South Bend Offers Small Developers Pre-Approved Housing Templates

The city hopes the templates, along with other incentive programs, will spur more housing construction on its vacant lots while maintaining neighborhood character and streamlining the development process.

Read Time: 2 minutes

October 7, 2022, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Aerial view of South Bend, Indiana

Aaron Yoder / South Bend, Indiana

A program that offers pre-approved development templates to South Bend developers provides a positive model for how cities can streamline the development process and encourage small developers to build more housing, writes Daniel Herriges in Strong Towns.

The plans, developed with the help of incremental developers and design experts, are specifically crafted for South Bend’s existing neighborhoods, where they fit the current zoning rules, lot sizes and shapes, and market conditions, and nod to the city’s historic architectural vernacular.

City officials hope this will help fill the hundreds of vacant lots languishing in the city and lower construction and permitting costs for builders. “The city, in return, gets a predictable form of development that is aesthetically compatible and can be replicated at scale.”

By updating and simplifying its zoning code, providing Sears catalog-style templates for construction, and investing in programs like a $20,000 sewer hookup rebate that ease the cost burden of building new homes, the city of just over 100,000 offers a model for streamlining development and encouraging affordable, site-appropriate, housing construction in its neighborhoods.

While some critics may deride such “cookie-cutter” development, Herriges points out that the South Bend model shows that templates don’t have to be bland, universalized, or lacking in context. And, Herriges points out, “if you want to produce a lot of really attractive cookies in a short amount of time, a cookie cutter is a fantastic tool for the job.”

Thursday, October 6, 2022 in Strong Towns

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