke. Almost all of them favored much greater housing opportunity and affordability in the County. For example, Sharon Virts— founder of FCi Federal, a government contracting firm, and a member of the County’s Economic Development Advisory Commission (EDAC)—stated:

The Loudoun business community is struggling to attract and retain workers due in large part to the lack of attainable affordable [housing] options in the county . . . This coupled with the region’s transportation issues is having a significant impact on our business community. EDAC believes the county must take deliberate action to address the housing crisis we are facing.

In addition, County staffers presented compelling data from the Housing Needs Assessment and other sources, concerning currently unmet housing needs, and tremendous future housing needs in the County. However, again there were significant questions from numerous Supervisors. Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) urged the Board to figure out where it would actually put the homes before taking any policy positions.

Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge District) said the public doesn’t support growth beyond current Board-approved levels. Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin District) noted the potential $100 million budget deficit for FY 2019 and said this is no time to take on affordable housing issues. The summit did not result in Board commitments to impact housing affordability in the County directly, although the Supervisors approved several relevant governmental initiatives.

* * * * * * *

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 more, please click on LOUDOUN DELIBERATES HOUSING GROWTH.




  • Economic and housing market outlook for the nation and the Washington, DC, region were presented by distinguished economists at March 2017 “Economic Summit.” For more, please click on HOUSING SUPPLY AND HOME BUILDING 2017. 
  • 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.
  • HUD issued Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (July 2015), requiring greater consideration of exclusionary and other discriminatory housing conditions by federal housing fund recipients. For more, click on HUD issues AFFH Rule. To read the Rule itself, you may click on HUD, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH): Final Rule, 80 Fed. Reg. 42,272, 42,352 (July 16, 2015)
  • 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)
  • EHI responds to Wall Street Journal article on new exclusionary policies in certain suburbs of Phoenix and Denver. For more, click on WSJ on new exclusionary policies.
  • 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