I recently read two news stories that deal with the commotion surrounding local governing bodies that dictate which design elements should be included in newly constructed homes within their jurisdictions. Elected officials voted to require new homes to have such design elements as a fireplace, four exterior brick walls, or a two-and-a-half-car garage, to name a few.
One of these stories focused on a Texas city being sued for violation of the Fair Housing Act. The suit alleges that the city’s design ordinances raised new home prices beyond the reach of low-income minority families. The city claims it was merely trying to maintain its town’s home values. The suit finally is heading to court several years after being filed.
The other story puts the spotlight on a few California towns that also want to keep the value of new homes in their communities up to a certain level. For example, they require windows in 25 percent of a neighborhood’s garage doors to freshen the home’s look and add value. Builders say garage door windows add little if any value, plus, they pose security risks.
California builders say subjective matters such as whether a fireplace, or a window in a garage door, adds value and quality to a home should not be governed. The governing of design should be limited to concerns such as fire safety and similar issues typically covered in building codes.
Government officials in these towns believe if left to design homes on their own, builders would choose to not spend money on extras such as fireplaces, and simply build homes, make a profit and leave town. Builders say it’s more a matter of building affordable homes, and not being forced to spend money for no good reason.
Design dictation like this might be directed more toward production homes rather than custom homes. But in the Texas situation, the design rules apply city-wide, affecting every new house built within city limits, including custom homes. Is a project-by-project approach better?
Where’s the line between which design elements governing bodies should control and which they shouldn’t? Is it OK to govern colors and roof lines, but not garage doors and fireplaces?
Who made elected officials good judges of what makes a home valuable? Should they be messing with aesthetic issues such as fireplaces and brick walls at all? No. Governing bodies should stick to building codes and life safety concerns, and leave home building to the professionals.