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How Excessive Design Standards Hurt Affordability

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Codes + Standards

How Excessive Design Standards Hurt Affordability

NAHB Housing Policy Briefing | Stringent residential design standards imposed by local governments are affecting housing costs; the impact of new residential construction on the broader economy (chart)

By National Association of Home Builders October 1, 2020
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The NAHB questions the need for stringent design regulations in light of housing affordability issues. | Photo: Russ Ward on Unsplash.com

Design regulations are supposed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of residents, but superficial and excessive rules that price lower- and moderate-income families out of the market should not be prioritized over the need to address the housing affordability problem. The fact that certain classes of homebuyers are excluded from buying a home makes excessive residential design standards an inappropriate policy option.

Design Standards Gone Too Far

Examples of highly prescriptive design standards include:

  • Prohibiting or limiting the use of exterior materials such as vinyl siding and metal
  • Requiring specific, expensive materials for fencing
  • Dictating the amount of relief and surface area dedicated to windows
  • Requiring a minimum number of roof planes to be visible from the front property line and mandating minimum roof pitch
  • Requiring architectural features such as offsets, projections, recesses, and windows to “break up” large expanses of blank wall

A new document from the National Association of Home Builders, “Residential Design Standards: How Stringent Regulations Restrict Affordability and Choice,” explains how these standards harm low- and moderate-income families. The primer suggests policies that local governments can use to influence residential design without limiting choice, affecting housing affordability, or excluding anyone based on race, ethnicity, faith, disability, or sexual orientation. Several states, including Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas have passed laws limiting local jurisdictions’ ability to impose excessive design standards.


The Dollar Value of Building Products in New Construction

NAHB analysis of government data indicates new single-family and multifamily construction used about $94.9 billion in building products in 2019. Although the vast majority of that amount was produced domestically, supporting jobs in the U.S. manufacturing sector, roughly $6.1 billion was imported from other countries.

Among the major product categories, new residential construction in 2019 used more than $11 billion each of “cement and concrete products” and “architectural and structural metals.”  The chart below demonstrates the impact of new residential construction on the broader economy.


Data showing top 10 building products used in single-family and multifamily construction in 2019


ABOUT NAHB: The National Association of Home Builders is a Washington, D.C.-based trade association representing more than 140,000 members involved in home building, remodeling, multifamily construction, property management, subcontracting, design, housing finance, building product manufacturing, and other aspects of residential and light commercial construction. For more, visit nahb.org.


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