Ban on local housing rules pushed by Indiana homebuilder

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A proposed ban on Indiana cities and counties adopting local housing design standards is being pushed by a state lawmaker who owns a homebuilding company.

Ethics experts maintain Republican Rep. Doug Miller’s involvement in the legislation is inappropriate because of his ownership of Elkhart-based Tailor Made Homes and his role on the board of directors for the National Association of Homebuilders, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Miller says the bill he’s sponsoring is aimed at increasing affordable housing options and restraining local government overreach, arguing that simply moving the garage door or changing exterior house materials can generate savings of $15,000.

Miller, chairman of the House government reform committee that endorsed the proposal, said during a hearing that the bill “absolutely strikes a balance between local control and restoring our private property rights, which is critical in maintaining our hard-earned reputation as being one of the most affordable housing markets in the country.”

The state’s leading local government associations oppose the proposal, saying it would block cities and counties from having rules such as minimum house sizes, types of siding, varying distances between houses or garage sizes.

Experts say Miller’s involvement in the legislation is a “pretty obvious” conflict of interest, even if it’s not classified as such under state law.

“Why not have somebody else bring it forward, if it’s that significant of an issue?” asked Abe Schwab, a professor of ethics at Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said he didn’t object to Miller taking the lead on the issue. He offered a common refrain used by lawmakers with potential conflicts of interest, saying that the General Assembly is a part-time job.

“I think people in the legislative body bring their level of expertise and the experiences they’ve had,” Huston said. “Representative Miller is using his unique experiences in that field to bring forward legislation that doesn’t directly impact Representative Miller, but the industry and, frankly, communities as a whole.”

The Star reported Miller did not return phone calls seeking comment. The Associated Press sent an email message seeking comment to Miller’s legislative press secretary.

Miller’s bill cleared his committee on an 8-5 vote earlier this month and is awaiting a vote by the full House.

Opponents of the proposed ban argue local design rules can prevent development of so-called vinyl villages filled with nearly identical homes and question whether homebuyers would benefit if they are prohibited.

“There’s nothing in this bill that says the builder of that home is selling it below market rate,” said Ryan Hoff, a lobbyist for the Association of Indiana Counties. “They’re going to charge what the market will bear for that construction.”

The Legislature’s consideration of Miller’s proposal comes as the state Senate last week voted to override Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a bill blocking local governments from regulating rental properties, which opponents argue would take away the ability of local officials to protect tenants from abusive landlords. The House could vote in the coming weeks on putting that rental regulation ban into law.

Miller, who has worked in the home construction industry since the 1970s, started his current company in 2016 and holds a life directorship at the Indiana Builders Association, according to his legislative website.

Carlie Hopper, a lobbyist for Indiana Builders Association, said that an “ever growing list of government regulations” make up 25% of a new home’s cost.

“By and large, our members are small-business owners doing their best to reconcile the wants and the needs of homebuyers with an ever-growing list of government regulations,” Hopper said. “Whether it’s additional shingles for roofs, a greater roof pitch, another gable or locating the garage on the side of the house or banning vinyl siding in favor another exterior product, it all adds cost and it adds up quickly for first-time homebuyers.”