Adopt fair-share requirements for affordable housing
States across the nation have difficulty supplying affordable housing in a range of types and locations. It is one thing for select communities to address the deficit, but a more viable option is for regions and states to adopt fair-share housing standards. This requires all new housing developments to incorporate a portion of affordable units. Proportional requirements typically are in the 10-to-15 percent range, but can vary depending on the needs of communities. This system works best when there is clear consensus and buy-in on the process from local, regional and state stakeholders.
Inclusionary zoning, or planning ordinances that require a specific share of new construction to be affordable to people of low or moderate income, is another successful technique used by some jurisdictions. Several states, including Texas and Oregon, however, have established laws that forbid jurisdictions from enacting inclusionary zoning laws.
One common way to ensure the provision of a fair share of affordable housing is a top-down approach, in which all counties and municipalities with insufficient affordable housing are required to adopt an affordable housing plan. Other options include tying the funding of community development projects, housing tax credits and infrastructure improvements to compliance with an affordable housing plan. Another strategy is to exempt communities from a fair housing requirement if they can demonstrate they already provide an overwhelming supply of housing to residents who make 80 percent or less of the area median income.
- Massachusetts’ Chapter 40B Affordable Housing Zoning
Also known as the Comprehensive Permit Law, Massachusetts' Chapter 40B Affordable Housing Zoning law encourages all local governments to ensure that at least 10 percent of the housing in their community is affordable. It does this by applying more flexible and streamlined review standards to development projects with an affordable component in communities where the 10 percent threshold has not been met.
More specifically, in communities that do not meet the 10 percent threshold, developers of state or federally subsidized projects can apply for a comprehensive permit through a streamlined process before the local Zoning Board of Appeals — if at least 25 percent of their project is affordable. Such development can then be approved under rules that are more flexible and often more lenient than local zoning would permit. For example, the Zoning Board of Appeals is generally able to provide permits for 40B developments even if the density of the development exceeds that permitted by local zoning.
Not only does 40B enable the development of affordable housing by providing more flexible permitting standards, the statute also provides an incentive for local governments to reach the 10 percent threshold in order to avoid the loss of local zoning control. Since the early 1970s, 40B has contributed to the construction of 40,000 units. Between 2003 and 2006, 71 percent of new Subsidized Housing units in Boston were a result of 40B legislation.
Over time, Massachusetts discovered that projects occurring under Chapter 40B were often sprawl development. In response, smart growth criteria were added that called for favors redevelopment projects that are walkable to transit, village centers, schools, libraries or retail; meet a minimum of five of the Commonwealth's 10 development principles; are environmentally sensitive; include fair participation by the public; meet standards for diversity and social equity; are energy efficient; provide transportation choices; and increase job opportunities.
—Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development