Breaking Barriers to Affordable Housing

Looking for ways to eliminate hurdles to creating affordable housing in your market? Check out for solutions to common code, process and regulation problems.

By Heather McCune, Editor in Chief | May 31, 2004


A maze of state and local codes, processes and regulations delay and drive up the costs of new home construction. In an effort to break these regulatory barriers and improve the stock of affordable for-sale and for-rent housing, the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse ( seeks to create a national discussion on ideas and solutions to address housing challenges.

In an unprecedented move that allies builders and government, HUD, through its "America's Affordable Community Initiative" launched last June, is encouraging its regional directors to partner with local officials and allied industry professionals to host public forums aimed at eliminating unnecessary regulations or codes requirements.

Initial work toward this goal already has been done. The problem/solution Web site offers builders ideas and ammunition to help eliminate well-intentioned regulations that may be unnecessary. Thousands of barriers and proposed solutions have been posted by developers and builders in the following areas: administrative processes and streamlining; building codes and housing; fair housing and neighborhood deconcentration; fees and dedications; planning and growth restrictions; redevelopment and infill; rent controls; state and local environmental and historic preservation regulations and enforcement process; tax policies and zoning, land development, construction and subdivision regulations.

Some of the most common complaints detailed on the site include:





  • Problem: Duplicative or time-consuming design review processes or approval processes.



  • Solution: Implementing integrated single-permit reviews, utilizing one-step permitting centers, enforcing time limits on government reviews.




  • Problem: Out-of-date building codes that require expensive materials and/or outdated construction methods that increase building costs.



  • Solution: Adopting a rehabilitation code that establishes different levels of rehabilitation with gradual increases in public requirements based on amount of voluntary rehabilitation.




  • Problem: Excessive fees that increase housing costs.



  • Solution: Charging fees limited to the actual costs generated by the development; basing fees on the size or value of the home; waiving fees for low-income housing.



  • Problem: Restrictive or exclusionary zoning ordinances that contain regulations on land use that drive up the costs of housing (e.g., restricting development of large, single-family homes on large lots; prohibiting manufactured or multi-family housing; imposing disproportionate subdivision requirements).



  • Solution: Create, in a comprehensive plan, a "housing element" that estimates current and anticipated housing needs for all existing and future residents for the next 10 years. Include projections by housing type and by income groups. Have zoning ordinances and maps that provide sufficient land use and density categories to address existing and future housing needs, including low, very low- and moderate-income housing. Allow manufactured and modular housing in residential districts where all other requirements are met.




  • Problem: Excessive or gold-plated land development standards that unnecessarily raise the cost of infrastructure.



  • Solution: Use reasonable land development standards that do not impose such excessive requirements as overly wide street widths and inappropriate storm water management standards.
  • As the database of information grows and as public pressure for more affordable housing options grows, builders can gain value from be-coming a part of the coalition to solve the housing crisis. "By joining together to overcome regulatory barriers to affordable housing, we can extend the American dream to millions of families in communities across the country," said acting HUD secretary Alphonso Jackson. "We hope to identify more accurately 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."


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