Affordable/Attainable Housing: A Dialogue
Impact fees & Housing Affordability:
Building Codes & Housing:
The consolidation of model building codes, as well as the increased (albeit optional) flexibility included in their instructions, represents a dramatic step forward in code creating from even the three to four model regional codes available just a few years ago. Code adoption also has moved forward: as more states and cities are adopting the model codes with little amendment, many have taken efforts to examine their code regulation process for the first time in 6 months (especially for rehabilitation and renovation), and local press is paying particular attention to these adoption decisions. For example, Phoenix is the only major municipality to adopt the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 5000 model code in a region that has heavily invested in the ICC (International Code Council) codes.
The effect of code content on new, potentially cost-saving technological innovations has also been much discussed in the last decade. "Performance-based" standards-those that require only final, measured goals for a building rather than prescribing the materials, means, and methods of reaching that performance-are more commonly accepted in code hearings. These standards remain somewhat ineffective, but their inclusion speaks volumes about changed perceptions. The ICC's National Evaluation Service (NES) sponsored a workshop in December 2003 on implementing alternative materials provisions in the code and suggested mechanisms for their implementation (such as placing some regulatory weight behind ICC NES' technical evaluation). Numerous federal initiatives also have taken on the task of looking at regulatory effects on innovation, including Building America, ENERGY STAR, and especially the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing.
Code Enforcement, however, is likely the regulatory process witnessing the most experimentation. Cities are adopting expedited processes (such as "one-stop shops") for most building regulatory submissions and approvals, as well as collaborations between cities serving similar housing markets. In Arizona's Maricopa County (one of the nation's five fastest growing counties), building officials from multiple cities have formed the Regional Plan Review Group, whose mission is uniform residential plan review and inspection policies among the participating jurisdictions. This group also has devised mechanisms for a homebuilder to submit plans in one jurisdiction for approval in all.
In an effort to become more "business friendly," as Peter May describes it, Many jurisdictions are implementing new incentive programs for future approvals (such as holding regular meetings with builders) and making their current processes more transparent (for example, training builders on inspector requirements and even publishing inspector checklists). Some municipalities are toying with third-party or self-certification methods to compensate for their lack of resources, as well as to show good faith with builders (although most production builders already are contracting with third-party inspectors for litigation purposes). Numerous cities are adopting advanced information technologies for submissions, reviews, and even inspections (such as those described in the NCSBCS (National Conference of States on Building Codes and Standards) " streamlining" initiatives). These technologies also provide the best opportunity for gathering data about specific builders and their regulatory records, variances between building officials and cities, and ultimately, a much better understanding of the procedures by which building codes serve as barriers. Colleagues at Arizona State University, for example, currently are working with the Regional Plan Review Group to establish inspection report standards and reporting mechanism from which this data can be gathered and assessed.
Effects of Land use Regulation:
Effective governance of residential development and housing markets poses difficult challenges for land regulators. In theory, excessive land restrictions limit the buildable supply, tilting construction toward lower densities and larger, more expensive homes. Often, local prerogative and regional need conflict, and policymakers must make tradeoffs carefully. When higher income incumbents control the political processes by which local planning and zoning decisions are made, regions can become less affordable as prices increase. Housing assistance programs meant to benefit lower income households could be frustrated by limits on density and other restrictions on the number and size of new units.
The empirical literature on the effects of regulation on housing prices varies widely in quality of research method and strength of result. A number of credible papers seem to bear out theoretical expectations. When local regulators effectively withdraw land from buildable supplies-whether under the rubric of "zoning," "growth management," or other regulation---the land factor and the finished product can become pricier. Caps on development, restrictive zoning limits on allowable densities, urban growth boundaries, and long permit-processing delays have all been associated with increased housing prices. The literature fails, however, to establish a strong, direct causal effect, if only because variations in both observed regulation and methodological precision frustrate sweeping generalizations. A substantial number of land use and growth control studies show little or not effect on price, implying that sometimes, local regulation is symbolic, ineffectual, or only weakly enforced.
Housing prices in the United States are significantly higher in some regions-notably coastal California, New York City, Hawaii, and New England-than they are elsewhere. Quigley and Rosenthal have collected and analyzed the pertinent studies that explore the possibility that these outcomes are partly attributable to government land use regulations, such as large-lot zoning and growth controls. As the authors repeatedly emphasize, these inquiries are methodologically challenging. In particular, a well-designed regulatory program may make a community more environmentally attractive to consumers. If it does, the upward movement in prices that follows adoption of a regulation may be partly or entirely attributable to a jump in demand, not to constraints on supply.
Most observers bring ideological baggage to the technical questions that Quigley and Rosenthal address. Environmentalists, community preservationists, and other devotees of increased land use regulation are predisposed to favor the demand-side story. Homebuilders and fans of unfettered markets, by contrast, naturally warm to the supply-side interpretation. I should reveal at the outset that I come to this issue with strong predispositions. My first year-round job was with the staff of Lyndon Johnson's President's Committee on Urban Housing, popularly called the Kaiser Committee. Much of my work in that capacity addressed the issue of effects of technological and legal barriers on the cost of housing. The Committee's published volumes reflected the view, which I shared then and still embrace now, that supply constraints indeed can significantly harm housing consumers (President's Committee on Urban Housing, 1968). The Kaiser Committee had few careful academic studies to draw on. I note that the earliest study that Quigley and Rosenthal include in their appendix dates from 1969, while the Committee completed its work in 1968. Events since 1968 are striking: academic studies have proliferated but, in general, so have barriers to housing production. In 1968, no one would have dreamed that density on some San Francisco Bay Area hillsides would soon be limited to one house per 100 acres, or that county at the rural fringe of Greater Chicago would ban, in some locations, lots of less than 10 acres.
Environmental Regulations & the Housing Markets:
The summary session highlights the political economy of regulatory barriers that face reform advocates. Local governments that promote regulatory barriers are, in fact, often responding to the perceived desires of their electorate. No level of government is in a position or willing to take on this powerful local dynamic. What state government wants to get involved in local land use disputes?
Federal influence is dilute, as authority for localities to regulate land use is mostly defined and controlled by states. To an extent, some argue that federal programs, such as the Community Development Block Grant program and HOME, can be used as leverage to coerce localities into reducing regulatory barriers. But, if the locality is using regulatory barriers already to discourage the development of affordable housing, federal programs that promote affordable housing might not be a high priority in the first place.
For more information refer to http://www.answers.com
Information sources: April 8, 2006 event. Pamphlet issued by Policy Development and Research (PD&R)� Cityscape. Also see Studies in Assisted Housing, HUD USER Cityscape (www.huduser.org/periodicals/cityscpe/vol8num2/)
|Content Archived: August 18, 2011|