Residency Requirements

Dear Management Doctor:

What is your experience with the use of residency requirements for local governments? My employer, a county government, has such a requirement on the books, and as a manager I have found it to be a hindrance in attracting potential job candidates for new positions. I even believe it has even had a small part to play in employee retention. In our particular instance, we are part of a larger metropolitan region which makes residency within our county impractical for many families with spouses working elsewhere in the region. And our younger planners, often single, have had difficulty finding suitable rental housing within county boundaries, which our local market just does not support. The residency requirement was adopted during a time of relatively high unemployment nearly 10 years ago; our unemployment rate is now low.

Any thoughts on this? Any idea how widespread this practice is, and how often planners are affected by it? Any knowledge of legal challenges to residency? Pros? Cons? Past precedents?

Stuck at home

Dear Stuck At Home:

Sad to say I have little experience or knowledge on this topic. Hopefully our readers will. In my many jobs and travels, I have never seen this requirement for planners, only police or fire personnel. I have had some elected officials in cities I've studied complain that few planners live in the city and, thus, they don't understand or know the city. I'm generally against such a requirement.

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

It is my understanding that in California, I think decided in 1978 by the California Supreme Court, ruled that residency requirements were invalid. I worked in the City of Burbank in the early 1980's and I seem to remember this... I would check it out through additional sources before I send it out as factual. I do know that some agencies have highly encouraged staff to live in town. The City of Laguna Beach, CA previously provided housing incentives for employees of the City to live in town.

Phil Carter

We (James City County, Virginia, population 48,000) do not have a residency requirement for any of the planners or the planning director. The planning director (me) is encouraged (but not required) to live in the County, but I have not felt any real pressure to actually do so. Although I live in the County, some of the other Division and Department heads do not , such as the Personnel Director and County Engineer. Given that we are one of the two most expensive localities in our metropolitan region of six independent cities and counties, I believe such a requirement would have significant adverse impacts on recruitment and retention. Of our nine professional planners, three live outside James City County. This is especially important for our young staffers right out of college. Also, our community has few housing and social opportunities geared toward young adults. Hope this helps.

Marvin Sowers, Planning Director

In my experience, residency requirements for planners is more common than it should be. I have found that communities that have local taxes especially like it. This seems to be more of an east coast issue though. In defense of the policy, in theory if you live in the community that you are a planner for, you will better understand and empathize with the residents who are also your neighbors. However, it is also harder to recruit professionals to another area. But, in my opinion, the most difficult part is breaking into an area that has this requirement if you do not already live in the community, e.g., NYC, in other words, it stinks! Thank you for asking.

David Woods

Residency requirements are a terrible idea for anyone other than department managers. In James City County, there is some low cost rental housing and some very high cost rental housing with virtually nothing in between. Contrast that with our no-growth/no-development neighbors in Surry County, VA. When they offered the planning director job to a friend recently, she ended up declining the job because of the residency requirement. She was willing to move to Surry, she simply could not find any suitable housing at all for her and her husband.


I've had an interesting experience residing in the city where I work. Residency is not required - it just happened, and I like living close to the office. Many years ago, I was working on a project that wasn't too far from my home (this was before FPPC regulations, but probably still would have been outside the old 2500' radius). As a representative of the City's Planning Department, I opposed the project. The applicant made an issue out of the fact that I lived near the project, and felt I should be disqualified from involvement. Yet, as late as a few weeks ago, we had residents criticizing a proposed ordinance and asking the planners involved, "Do you even live in the city?" The implication was that if you didn't live in the city, you couldn't have its best interests at heart. Just goes to show, you can't win. On a personal note, although I love working less than a mile from the office, it makes it difficult to relax and leave the work behind when your evenings and weekends are spent driving the streets and patronizing the businesses you're planning for all day. (Just ask my wife, who wants to fit me with blinders!)

Perry Valantine, City of Costa Mesa, CA

Michigan passed a law that only allowed communities to have a 20-mile limit to residency requirements. The boundary of your home community had to be within 20 miles of your work community's boundary. I for one think residency requirements are unconstitutional.

Mike Howell

Do not have a residency requirement.

Pete Stith

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