6 Ways to Expand Housing Options in Your Community

The report we are sharing this week deals with some high-level national policy issues. But you can advocate for change in your own community without a trip to Washington DC. Here are six ideas (big and small) for how to do that:

1.     Research your city’s zoning laws. While HUD laws affect federal loans, zoning laws affect what sort of buildings are locally permitted. Look into your city’s codes to see whether mixed-use buildings are allowed and if so, where. You could also investigate whether commercial buildings are allowed in residential neighborhoods. This research will give you an idea of your town’s landscape and what you might be up against if you want to improve housing availability and affordability.

2.   Advocate to remove parking minimums. Parking minimums are a huge barrier to creating more commercial and residential options in our neighborhoods. First, parking minimums mean our cities are full of parking spots instead of more homes and businesses. Second, parking minimums create a higher barrier to entry for developers, businesses and potential renters or owners because any new building has to create and pay for parking spots, in addition to the actual building. You can find lots of resources to help you end parking minimums in your town on our Black Friday Parking page.

3.     Call out landlords for fair housing violations. We’ll talk more about this on Thursday, but one important way to fight concentrated poverty is to ensure that Fair Housing laws are being obeyed. Fair Housing law “protects people from discrimination when they are renting, buying, or securing financing for any housing. The prohibitions specifically cover discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children.” So if you ever see a landlord preventing someone (a friend or yourself) from renting because of their race, gender, religion, etc. that’s illegal. File a complaint with HUD immediately.

4.     Post photos of empty lots or buildings with the hashtag #BuildHereNow on social media. You can read about this week's social media photo campaign here. After you've posted your photos, you might think about researching who owns the lot in question and consider contacting him/her to see whether there are any plans to renovate it or sell it. You might even think about buying it, or perhaps holding a community meeting to brainstorm ideas for what to do with the space. If the land owner is open to it, consider tactical urbanism projects like planting a garden or installing low-cost seating on the lot. 

5.      Become a small scale developer. It's not as hard as it sounds! You can affordably renovate and build housing in your area without a degree in architecture or anything like that. You just need the right tools and the right team. Our friends at the Incremental Development Alliance as well as several other leaders in the field will share more about this tomorrow, but you can check out their past posts for other ideas, and visit their website to see upcoming workshops in your area where you can develop the skills to be a small scale developer.

6.      Make your neighborhood more walkable. One of the big issues we're focusing on this week is the lack of affordable housing in walkable neighborhoods. Building more housing is one thing, but building more walkability is another. There are a myriad of ways to do this: Paint crosswalks in high traffic areas where they don’t already exist. Put in planters, bike racks, or outdoor seating in parking spots to increase their beauty and value as well as create an additional barrier between the sidewalk and the cars. (Note: For either of these options, you do risk going up against local laws so tread with care or ask permission first.) Another way to encourage walkability (at least temporarily) is to host an open streets event or block party.

We hope these ideas help you get started improving your town's housing options. Please share your ideas or experiences in the comments! 

(Top photo by Jay Austin)

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