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  • Writer's pictureClif Harald

ChatGPT Intro to Zoning for Affordable Housing

Updated: Jan 10


Colorado Governor Jared Polis recently announced a controversial, statewide affordable housing plan focused on local land use zoning. As a planner, I am very familiar with Boulder’s long history of progressive land use planning and housing affordability (or lack thereof). But I was curious about how the AI chatbot, ChatGPT, would respond to questions about zoning and affordable housing.


The following transcript - except for my questions highlighted in bold - was all composed by ChatGPT. After our conversation, I asked ChatGPT to summarize the key takeaways for TLDR readers.


What are the key takeaways from our conversation?

In our conversation on affordable housing and land use planning and zoning, we discussed several key takeaways:


  • Land use planning and zoning can either encourage or discourage affordable housing development. Zoning regulations that restrict certain types of housing or require large minimum lot sizes can limit the supply of affordable housing.

  • Inclusionary zoning policies, which require developers to include a percentage of affordable housing in new developments, can be an effective tool for promoting affordable housing while still preserving single-family zoning.

  • State legislation that requires cities to plan and zone for more affordable housing can be an effective way to address the affordable housing crisis, but it may also face opposition from those who see it as a loss of local control.

  • Successful partnerships between state and local governments can help address the affordable housing crisis. Programs that provide funding, technical assistance, and incentives for local governments to plan and zone for affordable housing can be effective in promoting affordable housing development.

  • There are several examples of states that have successfully partnered with local governments to create affordable housing through land use planning and zoning, including California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, and New Jersey.


Overall, addressing the affordable housing crisis requires a multifaceted approach that involves collaboration between government, developers, and community stakeholders. Land use planning and zoning can be an effective tool for promoting affordable housing development, but it must be used in conjunction with other strategies such as funding, incentives, and community engagement.


Explain how land use planning and zoning can either discourage or encourage affordable housing.

Land use planning and zoning play a critical role in determining the types of buildings and uses that are allowed in specific areas. By controlling the use and development of land, local governments can either encourage or discourage the development of affordable housing.


Discouraging affordable housing:


  • Restrictive zoning laws: Zoning laws can restrict the construction of multi-family buildings, mandate minimum lot sizes, or require large setbacks that make the development of affordable housing difficult or impossible.

  • Exclusionary zoning: This refers to zoning laws that favor single-family homes in certain areas, effectively excluding affordable housing options. This type of zoning can be discriminatory and limit the availability of affordable housing in certain communities.

  • Height and density restrictions: Height and density restrictions can limit the amount of housing that can be built on a particular piece of land. This can make it difficult for developers to build affordable housing, which often requires higher densities to be economically feasible.

  • Parking requirements: High parking requirements can add significant costs to housing development, making it more difficult to build affordable housing.


Encouraging affordable housing:


  • Inclusionary zoning: This refers to zoning laws that require developers to set aside a percentage of units in new developments for affordable housing.

  • Density bonuses: Density bonuses can offer developers increased density allowances in exchange for including affordable housing in their developments.

  • Mixed-use zoning: Mixed-use zoning allows for a variety of uses, including housing, commercial, and retail, in the same development. This can encourage the development of affordable housing by creating more opportunities for developers to include affordable units in larger projects.

  • Streamlined approval processes: Streamlining the approval process for affordable housing projects can make it easier and less expensive for developers to build affordable housing.


In summary, land use planning and zoning can either discourage or encourage affordable housing, depending on the specific laws and regulations in place. By implementing policies that encourage affordable housing development, local governments can help to increase the availability of affordable housing in their communities.


Describe examples of cities successfully balancing new affordable housing with existing single-family housing.

There are several examples of cities successfully balancing new affordable housing with existing single-family housing. Here are a few:


  • Minneapolis, Minnesota: In 2018, Minneapolis became the first major U.S. city to end single-family zoning in an effort to encourage more affordable housing options. The city replaced single-family zoning with "fourplex zoning," allowing up to four units on any residential lot, and also established an inclusionary zoning policy that requires developers to include affordable units in new developments.

  • Portland, Oregon: Portland has been implementing inclusionary zoning policies since 2017, which requires new developments to include affordable housing units or pay into a fund to support affordable housing. Additionally, the city has encouraged the development of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on single-family lots to provide more affordable housing options.

  • Boulder, Colorado: Boulder has used a combination of inclusionary zoning policies and density bonuses to encourage the development of affordable housing while maintaining the character of existing single-family neighborhoods. The city's inclusionary zoning policy requires new developments to include affordable units or pay a fee to support affordable housing, and density bonuses are offered to developers who include affordable units in their projects.

  • Seattle, Washington: Seattle has used a variety of approaches to encourage the development of affordable housing while preserving existing single-family neighborhoods. The city has implemented inclusionary zoning policies, established an affordable housing fund, and offered density bonuses to developers who include affordable units in their projects. Additionally, the city has encouraged the development of ADUs and allowed for the subdivision of larger lots into smaller lots to increase the number of housing units that can be built without changing the underlying zoning designation.

  • Austin, Texas: Austin has implemented a variety of strategies to increase the supply of affordable housing, including zoning changes that allow for more density and mixed-use development, tax incentives for affordable housing development, and a bond program that provides funding for affordable housing.


Overall, these examples show that cities can successfully balance new affordable housing with existing single-family housing by using a combination of inclusionary zoning policies, density bonuses, ADUs, and other strategies to increase the supply of affordable housing while maintaining the character and integrity of single-family neighborhoods.


What are the best arguments for and against state legislation that requires cities to plan and zone for more affordable housing?

Arguments for state legislation that requires cities to plan and zone for more affordable housing:


  • Addressing the affordable housing crisis requires a statewide approach. State legislation can ensure that every city is doing its part to create affordable housing, instead of relying on a few cities to bear the burden.

  • Supporting economic growth: Affordable housing can support economic growth by providing workers with stable and affordable housing options. This can help attract and retain businesses and workers, which can stimulate local economic development.

  • State legislation can provide funding and technical assistance to local governments to help them plan and zone for affordable housing. This can be especially important for small cities and towns that may not have the resources or expertise to create affordable housing on their own.

  • Encouraging smarter growth and land use patterns: State legislation that requires cities to plan and zone for more affordable housing can encourage compact and mixed-use development. This can help reduce sprawl, preserve natural resources, and create more walkable and bikeable communities.


Arguments against state legislation that requires cities to plan and zone for more affordable housing:


  • Local control is important. Some argue that state legislation takes away the ability of local governments to make decisions that best suit their communities.

  • One-size-fits-all policies may not work for every city. Different cities have different housing needs and challenges, and state legislation may not take these differences into account.

  • Rezoning for more affordable housing may require significant investment in infrastructure and other services, which may be costly for individual communities to bear. State legislation may not provide adequate funding to support these changes.

  • Rezoning for more affordable housing can be politically challenging, particularly if there is opposition from existing homeowners or other groups who are resistant to change. State legislation may not be able to overcome this opposition.


Overall, while state legislation that requires cities to plan and zone for more affordable housing may face opposition, it can also provide important benefits in addressing the affordable housing crisis. Ultimately, any policy aimed at promoting affordable housing should be tailored to the unique needs and challenges of each community.


Are there good examples of state governments partnering with local governments to create affordable housing through land use planning and zoning?

Yes, there are many examples of state governments partnering with local governments to create affordable housing through land use planning and zoning. Here are a few examples:


  • In Oregon, the state passed legislation in 2019 that requires cities with populations over 10,000 to allow duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes on land previously zoned for single-family homes. The legislation also allows for larger multifamily buildings in some areas, in exchange for including affordable housing units in the development. This state-level policy change has encouraged many cities to update their zoning codes to allow for more density and affordable housing.

  • In New Jersey, the state has implemented a program called the Mount Laurel Doctrine, which requires all municipalities to provide their "fair share" of affordable housing units. This has led to many municipalities partnering with private developers to create affordable housing developments that meet their fair share obligations.

  • In California, the state has provided funding and technical assistance to local governments to help them plan and implement affordable housing policies. For example, the state has provided funding to cities to update their zoning codes to allow for more density and affordable housing, and has also provided grants to support the construction of affordable housing units.

  • In Massachusetts, the state has implemented the Housing Choice Initiative, which provides incentives for cities and towns to update their zoning codes to allow for more density and affordable housing. The state also provides funding and technical assistance to help local governments implement these policies.

  • In Colorado, a program called the Affordable Housing Tax Credit provides tax credits to developers who create affordable housing. The state also has a fund that provides grants and loans to local governments and developers to support the development of affordable housing.

  • In Minnesota, the state passed the "Housing First" legislation in 2017, which provides funding and technical assistance to local governments to support the development of affordable housing. The legislation also encourages local governments to update their zoning and land use regulations to support affordable housing.


In conclusion, there are many examples of state governments partnering with local governments to create affordable housing through land use planning and zoning. These partnerships can be effective in addressing the affordable housing crisis and creating more equitable communities.

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