Housing simulation screen shot

The Challenge of Public Participation in Housing

Public engagement is one of the toughest challenges that cities, counties and other organizations face as they seek to meet demand for new housing. While there is a general consensus in many places on the need for new housing, the zoning and planning processes can be easily derailed by opposition from a small minority with strong, narrowly focused anti-development views.

“...Balancing Act is an awesome tool.”

-David Driskell
Principal, Baird + Driskell Community Planning

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Why Current Housing Engagement Doesn’t Work

The most common tool for public input on housing is public hearings. Planners and public officials know that these seldom add much value and are usually just a forum for a small group to say no, or what some call “Not in My Backyard.” Research shows that people who attend hearings often do not represent the full community, especially non-homeowners. Surveys are another commonly used tool. They provide limited value because they don’t educate users about goals and constraints, nor do they frame tough tradeoffs.

Housing prioritize screen shot

“This is a complex process with a lot of tradeoffs. We wanted residents to understand that it wasn’t just about the site around the corner from their home, but about how all the sites work together to form a system of units that meet the needs of our community.“

-Christopher Jordan
Director of Strategic Planning and Innovation, City of Elk Grove

How Simulations Support Housing

Balancing Act’s online simulations change the participation dynamic in planning and zoning by putting residents in the shoes of decisionmakers and asking them to help solve the problem. Simulations educate and empower users to try different combinations of options to reach a housing goal. Because they are online and accessible from a mobile phone, anyone can participate.

Housing simulation examples: Elk Grove, Lafayette, Eastvale, and Sutherland Shire, Australia.

Key Features


Get informed input from residents on how they would meet housing goals


Interactive map shows where housing would be placed


Can be used online and in in-person sessions


Can be used for specific parcels, density of an area, or type of housing

Articles About Balancing Act

Why use simulate for housing by Balancing Act? Frames a structured, fact-based conversation based on necessary housing allocations. Presents tradeoffs and lets residents see opportunities and impacts. Transforms public input from complaints to constructive problem solving. Changes focus of input from the backyard to the entire community. Improves decision-making environment.

Balancing Act for Housing was named to Fast Company’s 2022 list of World Changing Ideas.