This study is intended to fulfill our responsibilities as regional planning commissions to plan for safe and affordable homes for all residents and, specifically, to identify existing and projected housing needs by amount, type, and location for all economic groups in the study area.
As professional planners, our primary obligation is to serve the public interest. That public interest includes, but is not limited to, seeking social justice by working to expand choice and opportunity for all persons, recognizing a special responsibility to plan for the needs of the disadvantaged and to promote racial and economic integration. (See the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct)
As discussed in the Planning for Equity Guide, an individual’s address can be a proxy for opportunity. Your home location impacts your household’s access to good schools, jobs, services and transportation options. Our homes are a social determinant of health. Home ownership, for many households, represents their largest financial investment and an important source of wealth that can be passed down to their children or grandchildren.
As discussed in depth in The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, federal policy, local zoning rules and the mortgage industry historically denied access to home ownership for minority groups, most notably African Americans. These discriminatory housing practices also limited access to the opportunities discussed above.
Restrictive zoning rules – notably large minimum lot sizes, low densities and not allowing multi-family dwellings in residential districts – can limit access to these opportunities for lower-income households. Too frequently, lower-income homes are forced to locate through pricing and other measures in higher-risk or undesirable areas, such as within flood hazard zones or close to railroads or industrial facilities.
Ever since Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae were established, federal policy has promoted home ownership over rentals. This prioritizes inherently more expensive types of homes over lower-cost types. Our Keys to the Valley study indicates the need in this region for the types of homes that are more affordable, such as tiny houses, micro-apartments, accessory dwelling units, smaller single-level homes, bungalow courtyards, townhouses and smaller apartment buildings. In addition, converting existing houses into a few dwelling units or establishing homesharing may help to provide needed affordable options, while also assisting older residents to stay in their homes.
There is a long and unfortunate history of housing discrimination in this country. We must work together to undo this history and strive to provide good homes for everyone in this region. Not only is it the right thing to do, promoting equity and inclusion is an integral part of a community’s success. Some places forget lower-income households are an integral part of their success, thinking that only high-value property and high-income residents contribute to economic well-being. However, that is because they have bounded the ‘community’ geographically or they have simply failed to see the ‘essential’ support systems that underlie modern life. An equitable community does not shift its burdens onto other places or people. When individuals are safely and affordably housed, they contribute best to their families, communities and workplaces. Toward that end, we propose using an “equity in all policies” approach in regional and local planning efforts, which means employing an “equity lens” to ensure that proposed policies and regulations will serve and benefit all residents of a community in ways that reduce or eliminate inequity. In addition, RPCs support efforts to modernize local laws to ensure housing opportunities are available, accessible, and affordable to all.