DISTILLED Housing Development Toolkit

Annaliese (Cole) Trehan, RA
Assistant Project Manager

Last month, the White House released a “Housing Development Toolkit” with specific steps that local governments can take to ease the burdens of housing development and increase supply. It was a long time coming. For three decades, increased regulatory burdens have led to higher costs and decreased affordability. By easing these barriers and allowing the housing market to respond to demand, cities can attract more residents and businesses who will contribute to increased tax revenues, ease financial pressure on working families, and facilitate more beautiful and accessible neighborhoods.

You can read the entire report here, but the Martin Architectural Group has distilled the main points for you below:


  • Land use and zoning restrictions
  • Off-street parking requirements
  • Arbitrary or antiquated preservation regulations
  • Residential conversion restrictions
  • Unnecessarily slow permitting process


  • High housing production cost
  • Less affordable housing supply
  • Limited population growth and tax revenue gains
  • Displacement away from job markets
  • Longer commutes and more traffic congestion


  • Protect home owners and home values while maintaining affordability.
  • Enhance the beauty and livability of our neighborhoods by encouraging infill development.
  • Optimize transportation system use and reduce commute times and traffic congestion.
  • Facilitate a more equitable distribution of new housing.


(Excerpts from Housing Development Toolkit, September 2016)

1. Establish by-right development

A 2014 report by the Urban Land Institute concludes that “municipalities can facilitate more efficient development time frames and reduce costs by enabling more by-right development. This can be accomplished by relaxing restrictions related to density, building height, unit size, and parking minimums, thereby freeing developers from the need to seek waivers, variances, or rezoning.”

2. Tax vacant land or donate it to non-profit developers

Many localities increase vacant land fees the longer a property remains vacant, which encourages lot owners to put their properties to more productive use, such as redevelopment. Once vacant property has been identified, jurisdictions are able to take action to combat the lost revenue and blight that come with vacant property by taxing vacant land or donating to non-profit developers.

3. Streamline or shorten permitting processes and timelines

Unnecessarily lengthy permitting processes restrict long-run housing supply responsiveness to demand, and also present an inefficiency for city planners and reviewers whose time could be more effectively spent on essential tasks. Most localities’ permitting processes do not fully leverage new technology to achieve greater speed, reliability and efficiency.

4. Eliminate off-street parking requirements

Parking requirements generally impose an undue burden on housing development, particularly for transit-oriented or affordable housing. When transit-oriented developments are intended to help reduce automobile dependence, parking requirements can undermine that goal by inducing new residents to drive, thereby counteracting city goals for increased use of public transit, walking and biking. Such requirements can also waste developable land, and reduce the potential for other amenities to be included; a recent Urban Land Institute study found that minimum parking requirements were the most noted barrier to housing development in the course of their research. By reducing parking and designing more connected, walkable developments, cities can reduce pollution, traffic congestion and improve economic development. Businesses that can be accessed without a car can see increased revenue, increased use of alternative modes of transportation, and improved health outcomes for residents.

5. Enact high-density and multifamily zoning

Local zoning code changes that allow for the development of higher-density and multifamily housing, especially in transit zones, can help to alleviate some of the pressure of the growing population in many city centers.

6. Allow accessory dwelling units

Accessory dwelling units can expand the available rental housing stock in areas zoned largely for single-family housing and can address the needs of families pulled between caring for their children and their aging parents, a demographic that has been growing rapidly in recent years.

Accessory dwelling units offer one solution to this challenge by facilitating intergenerational living arrangements and allowing more seniors to age in place, something that nearly 90% of older Americans desire for themselves and their families.

7. Establish density bonuses

Density bonuses encourage housing development and incentivize the addition of affordable housing units by granting projects in which the developer includes a certain number of affordable housing units the ability to construct a greater number of market rate units than would otherwise be allowed. Density bonuses are frequently tied to community goals of increased affordable housing and can be effective in driving larger quantities of units supplied through new construction.

8. Employ inclusionary zoning

Inclusionary zoning requires or encourages the inclusion of affordable units in new residential development projects. Not only have such policies expanded the availability of affordable housing while allowing for new development that otherwise might have been locally opposed, they have also been shown to improve educational outcomes for low-income children gaining access to higher-performing schools

9. Establish development tax or value capture incentives

Tax incentives for developers who construct affordable housing offer another avenue to incentivize development; such incentives have been demonstrated to spur development, and have recently been adopted in Seattle and New York City.

10. Use property tax abatements

Property tax abatements or exemptions can encourage the construction of affordable housing and spur development more generally, including by providing abatements to affordable housing production during the development phase.

As architects and planners, Martin is keenly aware of the difficulties faced by developers in the housing industry. Contact us to hear how we can support you in your next endeavor.


 The Martin Architectural Group was established in 1967 with a commitment to client service and design excellence. Our diverse portfolio includes mixed-use, multi-family residential, senior living communities, retail and office designs, transit-oriented developments, and sustainable projects. We are award-winning architects and planners committed to delivering the highest quality professional services to private sector real estate development. 


www.MartinAIA.com • 215.665.1080 • 240 N. 22nd Street, Philadelphia