June 29, 2022
Planners — and the work we do — are at the center of the nation's current economic agenda.
As a nontraditional planner with deep roots in housing, I have never felt more encouraged by and hopeful about the steps I see communities, states, and the federal government taking to modernize regulatory structures that have severely constrained housing supply and driven up housing costs nationwide.
Planners are at the forefront of this work, conducting studies to assess where housing gaps exist, updating the housing elements of comprehensive plans, and speaking with community stakeholders about the impacts of changing zoning rules and codes.
At the 2022 National Planning Conference in San Diego, Alex Fisch — a Culver City, California, council member — credited planners with making zoning reform possible in his community by giving elected officials the fact-based analysis they needed to feel confident pushing reforms forward.
"Planners set the stage so that someone who wants to can take the political step of saying that we should hear all the benefits of land-use reform," said Fisch. "It gives people the factual basis to go to the community and say, look, our consultants say [reform is the right thing for this community], our staff says this, your common sense says this. We can go ahead and have more just land use."
States are also taking significant steps to promote increasing the housing supply. In April, Maine passed legislation that allows missing middle housing like accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and duplexes on single-family lots. Taking a page from California's statewide reform laws, the legislation would give the state authority to set housing goals and require communities to meet them. Housing and zoning reform are also on the agenda in New York, where Governor Kathy Hochul has called for legalizing ADUs, allowing multifamily housing near transit, and repealing the statewide floor-area-ratio cap. Maine and New York join a wave of states moving to enact reforms.
And with the White House targeting zoning reform to lower high housing costs and curb inflation, support for reforming land-use rules and development codes will surely grow.
President Biden's new Housing Supply Action Plan strongly encourages locally led reforms to zoning and land-use policies by linking some U.S. Department of Transportation and Economic Development Administration programs to housing action and outcomes. At the same time, the plan calls for federal housing agencies to provide simpler and more affordable financing options for building ADUs.
These ideas reaffirm the administration's view of housing as central to the president's economic agenda and double down on previous steps to incentivize municipalities to reform their zoning policies.
Last year, President Biden signaled his support for this approach by including a provision in his Build Back Better plan that would empower planners to reform zoning and development codes and create housing action plans with dedicated planning and implementation grants, as well as technical assistance. The provision was based on a bipartisan bill, the Housing Supply and Affordability Act, which APA worked with members of Congress to craft.
APA is already taking steps to support and guide you as you advance incremental reforms in your community. Later this year, we'll debut a new Equity in Zoning policy guide written by and for APA members. We're also partnering at the state and national levels with other pro-housing policy groups. And most importantly, we're talking with state legislators and Congress about the type of support and assistance planners need to lead the way on zoning reform.
The stars have aligned on planners' and APA's shared top policy priority. With movement on reform across all levels of government, planners will never have a better chance to influence local, state, and federal policies that so directly affect the housing work we are uniquely positioned to lead. As your president-elect, I look forward to advocating for locally driven reforms that meet the unique needs of our communities.