Effective September 1, 2019, the Texas legislature passed a law that prohibits local municipalities from mandating the type of building materials used in new construction, maintenance, and renovations. The new law, known as House Bill 2439, outlines that local governments cannot exclude the use of building materials otherwise approved under national code. In turn, House Bill 2439 empowers professionals and homeowners—rather than a governmental body—to decide which building materials are most appropriate per project, supporting freedom of choice.
Texas is not the only area impacted, though. For example, state laws in Arkansas and North Carolina have recently overridden restrictive local ordinances, and similar efforts are currently underway in parts of Tennessee. With this, we can provide an equal playing field for building products while positively impacting safety, affordability and diversity in today’s national housing market.
CODE SAFETY. House Bill 2439 mandates the inclusion of all building products permitted under the previous three national code cycles. Exceptions include homes within historic districts and subdivisions with HOAs. National building codes are developed by unbiased, third-party experts in independent laboratories to ensure high-quality products, applications and assemblies. Ultimately, national codes exist for a reason—to help ensure the health, safety and welfare of all citizens—and do not forfeit quality for affordability. As long as national codes are met, professionals and homeowners should have the freedom to choose their materials according to their price and aesthetic preferences.
AFFORDABILITY. Restrictive ordinances can disproportionately impact lower income groups by forcing the use of more expensive products, pricing them out of the community. For example, in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, the median price of a home increased from $198,000 in 2010 to just shy of $330,000 in 2019. Many of the area’s masonry-only ordinances became effective during that time and have negatively impacted certain demographics, such as working families and retirees, making housing artificially more expensive.
Additionally, dealers and distributors operating in areas with material overlays can endure meaningful financial impact. By being confined to what they can and cannot offer, they are hindered at selling products that may result in higher margins and more demand. With the decision in the hands of local municipalities dealers and distributors have less control over what they offer, potentially impacting their bottom line. The ripple effects can adversely impact a city long term, too. Culturally diverse communities are dynamic and typically attract like-minded businesses, all which contribute to a thriving local economy, tax base and school performance. Unfortunately, many overlays are founded with the purpose of appealing to affluent residents who can pay higher property taxes. As these ordinances shape the community’s outward appearance, residents have been known to pressure city officials because they fear lifting restrictions could spark a change in area demographics—and with it a decline in housing values.
AESTHETICS. Many local governments enact ordinances on the premise of creating a specific aesthetic “brand” for their city. However, these restrictive standards often increase the cost of the design and construction of homes, creating communities that are neither affordable nor accessible to a wide range of citizens. And while city officials may use material overlays to promote a specific “brand,” the opposite often emerges: a homogeneous community that’s seemingly monotonous. With no variety or differentiation, homes can easily lose their aesthetic identification.
Homes are an expression of the families who live inside. Additionally, many homebuyers desire to live in a diverse neighborhood of older and newer homes with a variety of architectural styles and aesthetics. After all, it is their home and it should be their decision so long as safety standards are aligned with code requirements.
WHAT YOU CAN DO. Sound policy must promote diversity, not exclusion. At its core, that is what House Bill 2439 and similar local efforts across the country are striving for. As long as national codes are met, freedom of choice will organically cultivate safe, affordable and aesthetically diverse communities.
If your community has enacted or is considering a materials-restrictive policy, contact your local Home Builders Association for free educational opportunities and grassroots activities.
Mark Cofer is general sales manager of the Southwest Region at LP Building Solutions.
Phil Crone is executive officer at Dallas Builders Association.