HUD backs studies to boost affordable housing availability

February 27, 2024

With housing prices increasing and availability diminishing, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is investing in studies it hopes will eventually help communities meet the demand for affordable housing.

HUD recently announced nearly $4 million in awards to 11 grantees to support research on creating practices and policies to increase the production and supply of affordable housing, including office-to-residential conversions.

Affordable housing is in scarce supply in the United States, especially in urban areas where it’s most needed. Just 19.1% of the total U.S. real Gross Domestic Population (GDP) and 6.8% of the U.S. population are in walkable urban places that represent just 1.2% of total landmass of the top 35 U.S. metros, according to a recent study by Smart Growth America.

Communities face several obstacles to creating affordable housing, HUD said. These include tax policies, land use controls, zoning ordinances, building codes fees and growth limits.

The projects receiving funding are expected to help communities find solutions to these obstacles, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said.

“As we’re seeing more and more, our nation’s housing stock does not meet the needs of our growing country,” Fudge explained. “We need to think creatively, from innovative construction methods to office-to-residential conversions. Today’s announcement will spur the innovation needed to build more affordable, safe, and sustainable housing in our communities.”

A private firm will study recent efforts to convert office buildings vacated during the COVID-19 pandemic into apartment buildings, a trend that has gained momentum in recent years thanks to government financing incentives and public-private partnerships.

M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates Inc. will analyze office-to-residential conversion activities in six cities. Their analysis will look at the financial feasibility of these conversions, study policies and incentives, and build an online community guide to allow local policymakers to estimate the impact of potential conversion policies on their community, HUD said.

HUD also awarded $3 million to 10 institutions that are studying the potential for manufactured housing methods and zoning and land use reforms to increase supply and lower costs.

The projects include:

  • The National Institute of Building Sciences will partner with six HUD regions to design pilot programs that will both identify regional barriers to the adoption of off-site construction and develop strategic plans for off-site construction growth. These regional pilots will serve as the basis for a pilot handbook to spur other regions to foster off-site construction capacity and encourage uptake.
  • The University of California, Los Angeles, is studying the impact of accessory dwelling unit (ADU) legalization and production in California on rents and prices, as well as to assess how legalization changes land values even for parcels that do not exercise the new development option.
  • The University of California, Irvine, is analyzing California’s state-level reforms aimed at mitigating regulatory barriers obstructing the development of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in the context of affirmatively furthering fair housing (AFFH).
  • The Urban Institute will leverage its housing market forecast model to examine the interplay between local zoning reforms and their impact on housing costs and segregation.
  • Purdue University will study the role of building codes as a land-use restriction. The goal of the research is to provide greater clarity for state and local governments in determining how proposed revisions to the International Building Code and International Code Council would impact new supply and affordability in their jurisdictions.
  • Louisiana State University will conduct a life-cycle cost analysis of disaster-resilient affordable housing and identify improvements to the manufacturing and siting process of elevated, wind-resilient manufactured homes that could enable greater adoption of these homes, particularly in disaster-prone and underserved communities.
  • The Manufactured Housing Institute was awarded will examine the impact of local barriers on the placement of manufactured homes and propose necessary regulatory reforms to address these constraints.
  • Washington State University is focusing on modular construction methods. The project aims to develop and demonstrate the design of modular mass timber hybrid construction to offer a solution that is more sustainable, affordable, and equitable for housing.
  • ADL Ventures is studying the financing of industrialized off-site construction and will identify ways to increase the industry’s access to capital.
  • Lehigh University will conduct a qualitative survey of accessory dwelling unit (ADU) ordinances. It will catalog best practices, design guidelines, pre-approved plans, and other financial incentives that contributed to the successful implementation of ADU reforms in small-to-medium-sized cities.

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Photo by Sergei Wing on Unsplash

Miles Smith

Miles Smith has more than two decades of communications experience in the public and private sectors, including several years of covering local governments for various daily and weekly print publications. His scope of work includes handling public relations for large private-sector corporations and managing public-facing communications for local governments.

Smith has recently joined the team as a content writer for SPI’s news publications, which include Texas Government Insider, Government Contracting Pipeline and its newest digital product, Government Market News, which launched in September 2023. He graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s in journalism.

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