Like the labor shortage, the housing shortage has become so prevalent, making many headlines, that it tends to have the inverse effect of tuning many of us out. We shut out the statistics, perhaps thankful that we are not searching for a new home or that we have the income to make a winning offer. But we cannot afford to look away; tens of millions of families across the country, and millions here in Indiana, are priced out of the market — to the detriment of the economy and to the character of communities.  

While a variety of factors play a role, zoning and regulations can place insurmountable obstacles in the way of hopeful homeowners. It is critical, for individuals, families, and communities, that land use rewrites include attainable housing. 

Moving Towards Solutions: Including Attainable Housing in Land Use Rewrites 

Land use rewrites are a highly politicized topic. The people who show up at land use meetings, data shows, are typically more affluent homeowners who are content with their neighborhoods and services as is, want to preserve/build value, and/or don’t want to risk change. Overwhelmingly underrepresented are renters and below-median earners who may not have the time or capacity to attend. It is fair to say that there is also an element of NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) thinking that attaches itself to changes in housing policies.  

Here’s the problem, folks: 

Over the next two decades, the Indianapolis region will add almost a quarter million jobs. To accommodate the people who are filling these positions — and fueling economic growth — we need to add 9,000 new housing units annually. Currently, we are underbuilding by 1,750 units each year. The math simply does not add up.  

A shortage forces employees to live farther from the community in which they work (a commute many cannot or will not make). It also increases the number of households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing, significantly reducing reinvestment into the local economy. Housing shortages have cost the US over $400 billion in GDP over the last 20 years — and they are costing us now.  

We need more housing options, and they need to be accessible to those who want to live in the communities in which they work, in which they have established roots, in which they hope to build a future.  

But how do we do it? 

Attainable Housing Requires Innovative Thinking  

There is no single answer to the housing shortage. There are, however, a myriad of potential solutions that can move us in the right direction. These include: 

  • Integrating Attainable Housing. Central Park, Denver is a thriving community, and it was conscientiously planned that way. From the beginning, attainable housing was a priority. Today, there is a healthy mix of single-family homes, paired houses (similar to duplexes), townhomes, bungalows, and apartments. This mix reflects the diversity of its residents, as well as a diversity of incomes.  

    Everyone benefits from top-notch services and amenities, which include: award-winning schools; strong public safety; job opportunities; public parks, greenspaces, and art; community pools and water features; ample recreational, shopping, and dining experiences, and more. 

  • Higher Density Development. Let’s say we have nearly 2,700 acres of undeveloped land in a community. With low-density suburban development, that land will be completely built out in 25 years. What if we shifted the focus to higher-density, compact, walkable development? That same slice of land can sustain over 123 years of growth — while preserving it for agricultural use now (and for decades to come). 

    Smaller lots? People will hate it! 

    Except they don’t. Demand for large lots is shrinking; half-acre lots account for just one-tenth of total demand. It is the smaller lots that are seeing the most interest. To put that into context, homes with over 150 feet frontage have 96 months of supply in Westfield, Indiana. Homes with 60 feet of frontage — less than half that — have only 5.5 months of supply.  

  • Upzoning. Upzoning is a term for changes in zoning regulations that allow for single-family lots to be utilized for multi-unit dwellings, such as duplexes or apartments. This is another way that we can implement higher-density development, while creating more diverse options for housing. It can also lower the cost of housing in more expensive locations. It should be noted yet again that these more affluent areas are going to experience significant job growth in the next several years; to attract and retain employees, they must support attainable housing. 
  • Transit Proximity. In many major metropolitan areas, the land surrounding transit stations is occupied by larger, single-family homes. For example, in Boston, the median single-family home near commuter rail stations is situated on a ⅓ acre lot. With progressive planning, however, land could be leveraged more strategically in order to build higher-density housing options. According to a report for the Brookings Institute, this could allow for hundreds of units for Boston. 
  • Fair Impact Fees. Some jurisdictions seek to address housing issues by reducing or eliminating impact fees. When applied in a fair and balanced manner, however, impact fees serve to enhance community life. Rather than eradicate them out of hand, we need to ensure they are equitable and that new developments are not forced to bear the cost burden of an entire community’s progress. 

Officials, builders, and residents across the country are seeking solutions to housing shortages. This does not mean that what works in Central Park, Denver or Boston, Massachusetts will necessarily work for us in the Indianapolis region. It doesn’t mean it necessarily won’t either. The point is to learn, to discuss, to collaborate… to give people, both represented and traditionally un- and underrepresented, the opportunity to have a voice in the growth of their communities. And, of course, the opportunity to be able to afford to work and live in, and contribute to them. 

We All Benefit from Policies That Include Attainable Housing  

When attainable housing is included in land use rewrites, we all stand to benefit from an economic standpoint. Moreover, we stand to gain invaluable advantages when it comes to sustainability, diversity, culture, and character in our communities. 

With attainable housing options, no one is getting a smaller piece of pie. We can make more — and more varieties of — pie so everyone can have a shot at a slice. 

Connect with us at to learn more about attainable housing, the benefits, and how we can build stronger neighborhoods together.