Last year they were touted as property rights bills. This year, they’re being promoted as affordable housing bills. In fact, they are neither.
“They” are House Bill 302 (HB302) and its counterpart, Senate Bill 172 (SB172); if enacted by the legislature, they will, “prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing ordinances or regulations relating to or regulating building design elements as applied to one or two-family dwellings;”
HB302/SB172 were introduced at last year’s legislative session but did not come up for a vote. Consequently, bill sponsors have raised their ugly heads for the 2020 legislative session. And since last year’s property rights ploy didn’t play well, proponents are now singing the affordable housing melody.
• Exterior building color
• Type or style of exterior cladding material
• Style or materials of roof structures or porches
• Exterior nonstructural architectural ornamentation
• Location or architectural styling of windows and doors, including garage doors
• The number and types of rooms
• The interior layout of rooms
• Types of foundation structures approved under state minimum standard codes.
Exceptions are granted for historic structures, manufactured homes, overlay districts, or if an ordinance is adopted as a condition of participation in the National Flood Insurance Program.
HB302 requires home construction to meet state standard code minimums, thereby recognizing the importance of design standards. However, it specifically prohibits local governments from regulating or enforcing those standards, unless local regulation is a requirement (of a state minimum standard). But for the most part, enforcement, if there is any, will have to be done by state agencies. Yet the relevant state agencies have neither the budget, the personnel nor the desire to be the enforcement arm of 159 counties and 538 incorporated cities. With no enforcement strategy, there is no mechanism to assure that one-family and two-family buildings are safe, durable and inhabitable.
Admittedly, the design standards imposed by some cities and counties are an overreach and an assault on individual property rights. However, the proper way to address overreach is to restrict it. Instead, HB302 attempts to control overreach in one direction by overreaching in another. That overreach could well result in the construction of houses that look like small warehouses; with no design standards for roofs, type or style of exterior cladding or location and styling of windows, “residences” with flat roofs, concrete walls and no windows could be built- to the detriment of the home values of adjacent property owners.
As for the affordable housing ploy, “affordable” is a target that’s blowing in the wind. Definitions range from Section 8 housing that is subsidized by the federal government, to housing that is priced such that payments are affordable by families earning less than the Area Median Income. It comes as no surprise that proponents of HB302 are at best vague about their definition of “affordable”.
That’s most likely because their true concern is not affordability. It’s profitability.