3 Critical Hurdles to Overcome on Affordable Housing Developments

May 31, 2023
Rolando Matias Market Lead / Design Strategist - Affordable Housing

In order to address our affordable housing shortages, we first need to review and analyze the critical hurdles in developing affordable housing units.

There are many factors that contribute to the equation, however Zoning & Regulatory compliance, School Districts and Community Engagement & the Economic Impact, are the most critical and impactful factors when considering developing an affordable housing project.

Mulby Place

Zoning and Regulatory Compliance: 

Land use laws, particularly zoning, is critical in restricting the development of affordable housing. Restrictive zoning chartered over 100 years ago with the decision of the landmark case, Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Company which established the principles and practices of land-use zones we still use today. Euclidean use-based zoning, which by definition restricts certain use groups within the limits of an area, directly impacts the supply of land available for new housing (either single- or multi-family), creating a scarcity of land that drives the cost up of new housing projects.

Furthermore, in areas where zoning regulations do permit the construction of higher-density housing, the density restriction of these zones eliminates the possibilities of effective developments with higher unit counts. These zones also have height restrictions and/or minimum lot size requirements that make it impossible to develop an effective affordable housing project. Therefore, finding suitable land for affordable housing development at a reasonable price can be challenging. Developers can collaborate with the local government to identify underutilized land or incentivize landowners to sell or lease their property. Jurisdictions need to review the options of Form-Based zoning to relieve density and enhance neighborhoods with common characteristics, green spaces, and encouraging walkability to much needed amenities needed within an affordable housing development.

Density, at times, is perceived as negative.  However, density creates great environments and provides us with effective and efficient land use for single- and multi-family developments alike. This translates into savings for the developers that are passed directly to the home buyer. Specifically, the ability to develop a plot of land for a single-family home on a  50’-0” lot in lieu of 60’-0” represents huge savings for the developer in infrastructure cost and land planning. Density for multi-family developments requires the need for open green spaces to soften the fabric and create useful pockets within the fabric for the interaction of the residents. In relation to density, perhaps the biggest hurdle for multi-family developments is the need for parking. In an effort to move forward, it is imperative that we address parking needs for development according to location, type and population rather than one zoning code that applies for all use-groups disregarding the population it is serving.

Easton Place Homes

School Districts:

Another obstacle to affordable housing developments relates to the myths and misinformation surrounding the impact multi-family developments will have in the school district, and the increase of students in the classroom.

Per the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Eye on Housing 2020 article, One Public School Child for Every Three Homes, detached single-family home developments have far more impact on the number of students than multi-family developments. In fact, the NAHB study indicates that a detached single-family development will add one student for every three homes or 0.34 per housing unit, compared to 0.22 for multi-family developments. 

Community Engagement & the Economic Impact:

Typically, local residents push back about affordable housing as they are concerned about property value decreasing and crime rates increasing. Developers can engage with the community early on, address their concerns, and communicate the benefits of affordable housing.

Affordable housing development contributes to the local economy as the rent structure in an affordable housing development allows the residents to spend more on other basic essentials and less on rent, thus stimulating the local economy. 

The services offered to the residents by affordable housing properties offer quality services assisting in improving their health, nutrition, and financial decision-making. These benefits translate to more shops, restaurants, and healthcare facilities opening in these areas, improving the quality of living and increasing property values around the development. 

Affordable housing creates jobs. From development to construction, an affordable housing project can create, on average, 150 jobs for the project alone. It has been reported that 100 affordable rental homes generate $2.2 million in sales and other taxes. It will also add to the local government revenues from tolls, city fees, etc. These benefits will return to the city, which can be reinvested in additional affordable housing.    

In order to move forward with providing more affordable housing developments, it is critical we address these items by educating the general population and helping them understand what affordable housing is, as well as ending stigmas. 

Overcoming critical hurdles in affordable housing development requires collaboration with the city, innovation of land use and zoning restrictions, and effective communication with all stakeholders to ensure they understand affordable housing.