"Promoting housing affordability by combating exclusionary housing policies"

 

CFC # 41863 (Combined Federal Campaign) 

Equitable Housing Institute celebrates achievements
on its tenth anniversary

 

The Equitable Housing Institute (EHI) is celebrating substantial achievements, as it turns ten years old. (EHI became a tax-exempt, legal services nonprofit organization on September 19, 2008, under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.)

EHI has made significant progress in combating regulatory barriers to housing affordability (a/k/a exclusionary housing practices), both locally and nationwide. For example, EHI’s reports on housing problems of low- and moderate-income Americans across the United States, and solutions to those problems, have promoted the emerging consensus—among housing policy experts, economists, and even Presidents of the United States—that:

  • Land use regulations often include major, widespread barriers to housing affordability for low- and moderate-income Americans; and
  • Those barriers are so serious that broad-based reforms are needed.

(For more on that consensus, please click on EMERGING CONSENSUS ON REGULATORY BARRIERS TO HOUSING AFFORDABILITY.) Locally, EHI has played a substantial part in the addition of more than 27,000 new housing units to plans or draft proposals by local government land use agencies in Northern Virginia—part of the Washington, DC, region, and EHI’s home base. More than 3,000 of those units would be affordable to low- and moderate-income people, and reserved for them.

Nationwide projects

EHI reports

EHI has increased the American public’s awareness of the problems of exclusionary housing practices, and of remedies for them, through its many reports published on this website. A number of those reports have been distributed to policymakers and submitted to news media, too. EHI reports have addressed subjects such as—

  • Links between those practices and the increased problems that many low-income children have with health, education, and other developmental issues. For more, please click on CHILDREN'S DEVELOPMENT & XHPs
  • Adverse effects of those practices on America’s economic growth. For more, please click on INTERSTATE EFFECTS OF RBHAs (2015).
  • The importance of pursuing jobs-housing balance in American communities, to reduce problems such as shortages of housing reasonably near jobs, for low- and moderate-income Americans. For more, click on EHI ANALYSIS OF JOBS-HOUSING REPORT
  • Congressional authority to prohibit unwarranted state and local regulatory restrictions on housing supply that affect interstate commerce—as a number of recent studies indicate that those restrictions do. For more, please click on INTERSTATE EFFECTS OF RBHAs (2015)
  • How minority groups can protect their members from the disparate impact of exclusionary housing policies by getting more actively involved with local land use planning and zoning. For more, please click on MINORITY GROUPS ADVISORY.
  • Statewide legislative efforts, in numerous states across America, to control exclusionary housing practices. For more, please click on STATES' LEGISLATIVE EFFORTS
  • The crucial importance of overcoming exclusionary housing practices, not just in the United States but around the world, in order to permit decent housing opportunities for more of the world’s people (according to a major McKinsey Global Institute report). For more, please click on McKINSEY REPORT ON MEETING GLOBAL HOUSING AFFORDABILITY CHALLENGE.
  • The importance of considering housing solutions that benefit current residents overall, where feasible, as well as people who lack proper housing opportunity in the community—in order to resolve residents’ concerns about the effects of permitting new housing in their vicinity. For more, please click on PURSUING “WIN/WIN” SOLUTIONS TO MEETING HOUSING NEEDS.

Legislative project

Given the emerging consensus that land use regulations often include major, widespread barriers to housing affordability, the next frontier for consensus-building—and action—is the development of effective ways to eliminate those barriers. Recent studies have concluded that the limited reform efforts to date at the local, state and federal levels, have failed to solve the overall problems created by those barriers.

EHI is working on more effective legislation prohibiting exclusionary housing practices. An apparent key would be a provision that allows victims of the prohibited practices to recover, from the jurisdiction responsible, the necessary costs (including legal fees) incurred by those victims in order to vindicate their rights. Without such reimbursement, low- and moderate-income people generally will continue to be financially unable to challenge those practices effectively.

A new EHI report, published on its website, analyzes the dramatic effects that such a reimbursement provision has had, under a federal land use statute that protects victims of exclusionary zoning who seek to use their land for religious purposes. EHI will continue, in a nonpartisan way, to report on legislative ideas and provisions that could help eliminate the problem of regulatory barriers to housing affordability

Local projects

Locally, EHI’s chief focus has been on the Washington, DC region—one of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, and one with a fairly typical history of exclusionary housing practices. EHI also has advised people on local problems in areas such as Cincinnati, OH, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, Nashville, TN, Philadelphia, PA, Rapid City, SD, San Francisco, CA, and California generally. Below, we will summarize some of EHI’s projects in the DC region.

Planning for housing growth adequate to fulfill unmet needs and accommodate job growth in suburban, Northern Virginia

Major increases in new housing have been planned, and others considered, by local government land use agencies in Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, following EHI’s advocacy for sufficient housing near new Metrorail (commuter rail) stations in those areas. Fairfax County and Loudoun County are two of those local governments.

Fairfax County

During its first five years (2008-2013), EHI’s advocacy was a catalyst in the addition of more than one affordable unit per day, and more than eight housing units per day, to Fairfax County’s housing plans in the Reston/Herndon area.

More than 15,000 more housing units were added to those plans following EHI’s involvement, which began after the County’s made its initial proposals on the subject. The additional housing amounted to more than half the total number of new housing units planned in the four Metrorail station areas involved (Reston East/Wiehle Ave; Reston Town Center; Reston West/Herndon (South side); and Innovation Station (Rt. 28)).

At least 1,900 of those units—and perhaps upwards of 2,700—would be affordable to low- and moderate-income people, under Fairfax County’s inclusionary housing requirements for large, new residential buildings. The Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPA) adopted by Fairfax County for the three Reston stations calls for enough new housing to accommodate as many workers as are expected to join Reston’s workforce under the plan (more than 30,000 workers). The jobs-housing balance achieved for the massive, future commercial buildup there is a signal achievement for Fairfax County.

Loudoun County

Following EHI’s January 2016 submission of its in-depth report on Loudoun County housing needs to the County’s newly-elected Board of Supervisors, the County’s planners have been steering in a different direction on housing supply issues.

In June 2016, the County’s Dept. of Planning and Zoning’s (DPZ’s) initial, draft land use plan for the County’s future Metrorail areas envisioned a total of 22,419 housing units in those areas by 2040. That is almost three times the number envisioned by the County’s previous consultants for a similar (somewhat smaller) area around those stations, and DPZ’s approach would create a much more adequate ratio of housing units to jobs.

The amount of new housing forecast by DPZ would produce close to 1,400 new units that are reserved for, affordable to, low- and moderate-income people. Between now and 2040, a high percentage of new workers in the County, in several of its fastest-growing sectors, will be low- and moderate-income people. Examples are: (a) administrative support staff for professional and business services; (b) education and health services, and (c) leisure and hospitality industries. Tens of thousands of new, low- and moderate-income workers are predicted to be holding jobs in the County by 2040.

Overcoming resistance by some current residents to needed housing growth 

Despite the increasing openness of local government land use agencies to planning for the housing needs of their jurisdictions’ low- and moderate-income workers, such plans have been met with expressions of serious concern from some current residents. Those concerns are largely about possible, adverse effects of new housing on current residents, such as increased traffic, public expenditures, and loss of open space.

In fact, the Loudoun County DPZ’s initial housing forecasts for the Metrorail areas, and elsewhere in the County, have been reduced substantially following expressions of concern by several County Supervisors. Those officials have cited questions and objections expressed by some of their constituents about possible adverse effects of new housing on them.

EHI believes that the concerns of current residents generally can be satisfied through actions by the local government that benefit those residents, as well as future residents. A recent EHI report (mentioned above) discusses: (1) views of experts on ways of meeting residents’ concerns (sometimes called NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) sentiment; and (2) answers to some common concerns of residents about proposals to build new housing in their vicinity.

Increasing housing supply in order to contain rental housing costs

EHI began its local advocacy in the Washington, DC, region in 2008, and average rent increases in the region have dropped to well below the national average for the last six years. Rental costs are of particular concern to low- and moderate-income people, because most of them rent their housing, and housing costs generally take up a much greater portion of their incomes.

EHI letters printed by the Washington Post in 2010 and 2013 pointed out how the DC region’s serious housing shortages and inflationary housing prices have been due largely to exclusionary housing practices. Subsequent increases in planned housing by local governments, due partially to EHI’s advocacy, have helped moderate rental housing costs.

* * * * * * * * *

Thus, in its first ten years EHI has played a significant role in combating regulatory barriers to housing affordability nationwide, and also locally. On the national scene, EHI has produced many groundbreaking reports (available on its website) regarding aspects of those problems, and more effective solutions to them. Locally, EHI has been a catalyst for the addition of tens of thousands of new housing units to plans and proposals drawn up by government land use agencies in the Washington, DC, region.

“With its detailed research on housing law,
and its ability to help municipalities take a
hard look at their assumptions and priorities,
EHI has an important role to play
in the fight for fair housing.”
-- Inside Philanthropy, March 3, 2015