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America's Affordable Communities Initiative
Frequently Asked Questions

Winter/Spring 2004

  1. What are you hoping to accomplish with this initiative?
    The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is seeking to reduce regulatory barriers at the federal, state and local levels that prevent the approval, construction and availability of affordable housing. At the end of the day, we want to see an increase in the supply of affordable homes and apartments so that more hard-working American families can find a place to rent or buy.
  2. What are some of your top goals?
    As elected officials and public servants, we need to work together with community-wide interests to demonstrate to the public the importance and benefits of affordable housing. One of our top priorities is to better define the problem of regulatory barriers and educate the American people on the challenges we face as a nation with regards to affordable housing. We also will:
    • Identify and analyze regulations at all levels of government that are duplicative, contradictory or burdensome, and that act as a barrier to the production of affordable housing;
    • Assist states and local governments in developing comprehensive programs to remove regulatory barriers;
    • Create a federal task force that will coordinate interagency efforts to streamline the regulatory hurdles of other federal agencies;
    • Recommend legislative and regulatory changes;
    • Promote, conduct and review studies that will help analyze the affordable housing problem and recommend solutions;
    • Publicize the positive aspects of affordable housing, so that "Not in My Backyard" becomes "Why Not in Our Community;"
    • Update the 1991 Advisory Commission on Regulatory Barriers Report.
  3. Is this a new program for HUD?
    Yes, although HUD has been focusing on the affordability issue for years. In fact, HUD looked at the impact of regulatory barriers on the availability of affordable housing during the first Bush Administration, which culminated in the 1991 release of the Advisory Commission on Regulatory Barriers report.

    The Department is making regulatory reform and affordable housing top priorities. HUD created the Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse, a national Web-based forum that gives state and local governments the ability to share ideas and develop solutions to address unique housing challenges.

  4. Why an initiative and not a formal office with funding?
    It was determined that the creation of an "office" on regulatory reform would only create more bureaucracy, cause confusion, and would take a considerable amount of time and expense to launch. Instead, we decided that it would be more productive to establish a Department-wide Initiative consisting of a team of highly qualified individuals with considerable expertise in their respective fields. This new team meets on a regular basis and the Initiative's Director reports directly to HUD's Secretary.
  5. What are regulatory barriers to affordable housing?
    They typically are public regulatory requirements, payments or processes that significantly impede the development and availability of affordable housing without providing a commensurate health and/or safety benefit. While often motivated by good intentions, regulatory barriers may be unnecessary, duplicative or excessive. These barriers can impede housing rehabilitation, limit supply and raise the cost of new development by up to 35 percent. The result: millions of Americans are "priced out" from buying or renting the kind of housing they otherwise could afford.
  6. Can you give me some specific examples?
    Common regulatory barriers to affordable housing include:
    • Duplicative and/or time-consuming design review processes;
    • Multiple and/or duplicative layers of approval processes;
    • Out-of-date building codes;
    • Excessive fees;
    • Restrictive and/or exclusionary zoning ordinances;
    • Complicated and/or unnecessary federal regulations;
    • Excessive environmental restrictions; and
    • Burdensome rehabilitation codes.
  7. How will you get state and local governmnets to support you in your efforts to reduce regulatory barriers?
    Our goal is to work in partnership with the states, local governments and community interests. We want to help them identify and reduce those barriers that are preventing the construction of affordable housing or driving up costs. We want to help them make their communities more vibrant, livable and attractive to hard-working Americans. Many communities have already initiated their own efforts, including public-private partnerships.
  8. Some argue that HUD is becoming a "Super Zoning Authority," how would you respond?
    HUD should not, could not, would not and certainly does not want to become a super zoning authority. This is something we emphasize on a daily basis. In fact, we are doing the exact opposite - we want states and local governments to examine their own laws and determine which ones create regulatory barriers and then take the appropriate course of action that is tailored to their individual community. Recognizing that what might work in one city or town might not work in another, we always prefer local solutions to local problems. And we are not asking states, counties or cities to do anything that we are not doing ourselves. We want to lead by example. Our goal is to change the archaic thought process that exists in some communities from "Not in my backyard" to "Why not in our community!"
  9. What are you doing at HUD to get your own house in order?
    The removal of regulatory barriers is a necessary component of any national housing policy and that is why we have chosen to lead by example. Our Initiative team will carefully review all HUD rules, policies and notices of funding availability to ensure that no unnecessary barriers exist or are proposed. In fact, we have published a Federal Register notice seeking comment from the public on existing HUD regulations that may create barriers to affordable housing.

    Secretary Jackson has also authorized a new pre-clearance procedure for all future HUD regulations, mortgagee letters, directives and other formal documents that now mandates that the Director of the Initiative review proposed regulations and/or documents to determine if they would create additional regulatory barriers. If it is determined that the proposed regulations may create barriers, the issue will be addressed.

  10. Under what criteria will you measure these state and local governments?
    We distributed a brochure to some 25000 state and local government offices outlining our Initiative, our goals and how we hope to work together at the state and/or community level. This brochure and our Web site will list the kinds of specific actions we hope to see within communities across America.
  11. If this initiative is a priority, why did you wait until June 2003 to roll it out?
    Upon taking office in January 2001, Secretary Mel Martinez announced three core strategic goals as priorities: a) Increase homeownership opportunities, especially among minorities, b) promote decent affordable housing and c) strengthen communities. This commitment continues under the leadership of Secretary Alphonso Jackson. During the past three years, HUD has focused significant attention on meeting those goals, while simultaneously promoting other key issues of importance to the American people.

    Since the beginning of the Bush Administration, we have launched a major minority homeownership initiative, which already is producing tangible results. We have been working hard to expand access to affordable rental housing, while improving the physical quality and management accountability of our public and assisted housing programs [in fact, three-quarters of the HUD budget, approximately $23 billion next year, is dedicated to supporting the rental costs of low-income individuals and families]. And we have been supporting the community and economic development efforts of states and municipalities, including the launching of a major initiative to end chronic homelessness within 10 years.

    As one of the nation's most experienced and respected authorities on housing policy, Secretary Alphonso Jackson understands the challenges faced by thousands of hard working families looking for an affordable place to call home. He was forced to deal with regulatory hurdles during his many years working on housing policy at the local level and knows from first hand experience that regulatory barriers can have an enormous impact on the availability and cost of affordable housing. And on his watch, HUD is committed to working with states and local communities to break down these barriers, to increase the supply and lower the cost of decent, affordable housing. That is why HUD launched the Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse in August 2002 and the Initiative earlier this year.

  12. How will you measure success?
    Secretary Jackson has made ethics and performance top priorities at HUD. Therefore, as with all of our programs, we will insist on accountability with measurable results. Some of the indicators of success that we will look to include: outreach through the mailing of our brochure; responses by municipalities; hits on our Web site; greater awareness/increased education on the issue; the execution of a successful national conference, as well as smaller regional meetings; the enlistment of third-party support and buy-in; the establishment of a strong in-house procedure; effective outreach; and of course the dismantling of unnecessary regulatory barriers in communities across America.
  13. Who heads up the initiative?
    We have pulled together an outstanding senior-level team of individuals from across HUD to work on this initiative, all of whom have considerable experience dealing with affordable housing, government regulations, and other related issues.
    Senior Counsel A. Bryant Applegate directs the team.

Content Archived: April 9, 2010

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