Homeowners, Renters, and All Income Groups Back Housing Reforms

Survey finds broad support across categories for changes that would encourage creation of more varied options

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Homeowners, Renters, and All Income Groups Back Housing Reforms
Young person talking through the second-floor window of a brick apartment building with a friend standing outside.
Ani Jo

Households throughout the country, particularly those with the lowest incomes, are struggling with the high cost of housing because of decades of underbuilding, high construction costs, and the resulting shortage of homes for sale and for rent, all combined with inadequately funded housing assistance. A national survey released in late 2023 shows strong support for state and municipal policies to allow more homes of different types to be built to help bring down costs.

The survey highlights majority support—usually greater than 60%, and oftentimes much higher—among households with low, moderate, and high incomes, and among homeowners and renters, for most policies that would enable more building of diverse types of homes. These policies also are broadly popular among suburban, rural, and urban residents.

Although there were modest differences across income levels and between homeowners and renters, in most cases the divergence was by less than 10 percentage points; 9 of the 10 tested measures received majority support from respondents regardless of income or whether they rent or own their home.

Some policies, such as allowing apartment homes near transit and job centers and allowing conversion of commercial buildings to housing, saw modestly higher support among higher earners, while policies to allow town houses and small multifamily buildings in existing residential neighborhoods and allowing homes to be built closer together with smaller yards saw comparatively stronger support among lower earners.

Ipsos conducted the nationally representative survey of 5,051 people from Sept. 8-17, 2023, for The Pew Charitable Trusts using its probability-based KnowledgePanel.

Zoning and land use regulations restrict the supply of housing and drive up housing costs. State and local governments are reforming their regulations to allow the private sector to build more housing, including more affordable units. Land use reforms to allow more homebuilding can help ease housing costs, particularly for middle-income households, but federal and state investments are necessary to address the housing needs of those with the lowest incomes. Many groups, including the National Low Income Housing Coalition, believe that Congress must ensure rental assistance is universally available to all eligible households and invest resources to build and preserve housing supply affordable to extremely low-income households who cannot be served by the private sector without subsidies.

The survey also found broad agreement among lower, moderate, and higher earners about the reasons to allow more homebuilding. All income tiers cited making housing more affordable as the most compelling reason. Higher-income respondents were modestly more likely to identify allowing people to live closer to offices, stores, restaurants, or public transportation as an excellent or good reason, while lower-income respondents were modestly more likely to cite freedom for property owners, reducing homelessness, and reducing racial segregation as an excellent or good reason for efforts to create more housing.

When looking at homeowners and renters, the survey found strong alignment and support for policies to allow more homes. This broad backing underscores the pervasive effects of America's worsening housing affordability crisis, affecting renters struggling with rent payments or buying their first home, homeowners watching their children move away to lower-cost areas, and homeowners stuck in their current homes, unable to move to larger ones to accommodate growing families.

Renters expressed somewhat stronger support for policies that would allow more homes on blocks of single-family detached houses, such as allowing town houses and small multifamily buildings on residential lots, allowing homes to be built closer together with smaller yards, and allowing accessory dwelling units (also known as ADUs, granny flats, backyard cottages, and casitas). Meanwhile, homeowners expressed slightly stronger support for policies that would allow more homes to be created along commercial corridors, such as allowing apartment homes near transit and job centers and allowing conversion of commercial buildings to housing. Cities have found success in reducing housing costs with both approaches. Houston, for example, allows homes to be built closer together, and Minneapolis allows building apartment homes in commercial areas. States from Montana to Maine are also adopting policies to increase housing options and opportunities in residential and commercial areas.

Combining data about income levels and whether people are renters or owners reveals a notable insight about the preferences of certain homeowners. Higher-income homeowners, especially those in the top income band, express strong support for policies that would allow more homes to be created outside of existing residential neighborhoods. Those include allowing apartment homes near transit and job centers; allowing apartments near offices, stores, and restaurants; and allowing conversion of commercial buildings to housing. However, these higher-income homeowners expressed lower levels of support than most other respondents for policies that would allow more homes to be built in existing residential neighborhoods, including allowing town homes and small multifamily development on any residential lot, removing requirements to provide off-street parking, and allowing accessory dwelling units.

These positions stand in contrast to higher levels of support among the general public for these policies, including renters of all income levels and homeowners earning less than $100,000. These findings about policy preferences can help to explain the opposition to new homes that is expressed during public meetings in some communities, especially when they would be built in neighborhoods of single-family detached houses, where higher-income homeowners are more likely to live. Research shows that those who speak at public meetings about housing issues generally hold more negative views about allowing more housing as compared with the broader community.

Renters and Homeowners Across Income Spectrum Support Policies to Allow More Homes

Share in favor of each approach 

Renters
Under $25k $25k-49,999 $50k-99,999 $100k and over
Allow apartments near transit or job centers 71 77 75 87
Allow dorms and affordable housing on college or church land 81 84 82 82
Allow apartments near offices, stores, restaurants 77 74 77 80
Allow conversion of basements and attics to apartments 76 71 76 78
Allow apartments over garages or in backyards 76 76 76 77
Require simplified, faster permitting 78 88 85 91
Allow conversion of commercial buildings to housing 79 75 78 87
Allow owners and builders to decide how much off-street parking 65 60 62 58
Allow townhouses and small multi-family on any residential lot 73 75 66 68
Allow building of homes closer together with smaller yards 59 53 55 59
Homeowners
Under $25k $25k-49,999 $50k-99,999 $100k and over
Allow apartments near transit or job centers 74 75 82 84
Allow dorms and affordable housing on college or church land 85 85 80 78
Allow apartments near offices, stores, restaurants 72 67 74 76
Allow conversion of basements and attics to apartments 77 74 73 71
Allow apartments over garages or in backyards 77 76 71 67
Require simplified, faster permitting 87 84 88 86
Allow conversion of commercial buildings to housing 81 80 81 82
Allow owners and builders to decide how much off-street parking 77 69 65 57
Allow townhouses and small multi-family on any residential lot 67 59 56 48
Allow building of homes closer together with smaller yards 53 42 45 46

Notes: Results come from a nationally representative survey of 5,051 individuals conducted Sept. 8-17, 2023, by Ipsos. The survey included 333 responses from renters with household income under $25,000; 314 responses from renters with household income between $25,000 and $49,999; 346 responses from renters with household income between $50,000 and $99,999; 239 responses from renters with household income above $100,000; 229 responses from homeowners with household income under $25,000; 437 responses from homeowners with household income between $25,000 and $49,999; 1,076 responses from homeowners with household income between $50,000 and $99,999; and 2,014 responses from homeowners with household income above $100,000.

Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts

An extensive body of research has shown that allowing more homebuilding moderates housing costs at all levels, ranging from large houses to modest rental apartment homes. In addition, research by Pew supports the academic consensus that high housing costs drive homelessness, while cities such as Minneapolis that build enough housing to slow or stop rising housing costs see reduced homelessness.

Although zoning and land use reforms are imperative to add to the housing supply, on their own, they are not sufficient to build homes within reach for households with the lowest incomes. Subsidies are still needed to build homes affordable to extremely low-income households and to bridge the gap between incomes and housing costs. The severe shortage of such homes is caused by a market failure; the private sector often cannot build or operate housing affordable to extremely low-income households because the amount these renters can afford to pay in rent is often too little to cover property owners’ costs. Likewise, federal subsidies, such as rental assistance, are also needed to help the lowest-income households to afford housing while leaving enough money for food, transportation, health care, child care, education, and myriad other expenses.

Along with state and local reforms to zoning regulations to allow more homebuilding, targeted federal and state policies to support and protect lower-income renters are necessary to meet the housing needs of all households in America.

Tushar Kansal is a senior officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ housing policy initiative, Andrew Aurand is senior vice president of research at the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), and Sarah Saadian is senior vice president of public policy and field organizing at the NLIHC.

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