Local Government Design Standards – Bad for Business

by Lisa Dunn

Local governments implement design standards because they believe they’re acting in the best interests of their communities. Yet, the harsh reality is they are raising the price of construction, smothering the progress of workforce housing development, limiting the ability of people to achieve the American homeownership dream and crippling local economic development.

According to Alex Fernandez, Director of Advocacy for the Vinyl Siding Institute (VSI), it’s not just the bans on modern materials but a litany of other design credos beyond the local building codes that are simply bad for business and even worse for community development.

“In Georgia, they make standards that don’t allow for homes less than 1,600 square feet, when many homebuilders – especially affordable housing groups like Habitat for Humanity – use models that call for 1,200 square feet,” Alex said. “They also insist on garages, slabs, basements and larger lot sizes.”

New research from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reveals that average regulatory construction costs account for 15.6% of a house price. A breakdown of this percentage includes 4.1% for what the NAHB calls “architectural design standards beyond the ordinary.” This same report shows that – if the cost of a single-family home in Georgia is $350,000 – almost $95,000 of that price on average can be attributed to the cost of regulation.

“Georgia is an extreme example,” Alex explained. “But nationally, these regulations raise the cost of new homes substantially. The NAHB data shows that every time you raise the price of a house, you’re filtering out 500,000 people from realizing their dreams of homeownership.”

This issue has a significant impact on younger working adults. The rate of homeownership for Millennials is 20% lower than it is for Gen Xers and 30% lower than for Baby Boomers. A recent survey conducted by the research group YouGov reports that 73% of Millennials and Gen Zs say they can’t afford high real estate prices, not even the down payment.

VSI Flipping the Script Through Advocacy

VSI is not taking this crisis sitting down. Since 2015, our advocacy efforts against material bans and other intrusive government regulations have led to successful legislative reforms in five states – North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Alex and the VSI team are collaborating with leading home building and homeowner groups to achieve similar victories in eight more states: Georgia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Kansas.

In addition to fighting over-regulation, VSI’s advocacy is leading the way through education to influence home-building demand.

"Millennials and Baby Boomers want low-maintenance homes that are also well-designed,” Alex said. “And they represent 70% of all U.S. homebuyers. Vinyl siding gives them the versatility to achieve this, so we are utilizing our educational outreach to win more converts in the marketplace, the design community and state and local governments."

The educational offerings Alex is referring to are in the form of VSI’s AIA-accredited and ICC-accredited courses and related products and programs, including an AIA Continuing Education Provider kit which features published works from VSI, including Architectural Design for Traditional Neighborhoods and Architectural Polymers: Best Practices for Architectural Specifications.

VSI’s advocacy efforts also promote traditional neighborhood designs (TNDs) that embrace New Urbanism. TNDs can take on many forms, including:

  • Walkable communities that are footsteps away from work, entertainment and recreation
  • High-density developments that do more with less space and still make room for a central green hub for neighbors to connect
  • Pocket communities, a new spin on subdivision that creates a strong connection among neighbors nearby without intruding on private lots and space
  • Infill developments that efficiently use vacant land in communities surrounded by existing developments

Alex believes that with the proper TND education, local governments have a real opportunity to imagine what robust communities with affordable, more sustainable and beautifully designed homes could look like.

“It’s not that we don’t want governments getting involved in their own communities,” he maintained. “We just want them to stop enforcing design standards that are barriers to homeownership and result in housing developments that are not sustainable. We want our governments to become partners in progress. And if they partner with VSI’s advocacy team, we can help them be heroes.”


Lisa Dunn is Director of Communications at the Vinyl Siding Institute (VSI).