Since early 2011, the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio has been an active partner in a regional planning initiative for Mississippi’s three coastal counties known as the Plan for Opportunity. The planning process hopes to better understand the housing, transportation, economic development and environmental systems on the Gulf Coast; foster stronger relationships between jurisdictions and local organizations; and offer recommended strategies to achieve a more prosperous and equitable Gulf Coast. More information on the Plan for Opportunity and partner organizations can be found at www.gulfcoastplan.org.
GCCDS has been the lead researcher on the housing component of the Plan for Opportunity. Back in April the team sent out a press release looking at the complex and controversial story of tax credit housing in the three coastal counties based on its research for the Plan for Opportunity. The press release was picked up by WLOX, The Sun Herald and The Sea Coast Echo. Click HERE for the complete Press Release. Since then, GCCDS has completed a comprehensive Housing Assessment looking at issues like insurance, finance, vacancy and abandonment, energy efficiency and Fair Housing.
GCCDS is putting the finishing touches on a legal and spatial analysis looking at zoning regulations and access to different types of housing in the jurisdictions across the coast. Zoning is a land-use planning tool that has been utilized by local governments and constitutionally upheld in the United States since 1926.[i] Zoning ordinances most typically regulate development through land use classifications and dimensional standards, but since the 1980s more municipalities have started using form-based codes that allow for greater flexibility and mixed uses. While zoning is intended to protect and promote the health, safety, and general welfare of the public in accordance with a municipality’s comprehensive plan, the regulations can have the side effect of reducing the affordability and accessibility of housing in that jurisdiction. This is often an unintentional side effect, though in some cases it is an intentional, formalized expression of NIMBY attitudes (“Not in my back yard”).[ii]
Zoning regulations that limit a protected population’s access to affordable, quality housing are considered exclusionary. The most common zoning regulations that affect the affordability or access to housing include the following:
- Design guidelines that increase building costs
- Costly application requirements for special permits or variances
- Restrictive definitions of “family” and “group home”
- Minimum lot size requirements
- Minimum floor area requirements
- Restrictions or limitations on the development or placement of multi-family or manufactured housing.
Local zoning codes were reviewed for the fore-mentioned regulations. While many of these regulations directly affect access to affordable housing, they are not necessarily an impediment to fair housing choice as defined by HUD or in violation of the Fair Housing Act because low income households are not a protected class.[iii] However, if a regulation has a disparate impact or disproportionate affect on a population of a certain race, color, religion, sex, ability, family status, or national origin the regulation may be deemed a violation of the Fair Housing Act.[iv] This assessment will look at both the potential of local zoning codes to impede access to affordable housing and to have a disparate impact on protected classes. Stay tuned to see how we are doing here on the coast!
[i] Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. , 272 U.S. 365 (1926).
[ii] U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (n.d.). Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. Fair Housing Planning Guide. The Fair Housing Information Clearinghouse. Page 5-6.
[iii] U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (n.d.). Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. Fair Housing Planning Guide. The Fair Housing Information Clearinghouse. Pages 2-16 – 2-17
[iv] Pratt, Sara K. and Robert G. Schwemm. (2009). Disparate Impact under the Fair Housing Act: A Proposed Approach. Commissioned by the National Fair Housing Alliance. December 2009. Web. Page 3.