State Legislatures and Housing – May 2023

This post is a part of Housing Affordability Institute’s ongoing State Legislatures and Housing Reform project. Throughout 2023, the Institute will monitor how state lawmakers are working to address their states’ housing challenges.

As more legislatures across the country begin to wrap up their work, Housing Affordability Institute provides a look at the lessons learned.

Lessons From Success 

Washington and Montana made headlines as these states joined several others in modernizing zoning laws at the state level. Together, they illustrate that zoning modernization can be a nonpartisan effort while earning the support of an overwhelming majority of legislators..  

Montana’s legislature is comprised of a 100-member state House of Representatives with 68 Republicans and 32 Democrats and a 50-member state Senate with 34 Republicans and 16 Democrats. SB 232, which legalized new starter homes in Montana, passed 96-2 (with two absent) in the State House and 50-0 in the State Senate. The Montana Legislature overwhelmingly supported this bill. 

Washington’s legislature is comprised of a 98-member state House of Representatives with 58 Democrats and 40 Republicans and a 49-member state Senate with 29 Democrats and 20 Republicans. The bill to legalize missing middle housing passed 79-18 (with one excused) in the state House and 35-14 in the state Senate, margins possible only with bipartisan support. 

Lessons From Regional Outliers

Colorado and Minnesota, two states whose housing ecosystems more closely resemble coastal markets than their neighboring middle-America states, show the downside of placing several related reform bills into a single omnibus bill. 

Minnesota saw zoning reform clear its first state House committee, but no action was taken in the state Senate as the Minnesota Legislature elected to take a funding-centric approach to housing. In previous sessions, similar versions of zoning modernization cleared the state Senate but failed to progress in the state House. Both Senate and House housing committee chairs have said that zoning modernization will be examined further in 2024’s policy-centric legislative session. 

In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis made housing reform a top priority in 2023, drawing in national-level experts to the conversation. This effort faced stiff opposition from local governments, especially in the rural resort areas, and the bill was ultimately left to die on the calendar when its legislative session ended on May 11. 

While legislators may find this simpler to manage, especially with packed legislative agendas, it also means that one bad hearing or floor vote can derail the entire effort.