White House Webinar Focuses on Providing Federal Incentives for Cities to Ease Zoning Restrictions

November 1, 2021

Speakers urged all levels of government to partner in creating policy to help boost the housing supply.

The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs hosted a panel discussion on Oct. 29 about how reducing land use and zoning restrictions can help to increase the housing supply.

Speakers focused on the importance of easing land use and policies in an attempt to increase the supply of housing and allow for greater density to support growth in population and address housing supply challenges.

Watch a recording of the webinar

Inclusionary zoning

Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, and Cecilia Rouse, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, discussed the importance of inclusionary zoning, which can boost supply and lower costs.

They also discussed the federal response to the national housing shortage and touted two provisions in the most recent iteration of the Build Back Better Act, HR 5376, which is being negotiated in Congress. The bill includes a historic $150 billion affordable housing investment, as well as the “Unlocking Possibilities Program,” the first-ever federal grant program to award funds to local governments that ease zoning.

Both Deese and Rouse said there must be creativity between federal, state, and local governments to ease exclusionary zoning and land use policies.

Harvard Professor Ed Glaeser continued the call to address zoning and land use. He discussed academic research that claims zoning “traps Americans in regions of economic dysfunction” and that the exclusionary zoning legacy continues to make it harder for certain populations to access certain communities.

Local response

A local government official panel, including Austin, Texas, Mayor Steve Adler, San Diego County Board Chair Nathan Fletcher, and Louisville, Kentucky, Strategic Advisor Jeana Dunlap, discussed the local response.

Adler discussed the City of Austin’s response, which included making decisions at the local level to add density wherever possible, ease parking requirements, and preserve multi-family naturally occurring affordable housing through housing conservancies.

Fletcher welcomed the Biden administration’s effort to provide incentives for zoning reform and added the importance of local elected officials working to increase density while ensuring affordability to overcome cries of NIMBY (not in my backyard) from residents.

Dunlap added that community engagement is key. She said reviewing land development codes to acknowledge and confront racism in historic city planning was critical to Louisville, which led to 46 recommendations to tweak and advance the city’s land development code to add density.

State-local partnerships

Lastly, a panel of state lawmakers encouraged a strong partnership between states and local units of government.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek discussed the state’s effort to enact policies that balance the land use system with the need for more housing in the State. She said it’s important to enact policy that requires cities above a certain size to allow for higher density in single-family zoned areas. But she said it’s also important to provide time for cities to comply and to provide planning resources for cities to assist them rather than simply preempting cities without financial assistance.

California State Sen. Scott Wiener provided the California perspective and described provisions in recent legislation that would require added density and accessory dwelling units among other provisions.

Utah State Sen. Jake Anderegg discussed Utah’s incentives-based approach to tie the availability of additional transportation infrastructure funds to cities that implement certain changes from a cadre of zoning and land use best practices. He specifically noted that broad one-size-fits-all preemption policies without incentives are bad policy.

Adrianne Todman, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, rounded out the panel discussion, noting that conversations around zoning reform are crucial and the Unlocking Possibilities Program, which would be administered by her agency, is a great way to help with that reform.

The League will continue to monitor state and federal policy discussions surrounding zoning and land use changes and oppose efforts to broadly preempt city zoning and land use authority.

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