Ben Carson Calls Out Zoning Regulations for Driving Up Housing Costs

The HUD Secretary wants to revise Obama-era housing regulations he says do too little to address the real drivers of housing costs.


Patsy Lynch/Polaris/Newscom

Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), wants to pare back Obama-era housing regulations that he says do not do enough to address the real driver of housing costs: zoning regulations.

On Monday, Carson announced that he was looking to revise the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which sought to combat housing segregation by requiring local governments to perform extensive (and expensive) reviews on how concentrated their neighborhoods were along class and racial lines, and then to develop action plans to create more "balanced and integrated living patterns." Local governments that failed to fulfill either requirement would be cut off from a number of federal housing grant programs.

Carson said on Monday that he wants to replace the 2015 AFFH with new rules that focus on increasing the overall supply of housing.

"I want to encourage the development of mixed-income multifamily dwellings all over the place," Carson told The Wall Street Journal, saying, "I would incentivize people who really would like to get a nice juicy government grant" to reform their zoning codes.

According to the Journal, Carson specifically called out Los Angeles for its strict single-family zoning rules that limit the number of housing units that can be built in the city. "Of course you're going to have skyrocketing prices that no one can afford," he said.

That Carson would want to reform the AFFH rule is not terribly surprising, given that he has been a critic of it long before he was appointed HUD secretary. As far back as 2015, Carson criticized the AFFH rule as an example of "social engineering" and "failed socialism." As HUD secretary, he has already taken steps to weaken it, such as pushing back compliance deadlines for local governments until 2020.

What is surprising, however, is Carson's suggestion that the AFFH be retooled to tie HUD grants to localities loosening their zoning regulations.

This is a complete 180 from Carson's 2015 criticism of the AFFH rule, in which the then-presidential candidate fretted that the Obama administration's focus on housing desegregation would do too much to undo local zoning laws.

"The [AFFH] rule would fundamentally change the nature of some communities from primarily single-family to largely apartment-based areas by encouraging municipalities to strike down housing ordinances that have no overtly (or even intended) discriminatory purpose—including race-neutral zoning restrictions on lot sizes and limits on multi-unit dwellings," wrote Carson in a 2015 Washington Times op-ed.

Carson's change of heart has raised eyebrows and even caused some commenters to question the sincerity of his new talk about tackling restrictive zoning rules.

Nevertheless, the shift in thinking at HUD—even if it is just a rhetorical shift at the moment—is still cause for cautious optimism, says Vanessa Brown Calder, a housing policy expert at the Cato Institute.

"I do think that shift in attitude at HUD is huge, and I hope that it translates into educating local municipalities that these things are related, zoning restrictions and housing affordability," says Calder. "It does sound like there is going to be some attempt made to connect HUD subsidies to relaxing or reforming zoning regulations, so that I think that could be really important."

That this might come in conjunction with a paring back of the Obama-era AFFH rule is heartening as well, says Calder, given both the costs and shaky legal foundations of the 2015 regulation.

The original AFFH, she notes, cost cities some $55 million in compliance costs. Indeed, these costs were burdensome enough that many localities decided it would be cheaper to just not comply with the rule and forfeit HUD funding.

The legal basis for the 2015 AFFH rule—which is based on the 1968 Fair Housing Act—is also pretty thin, says Calder. The 1968 law, she notes, is focused on eliminating racial discrimination by landlords, not on creating a delicate racial and income balance across whole cities, as is called for in the Obama administration's 2015 rule

"Zero times in the Fair Housing Act do they talk about segregation. That seems kind of damning considering that's what [the AFFH rule] is all about," Calder tells Reason.

Carson has so far avoided calling for an end to the AFFH rule altogether, instead suggesting that it be revised so as to reduce the overall regulatory burden on local governments. That approach is in line with many of the Trump administration's other deregulatory actions, which emphasize reducing and streamlining federal regulatory burdens, rather than eliminating rules in their entirety.

Nevertheless, any reduction in the regulatory state is welcome, as is anything that draws attention to restrictive zoning laws that have reduced supply and raised prices in cities across America.

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  1. Uh oh, a black man dissenting from the Lefty narrative.

    Let’s see what racial slurs are hurled by the Lefties.

    1. I actually have an uncle named Tom. He’s a really great guy.

    2. I hear Nigerians are real nice people. They are.

    3. Judge a man by his actions.

      I support this policy. I hope it’s implemented well.

    4. Judge a man by his actions.

      I support this policy. I hope it’s implemented well.

      1. Lefties hurl racial insults not lies.

        1. Wut?

          Judge someone by their actions, not the politics you label them with.

          I think the AFFH was laudable but clumsy. Carson’s policy has a chance to be more effective and less disruptive. As always, the devil is in the details. Some in California have been working to provide similar efforts, but we haven’t quite gotten over the hump.

          1. Carson is setting up the HUD to be a tiny federal agency.

            He has done a bunch of rollback that the media refuses to cover since there is nothing they can do about it.

            1. http://www.hud.gov/press/press…..advisories

              I don’t really see much happening. What in particular?

              The budget in the 2018 omnibus was up 9.8% over 2017.

            2. What has he rolled back? I never see him or HUD in the news, so I guess I’m out of the loop.

          2. Chandler, what exactly is so good about trying to manipulate peoples personal choices and forcing them to live in neighborhoods with other ethnicities or income brackets?

            People cluster together with people of the same ethnicity and income BECAUSE THEY WANT TO. Snobby white doctors don’t want to live next to white trash people with broken down cars in their yard any more than they want to live next to ghetto black folks. If a nice black doctor wants to move in next door most people would be totes cool with that.

            Fact is in cities that have a decent black middle class, even wealthier black people tend to like to be around other wealthier black people versus wealthier white people. It’s just human nature. Asian neighborhoods are a great example of this too. With there being lots of affluent Asians, they tend to create their own “nice” neighborhoods away from nice white neighborhoods and cluster there. There’s always overlap as it’s not a 100% thing, but this is the direction people tend to lean. We all have genetically built in in group preference.

            It isn’t the governments place to try to “arrange” people in some dumb shit way that people don’t even actually like if left to their own devices.

    5. LuvCon1789, shouldn’t you think about taking Trump’s cock out of your mouth and finding a job?

      1. You pull Hillary’s dick out of your mouth and then I will help you pull Trump’s dick out of the Democratic Party.

        He has fucked you Lefties so hard.

  2. “I would incentivize people who really would like to get a nice juicy government grant”

    So not being a help. Just defund the whole department and go home a winner.

    General rule; any politician using the phrase “juicy government grant” is NOT your friend.

  3. “I would incentivize people who really would like to get a nice juicy government grant” to reform their zoning codes.

    Wasn’t there a sanctuary city ruling that suggested cities have a right to federal money no strings attached?

    1. Conditions have to be authorized by Congress.

    2. Conditions have to be authorized by Congress.

      1. Trump and Ben Carson have phones and pens too.

    3. No because 1) as Happy Chandler said, they can have strings as long as the strings are attached by Congress, and 2) arguably, the rule works as a one-way ratchet. That is, the Executive can not attach strings to money that’s already been offered to the states but they maybe can attach strings to new money that they intend to offer.

      Of course, #2 assumes that the Executive has the legal authority to offer that new money in the first place. If Congress was doing its job, the answer should be no. But Congress has delegated so much over the past few decades that the only answer I’m sure of is maybe.

  4. I want to encourage the development of mixed-income multifamily dwellings all over the place

    Central planning FTW!

    1. Zoning is central planning. This is reducing central planning.

      1. Zoning is local Central Planning as opposed to Central Planning from D.C.

        This reduces Central Planning from Washington and allows local governments to reduce zoning laws.

  5. “I want to encourage the development of mixed-income multifamily dwellings all over the place,” Carson told The Wall Street Journal

    He went on to say “…and if they were pyramidal in shape, that would be an added plus!”

    1. Would be a nice change of pace from the droll Cabrini-Green-like housing projects. Let’s think more arcologically.

      1. Didn’t you wonder what that wooshing sound was?

  6. So you work hard, save your money, make a down payment on a house in the best area you can afford, and “affordable housing” goes in next door. Yea!

    1. You dont get to demand what others building on their property.

      Unlike what Socialism demands.

  7. Figures, the media has not been covering the quiet HUD rollbacks of Ben Carson.

    Another plus for Trump!

    1. Does it get painful, LuvCon1789, sitting on your couch, having Trump’s cock shoved up your ass all day?

      1. I sit on a Lazyboy waterbed chair made of Lefty tears.

    2. What has he accomplished?

      The HUD budget is up 9.8% this year.

      1. Carson is not givigng as much out in grants.

  8. Great! Open the borders, build “affordable housing” next to decent, hard earned housing, and then we can all live together in a crap hole of a neighborhood in a crap hole country. Wow!

    1. Ben Carson is hardly opening the borders.

      Do you prefer government regulations to make housing artificially scarce and unaffordable or something?

      1. Nope, just want to keep what I earned, but then the social engineers and one worlders would be unhappy, that is until their neighborhoods and area public schools are trashed . . . it seems that then, and only then, will they be content.

        1. More non seqiturs. Nothing in this article is about removing zoning regulations is stealing your hypothetical house. An apartment building is built and then rented with hard-earned money just as much as a homeowner’s mortgage is.

        2. You didn’t earn control of other peoples’ property.

          Zoning laws are the result of social engineers. Why is saying “You can build either a single family or multiple family, depending on what the market seeks” social engineering, but “You must build what the government tells you to do” is FREEDUM!

  9. Well, I’d rather they just stop giving out grant money! But any small step in a better direction isn’t a bad thing…

  10. I know some of the places he has in mind do need more temporary “housing” for students and young parents, but…for families with children, I think any incentives offered should be for helping more of these people get single-family, fully-detached houses with space for gardens and pets.

    1. Though of course, better yet would be to get rid of zoning in places that do just fine without it. Carson is obviously thinking of places where zoning has been out of hand for a long time. I wonder whether he’s aware of places where people lobbied to avoid having any zoning at all?

  11. Yeah, snobby white doctors don’t want to live next to white trash people with broken down cars in their yard any more than they want to live next to ghetto black folks.

  12. Bbu bu bu but TRMUP! Immigration! Tariffs!

    You know what else will help reduce housing costs? Reducing demand. I suppose there is the normal communist way of killing or starving to death the residents, but maybe reducing / removing illegal residents would work too.

  13. To expand on my previous comment:

    One of the things that bothers me about the GOPe and Reasonites (DEM go without saying) is neglecting or ignoring the interconnections among seemingly disparate policies.

    Wages, police state, regulations, housing costs, public pensions entitlement costs, drugs, open borders are all connected. Solving one will not fix a damn thing, it will simply deform the inefficiencies. Trump is pushing back on many fronts for the first time, not simply on one or two preferred policies. The last 30 years have done lot of damage on many dimensions, and it is going to take some bloody hard work to roll parts back.

    For example, housing costs. Regs / Nimby Zoning certainly are an issue. So, ‘Yay!’ for Ben Carson. But demand and education costs (in many areas a prime driver of property taxes) also drive housing costs. So ‘Yay!’ for controlled borders. That will reduce demand for housing and, in many blue areas, reduce demand for education and public services, which will reduce public pensions and (theoretically) the need for tax increase. It will also lead to reduced unemployment and improved wages among the lowest deciles as more become employed which will reduce transfer payments and (hopefully) crime. Which leads to better life, lower order costs (jails/police) which leads to lower pensions, and so on. Until it reaches an equilibrium that has the state being much less involved in our day to day lives, and in our pocket books as well.

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