Housing Policy

The YIMBY Movement Has Made it to D.C. Republicans Are Leading the Way.

Proposals from the White House and Sen. Todd Young highlight the role regulation plays in raising housing costs.

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The pro-housing YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) movement has finally arrived in Washington D.C., and it's being led by Republicans.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating a new White House council that will study and eliminate rules that increase the costs of housing construction.

"This is a matter of supply and demand, and we have to increase the supply of affordable homes by changing the cost side of the equation," said Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, who will lead the new council. "Removing overly burdensome rules and regulations will reduce housing costs."

A number of other cabinet-level secretaries, including those for the departments of Labor, Transportation, and the Treasury, will also sit on the council.

The executive order identifies a number of regulatory burdens—from zoning codes and growth management controls to labor and environmental regulations—that the council will try to quantify the effect of, and propose ways of mitigating.

Federal officials on the council are instructed to reduce, where possible, their departments' own regulatory burdens. The council will also work with officials on the state and local level—where the vast majority of housing regulations are crafted—to do the same.

Trump's executive order comes just a week after Sen. Todd Young (R–Ind.) introduced the YIMBY Act, which will require local and state governments applying for HUD grants to identify ways they are making their zoning codes less "discriminatory," or explain why they're keeping current regulations in place.

Young's bill suggests a number of policies grantees could adopt, including increasing density limits, eliminating off-street parking requirements for new developments, making more home construction by-right (meaning it can be built without discretionary government approval), and streamlining permitting processes.

Local governments would also be encouraged to eliminate restrictions on home businesses and AirBnB-style short-term rentals under Young's bill.

"Burdensome and discriminatory local zoning and land use policies drive up housing costs in communities across America," said Young in a statement following the introduction of his bill, saying that these policies prevent people from moving to high-opportunity areas.

The Wall Street Journal reports that housing construction per household is at its lowest level in 60 years. A report released yesterday from Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies found that the U.S. built 260,000 too few homes in 2018. Housing affordability problems are particularly acute in coastal cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, where restrictions on development can be exceedingly strict.

That a Republican White House and Republican members of Congress are bringing attention to this issue, and correctly fingering excessive regulation as the source of the problem, is welcome.

The chances that either this new White House council or Young's bill will have a direct impact on housing costs are nevertheless pretty slim, says Jenny Schuetz, a housing policy expert at the Brookings Institution.

"Because most regulatory barriers are adopted at the local level, the federal government has relatively few direct levers, especially on the most exclusionary places," writes Schuetz in an email.

Often, the federal government is able to strongarm local governments into changing policies they have exclusive control over by attaching strings to federal grants.

In a sense, this is what Young's bill is trying to do by requiring grantees to report on their zoning policies. Yet the senator's YIMBY bill is pretty toothless, given that these grantees aren't actually required to change any policies to get federal money.

Both Sens. Elizabeth (D–Mass.) and Cory Booker (D–N.J.) have proposed more muscular policies on this front.

Booker's HOME Act from 2018 would require HUD grantees to actually demonstrate they were loosening zoning regulations in order to get federal money. Warren's housing bill from last year includes a $10 billion grant program that would pay out to local governments who reform their zoning codes to allow for more housing. These localities could then use that money on whatever they wanted.

Both of the senators' bills come with billions in additional federal spending, either for public housing construction (in Warren's bill), or rental subsidies (in Booker's).

Schuetz has previously said even these more robust incentives might not do the trick, as local governments with the most restrictive zoning practices also tend to be wealthier areas that receive little to no HUD funding.

She also expressed skepticism that the Trump administration—which has proposed raising rents in federal public housing—is seriously concerned with the plight of poor tenants.

A similar cynicism about the White House's motives was expressed by Danielle Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition—which advocates for increased federal housing funding—who said in a statement that this new council was "an attempt to achieve large-scale deregulation while distracting from other efforts to exacerbate the housing crisis."

(Though Yentel fails to mention it, the Trump Administration's tariffs on imported steel and lumber are also raising the costs of constructing new housing.)

Any effort by the Trump Administration to address housing affordability issues with deregulation will likely be met with similar resistance from housing advocates who see increased federal funding as the primary tool for bringing down housing costs.

Salim Furth, a housing policy expert with the free market Mercatus Center at George Mason University, thinks the very fact that conservatives are even talking about these issues at the federal level brings a much-needed signal boost to the cause of housing reform.

"What Washington does have is visibility. When [Carson] says he's a YIMBY, it makes far more noise than when [San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer] or [Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey] does, even though the mayors have more policy influence," wrote Furth on Twitter yesterday.

"Sen. Young's bill is in that spirit. He's laying out a marker: YIMBY can be a mainstream conservative goal," Furth added.

Only time will tell whether either Young's bill or Trump's new White House council will have any appreciable impact on the currently dreadful state of housing affordability in the country.

That conservatives are starting to talk more about free-market solutions to the country's housing affordability problems—and are offering solutions that don't involve billions in new federal spending—is a welcome development.

NEXT: Warren Has a Plan To Help the Entrepreneurs She Screwed Over With Dodd-Frank

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  1. Great article, Christian.
    Take the rest of the day off. You’ve earned it.

        1. Would Tu­lpa AKA “Mr. Satan” and Mr./-Mrs. Nardz please GOnadz and get a room or some shrubs or bushes, or the underside of a big rock, or some such, and go and suck each others’ goNardz, in private, and leave the rest of us alone to have adult conversations? PLEASE?!?!?

          1. Fuck off Á àß äẞç ãþÇđ âÞ¢Đæ ǎB€Ðëf ảhf.

        2. Lighten up, Francis

  2. Both democrats and republicans absolutely LOVE Big Government, but for different reasons.
    So pick your poison: cyanide for democrats or arsenic for republicans.
    Both will do the job.

    1. There can be only one…

    2. This is literally an article about attempted reductions in regulations to lower costs nationally… and you come out with both sides are bad. This is why we cant have intelligent discussions.

  3. What Washington does have is visibility. When [Carson] says he’s a YIMBY, it makes far more noise…

    Are we normalizing Ben Carson already?

  4. ‘A) “Now that I have my mansion overlooking the sea, let’s keep all of the NEW riffraff out, via zoning laws and ecofreak building regs.”

    ‘B) “Now that me and mine are here in the USA, let’s keep all of the NEW riffraff (illegal sub-humanoids etc.) from shithole nations OUT of here, via taxing the shit out of THEM for OUR benefit, as the native moochers that we are, sucking them dry shamelessly, with respect to Social Security for example”.

    See “The Truth About Undocumented Immigrants and Taxes” (in quotes) in your Google search window will take you straight there, hit number one… AKA http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/09/undocumented-immigrants-and-taxes/499604/ For details about us natives mooching off of the taxes of the illegal sub-humans… For “B” case here…

    Would some kind soul PLEASE detail for me, the ethical-moral differences between A and B cases above?

    1. Fuck off Á àß äẞç ãþÇđ âÞ¢Đæ ǎB€Ðëf ảhf.

      1. Are ye a parrot or a spambot or both? It is WAAAY hard to tell at times… Parrots have more than a few neurons to rub together and AI-spambots have more than a few artificial neurons to rub together, but with you, it seems that all bets are off! Are ye perhaps little more than a 20-line (if that many) program in C++? Or perhaps F–?

    2. I think you make a good point. Both immigration restrictions, and oppressive zoning laws, share a same basic assumption: that the community (either local, or national) has some sort of collective right to decide what kind of neighbors they get to have. This right is imaginary, and runs afoul of *actual* rights, notably private property rights of a person to decide what he/she may wish to do with his/her own property.

      1. Okay. As I’ve said before. You can have any body you want on your property, granted they never cross anyone else’s property to get there (including public property), use no services provided by anyone but you, and never leave your property (unless going to another person’s property who is willing to host them granted they can reach there without crossing other people’s property as I’ve stated above). Otherwise it isn’t a private property issue until they are on your property. I am willing to allow a law that states they can enter and stay on your property if it meets all of the above criteria. Is your property on the border? If not I don’t see how it can meet the above criteria. So since your argument about private property is mostly hypothetical, let’s argue about the real world instead? Okay?

      2. Stop saying stupid things.

  5. Will they next be taking on the plight of NYC taxi drivers, apparently 9 have committed suicide due to payment issues with overpriced medallions (post crash down from $700k to $100k) and competition from Stuber. Would be nice to see heads explode (figuratively) if they could de regulate that space.

  6. Maybe they should change it so that no one gets federal money until AFTER they have actually made the zoning changes, instead of just promising to consider the possibility of forming a committee to evaluate the factors involved in thinking about maybe proposing the changes?

  7. Proposals from the White House and Sen. Todd Young highlight the role regulation plays in raising housing costs.

    Yeah, now think that through: what do you think “lowering housing costs” will do? That’s right: it will wipe out personal wealth (even if it’s just paper wealth) and put mortgages under water.

    And housing costs aren’t too high; you can buy cheap housing in most of the country. Housing costs are simply high in desirable, often highly subsidized neighborhoods.

    1. So you’re arguing in favor of regulatory capture then?
      Define relatively cheap? And define what makes a place highly desirable? Further, define what is undesirable? If houses lose value, and more people begin buying them, prices will increase again right? And those who buy new houses will then have their own personal fortunes increase. Then someone build more housing and prices slightly decrease until demand exceeds supply again. Developers will not be building if prices are to low to make a profit. So supply and demand will generally seesaw back and forth but rarely be to out of balance. This is the risk anyone enters when they invest, why should real estate be different? Should real estate be the one commodity that never decreases in value? If so, why?

    2. “And housing costs aren’t too high; you can buy cheap housing in most of the country. ”

      Let the peasants live in hovels in Death Valley!

  8. “This is a matter of supply and demand, and we have to increase the supply of affordable homes by changing the cost side of the equation,”

    Or … stop expanding *demand* through mass immigration.

    Or *both*!

  9. Leftie YIMBYs are already commenting that this is not YIMBYism. As Ben Carson stated “People congregate where they can afford to live”. Apparently some in the YIMBY movement want to mandate Palo Alto and Beverly Hills and the like, to take on high density section8ers. Carson’s plan still segregates based on wealth, income, employment, skills (or lack of). Carson is taking a market approach and I agree with the fact that people congregate where they can afford to live period.

    YIMBY is about INTEGRATION and spreading the costs on existing owners or investors to fund the energy, water/sewer, infrastructure and education, of low or no skilled communities because equality.

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