Can Zoning Reform Improve Access to Affordable Housing?
Wednesday, May 31, 2023
9:30 a.m. - 11:45 a.m.
St. Luke's Episcopal Church
435 Peachtree St NE, Atlanta, GA 30308
Zoning and land use regulations have significantly constrained the development of affordable housing. It is estimated that 75 percent of all land in major cities is zoned exclusively for single-family dwellings. Zoning regulations often dictate minimum lot sizes, parking requirements, construction materials, the density of developments, the prohibition of certain housing types, height restrictions, and set-back requirements. The result is the prohibition of smaller housing options – including accessory dwelling units, duplex, triplex, and quadplex developments, and smaller units in mid-to-large residential development projects.
Over decades, these restrictions have led to severe housing underproduction, making homeownership and renting unaffordable for millions of Americans. Zoning reform is one method to create more housing, course-correct decades of housing policy choices that have led to a nationwide housing affordability crisis, and create more housing options for a growing and changing population.
As metro Atlanta struggles to meet the growing demand for affordable housing, several jurisdictions are working to update zoning policies – some of which have not been updated in 40 years. The City of Decatur recently approved the development of up to five units on a lot in all single-family zoning districts citywide. The City of Atlanta is in an in-depth process to update zoning. And the City of Clarkston is in the last stages of refining its zoning reform language.
Our region is not alone in its efforts to reform zoning policy.
St. Petersburg, Florida, and Arlington County, Virginia, are the latest locales to approve zoning changes to allow for more housing options.
Closer to home, Charlotte, North Carolina, reformed zoning to allow duplex and triplex development “by right” and quadplexes so long as they conform to specific requirements.
A December 2022 report from the Urban Land Institute, “Reshaping the City: Zoning for a more Equitable Resilient and Sustainable Future,” tracks more than a dozen cities and counties nationwide that have taken significant action toward zoning reform.
Statewide measures to increase density through zoning are in effect in California, Maine, and Washington, and others are considering statewide reform
Proponents of zoning reform believe that allowing smaller lot sizes and housing options will provide more affordable, attainable, and equitable opportunities by expanding the housing supply and providing housing for smaller households, first-time buyers, and aging residents, ultimately helping to address affordability. Some caution, however, that while zoning reform is needed, allowing more diverse housing types is equivalent to outright removal of single-family zoning and that doing so will not yield affordable housing outcomes. Even within the affordable housing sector, opinions differ on how these reforms will have intended impacts.
What does zoning reform seek to accomplish? Why are more cities, counties, and states prioritizing these often-sweeping reforms, and do we have results from these efforts? Can obstacles to affordable housing be mitigated with zoning reform? Is increased access to affordable housing possible through zoning reform? Specifically, will these reforms increase housing supply at a scale to help decrease prices?
Join us at the May 31 Atlanta Regional Housing Forum as our founder and moderator, Bill Bolling, leads an important conversation on zoning reform in metro Atlanta.
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