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A Look At How State Governments Are Responding To America's Growing Housing Crisis

As our national housing crisis continues to grow in severity across the Country, coordinated, state legislatures are beginning to pass legislation to address what is becoming a growing threat to their populations and the future of their economies. Solutions to regional housing shortages cannot be left up to individual municipalities but require regional policy considerations that must be coordinated at the state level to have any hope of being effective. From more aggressive state level requirements superseding local zoning, to laws requiring municipalities update local zoning to increase production, here is a sampling of how some state governments are responding to the regional housing shortages in their states in an effort to spur a wave of housing growth.


Vermont

  • Housing Opportunities Made For Everyone (HOME Act) Senate Bill 100 standardizes municipal zoning in residential districts served by water and sewer by lowering parking requirements to 1 to 1 and permitting duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes by right on any lot served by water and sewer (unless existing municipal zoning allows for more), effectively eliminating exclusionary zoning statewide in areas served by water & sewer. This bill was passed by a Democrat majority legislature and signed into law by Governor Scott (R) in July of 2023. This law goes into effect in December 2024.

  • Homes For All Toolkit: The “Homes for All Toolkit,” launched in March 2024 by The Vermont Agency for Commerce And Community Development, and supported by AARP-VT funding, is a design-and-do guide for small-scale home builders, investors, and community leaders. It proposes missing middle homes, or MMH, as a way to deliver diverse and affordable housing choices in convenient, existing, walkable neighborhoods and places.


Maine


Montana

In an effort to address the rapidly growing housing supply and affordability crisis, leaders knew they'd need to sell state level zoning reform to the masses. State leaders and numerous advocacy groups from across the political spectrum began lobbying for broader state level reforms under the messaging of supporting easier paths to producing infill housing in cities and suburban areas already built out to protect Montana's vital and vast wilderness. The messaging worked and the State was able to pass numerous laws altering local zoning codes statewide with broad bipartisan support in the Republican controlled House and Senate and signed into law by Governor Greg Gianforte (R).

  • “An Act Revising Municipal Zoning Laws” (October 2023) Senate Bill 245 requires communities over 7,000 in population to allow multifamily and mixed-used development in city zones that allow commercial development by-right.

  • Senate Bill 528, requires cities and towns to adopt rules allowing the construction of ADUs (accessory dwelling units), or smaller housing units that share a lot with a primary home.

  • Senate Bill 323, makes duplex housing allowable on any home lot in cities with 5,000 residents or more, preempting regulations that currently set aside some areas for only single-family homes.

  • Senate Bill 245: caped minimum parking requirements at 1 to 1 in communities with more than 5,000 people


Massachusetts

Passed in 2021 by a Democrat controlled legislature and signed into law by then Governor Charlie Baker (R), MBTA Communities (G.L. Ch 40A, Section 3A) requires 177 communities served by the MBTA or adjacent to a community that is served by the MBTA to update their zoning to allow for a certain number of units. Over 60 communities have approved new zoning districts while more votes are scheduled throughout the rest of the spring and fall as the next round of compliance deadlines loom at the end of 2024. The effectiveness of the bill remains a growing concern as pressure mounts on Legislators to do more to respond to a housing crisis that saw Greater Boston's median home value reach $950,000 in April of 2024, it's highest value ever and a nearly 10% increase from April of 2023.


Colorado

Colorado's legislature passed three major statewide zoning reforms during their 2024 spring session, all of which were signed into law by Governor Jared Polis (D). "What is lacking in supply is the ability to live within walking or biking distance of your job in an affordable way. And that is a lifestyle that many Coloradans want. So we've artificially inhibited the choice that many Coloradans would make, certainly not all, to live close to work conveniently near transit, and there are plenty of opportunities for those who want to have larger plots, might not mind larger commutes and live further out," said Governor Polis of today's housing options in Colorado.

  • House Bill 1304 eliminates minimum parking requirements near transit in cities across the State.

  • House Bill 1152 requires local municipalities to allow ADUs by right. Cities can no longer say no to ADU construction or institute requirements that effectively ban them. The law also includes $5 million in grant funding to help middle and lower-income households build ADUs or to help subsidize ADUs that will be rented to tenants at lower income levels, plus millions of dollars more for loan or down-payment assistance.

  • House Bill 1313 applies to 30 cities and suburbs along the Front Range requiring local governments to come up with a density goal for areas near stops on major transit lines, including zoning for an average 40 housing units per acre. Cities will then have to come up with plans to hit that goal and then provide updates to the state on their progress.


Arizona

Two Housing Bills passed this past session were championed by. a bipartisan coalition that included Senator Anna Hernandez (D) and Representative Michael Carbone (R). As of May 20th, both bills were signed into law by Governor Katie Hobbs (D) on May 21st, 2024.

  • SB 1162, Attempts to streamline the process by requiring municipalities to take action on a project application within 30-days, and streamlining other portions of the permitting process. A major change through this bill is an attempt to limit what grounds abutter appeals can be initiated on. Faulty notice etc. will not be grounds for a legal challenge of a municipal decision.

  • HB 2297, Implements requirements for a streamlined process to convert commercial buildings to residential or mixed use. Specifically in these cases, by January 1, 2025, municipalities with a population of 100,000 or more must allow adaptive reuse or multifamily residential development without requiring conditional use permits, rezoning applications, or other discretionary reviews.

  • HB 2720, ADUs or Casitas: Requires Arizona cities over 75,000 population to allow accessory dwelling units, also known as ADUs or Casitas. Specifically, cities would have to allow ADUs on the properties of single-family homes that are within a mile of “central business districts."

  • HB 2721, The Missing Middle Bill, requires cities with a population of 75,000 or more to update local zoning to allow duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and townhomes within a mile of Central Business Districts (CBDs).


California

  • It's not easy to keep up with the hands down leader of housing reform legislation in America. California has been leading the nation for years, passing and continually going back and refining over 100 bills aimed at spurring the production of new housing statewide. For a list of some recent bills that went into effect on January 1 of 2024, head to this overview. For a more comprehensive look at the years of pro-housing bills passed in California, check out this great interactive tool from California YIMBY.


Federal Government

  • "YIMBY Act:" U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) reintroduced the Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) Act. The YIMBY Act would require Community Development Block Grant recipients to report on whether they have already adopted certain anti-discriminatory land use policies and/or to submit a plan for implementing said policies and the ways in which adopting the policy would benefit the jurisdiction. Some of the policies encouraged by the bill, include enacting high-density single-family and multifamily zoning, allowing manufactured homes in areas zoned primarily for single-family residential homes, reducing minimum lot size, and allowing single-room occupancy development wherever multifamily housing is allowed.

  • "Homes For People Not Cars Act:" Introduced by Representative Seth Moulton (D) of Massachusetts and Representative Robert Garcia (D) of California, the bill would eliminate parking requirements within a half-mile of a public transit station, superseding any local parking requirements. As with most parking minimum bills, it's important to remember this does not prevent builders from adding parking, it just eliminates arbitrary standards-imposed decades ago in many cases that add substantial cost to new housing.


This is not an exhaustive list but a small sample of some of the recent action ongoing to address our housing supply crisis across the Nation. More certainly needs to be done but it's encouraging to see state legislatures beginning to address these issues on the state level, where the best policy decisions for a region can and should be made.


 

Jonathan Berk is an urbanist and advocate who’s focused his career on building and advocating for walkable communities with vibrant public spaces, abundant housing choices and robust local small business communities. As the Founder of Re:Main, he's working to support the growth, enhancement and expansion of walkable neighborhoods through innovative, action oriented programs. Jonathan@remainplaces.com


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