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Local Tools to Address Housing Affordability: A State-By-State Analysis

March 22, 2019  |  National League of Cities
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T here is a simple truth that connects every person in every city, town and village across America: They want a safe, affordable place to call home. A place to raise their families, enjoy meals with friends and rest their heads at night. But for too many people across the country, that vision of home is not accessible, affordable, or in many cases, available. That is why the National League of Cities (NLC) has made it a priority to support local leaders’ efforts to identify and implement local housing solutions.

Local Tools to Address Housing Affordability: A State-by-State Analysis is an important part of that work. Developed and published in collaboration with the 49 state municipal leagues, the report provides an in-depth look at the interplay of state policies and local housing markets. While no two communities face the exact same set of challenges, we can see the varied impact of policies through this research.

This report complements NLC’s broad focus on housing, which includes the development of resources and best practices, on-the-ground technical assistance, and advocacy at the federal level. In late 2018, NLC further expanded its housing work through the creation of a national housing task force comprised of mayors and councilmembers from 20 states as well as two state municipal league leaders. The task force will publish recommendations to help communities respond to the growing challenges of housing availability, affordability, investment and quality in June 2019.

Local leaders are unified in their call to improve housing opportunities for all — because every person not only wants a place to call home, they deserve it. Nearly all communities in the United States struggle with housing affordability, no matter their size, level of prosperity or growth pressures. Some cities seek to provide enough housing for all incomes by preserving existing affordable housing units and creating new ones. Others focus on preventing poor housing conditions and housing displacement. Still others concentrate on helping households access and afford private-market housing or connecting housing strategies to employment, mobility and health initiatives.

Given the diverse landscape of housing affordability, cities must build and maintain the proper tools and flexibility to meet the needs of their residents. To that end, cities have implemented solutions such as inclusionary housing, rent control, fair housing and housing trust funds. They have also leveraged pro- grams like their states’ tax incentive programs to expand housing affordability and access.

This report explores how states and cities interact in each of these policy areas, and details cities’ implementation authority. We collected data for each policy from existing research, state legislation and relevant court decisions. State municipal leagues then confirmed the data for their states to ensure timeliness and accuracy.

In summary, our assessment of all 50 states and the District of Columbia finds that:
  • Cities in 20 states and the District of Columbia are expressly permitted or face no legal barriers to inclusionary housing
  • Cities in 13 states and the District of Columbia are permitted, have some barriers, or have limited control to implement rent control
  • Cities in 25 states and the District of Columbia have either state law protections or local protections for those using housing vouchers as a source of income
  • Cities in 35 states and the District of Columbia have established housing trust funds
  • Several key factors have influenced the city-state relationship in housing policy, including Dillon’s Rule vs. Home Rule status and emerging issues over local control.
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