State-Led Housing Planning: Rule Complexity and Implementation Trade-offs
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State-Led Housing Planning: Rule Complexity and Implementation Trade-offs


California’s housing planning system seeks to address housing shortages and promote housing development in areas accessible to transit, jobs, and socioeconomic opportunities. Since 2017, the state Legislature has enacted a set of laws seeking to strengthen the housing planning system through a complex array of standards, requirements, and procedures. California’s current housing planning system is comprised of a complex housing target allocation mechanism and enforcement mechanisms to ensure that local governments effectively accommodate the development of the allocated housing units. However, the complexity of the rules will likely lead to numerous implementation challenges. This dissertation, consisting of three studies, examines the implementation of California’s current housing planning system at different levels of government and highlights the trade-offs related to the complexity of the system. The first essay draws on interview data and observations of public events and underscores the ways in which the complexity of the state’s planning rules has posed implementation challenges related to administrative efficiency, inclusive decision-making, flexibility, legal uncertainty, and legitimacy perceived by different stakeholders. The second essay compares the mechanism that the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) uses to allocate housing units to local governments with two simpler alternatives. Through the assessment of different allocation scenarios in the SCAG region, this essay finds evidence that a simpler allocation mechanism could potentially guide housing development to transit- or jobs- rich areas more equitably and with lower administrative burdens. The third essay turns to planning implementation at the local level and examines the trade-offs involved in directing new housing opportunities, especially subsidized housing, away from relatively poor neighborhoods. Focusing on the City of Los Angeles, this essay finds evidence that newly subsidized housing would alleviate residential crowding in single-family neighborhoods but not in relatively crowded, high poverty neighborhoods. The empirical results, however, may be driven by the growing demands for affordable housing units with the appropriate size in these neighborhoods. This dissertation reveals implementation trade-offs that are at least in part due to the complexity of the planning processes and techniques that are required by state law or promoted by government agencies. Current complex rules in place may not necessarily achieve the goal of promoting housing development equitably. Possible directions for improving state-led housing planning efforts involve simplifying the system in a way that reduces the use of administratively complex procedures and the reliance on overly technical approaches. Decision-makers should be aware of the potential trade-offs among different policy objectives and, in some cases, need to recognize that important objectives may conflict.

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