America's Affordable Communities Initiative
While the United States is the best-housed nation in the world, millions of hard-working American families struggle to find homes and apartments within their budgets. They are often forced to commute long distances, live in sub-standard housing, or live in over-crowded conditions due to exclusionary, discriminatory, and/or unnecessary regulations that drive up costs that are eventually passed on to the consumer.
After taking office in 2001, former HUD Secretary Mel Martinez made regulatory reform a top priority at the Department As County Chairman in Orange County, Florida, Secretary Martinez witnessed first-hand the toll that regulatory barriers have on the production and supply of decent, affordable housing in his community. And as Secretary of HUD, he witnessed these same problems throughout America. To focus more attention on the need for regulatory reform, HUD launched in June 2003 America's Affordable Communities Initiative, a Department-wide effort to help communities across America identify and overcome regulatory barriers to affordable housing.
This commitment continues under the leadership of Secretary Alphonso Jackson who intimately understands the need for regulatory reform. As a former executive director of three big-city public housing authorities, Secretary Jackson encountered the unanticipated consequences well-intended regulations can have on restricting affordable housing for the very people who need it most. "Regulations are man-made, not God given," Secretary Jackson is often quoted as saying. "What man has made, man can undo. Our job is to look within and ask our local partners to do the same as we remove these barriers that prevent working families from living in their own communities."
Over the years, HUD has found that regulations such as out-of-date building codes, duplicative or time-consuming design review or approval processes, burdensome rehabilitation codes, restrictive or exclusionary zoning ordinances, unnecessary or excessive fees or taxes, extreme environmental restrictions, and excessive or "gold-plated" land development standards, all contribute to higher housing costs and production delays.
While many of these regulations were well intentioned and even useful in their early implementation, many have become outdated and cause unintended harm to local communities. By helping local communities remove these regulatory barriers, HUD seeks to open doors for millions of American families who want to buy or rent an affordable home in the community of their choice.
Regulatory reform is not a new issue for HUD. In 1991, HUD's Advisory Commission on Regulatory Barriers issued its "Not in My Backyard": Removing Barriers to Affordable Housing" report, outlining the severity of the regulatory barrier problem and its adverse impact on communities across America. The Commission found that regulatory barriers directly raise development costs in some communities by as much as 20 to 35 percent, thereby pricing many families and individuals out of those markets.
The Commission correctly identified regulatory barriers as a major obstacle to the construction of affordable housing. That is why in August 2002 Secretary Martinez created the Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse , a national Web-based forum that provides State and local governments with opportunities to share ideas and develop solutions to address unique housing challenges. And that is precisely why HUD launched the America's Affordable Communities Initiative in June 2003.
At HUD, we see overcoming barriers to housing affordability as a strategy intended to complement, not substitute for, our other efforts to boost the availability of affordable housing in this country. In fact, 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 unnecessary barriers are addressed and remedied.
Clearly for many lower income families and individuals, subsidies - whether vouchers, tax credits, or HOME funds - are important tools for helping them regain stability and self-sufficiency. However, anyone who has built or tried to build housing recognizes the constraints that unnecessary and/or excessive regulations impose upon affordable housing construction or rehabilitation. Barrier removal will not only make it easier to find and get approval for affordable housing sites, but it also will allow available grants to go further in meeting vital housing needs.
For middle-income individuals such as teachers, firefighters, police officers, nurses, service sector employees and others, barrier removal is an integral component of meeting their housing needs. By reducing development costs by as much as 35 percent through the removal of affordable housing barriers, millions of American families will be able to buy or rent suitable housing that they otherwise could not afford.
The Initiative partners with community-wide interests to demonstrate to the public the importance of affordable housing. One of HUD's top priorities is to better define the problem and to educate the American people on the challenges we face as a nation in ensuring an adequate supply of affordable housing. In sum, HUD intends to:
- Identify and analyze regulations at all levels of government that are duplicative, contradictory or burdensome.
- Assist states and local governments develop comprehensive programs to remove regulatory barriers.
- Create a federal task force that will streamline the regulatory schemes of other federal agencies.
- Recommend legislative and regulatory changes.
- Promote, conduct and review studies that will help provide solutions to the affordable housing challenge.
- Update the 1991 Advisory Commission on Regulatory Barriers Report.
- Help promote the positive aspects of affordable housing, so that "Not in My Backyard" becomes "Why Not in Our Community?"
By joining together to overcome the regulatory barriers to affordable housing, we can extend the "American Dream" to millions of families in communities across the nation. Working with public officials at all levels, community leaders and others, we intend to more accurately identify the problems caused by these regulatory barriers and bring solutions and success stories to the attention of those working to help more Americans find a place to call home.
Content Archived: April 9, 2010