Housing Planning is Both a Process and a Practice


Resources and Tools

By Joe Griffiths, AICP, Local Assistance and Training Manager

While the requirement to include a housing element in all new and updated comprehensive plans in Maryland may have only become effective on June 1, 2020, many planning methods and practices for implementing affordable housing are well established.

This past summer, the Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) published its Housing Element Models and Guidelines (M&G) to help jurisdictions meet the requirements of HB 1045 (2019). We introduced our Housing Dashboard in the July edition of Planning Practice Monthly and the Self-Assessments in August. October is for housing processes and practices.

The Housing Practices section of the M&G has two parts, a Model Housing Element Development Process (Process) and Common Practices (Practices).

The Process guides the user through potential steps when drafting a local housing element. As part of this guide, it suggests where planners could use other components of the M&G, such as the dashboard, self-assessments, and the Affordable Housing Resource Table. The Process is but one example of how a Maryland community could develop a plan for housing, and Planning encourages jurisdictions to approach their own housing element in a manner meeting their specific conditions and needs.

The Process has five steps:

Step 1: Extracting and Analyzing Data

This step defines key American Community Survey (ACS) data addressing housing in Maryland’s communities and suggests how the data could be applied to a housing analysis.

Step 2: Other Data to Consider

This step goes beyond ACS data to link to other sources, such as those for population trends/ projections, and occupational and wage information. This data can inform growth in a community and region and assist a local planner in aligning existing and future housing stock with the expected incomes of its households.

Step 3: Locally Generated Data/Input

Not all useful housing data comes from national or state sources. Jurisdictions are most familiar with the amount and availability of existing land uses for residential occupancy and greenfield or infill land for residential development. They also have the planning and zoning authority necessary to amend local land use and zoning to address additional housing needs. This step outlines how a jurisdiction can analyze its residential densities by zoning district, consider its housing assets and needs, and assess the condition of its current housing.

Step 4: Current Affordable Housing Programs

Most Maryland jurisdictions already address the need for affordable housing in their communities. Programs for rental assistance, homebuyer education, housing vouchers, and weatherization are just a few that may already be active. A housing element should describe what currently exists and develop strategies for enhancement.

Step 5: Example Goals, Objectives, and Strategies

HB 1045 (2019) says that a housing element may include goals, objectives, and strategies to address low-income and workforce housing. Step 5 includes examples of each that jurisdictions can use as models for their own comprehensive plans. The list is not prescriptive and by no means comprehensive.

Practices Focus on Implementation

As part of Planning’s research for developing the M&G, staff developed an inventory of housing elements in adopted comprehensive plans in Maryland. By analyzing this inventory, Planning determined that the five most common affordable housing implementation strategies are Inclusionary Zoning; Financial and Other Incentives; Partnerships with Developers and Non-profits; Accessory Dwelling Units; and Increasing Density in Targeted and Appropriate Areas. Practices includes descriptions of each.

Inclusionary Zoning: Refers to zoning ordinance requirements that new residential development must include a percentage of affordably priced dwelling units, either for rental or home ownership. 

Financial and Other Incentives: Incentives for affordable housing development or preservation span a broad range of strategies targeting new affordable housing development, rehabilitation and revitalization, and homeownership, just to name a few.

Partnerships with Developers and Non-profits: Maryland’s municipalities and counties are far from alone in their pursuit of housing for their low income and workforce residents. National, state, and local companies and organizations are similarly dedicated to this cause. Jurisdictions should engage with these groups early and often and lean on their expertise throughout the planning and implementation process.

Accessory Dwelling Units: Accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is a term that generally includes allowing one additional dwelling unit on a single lot, along with a primary residence. The ADU could be a separate structure from the main residence, attached to the main residence or integrated into the primary residence.

Increased Density in Targeted and Appropriate Areas: Long range planning and visioning generally proposes high density zoning in areas of a community associated with transit, commercial development, and/or areas in need of revitalization. By offering density increments associated with the development of affordable housing in targeted areas, the jurisdiction can control a high influx of affordable housing at the same time, ensuring that the low-income or workforce household has easy access to urban amenities such as shopping, transit, and jobs.

In addition to these five most common practices, Planning also included descriptions of the following impactful practices that jurisdictions may want to consider:

Missing Middle Housing: Missing middle housing is a recently  coined term referring to multi-family dwelling units within a structure, generally between two to four, that fit into the form and context of an established single-family neighborhood. The idea is that this type of housing can benefit populations such as singles, couples, and the elderly. The missing middle housing type is one that may provide more affordable choices within an existing neighborhood. 

Preserving the Existing Affordable Housing Stock: The preservation of existing affordable housing will help a jurisdiction ensure continued maintenance of residential units, by either the homeowner or the landlord. Naturally occurring affordable housing is often found in older single-family detached neighborhoods where residential homeowners may have restricted income that prevents them from maintaining their homes as they once were able.

Planning for Persons Experiencing Homelessness: When housing costs are more affordable and housing opportunities more readily available, there is also a lower likelihood of households becoming homeless

As Planning continues to enhance its M&G, we will add best practices and examples of these and other strategies from Maryland and other states.

If you would like to learn more about the requirements of HB 1045 (2019), the housing element development process, or contribute examples of best practices, please contact Joe Griffiths, at joseph.griffths@maryland.gov.

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