The Hypocrisy Of Those That Want The Housing Status-Quo

Has there finally been a breakthrough in how to respond to the housing crisis?

The consensus among housing and government experts is to allow more building by ending exclusionary zoning laws and a prejudice toward approving more single-family homes as the predominant form of new construction. Even in New York City where the outer boroughs have a preponderance of single-family homes, there is now a city-wide effort to build multi-family by changing zoning.

Solving the housing crisis in that city and everywhere requires a regional approach. In the New York metro area, there are extensive rail lines between city and suburbs. However, with the infrastructure to move people by mass transit, the surrounding neighborhoods are almost exclusively zoned for single-family housing around train stations.

Exclusionary zoning was done to prevent Blacks from moving to those areas after WW II. Those antiquated zoning laws are making all housing more expensive and shutting the door for young people and minorities. In this instance, the state needs to move against local government and force the creation of more multi-family housing.

According to the National Multifamily Housing Council and the National Apartment Association, the country will need 3.7 million new units by 2035. Presently, there are 600,000 fewer rental units than needed. These two groups state that 40% of new development costs are because of zoning and other land use restrictions by local government.

More and more, local governments are talking about rent control as an answer. New York City has had multiple forms of rent control since World War II and that obviously is not an answer. All rent control does is discourage new construction and hinders maintenance of existing structures because of a reduced stream of return on investment.

When new construction is hindered, rents in general become more expensive. While the newly constructed units will be the most expensive, those units that are older become less so. It is the old supply and demand principle at work.

New construction alone won’t solve the problem of affordable housing for all. The federal government must step in with programs that work to jumpstart initiatives for affordable housing. In the past, Washington was much more committed to having affordable housing.

Thirty-five years ago, I managed over 1000 Section 8 rental units in privately held properties. The tenant would apply to the government to participate in a voucher system. The government would pay a portion of the rent based on tenant income. The tenant would pick up the difference plus any rent above the government cap for that type of apartment.

There were no government housing projects. Subsidized and unsubsidized tenants lived side by side without stigma or anyone knowing who was in the program. The Feds need to get back into this business. Only Washington has deep enough pockets to bring the possibility of housing to all.

State and local governments need to focus on the type of housing that Americans need and want. Multi-family housing, town homes, duplexes, and even single-family homes with accessible dwelling units will contribute to a solution. What no longer should be allowed are NIMBY liberals and conservatives stopping housing that is not what they consider to be the American dream.

It is nothing more than racism, in most cases, that spawned exclusionary zoning and keeps it in place today. Too often the excuses heard are because of the environmental effects or the loss of “our” lifestyle. That is the same rhetoric that existed when integration first started.

Minorities, the young, and seniors need to have affordable choices within the communities where they grew up or moved to during their lives. Exclusion through housing policy is just as wrong as exclusion for any other reason. Many may claim they want to preserve their communities’ “character,” but that is just a code word for exclusion.

Let the market decide what should be built. The federal, states, and local governments have parts to play in housing. Localities have the most to gain and lose. They should start doing what is best for all.

In many states, local governments are having their ability to say no lessened for the common good. They need to have an acceptable program for building more diverse segments of housing or one will be state imposed. Their window is closing.

Photo by Joseph Reece on Unsplash

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Thomas F Campenni

Currently lives in Stuart Florida and former City Commissioner. His career has been as a commercial real estate owner, broker and manger in New York City.