multifamily/attached homes

Capitol Heights Cityhomes
Capitol Heights Cityhomes, St. Paul MN -- Photo courtesy of LHB, Inc.
Multifamily and attached homes include apartment buildings, condominiums, town homes, row houses, duplexes, quads, and other housing configurations that provide more than one unit under the roof. This style of housing can often be rented or sold for less than low-density, detached single-family housing, primarily because the cost of land - one of the largest cost components of any new development - is distributed among a greater number of households. Building at a relatively higher density also facilitates more efficient delivery of public services and infrastructure, such as trash removal and sewer systems, which can then be supplied at a lower per-unit cost.

Neighborhoods with higher housing density also can more effectively address traffic congestion and transportation needs. Unlike low-density development, higher-density housing is able to support public transportation, helping to reduce individual transportation costs and the community's traffic congestion. Higher-density development can also cut down travel time for working individuals, reducing the time they spend in the car and providing more convenient access to services and amenities that can particularly be a benefit to certain populations, such as older adults (Learn more about zoning for higher-density residential development to meet the needs of older adults).

Solutions in Action
The State of New Hampshire recently passed a Workforce Housing Law intended to expedite the appeals process for developers of workforce housing whose proposals have been denied. The bill, SB 342, helps to codify a 1991 state Supreme Court Decision (Britton v. Town of Chester), in which the court ruled that municipalities must allow for "reasonable and realistic opportunities for the development of [their fair share of] workforce housing," including rental homes. The law directs local jurisdictions to assess their land use ordinances and, to the greatest extent possible, amend lot size and density requirements to provide opportunities for the development of workforce housing (defined here as for-sale housing affordable to a 4-person household earning up to 100 percent of area median income, or rental housing affordable to a 3-person household earning up to 60 percent of area median income).

This law finally gives "teeth" to the court ruling. In cases where a proposed workforce development is denied or receives approval subject to conditions that threaten the project's economic viability, the developer may appeal the denial or conditional approval in court. What's new is that the court is now required to hold a hearing on the merits of the case within 6 months from when the appeal is filed, or to appoint an impartial party to do so. Successful appellants may be awarded a "builder's remedy," in which the court's ruling supersedes local regulations. The developer and municipality must then work together to establish an appropriate solution. See a side-by-side explanation of the statute [PDF], or click here to leave this site and read an article about the statute.

Massachusetts has a similar law, the Comprehensive Permit and Zoning Appeals Act -- also known as Chapter 40B -- which passed in 1969. Click here to learn more about Chapter 40B.

Addressing community concerns: Objections to multifamily housing are usually related to concerns about the effect of new development on property values, traffic congestion and crime levels. It is important to note, however, that a growing body of evidence indicates that these concerns may generally be unfounded. Studies have shown that single-family homes close to multifamily buildings appreciate in value at rates equivalent to, or higher than, those that are not near multifamily homes.

Moreover, researchers have found no link between higher-density multifamily housing and increases in crime rates or traffic congestion. [1]

Opposition to higher density multifamily housing also may be based on aesthetic grounds and fears that buildings will be unattractive or out of place in the community. Of course, "higher density" is a relative characterization, and new development should be designed to fit with the existing neighborhood.

Higher density development in cities may mean mid- or high-rise apartment buildings, whereas higher density development in suburban areas and small towns may be characterized by town homes and two-story garden apartments. Any step in the direction of allowing greater density can help to increase housing options for working families.

Click here to view a PowerPoint presentation by Doug Bibby, President of the National Multi Housing Council, on the importance of rental housing. Among other things, the presentation points to rental housing as a means to address the affordable housing shortage in the US, and advocates for the need to make changes in the regulatory climate to promote higher-density, transit-oriented development.

Obstacles to development: Some communities prohibit multifamily and attached housing altogether through zoning policies that limit development in all residential districts to single-family homes. Other jurisdictions do not adopt outright bans, but rather erect regulatory barriers that severely limit opportunities for development. This may be accomplished through zoning policies that:

-- Mandate residential density that is too low to support multifamily or attached housing

-- Restrict the land area zoned for multifamily or attached housing to an insignificant share of total land area

-- Limit the number of multifamily or attached units that may be built in a year

-- Limit the number of multifamily or attached units allowed in the jurisdiction by setting a cap or a required ratio of single-family homes to multifamily or attached units

-- Prohibit the development of multifamily or attached developments within a specified proximity to one another

-- Limit the number of primary residence structures allowed per lot

-- Prohibit or constrain the conversion of single-family homes to multifamily residences

-- Impose overly restrictive parking requirements that make multifamily development uneconomical

Click on the links below to learn more about other types of housing that can help communities meet the needs of households with a range of preferences and budgets:

Multifamily/attached homes, which may include apartment buildings, condominiums, town homes, row houses and duplexes.

"Factory-built" homes, from manufactured homes built entirely in production facilities to modular housing that is assembled on-site.

Accessory dwelling units within or attached to a larger single-family home, or on the same lot.

Mixed-use housing, where residential units co-exist with commercial and retail enterprises.

Single-room occupancies, also called efficiency apartments and residential studio units.

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Revise zoning policies to allow development of a range of housing types "as of right"
Greater housing diversity and affordability may be achieved by revising zoning policies to eliminate both direct and "back door" prohibitions and explicitly allow a range of housing types, rather than requiring a special review process or disallowing certain types of structures entirely.

Other pages in this section:

Providence WalkConsider other innovative land use regulations that facilitate delivery of lower-cost homes
Local officials can implement an array of land use tools to create a regulatory environment that is hospitable to the development of homes affordable to working families.

Click here to view other resources on zoning policies that allow housing diversity.

[1] See Overcoming Opposition to Multifamily Rental Housing, a white paper by Mark Obrinsky and Debra Stein issued by the National Multi Housing Council, for an overview of the evidence refuting these arguments.