Strategy overview

  • Reducing pressure at all price points: Local governments generally have a range of legislative, regulatory, and operational levers to create the conditions for increasing overall housing supply in their communities. A substantial increase in the total supply of housing, regardless of price point, reduces the rate at which housing prices rise and increases affordable housing supply. Without the ability to build denser housing, any local strategy to create new affordable homes will be limited in its effectiveness.
  • Passing supply-friendly rules and regulations: Many local rules and regulations can be reformed to facilitate increases in the net total of available homes. Such changes, which have demonstrated effectiveness both in strong and soft markets, include eliminating or reducing the use of single-family zoning (where the only legally permitted structures on plots of land are single family homes), upzoning (permitting denser housing), adapting building codes to enable more efficient construction, and encouraging mixed-use developments. Many of these changes are legislative, requiring passage by a local council.
  • Taking a supply-focused approach to land use: Similar to zoning reform, local governments can further increase housing supply by writing new rules on land use requirements. This can include lifting restrictions on accessible dwelling units, reducing parking requirements, reducing minimum lot sizes, and more. Some communities may also facilitate the construction of more affordable housing through the establishment of community land trusts, strategic leveraging of land banks, or enabling housing construction on public land.
  • Incentivizing development: In addition to zoning and land use, jurisdictions can provide financial incentives for significant increases in available housing units. Such approaches may include tax abatements, tax exemptions, and appraisal gap financing (covering the difference between the appraised and market value). These incentives can be applied both to new construction and significant rehabilitation of dilapidated units.
  • Streamlining permitting processes: A relatively low-cost component of a broader housing supply strategy can include updating processes for construction permits, environmental reviews, and waiving related fees. Such changes are mostly operational, and can facilitate more rapid housing development and, in turn, a more favorable building environment.

While multiple rigorous analyses demonstrate that strategies to increase overall housing supply can be effective, further research is needed to confirm effects across locations and market types.

  • A 2021 quasi-experimental study found that higher-density zoning was associated with increased housing supply and development density.
  • A 2018 empirical review and theoretical analysis found that increases in overall housing supply moderate price increases, thus making more housing affordable to low- and moderate-income residents. However, further research is needed to confirm effects across markets and conditions.

  • A 2014 literature review found that restrictive land use policies can raise house prices and reduce new construction.

Before making investments in this strategy, city and county leaders should ensure it addresses local needs.

The Urban Institute and Mathematica have developed indicator frameworks to help local leaders assess conditions related to upward mobility, identify barriers, and guide investments to address these challenges. These indicator frameworks can serve as a starting point for self-assessment, not as a comprehensive evaluation, and should be complemented by other forms of local knowledge.

The Urban Institute's Upward Mobility Framework identifies a set of key local conditions that shape communities’ ability to advance upward mobility and racial equity. Local leaders can use the Upward Mobility Framework to better understand the factors that improve upward mobility and prioritize areas of focus. Data reports for cities and counties can be created here.

Several indicators in the Upward Mobility Framework may be improved with investments in increasing the overall housing supply. To measure these indicators and determine if investments in these interventions could help, examine the following:

Mathematica's Education-to-Workforce (E-W) Indicator Framework helps local leaders identify the data that matter most in helping students and young adults succeed. Local leaders can use the E-W framework to better understand education and workforce conditions in their communities and to identify strategies that can improve outcomes in these areas.

One indicator in the E-W Framework may be improved with investments in this strategy. To measure this indicator and determine if investments in this strategy could help, examine the following:

  • Access to affordable housing: Ratio of (1) the number of affordable housing units to (2) the number of households with low and very low incomes in an area (city or county). Housing units are defined as affordable if the monthly costs do not exceed 30 percent of a household’s income. Households with low incomes are defined as those earning below 80 percent of area median income (AMI), and very low-income households are defined as those earning below 50 percent of AMI.

  • Use overall supply as a lever for affordability: Shifting a market towards more affordable housing requires more housing supply overall. Incorporate both direct efforts to facilitate more affordable housing, like land banks and housing construction on public land, and a comprehensive suite of supply-side reforms that will allow for density (i..e. upzoning) and more rapid development (like expedited permitting).
  • Solicit public input: At the beginning of any process seeking to increase overall housing supply, launch a robust public engagement effort targeting two separate audiences: community members and developers. For residents, hosting public forums, conducting focus groups, and administering surveys to pinpoint community concerns can build trust and buy-in. These sessions should begin far in advance of any zoning or legislative changes, and include a wide range of materials to help residents understand how their neighborhoods might change, including extensive use of visuals and 3D models. For developers, direct engagement through interviews and roundtables may help identify which types of interventions will most meaningfully change the status quo.
  • Conduct neighborhood-level analysis: Invest in staff and software capacity to analyze market conditions at a hyperlocal level. Analyses should be shared extensively with community residents and generally done in tandem with resident engagement, which can yield significant qualitative and quantitative data to enrich findings. A rigorous neighborhood analysis can help a jurisdiction identify priority areas for interventions and tailor specific programs and policy levers to maximize impact on a block-by-block level.
  • Identify operational constraints: Reforms intended to increase the total quantity of housing in a community can begin with simple assessments of government operations. For instance, permitting may include burdensome paperwork, duplicative applications, or slow processing periods, creating significant costs and disincentives for developers to invest in building new housing. Conducting a formal evaluation and including all relevant agencies can facilitate a smoother, quicker process for builders.
  • Make a multi-pronged case for reform: Especially for changes that include legislation, frame increasing housing supply as a multidimensional issue with a range of benefits. This can include achieving goals in areas beyond housing affordability, such as racial equity, desegregation, regional economic development, and climate change.

Evidence-based examples

Local regulatory action shaping development, design, and built environment of communities and municipalities
Supportive neighborhoods
Community-owned or public entities that acquire troubled properties and transform them into community assets
Supportive neighborhoods
Land development approach merging distinct uses (commercial, residential, leisure) for greater density and diversity in a given geographical area
Supportive neighborhoods

Evidence varies across specific models