HUD Secretary Ben Carson kicked off a nationwide bus tour this week, “Driving Affordable Housing Across America.” The tour’s focus is on removing regulatory barriers to new affordable housing. The trip will provide the secretary with a “listening tour” to gather ideas on the best ways to increase the supply of affordable housing.
The tour started in Louisville, Kentucky on January 29. Secretary Carson visited St. Cecilia Senior Housing Apartments and held a listening session with community residents. Later that day, he hosted a roundtable discussion in Nashville on affordable housing with Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. The next day he toured the Clayton Homes manufactured housing plant in Russellville, Alabama. You can see a short video of Secretary Carson’s visit to Louisville and Nashville here.
Secretary Carson is Chair of the White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing. The Council was created under President Trump’s Executive Order 13878. This Executive Order created the Council and set out its mission to identify and eliminate regulations that make it harder or more costly to build affordable housing. The bus tour is an effort to gather information on how to promote more affordable housing by reducing regulations.
The Executive order lays out the administration’s belief that excessive regulations are the main reason that housing costs have risen so much. The Executive Order opens by explaining the purpose for the action:
“Federal, State, local, and tribal governments impose a multitude of regulatory barriers — laws, regulations, and administrative practices — that hinder the development of housing. These regulatory barriers include: overly restrictive zoning and growth management controls; rent controls; cumbersome building and rehabilitation codes; excessive energy and water efficiency mandates; unreasonable maximum-density allowances; historic preservation requirements; overly burdensome wetland or environmental regulations; outdated manufactured-housing regulations and restrictions; undue parking requirements; cumbersome and time-consuming permitting and review procedures; tax policies that discourage investment or reinvestment; overly complex labor requirements; and inordinate impact or developer fees. These regulatory barriers increase the costs associated with development, and, as a result, drive down the supply of affordable housing.”
Some local, state and federal regulations do add a lot more time to get permits and start construction. Fees can be high, and some requirements may increase the cost of building housing. Affordable housing advocates support many measures that reduce permit approval time and cut permit fees. Affordable housing advocates also support changing zoning laws that were written to maintain segregation in communities and “Not In My Back Yard” opposition to affordable housing developments.
But many of the regulations in place serve important public needs. They protect clean air and water. They promote fire safety and accessibility. They make sure that our buildings can withstand natural disasters and toxic materials are not used in construction. They preserve historic heritage. They encourage hiring low-income and minority workers when public funds are used.
There is some controversy around the bus tour. Some have pointed to the cost of the tour, when HUD already has much of the information it could gather from its listening sessions. Regulatory relief alone is not likely to meet the nation’s affordable housing needs. They also point out that the Trump administration has proposed large cuts to the affordable housing programs that serve people with the lowest incomes. In an election year when most of the major Democratic candidates have released comprehensive housing plans, some see the bus tour as a publicity stunt.
HUD says the bus tour will travel to different regions around the country through June. However, the itinerary for the first swing through the Southeast was not available until the day before the tour kicked off. HUD’s website notes that visits to the West may be next, but there is no information about the dates or locations for stops in Western states.
The events listed for the Southeast tour all required an RSVP, so if you want to attend an event in your region, you will have to contact the HUD staff listed on the announcement. You can check HUD’s website for updates on the Driving Affordable Housing Across America bus tour website.