Project Background

Everyone needs housing — a place to live, a place to call home. Housing is one of our most basic human needs. But the realization of safe, decent, affordable housing is becoming increasingly difficult for more and more individuals and families. Recent studies show that some 95 million United States residents are facing severe housing cost burden or are living in crowded or inadequate conditions.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition recently found that in order to afford a market-rate two-bedroom rental unit without spending more than 30 percent of annual income, a full-time worker would need to make $15.21 per hour. The federal minimum wage in the United States is $5.15. The problem is so severe that the 2002 final report of the congressionally appointed Millennial Housing Commission identified affordability as "the single greatest housing challenge facing the nation."

With that challenge in mind, and with support from the Fannie Mae Foundation, APA embarked on a series of scoping sessions during Fall 2004. The purpose of the Housing Choice Scoping Sessions was to get in tune with real world affordable housing problems and opportunities throughout the country. The scoping sessions were held in conjunction with APA chapter conferences in six regions of the country.

Project Details

Throughout the six Housing Choice Scoping Sessions, attendees provided a wealth of knowledge. Not surprisingly, each discussion yielded a number of popular subjects or themes. Fifty general themes were identified ranging in subject matter from aging housing stock to jobs-housing balance to tax credits. More than half of the identified themes were discussed at three or more of the scoping sessions.

The top 10 most discussed themes were:

  1. NIMBY
  2. Service Gap for the Very Low-Income
  3. Change in Household Composition
  4. Education, Training and Capacity Building
  5. Impact of Federal Programs
  6. Impact of the Local/Regional Tax Structure
  7. Inadequate State Funding for Housing
  8. Lack of Support at State Legislative Level
  9. Use of Tax Credits
  10. Wage/Cost of Living Imbalance

List of the 50 themes and comments

Housing Choice Themes By Session

Housing Choice Scoping Sessions Participant Questionnaire


This project was funded by the Fannie Mae Foundation in order to explore the state of affordable housing planning practice in the United States.

Scoping Sessions

The purpose of the Housing Choice Scoping Sessions was to get in tune with real world affordable housing problems and opportunities throughout the country. The scoping sessions were held in conjunction with APA chapter conferences in six regions of the country:

  1. North Carolina, September 22, 2004
  2. Southern New England (MA, RI, CT), September 29, 2004
  3. Oregon/Washington, October 6, 2004
  4. Midwest (IL, IA, KY, MI, MN, MO, OH, WI), October 12, 2004
  5. Texas, October 13, 2004
  6. California, October 17, 2004

Participants in the six Housing Choice Scoping Sessions conducted in 2004 were asked to identify two sets of planning strategies:

  1. Existing strategies that been in place for some time and had proven their effectiveness.
  2. Strategies that appeared promising or desirable in response to specific housing issues facing the state or its regions.

Participants suggested many of the strategies listed during the Housing Choice Scoping Sessions. They also suggested additional strategies during post-session discussions as well as during open discussion following Chapter and National conference sessions held about the Housing Choice project.

For additional information on the strategies listed:

Housing Choice Strategies Online (pdf)

Promising Strategies in Action

North Carolina

  • North Carolina Community Development Initiative, a statewide nonprofit statewide intermediary lender that also provides technical assistance for community development corporations
  • Self-Help, a community development financial institution that offers a national alternative secondary market for nonconforming mortgages
  • Community-based land trusts in Orange and Durham Counties that provide affordable housing

Southern New England

  • Massachusetts Chapter 40R: Smart Growth Zoning Districts, 2004
  • Rhode Island Public Laws, Chapter 286, 2004
  • Inclusionary Housing Strategies


  • A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH), King County, Washington


  • Illinois Comprehensive Housing Plan
  • Illinois Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act
  • Indianapolis program for linking elimination of abandoned houses with redevelopment initiatives


  • S.M.A.R.T. Housing™ program, Austin
  • Land Assemblage Redevelopment Authority (LARA), Houston
  • Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), San Antonio


  • Accessory Dwelling Unit Development Program, Santa Cruz

Promising Strategies Wish List

North Carolina

  • Education on handling money and credit
  • Authorization for inclusionary zoning
  • Statewide minimum housing code
  • Development of rental housing production capacity
  • Incentivized housing trust fund for realtors and bankers
  • Education campaign on benefits of affordable housing


  • Oregon LCDC needs to develop capacity to assist local governments with affordable housing
  • Needs to be a mechanism to pledge affordable housing as a condition of UGB expansions
  • Real estate transfer tax for affordable housing, lift ban on exclusionary zoning in Oregon
  • Banking land for affordable housing
  • Citizen education
  • More short term activity to produce affordable units


  • Cooperative efforts outside government
  • Training local planning commissions concerning affordable housing
  • UniGov approach to housing to share burdens and benefits


  • More housing generally
  • Higher densities
  • Statewide inclusionary zoning
  • Maintaining Section 8
  • The "Urban Williamson Act"
  • Linking affordable housing to job development
  • Building affordable housing in smaller clusters

Session Summaries

Six Housing Choice Scoping Sessions took place during Fall 2004 in conjunction with APA chapter conferences. The goal of the sessions was to identify real world affordable housing problems and opportunities, covering variations that exist from region to region. The sessions focused on current innovative practice, marking a departure from the standard descriptions of, and approaches to, the problem in the 1970s and 80s.

The half-day sessions brought together six to 12 participants for a facilitated discussion focused on two principal questions:

  1. What is the unique nature of the affordable housing challenge in the region and what makes it different from other regions of the country?
  2. What tools are available, or should be available, in the region that hold out the most promise for helping to meet the housing challenge?

APA chapters and the APA Housing and Community Development Division assisted APA in the selection of scoping session participants. Session invitees were selected to represent the disciplines that are most directly involved in affordable housing planning, production, and retention at the local level. Participants represent urban planning, NGOs, the design professions, CDCs, affordable housing production entities, and the development community.

Each session was facilitated by APA staff and tape recorded for transcription. APA Research, using the transcripts and detailed notes taken by scribes at each session, developed the session summaries posted here.

Several of the scoping sessions were followed with an APA chapter conference session the next day at which the findings of the scoping session were presented and further comments solicited from the audience to help refine or expand findings.

Housing Choice in North Carolina (pdf)

Housing Choice in Southern New England (pdf)

Housing Choice in the Oregon-Washington Region (pdf)

Housing Choice in the Midwest (pdf)

Housing Choice in Texas (pdf)

Housing Choice in California (pdf)

Housing Choice Resources

Housing Choice Strategies Online

Website guide for the strategies identified by Housing Choice Scoping Session participants.

Housing Choice Scoping Sessions Strategies Online (pdf)

Housing Choice: Most Promising Strategies presentation

PowerPoint presentation used at the 2005 APA National Planning Conference in San Francisco. Encompasses findings from all six Housing Choice Scoping Sessions.

Housing Choice: Most Promising Housing Strategies (ppt)

Housing Choice in Southern New England presentation

Southern New England-specific PowerPoint presentation used at the September 2004 New England Planning Expo in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Housing Choice in Southern New England (ppt)

Housing Choice in Texas presentation

Texas-specific PowerPoint presentation used at the October 2004 Texas APA Chapter conference in Austin.

Housing Choice in Texas (ppt)

Housing Choice Scoping Session Questionnaire

Question prompts used at several of the Housing Choice Scoping Sessions.

Housing Choice Scoping Sessions Participant Questionnaire (pdf)