Instead of making an honest assessment of housing needs, too many localities these days are turning their backs and embracing no-growth policies that are a quick fix but ultimately a ticket to nowhere. Unreasonable restrictions are placed on the use of land for housing. Zoning and development codes that are out of date and out of step with the housing wants and needs of families are locked into place. And new home buyers are saddled with inequitable impact fees and other exactions to finance facilities and services that politicians are afraid to ask the general population to pay for.
This is National Homeownership Month, and that makes it an especially appropriate time to take a closer look at housing needs of the men and women who live and work in our communities. When we're doing a good job of meeting those needs, that's good for our neighborhoods, our businesses, our institutions, our entire way of life. But when we're struggling to provide affordably priced housing, there are enormous economic and social implications that sooner or later will start taking a heavy toll.
Something is wrong when our school teachers, our police officers, our fire fighters and the many, many workers who provide us with goods and services every day can't afford to live within a reasonable distance of their workplaces; when single-parent families — who constitute a growing portion of our households — can't stretch one income far enough to pay for decent housing in a decent neighborhood; or when family breadwinners have to choose between paying the rent and meeting other necessities.
These are among the telltale signs of housing in crisis. They are symptomatic of elected officials who are apathetic, at best, about adopting policies to alleviate constraints against providing for one of the most basic human needs. While the depth of today's housing crisis varies in different parts of the country, it is of epidemic proportions and should be a serious concern for everyone.
Over the coming decade, the U.S. population is projected to increase by 24 million people. During that period, an average of one million new households are expected to be formed each year. These are some of the solutions that will help ensure that there is a sufficient supply of new housing to meet demand:
- Sensible land use and zoning policies that make land available for residential development to meet housing demand and, at the same time, protect and preserve environmentally sensitive areas
- Removing barriers to permit higher density development, which will open the door to construction of more modestly priced housing tailored to households buying their first homes
- More infill development (cities must reduce excessive or redundant regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles)
- Adopting a fair and broad-based way to pay for roads, schools, water and sewer treatment systems and other infrastructure improvements that benefit the entire community
- More mixed-use development that puts people closer to jobs
- Multifamily housing that provides a higher density alternative
- Use of innovative land-use and community design techniques to create thriving communities that Foster a strong sense of place
Today’s enduring low mortgage rates provide a window of opportunity for increasing the ranks of the nation's home owners, especially among minority families whose rate of homeownership is far below the national average. But even in the very best of times, housing affordability will remain an elusive goal as long as local jurisdictions fail to recognize that their policies are a major part of the problem.
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