A complementary strategy to building new nonmarket housing is to reduce barriers that prevent private actors from developing housing. Doing so can reduce costs for developers and enable the production of both market-rate and affordable housing. Two key barriers to housing development are restrictive land use policies and lengthy approval processes.
Many localities across the country have implemented land use policies such as single-family zoning, minimum lot size and parking requirements, and building height limits that restrict the amount and type of housing that can be built. These “exclusionary zoning” practices reduce affordability by restricting the amount of housing stock, and they exacerbate racial segregation by concentrating affordable housing in high-poverty neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color.
Reforming land use policies to allow dense, multifamily, and transit-oriented housing, as well as lower-cost housing, such as accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and manufactured housing, can enable developers to build more housing of all types, increasing the supply of both market-rate and affordable homes.
Similarly, streamlining permitting and entitlement processes can reduce project delays and costs for developers and enable more development. Reforming permitting and entitlement processes can involve simplifying and standardizing the development approval process, allowing professionals to self-certify plans, and offering expedited review for certain types of projects, such as projects that are 100 percent affordable.
Examples of This Strategy in Action
In 2018, Minneapolis, eliminated the use of single-family-only zoning and passed additional reforms that allow greater density near transit stops and eliminate off-street minimum parking requirements. Minneapolis accomplished this reform by assembling a broad coalition of community and tenant groups, civil rights and labor leaders, environmentalists, and many others. Supporters of the reform also centered racial equity in their advocacy, citing the elimination of racial, ethnic, and economic disparities as their primary goal, and the city engaged in a multiyear effort to gather input from community members, particularly people of color and Indigenous communities who have historically been underrepresented in the civic process.
But a preliminary analysis of the result of Minneapolis’s zoning changes found that the elimination of single-family zoning has had a relatively small impact on the city’s overall housing supply, and that other reforms—such as legalizing ADUs and eliminating parking requirements citywide—may have been more effective. As more localities begin to consider changes to land use policies, more research is needed to identify the most effective combinations of land use reforms that can support increased housing production in localities with different housing markets.
In 2012, Phoenix charged its Ad Hoc Development Task Force with producing recommendations on how to streamline the city’s permitting process. The task force recommended creating a self-certification program for registered professionals, including architects and engineers, to review clients’ plans to ensure they adhere to the city’s building code and other standards. The self-certification program was implemented for low-risk building projects and allows applicants to receive permits in one to five business days. After the streamlined process was implemented, the number of residential building applications submitted to the city doubled from 2013 to 2014.
Phoenix also offers priority review for certain projects, including affordable housing projects and neighborhood revitalization projects that are consistent with plans adopted by its council. Phoenix has continued to improve its permitting process since then, and it launched a new digital Land Management Information System in 2022 to integrate all planning, review, permitting, and inspection processes for internal and external users.
Next intervention: Inclusionary Zoning