Chapter 20 | Planning for Housing


Private developers and home builders make many market decisions that shape how and where people live. Traditional housing planning focused on providing for the needs of people who could not afford traditional housing in the open market. Today, as our population ages and household sizes shrink, there is an increasing emphasis in planning for all types of housing needs – ranging from the traditional ones for young families with children to concepts designed to allow senior citizens to “age in place” in their own communities.  This chapter provides an introduction to planning for community housing needs. It includes a discussion of housing supply and demand, the effects of the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act on housing; the effects of federal financing, tax and road-building policies on local housing; the role of local governments in providing housing and shaping the market; and local and state affordable housing programs.

Weblinks from Chapter


  1. Interview several recent graduates of your college who are working in your area. Ask them how well the housing market serves their needs. Ask them if they have bought homes or if they expect to be able to buy homes anytime soon. What do the results of this informal survey tell you about your local housing market?
  2. If you are living in a dorm or sharing an apartment with a group of students or are otherwise not really a part of the housing market, do a little shopping for housing, at least from ads. Find out how much a starting salary would be in your field. Subtract about 20 percent for taxes. Assume that you can afford to spend 25 to 30 percent of what is left for your monthly housing costs, including utilities. Now look at the ads and see what you can afford. What do these findings tell you about your local housing market?
  3. Find out if your community has a Consolidated Plan housing element for its comprehensive plan, or other local housing plan. Check with the planning office, the housing office, or, if in doubt, the office of the mayor or other chief executive. Borrow a copy and review it. What are the local housing problems? How difficult will they be to solve?
  4. Evaluate the accessibility of your own housing unit. Borrow a wheelchair (a medical supply store is likely to be happy to loan you one for a day or two) and try to get around in it—try to get into the bathroom and then get up to the sink to wash your hands. How hard would it be to make your existing unit more accessible? How hard would it have been to build the unit originally to be more accessible?

Discussion Questions

  1. How serious is the homeless problem in your community? What is the community doing about it? Is that a good approach?
  2. Invite one or more of the following guest speakers to come to class and discuss issues in this chapter: a representative of a large landlord, a local Realtor, a representative of the public housing authority, an advocate for people with disabilities.


For examples of housing elements of comprehensive or master plans, see Diamond Bar, California ( ), Mendham Township, New Jersey ( ), Long Beach, California ( ), and San Juan County, Colorado ( ).

For examples of local “consolidated plans,” as required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, see Louisville, Kentucky ( ), Flagstaff, Arizona ( ), Houston, Texas ( ) and a statewide plan for Vermont ( ).

A class of graduate students at Ball State University conducted a thorough study of abandoned buildings in the City of Muncie, Indiana [ch18_link1], providing an assessment of the condition of buildings and their relative potential for rehabilitation. Most of the buildings involved in the study were residential.

Massachusetts and New Jersey have long-standing, state-wide programs for affordable housing. For information on those programs, see the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Council on Affordable Housing, and the Massachusetts Housing Appeals Committee.

Supplemental Resources

There are several supplemental resources listed under “weblinks from chapter.”  Here are some others.

  • The Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Wisconsin has published a useful and user-friendly guide to preparing the housing element of a comprehensive plan  [ch20-link1]
  • For information on the “consolidated” plan required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development as a basis for funding local affordable and public housing programs, see the HUD website.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development maintains a “Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse” that describes regulatory barriers to affordable housing and includes recommendations for eliminating or mitigating them; there is a searchable database of local plans that address this issue. The Department also maintains a more general information base on “affordable housing”.
  • Based in Butte, Montana, the National Affordable Housing Network offers a variety of resources, including affordable house plans for hot climates and separate ones for cold climates.

Common Search Terms

Use these terms in search engines to find additional examples and other resources:

affordable housing, consolidated housing plan, comprehensive plan housing element, master plan housing element