Member Spotlight: Dan Lauber, AICP

Dan Lauber, AICP

HCD Member Spotlight: Daniel Lauber, AICP

By Deborah Myerson, AICP

The Member Spotlight is a new feature profiling HCD members. Want to suggest a member to profile for the next Spotlight? Don’t be shy! Get in touch with Deborah Myerson, AICP at dlmyerson at

Daniel Lauber, AICP is a lawyer, planner, and owner of the Chicagoland firm Planning/Communications in River Forest, Illinois. He was elected President of the American Planning Association in 1985 and served as President of the American Institute of Certified Planners in 1992-1994 and 2002-2005.

Lauber has been interviewed for numerous newspapers, magazines, radio and TV programs including 60 Minutes. He has been recognized with multiple awards for his work in planning, including the Paul Davidoff Award in 1988 for demonstrating a sustained social commitment to advocacy planning in support of the needs of society’s less fortunate members.

 This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

 How did you get into the field of planning?

I was originally a sociology major. I took a planning class with Is Stollman at the University of Chicago—which got me thinking thinking that I could implement sociology through planning. Boy, was I ever naive!

 My first planning job was with APA’s predecessor, the American Society of Planning Officials, as a research associate for its Planning Advisory Service. I wanted to write a PAS report on how cities integrate. Instead, I was assigned to write about exclusionary zoning cases.

 What got you started in land use law?

I went to law school while involved in efforts to control condo conversions in the 1980’s. I discovered that elected officials listened to lawyers—not planners.

Converting apartments to condominiums usually doubled the cost of living in the unit. Condo conversions drastically shrunk the supply of housing affordable to households with modest incomes, especially seniors. I wrote extensively on this topic and testified to both houses of Congress.

From my written testimony to Congress:

“But unless the action and policies called for here are adopted and implemented within the next few years, America’s middle class faces an otherwise unavoidable housing disaster, the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression.” — Daniel Lauber, written testimony March 31, 1981.

 You have said that “Social justice and equity begin at home … with who can live in your community.” How does this principle show up in your work?

Where you live determines so much of your life and prospects. In retrospect, I realize that nearly all my work focused on zoning, social-impact planning, housing and school integration, and discrimination–free and affordable housing has been aimed at achieving social justice and equity before the terms were even coined.

 Since 1974, I’ve helped pioneer efforts to change zoning to include, rather than exclude, community residences for people with developmental disabilities, mental illness, and physical disabilities, as well as the frail elderly and people in recovery from drug and/or alcohol addiction.  

 My firm has been a leader in the field producing Analyses of Impediments to fair housing choice, guiding cities and counties on how to achieve stable racial and economic integration.

 What is important for communities to understand about how to expand local housing options?

Communities need a multi-pronged approach. Government laws and practices plus the real estate industry forced housing segregation on us. Both need to be addressed.

 The problem is white people: we are the causes of segregation. Typically, white people only look at housing in white neighborhoods and never look in integrated neighborhoods, while Black folk look in integrated and all-Black neighborhoods. Stable integration is impossible if white people don’t also include integrated neighborhoods in their housing choices. Key to overcoming this are regional housing centers like the Oak Park Regional Housing Center that expand housing choices beyond the segregated ones.

 What do you think will change in land use and residential zoning over the next five years?

I hope there will be more mandatory inclusionary zoning, rather than voluntary. I’d also like to see a greater focus on mutual housing associations and low-equity co-ops to improve housing affordability.

 What’s something about you (a fun fact) that not many people know?

I'm a practicing Marxist … as in Groucho Marx.

 What do you do when you aren't working?

I really enjoyed going to movies, as best I can remember! I’ve built about 70 computers as a hobby and for sale. Unlike planning and law, you get instant results.

 What advice would you offer to young professionals?

Don’t be a pencil pusher or bureaucrat. If you are a member of HCD, you know that planning is about the impacts on people’s lives. You can’t control everything through rules and regulations.

 Planners need to pay attention to how we market our ideas to the general public and politicians. Write in plain English, not a bunch of acronyms. And pitch progressive proposals that appeal even to political conservatives.

 If ever there was a time to promote the social justice and equity of housing integration, this is it. But we must be realistic and accept that achieving stable integration is a gradual process. Maybe our grandchildren will reap the benefits.