day one project

Aligning Reconstruction and Zoning to Invest in Housing

02.22.24 | 2 min read | Text by Carolina Rodriguez

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program is one of the most flexible federal funding sources for communities to invest in housing. In the few instances where CDBG tools mention reconstruction, it is basically defined as demolishing and rebuilding one home where another one existed. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) prohibits adding dwelling units as part of the rebuild process. What if CDBG encouraged more than one home to be rebuilt? 

The federal government should provide clear policies and programs to encourage reconstruction projects that add to the housing supply. Instead of limiting reconstruction projects to a one-for-one replacement, HUD should allow communities to rebuild homes to a number of units allowed by their locally adopted zoning and development codes. 

Communities across the country are experiencing the triple whammy of aging people, aging homes, and aging infrastructure. This puts neighborhoods at risk for property vacancy and abandonment. Dilapidated homes become the target of public code enforcement and private speculators. 

The potential for redevelopment attracts outside capital and contributes to neighborhood gentrification. CDBG dollars, often used to fund demolition, should not leave neighborhoods with empty lots. Instead, investments in reconstruction could preserve neighborhood affordability by funding well-designed homes with additional units. 

While pushback against density continues, many communities have reformed zoning to allow for diverse housing types. Accessory dwelling units (ADU) are favored by seniors who want to age in place. Reconstruction policies and programs that allow for two to three units advance the Biden Administration’s Housing Supply Action Plan

Congress should

HUD should

Aging neighborhoods with decent-sized lots in communities with flexible development codes are good candidates for reconstruction. The federal government has an opportunity to supply a little more housing and keep neighborhoods affordable by investing in reconstruction.

This idea of merit originated from our Housing Ideas Challenge, in partnership with Learning Collider, National Zoning Atlas, and Cornell’s Legal Constructs Lab. Find additional ideas to address the housing shortage here.