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By Mark Marcoplos

Reform Building and Zoning Codes for Affordability

By Mark Marcoplos Posted July 16, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Building & zoning codes drive up the cost of construction. The state building code originates in the N.C. Department of Insurance, so you know they are quite content to spend your money to minimize future claims. The building codes are rife with overbuilt requirements, and building-code officials (in an understandable desire to make sure they are not personally liable for anything) routinely err, often liberally, on the side of spending your money.

Factor in the Home Builders Association that, like the Realtor Association, cries crocodile tears for affordable housing while working steadily to increase member profits in every way possible, and you have a formidable institutional fortress guarding against real affordability.

However, it would still be beneficial to study the latitude that local building and zoning officials have with code interpretation. Likewise, zoning regulations should be studied to assess their impact on affordability. Since many of the zoning regulations are local, there may be significant opportunities to facilitate more affordability.

There are two growing movements that should be factored into future planning and efforts to increase affordability: the co-housing movement and the tiny house explosion. The old model of a mini-McMansion for each family is not realistic. We need to allow for smaller homes (and tiny homes) and enable zoning districts tailored to co-housing that don’t have the same requirements placed on traditional developers.

Houses cost a lot to build. Even after you have driven the costs down to the point of gambling with a low-quality structure, the prices are out of the reach of a large number of people. The very simple reason is that houses are unaffordable because a lot of people can’t afford them. Thousands of people working essential yet low-paying jobs cannot afford to buy a house.

We need a community commitment to pay a living wage. I can think of no other organizations that are in a better position to lead a campaign for a living wage than the local Chambers of Commerce and the local Home Builders Association. They have been consistently vocal about our affordable housing dilemma, and this would be a good way for them to use their local muscle to promote affordability.

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