The U.S. is in an extreme state of housing underproduction. Since the onset of the pandemic, home prices have increased by more than 30 percent, making homeownership and renting unaffordable for millions of Americans. Governors are concerned about the effect that the housing shortage has on job seekers, families, and first-time homebuyers. Fewer homeowners mean more renters, more renters mean higher rents, and higher rents mean more economic homelessness. At the onset of the year, governors are setting the tone by signaling their support for zoning solutions that will preserve and create more quality, affordable, and diverse housing options.
Here are four State of the State addresses that paint a picture of what governors across the U.S. are doing to improve the housing conditions in their states.
Governor McKee is an active player in the hunt to find solutions to the housing supply issue in his state. After pledging an investment of $250 million to create more housing across Rhode Island, the governor addressed his plans to implement the funds to create a robust Department of Housing, among other endeavors.
According to the governor, housing is one of the most critical issues facing the state today and over the next decade. To tackle this issue head-on, the McKee administration is using part of the investment to create and support more housing at all income levels. Along with the new housing secretary, Stefan Pryor, the goal is to build towards a future where there are enough permanent housing opportunities in the state. Both men are meeting with municipal leaders to tackle these issues on a local level.
Last year, the Rhode Island General Assembly considered H-6638, which would expand missing middle housing by reforming zoning restrictions to allow for multi-family housing development. While the bill failed, legislators in Rhode Island are currently exploring options to increase the supply of affordable housing with the introduction of new bills. With the introduction of SB 307 in February, key legislators are demonstrating their commitment to implementing zoning reform and providing more options for housing in their state. A stark difference between this bill and the former is the focus on increasing density in urban communities with a population of 20,000 people or more. The Senate bill will also allow the development of mixed-use, middle housing within set urban growth boundaries. These boundaries designate the areas where development is allowed around a city center.
Governor Cox addressed the link between Utah's lack of affordable housing and the economic outlook of the state. The governor is pushing for $100 million in funding to spend on deeply affordable housing. The one-time funding will create more than 2,000 affordable homes throughout the state, a top priority for the governor. Gov. Cox has demonstrated support for local governments through his past work with localities on inclusionary zoning through the state's local land use task force. APA Utah is actively engaged in this task force, working to promote housing affordability together with other local government groups like the Utah League of Cities and Towns.
On a national level, the American Planning Association (APA) and the National League of Cities (NLC) have launched the Housing Supply Accelerator, a national campaign to advance and incentivize local approaches to land use, zoning, and housing development and preservation. This partnership will prove fruitful in places like Utah where work is already underway to bring together local governments, community planners, builders, financial institutions, housing policy associations, and state and federal partners to develop, align and advance solutions for housing supply challenges at the local level.
In Delaware, Governor Carney focused his administration's housing goals on specific localities throughout the state. The administration plans to use the remaining American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funding to rehabilitate blighted homes in one community, while another city will receive funding to create homes surrounding a local school.
The governor has addressed local housing needs with ARPA funds in the past, with $26.4 million allocated to create housing in the Wilmington area. In his address earlier this year, the governor continued to highlight other local areas that would receive more funding for affordable housing projects. Thirty million dollars of the governor's budget is allocated towards funding new housing developments, rehabbing vacant buildings, and a preservation fund to maintain affordable pricing for units throughout Delaware.
While zoning reform is not on the current list of priorities for Delaware legislators, the state housing authority has been tasked to conduct a statewide assessment of affordable housing for moderate– and low-income families and first-time home buyers. As of 2023, the Delaware State Housing Authority (DSHA) is inviting all residents to complete a confidential housing survey to help guide housing agencies and local jurisdictions in their efforts to better coordinate the use of federal, state, and local resources. The final report will include recommendations to address barriers to the construction of affordable housing.
With the coming release of the DSHA report in the summer of 2023, and the state legislative session also ending in the summer, it is unlikely that the legislature will act on housing issues this year. The Housing and Land Use Committee Chair Senator Elizabeth Lockman (D-Wilmington) has also acknowledged that the state's housing crisis warrants a statewide assessment to determine how land use rules affect housing supply. Like many state-level leaders, Sen. Lockman is keen on determining what policy role the state should play in the land use and housing affordability debate.
With a $150 million investment into the Housing Trust Fund, Governor Katie Hobbs aims to address the high rent increases in the state, while ensuring that those people at risk of losing their homes receive the help they need. The funds are available for the development, rehabilitation, or acquisition of affordable housing through gap financing. The properties that use this funding must comply with long-term rent and tenant income restrictions.
Housing has become increasingly important to Arizona leaders in recent years. In 2022, Arizona representatives César Chávez (D-Phoenix) and Steve Kaiser (R-Phoenix) proposed a solution to the lack of housing with the introduction of HB 2674. The bill would have expanded missing middle housing and increased density in some residential areas, but the bill was met with controversy in the legislature. Instead, lawmakers revised the language of the bill to create a committee that would study the housing supply in the state and compile an overview of ways to address the housing shortage. The committee found that zoning is the primary barrier to affordable housing and that the overall building process in the state is too cumbersome and long. As chairman of the committee, Kaiser recommended making it easier to build properties that are larger than single-family homes but smaller than multifamily developments. With occupancy rates reaching 98 percent in recent years, a housing solution is crucial for residents of the state.
In Every State
As more states seek to update their zoning codes, planners can show leadership and build support now for pro-housing policies in their localities by showcasing their extensive land use knowledge, long-term view, and ability to make sense of complex data.
Looking for opportunities to increase housing production, supply, and fairness? Download the Equity in Zoning Guide.
Top image: E+ - fotoVoyager, Salt Lake City
About the author
Karla Georges is APA's state government affairs manager.