Elevate resilient, rural affordable housing priorities and considerations in planning at the regional, parish, and municipal levels.
Plans go by many names and take a variety of forms. They are developed at different and multiple levels of government and are prepared on multiple geographic scales. Some are legally required and others are out-of-cycle or discretionary. While this objective does not present an exhaustive list of the variations among different regional and local plans, certain trends are worth noting.
Plans are critical pieces of housing and resilience strategies because they set the framework that guides how future housing laws, policies, and projects are implemented. Further, plans offer several benefits including promoting coordination up-and-down and across different levels of government (i.e., vertical and horizontal integration) that reduces silos to provide a platform for community engagement. By starting with planning, governments can seek opportunities to maximize the various administrative, fiscal, environmental, and social benefits of leading with planning.
Nationally, including in Louisiana, there is an absence of plans that meaningfully tie together housing availability and affordability goals with flood risk and population transitions. In Region Seven alone, there is a dearth of regional, parish, or municipal government plans or assessments solely or specifically focused on housing, let alone at the intersection of houisng and flooding.See footnote 1 While some plans in Region Seven meaningfully include or integrate housing considerations or goals (see below), more work can be done. This is especially apparent in a rural context where affordable housing is often misperceived as only or primarily being an urban issue.
This objective asks regional and local governments in Region Seven and beyond to evaluate opportunities to “greaux” or grow resilient, rural affordable housing. This should ideally begin with elevating rural affordable housing priorities and considerations in plans across all levels of government. This will entail making explicit references and linkages to mitigating flood risk and accommodating population changes where they exist. This can illustrate a more complete and accurate picture of how rural communities should approach housing and increase affordability for all.
How to Make Progress on This Objective
Given the number and types of plans that can be used to further housing and resilience goals, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach for rural communities. With that said, there are some common ideas that other jurisdictions inside and outside Louisiana are pursuing or have implemented.
In general, there are at least three primary ways planners and policymakers can approach housing by developing:
- A housing element or appendix in a local comprehensive plan;
- A jurisdiction-wide or neighborhood-level housing-specific plan; and/or
- A housing section in another type of local plan that has indirect implications for or affects housing.
While local comprehensive plans are only relevant for parishes and incorporated municipalities, the other types of plans can be applied at parish, municipal, and regional scales. Aside from that, however, jurisdictions can evaluate any of these approaches individually or in combination with one another. Asheville, North Carolina is one example of a city using all three.
In 2018, the City Council of Asheville adopted Living Asheville: A Comprehensive Plan for Our Future. Living Asheville presents a vision for the city for the subsequent ten to 20 years with long-range goals and strategies.See footnote 2 Living Asheville is organized around six themes to help guide decisionmaking with respect to the key ongoing challenges and opportunities for: fostering a livable and affordable built environment; to ensure harmony with the natural environment; to grow a resilient economy; to promote interwoven equity; to ensure a healthy community; and to bolster responsible thinking at the regional scale.See footnote 3
A key feature of Living Asheville is a Preferred Growth Scenario to guide those “inevitable” changes already occurring in the city.See footnote 4 As part of the Preferred Growth Scenario, Asheville also identified five different geographies in the city to inform future planning, development, and land-use decisions in ways that are further reflective of local identity.See footnote 5 The plan states:
Living Asheville recognizes that effective growth cannot be successfully implemented exclusively, through a citywide lens. Consequently, the plan includes a concept referred to as ‘“five geographies” that should be used for deeper consideration at a finer grain scale to inform small area planning after Living Asheville is implemented.See footnote 6
In addition to Living Asheville, the city has also published complementary plans including: the 2008 Affordable Housing Plan, the Asheville 2020 Housing Needs Assessment, and the 2018 Asheville Climate Resilience Report.
Regardless of the type of plan or plans, all of this can and should be done in a way that is consistent with rural housing needs and also preserves local character and open space landscapes. Notably, this is especially where there will be divergent ideas of what affordable housing means and looks like in rural and suburban or suburbanizing areas compared to more urban parishes and municipalities. The key is that rural, community-driven local comprehensive and other related plans can help guide this vision in a way that is compatible with — and more explicit — about building rural resilience and affordable housing in the face of population growth and transitions due to flooding and other drivers.
Local Comprehensive Plans and Housing Elements and Appendices
There are many reasons why jurisdictions and regions would pursue different planning approaches for housing. However, one overall takeaway is especially noteworthy. Of all the different types of plans, local comprehensive plans can play a significant role in defining and attaining housing goals. In Louisiana, a local comprehensive plan — referred to as a “master plan” in state statute — is “a statement of public policy for the physical development of a parish or municipality” that is adopted by that parish or municipality.See footnote 7 Parishes and municipalities that adopt these plans are required to consider them when “adopting, approving, or promulgating any local laws, ordinances, or regulations which are inconsistent with that adopted elements of [said plan].”See footnote 8 As such, local governments are legally mandated to consider decisions before they make them if they are inconsistent with their comprehensive plans. This “look before you leap” procedural requirement encourages local governments to take actions that are consistent with their local comprehensive plans. In turn, this statutory provision provides some legal weight and adds importance to local decisions that come from comprehensive plans compared to other types of plans — including for housing. Accordingly, if parishes and municipalities meaningfully include housing in their local comprehensive plans, these plans can serve as a guiding and coordinating force among “local laws, ordinances, and regulations” and ideally other supplemental and related plans and policies to build better housing.
Jurisdictions that have or are interested in developing a comprehensive plan could start by updating or including a housing element or appendix. This housing element or appendix can provide insights into the types and conditions of local housing stock and community housing needs and priorities. Further, local governments should aim to integrate other related comprehensive plan elements into the housing parts including projected demographics changes and flood risk over different time horizons, social vulnerabilities, economic development, the environment, and parks and open spaces. This can help to bring a more holistic picture of the housing and resiliency challenges a parish or municipality is experiencing — which could be exacerbated or altered by population growth and transitions — compared to if housing is viewed as an isolated element. Moreover, by explicitly calling out these linkages in a comprehensive plan, governments can call more attention to and better address these interrelated housing issues.
In addition to or in the absence of a comprehensive plan, local governments can also pursue housing-specific plans on a jurisdiction-wide or neighborhood scale. Where housing-specific plans supplement a comprehensive plan, they essentially provide a deeper-dive look at housing within parameters that are set by a comprehensive plan.
These types of plans focus on the housing and affordability challenges facing an area. Generally, they include or build off of a separate housing data and vulnerability assessment and identify a community’s primary housing goals and needs and propose tools and strategies that governments and nongovernmental actors can take to achieve those goals. Often, the plans also contain implementation metrics or tracking commitments to work with residents and nongovernmental partners. Similarly, local comprehensive plans can also include implementation and tracking tools. Metrics and tracking mechanisms can help local governments and other partners evaluate progress after a plan is released and increase public transparency.
Other Types of Plans
Third and finally, other types of plans can supplement or inform updates to local comprehensive and housing-specific plans. Housing plays a key role in many different sectoral plans including:
Where a non-housing plan concerns or affects housing — even in an indirect way — governments should ensure that all related plans are coordinated with one another and further a community’s overall goals. This is especially critical where plans are used to or are a prerequisite for local governments to go after potential funding sources. For example, hazard mitigation plans and action plans must be approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, respectively, before a local government can apply for disaster-related sources of funding from those agencies.
Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips
When developing new or updating existing plans to address affordable housing, decisionmakers may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips that apply to each of the above types of plans:
- Lead with data
- Develop a preferred growth or future land-use strategy
- Promote missing middle housing
- Engage communities throughout planning and implementation
- Plan at multiple and complementary geographic and temporal scales
- Plan with an eye towards implementation
- Learn from urban areas
These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships.
It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.
- Lead with data: Housing, land-use, flooding, open space, and social vulnerability data are critical components of any effective plan. A housing plan or planning element without at least one of these data layers will reinforce government silos and narrowed decisionmaking. This approach will fail to adequately guide governments and communities towards holistic approaches to resilience.
While data needs and tools are discussed in more detail in Objectives 5.2 and 5.3, plans are more credible and effective when they are driven by the best available data. Governments should evaluate “hard” quantitative data sources (e.g., floodplain maps, climate models). In addition, residents can provide important qualitative data points based on their local knowledge and lived experiences to inform vulnerability assessments and identify priority goals and needs. As such, governments should take a comprehensive approach to collecting data.
- Develop a preferred growth or future land-use strategy: Preferred growth or future land-use strategies — whichever is relevant for a jurisdiction — can direct new housing away from high-flood-risk areas and towards lower-flood-risk areas, which are ideally supported by infrastructure investments and critical services and amenities that can promote community and economic growth. All of this can and should be done in a way that is consistent with rural housing needs and also preserves local character and open space landscapes particularly in vulnerable floodplains and coastal areas. These types of strategies are usually included and adopted as part of a local comprehensive plan update and guide subsequent land-use and zoning decisions.
- Promote missing middle housing: Missing middle housing refers to the idea of encouraging a range of locally specific types of housing, such as townhomes, duplexes, and triplexes, in addition to single-family housing and apartment complexes. Policymakers should evaluate the potential to encourage missing middle housing options in appropriate zones or neighborhoods to provide a range of housing options available to people at different income levels and with different housing needs.
- Engage communities throughout planning and implementation: The life cycle of planning processes should begin with the community and continue beyond the point when a physical planning document is finalized. Plans set the stage for future legal and policy actions and projects. In Louisiana, the state even requires that parishes and municipalities consider their local comprehensive when “adopting, approving, or promulgating any local laws, ordinances, or regulations which are inconsistent with that adopted elements of [said plan].”See footnote 9 As such, at least with comprehensive plans, local governments are legally required to consider “inconsistent” decisions before making them. Ideally, this commitment to consistency in local actions could be replicated with regard to all housing and resilience plans.
Even in the absence of legal mandates, governments charged with serving the public interest should aim to view planning and implementation processes as iterative rather than finite and work collaboratively with their communities. In this way, governments can create established channels with residents to improve and guide future planning and other updates. In turn, communities can benefit from more transparent processes that increase accountability to carry out plans in a way that builds and maintains affordable housing opportunities and promotes local resilience.
- Plan at multiple and complementary geographic and temporal scales: Regional and local governments should evaluate opportunities to plan at different geographic and temporal scales.
In thinking about the appropriate geographic scale to support housing laws, plans, and policies, examples from across the country suggest that the most successful approaches will be a “both” and not an “either or” decision. Local comprehensive and affordable housing plans can provide a parish- or municipal-wide view to guide overall development patterns and growth away from areas with the greatest physical risk and support jurisdiction-wide housing goals. However, these two types of plans are generally written at a higher level and are unable to provide the more detailed and nuanced look required to adequately address more complex and discrete housing issues. As such, many governments have also undertaken neighborhood-specific planning efforts that either inform the development of or build on comprehensive plans and jurisdiction-wide affordable housing plans to apply a larger housing strategy in a way that is more effective and locally driven. Work in the Fauquier County and Rappahannock-Rapidan region in Virginia provides one example of how this is occurring in a predominantly rural area experiencing population growth and affordable housing pressures. By planning at both scales, governments can balance the need to create an overall vision for community resilience and development with the fact that housing solutions and flood risk are not a “one-size-fits-all” approach, even within smaller rural jurisdictions.
On a temporal scale, housing is an evergreen challenge that will require long-term monitoring and adaptive management to address changes in community needs, population changes, and flood and disaster risks over time. Short-term planning horizons measuring between 10–20 years can help governments, private and nongovernmental partners, and communities make progress on immediate needs and projects. However, a longer-range lens will also be critical to ensure that parishes and municipalities invest in and plan to support housing goals that increase community resilience in ways that are aligned with other long-term investments in economic development and transportation and water infrastructure.
- Plan with an eye towards implementation: Governments should avoid “planning for planning’s sake” or overplanning. This can result in several administrative and social consequences. First, this can lead to wasted time and resources, especially in funding and capacity-constrained rural areas. On the community side, too much planning may confuse or frustrate people trying to understand how different plans further a government’s overall housing and resilience goals. In addition, governments can risk burning out residents overtapped to contribute their time and expertise again and again. Moreover, planning processes leading to nowhere can erode faith or trust in government with community members that expect and need plans to lead to action.
Instead, plans should be developed with the intention that they will be implemented in ways that support community-driven housing laws, policies, and projects. The City of Donaldsonville, Louisiana provides an example of how a community-led and implementation-focused strategic plan is already helping the city make progress on economic development, housing, and other initiatives.
- Learn from urban areas: For a number of reasons, including larger population numbers and funding resources, urban municipalities are often looked to as vanguards or exemplars in planning for housing and adaptation and resilience. At a glance, discussions around these subjects can make it appear that affordable housing and flooding challenges, for example, are only urban problems or that suburban and rural jurisdictions are not taking any actions to address these issues. In reality, both of these are inaccurate perceptions. As seen by the sample of resources from suburban and rural jurisdictions below, parishes and municipalities both inside and outside Louisiana are facing these challenges and actively taking steps to address them.
Despite these differences, urban areas like Asheville, North Carolina and Boulder, Colorado may nonetheless have examples and lessons learned that suburban and rural jurisdictions can borrow, especially in the planning context. In other words, there is a certain level of commonality in planning that transcends jurisdictions and can be shared across the urban-rural spectrum. For more information on urban affordable housing plans, see Objective 3.1. However, more urban-focused plans, like all regional and local tools, must be adapted to meet community context and needs.
Planning examples and ideas that cut across the urban-rural spectrum can also be elevated through regional plans and platforms, as seen through the Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments Regional Adaptation Strategy and the Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Housing Study in Virginia. At its core, the eight regional watersheds a part of the statewide Louisiana Watershed Initiative can serve as a coordinating and peer-learning platform to support Objective 4.1.
The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.