Survey: Most Mayors Fail to Link Zoning and Homelessness

Despite the powerful impact of local land use and zoning policies on housing costs and supply, many U.S. mayors believe they have little control over homelessness in their cities.

1 minute read

January 31, 2023, 5:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

“According to a report released in December by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), nearly 600,000 Americans were homeless at this time last year,” writes Carl Smith for Governing. But according to the 2021 Menino Survey of Mayors, “only 1 in 5 mayors felt they had more than ‘moderate’ control over homelessness in their cities,” and almost seven out of 10 did not see zoning as a significant barrier to reducing homelessness.

As Smith points out, “Improving social services won’t be enough if housing is in short supply, or too expensive,” but only 30 percent of homelessness plans from the nation’s 100 largest cities mention zoning and land use. Yet “It’s important to recognize that one of the basic reasons people don’t have housing is because the housing is not being built in the first place, says architect and attorney Sara Bronin.”

Bronin points out that “Although restrictions on housing density have a well-recognized impact on housing development, code requirements regarding such things as lot size, parking spaces, building height or public hearings can also present barriers.” 

Resource-strapped mayors can now look to federal “Yes In My Backyard” grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to advance zoning reform. The grant program was allocated $85 million in the 2022 omnibus spending bill.

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