Housing Policy

Is There a Democratic Plot To Abolish the Suburbs? Don't Believe It.

Removing single-family zoning will not dismantle the suburbs, but it will dismantle the ability of NIMBYs to use the government to control other people's property.


As Republicans battle Democratic electoral advances in the nation's politically pivotal suburbs, they've been sounding the alarms about a liberal plot to dismantle our beloved single-family neighborhoods. For instance, the conservative National Review in June declared, "Biden and Dems are set to abolish the suburbs."

This would be shocking if true, rather than a transparent attempt to scare soccer moms into voting for the GOP. "For the past three years, the state senator who represents Speaker Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco has led a push to abolish single-family zoning in California," wrote President Donald Trump and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, in a Wall Street Journal column last month. Good grief.

I've long chronicled the disastrous development policies that California's Democrats have pursued. These include excessive fees, regulations, slow-growth rules and mandates that quash housing construction and hike prices. In their battle against climate change, they have backed urban-growth boundaries that set aside vast tracts of land—and attempt to force new construction into a high-density urban footprint.

Furthermore, the state's Democrats—and even many Republicans—had backed the state's now-defunct redevelopment agencies. Those relics of the 1950s urban-renewal era gave local officials the power to play real-life SimCity (a city-building videogame) in their communities, whereby they subsidize favored developers and abuse eminent domain in a perverse quest to grab tax revenue and remake their communities as they choose.

California has among the highest home prices and poverty rates in America thanks in part to such restrictions on housing. So there's plenty of fodder for Republicans who want to take on Democrats' misguided land-use policies. It's ironic, though, that they have chosen to take a stand against the one development issue where many Democrats are on the mark.

Let's start with semantics. Eliminating single-family zoning does not ban the construction of single-family homes. We should banish the idea's supporters to the nether reaches of the ugliest imaginable tract suburb for their failure to properly label this modest change. Single-family zoning allows only the construction of single-family homes. Eliminating it, as Oregon has done, allows the construction of other things in addition to single-family homes.

Trump and Carson were referring to Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, who most recently authored the now-defunct Senate Bill 1120, which would allow the construction of duplexes in suburban areas. The senator is wrong on most state policy issues, but he is right about this particular matter. Here, he was championing fewer regulations, freer markets, more consumer choice, and less government micromanagement.

That National Review column argued that candidate Biden is embracing an end to single-family zoning, the creation of "little downtowns" in the suburbs, and an Obama-era housing rule that requires local governments that receive federal housing funds to identify fair-housing barriers. He believes this package will mean "the end of meaningful choice in how Americans can live."

I thought he was kidding. I like the suburbs, but the government enforces zoning specifically to limit any meaningful choice and to control what other people do on their own property. "All zoning is exclusionary, and is expected to be exclusionary; that is its purpose," wrote the late Bernard Siegan, a prominent free-market academic.

I rarely agree with any federal housing edicts, but what's wrong with "little downtowns," provided they aren't created with subsidies and eminent domain? Old Towne Orange, downtown Fullerton and Old Pasadena are fabulous attractions—and hardly something to fear. Less zoning leads to more of those places. More zoning leads to endless big-box shopping centers. I've got nothing against the latter, but we shouldn't artificially limit the former.

My neighborhood allows the construction of second units and has done so for years. Instead of a suburban-geddon, we simply have more neighbors who have a place for their elderly parents and adult children. That's how neighborhoods largely operated in the United States until people realized they could lobby the government to zone out whatever it is they don't like.

I want to rebut a point raised by my Southern California News Group colleague, Susan Shelley, who is an opponent of the Wiener bill. When people ask her what to say to someone who complains that they can't afford to live in, say, Pasadena, she offered this answer in a recent column: "Someone who can't afford Pasadena will have to live somewhere else, or earn enough money to live in Pasadena, or share the costs of living in Pasadena with others."

Of course, people don't have a right to live anywhere they want unless they have enough money to do so. But one key reason that many people can't live there is because Californians back restrictive zoning laws that limit housing supply and drive up prices. Removing single-family zoning will not "dismantle the suburbs," but it will dismantle the ability of the "get off my lawn" crowd to use the government to control other people's property.

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

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  1. Ok, seems to me that environmentalist types (mainly Dems) are the ones opposing “suburban” sprawl” and urging close-in urban density. The attack on the suburbs concerns the failed urban school systems trying to get the suburbs to pay even more to bloated and disfunctional city schools.

    1. I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85 per/h. How? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new… after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier.

      Here’s what I do…>> CashApp

  2. I rarely agree with any federal housing edicts, but what’s wrong with “little downtowns,” provided they aren’t created with subsidies and eminent domain?

    What’s wrong with anything the government does, as long as it’s provided with flying unicorns and magical fairies? The idea that government is going to “allow” you to build multi-family housing rather than mandate it is as silly as believing the Civil Rights Act doesn’t mandate discrimination in favor of minorities or Title IX doesn’t mandate discrimination in favor of women. They’re definitely going to use subsidies, eminent domain, and mandates to build inner city-style slums in suburbia as punishment for people who dare to try to get a little space for themselves away from other people. All our social engineers agree, the urban lifestyle is much better for society and you’re going to get with the program whether you like it or not. Just for example, how can you build mass transit if people refuse to live in anthills? How can you outlaw cars if people don’t have mass transit?

    1. Lies, damned lies, and Steve Greenhut.

      1. “They’re definitely going to use subsidies, eminent domain, and mandates to build inner city-style slums in suburbia as punishment for people who dare to try to get a little space for themselves away from other people. All our social engineers agree, the urban lifestyle is much better for society and you’re going to get with the program whether you like it or not.”

        In a nutshell, Jerryskids.

        ‘Bringing the ghetto to you.’ This sort of article, excusing and bullshitting about the motives for altering zoning, is usually Bretschgi’s bailiwick.

        1. I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85 per/h. How? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new…ZSa after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier.

          Here’s what I do…>> CashApp

    2. What’s left unsaid in Greenhut’s statement is that these “little downtowns” are primarily tourist and commercial attractions, and are specifically designed to not accommodate any kind of large-scale residential settlement. They’re nostalgia generators for a simpler time when our settlements revolved around an small mixed-use core with a few outlying farmsteads. They aren’t even close to the current reality of mass society.

      And what Greenhut leaves unexplored is the fact that Oregon’s law was passed entirely to pander to the sensibilities of urbanite Democrats in Portland, because this particular class has a hard-on for their New Urbanist and high-rise pod development fantasies, and to impose that ideology on areas where it has no realistic application. It has nothing to do with trying to create more choice in development.

    3. I can also see this being used for kind of ‘reverse gerrymandering’, moving loyal Democrat voters into swing districts to turn them blue.

    4. Totally agree. Greenhut doesn’t get it. Local zoning authority is the only bulwark against Sacramento-mandated high-density housing, with zero car planning and overcrowded schools. Mediocrity for all (except Weiner and the Dem political elite,)! WTF is wrong with you, Mr. Greenhut, did you just fall off the turnip truck?

  3. Is There a Democratic Plot To Abolish the Suburbs?


    And of course Reason is supportive of it.

    These new edicts don’t ‘remove regulations’ so much as they remove local control of communities in favor of centralized state planning–but, given the editorial bent at reason these days, coupled with the Marxist supporting presidential candidate the LP has put forward, what else should we expect?

    Conquest’s second law has come to pass.

    1. “The Libertarian Case for Joe Biden” piece ought to be coming out any day now.

      1. It really is becoming impossible to read these articles, They are evidence of how far and wide TDS has permeated the elite.

        1. No, this effort to destroy the suburbs (along with other efforts targeting other power bases not in lockstep with urban progressives) long predates Trump, so not really TDS.

          1. Yeah, it’s gotten to the point where calling it TDS is being generous, naive, optimistic, or some combination thereof.

        2. Reason writers are not and will never be elite. Please use “self proclaimed elite”.

          1. Never forget that these people live large off a nonprofit, and they’re always straight out the door at 4 or 5 or whatever quitting time is, if they even go in to the office. They all ought to spend a week digging ditches with Mike Rowe.

        3. The only TDS I see is his supporters having an emotional reaction whenever someone disparages Dear Leader.

          1. Hey dummy… This is an article about Biden and Democrat’s plans. Plans that started back in 2010.

            Westchester served as the petri dish for HUD’s “grand experiment.” On Jan. 1, 2010, the day I was inaugurated as county executive, a federal consent decree signed by my predecessor went into effect requiring Westchester to spend at least $56 million to build 750 units of affordable housing over the next seven years in 31 white communities — or face crippling financial penalties.

            The only one talking about Trump here is your ignorant ass.

            Here is the article under Obama:


            God you’re broken.

            Please continue to defend centralized federal planning of local communities. Makes you look like a real libertarian.

            1. Point out where I defended anything. C’mon. If you’re so convinced that I’m a leftist, show just one quote where I promote their agenda. Just one.

              You can’t do it because it doesn’t exist.

              1. Please point out the last time you’ve made a single rational argument on this cite that wasn’t a hyperbolic strawman of your perceived enemies.

                You’re broken.

                You literally brought up Trump, once again, when nobody was talking about him. You did so in a thread about Biden and his plans. Either you’re broken or defending Biden. Which is it?

                1. Either you’re broken or defending Biden. Which is it?

                  False dichotomy much?

          2. then you should look at your reflexive whining about him and his “supporters”

            1. I’m whining? Haaa ha ha ha ha ha! The only whining I see is from those whining how Reason hates Trump and Reason endorses Biden and Reason this and Reason that waaaah!

              1. “Everywhere I look I see exactly what I’m looking for”

    2. “…our beloved single-family neighborhoods.”

      Was the tell.

      1. This, from the same guy who it took three months to figure out that looting and arson is bad.


        1. Imagine how long it will take him to figure out that ‘bail reform’ isn’t about reform at all.

          Question for the multitude, when did the articles and editorial slant at this website go careening off the well-meaning, privatized Libertarian road, and into the Progressive swamp? I don’t remember it being this bad, even in the beginning of O’s 2nd term, but I could be wrong.

          1. It didn’t seem so bad during Obummer’s term because they played the game on display in the current article on Trump’s 1776 Commission.

            When Obama used Federal purse strings to make schools dance to Marxist tunes they would present the topic as a ‘controversy’ and quote others in a bit of chin tugging concern. about the details of the action. Which, contemporaneously, appears more moderated. This was almost the entirety of Sudemran’s “opposition” to Obamacare.

            Unlike when Trump uses the same power to make schools stop dancing to Marxist tunes. Then it’s straight up opposition to “Federal overreach.”

            tldr: Principals, not principles. It’s been going on here for decades.

            1. Actually before the 21st Century, Reason was, of all places in the movement, relatively resistant to principals vs. principles. Cato was worse even in the 1970s; the Libertarian Party was worse by the 1990s but gradually getting that way earlier. But now, in the 21st Century, Reason has lost most of its reason, and I see that its writers have sold out their principles to some principal.

              1. I blame Shikha. She cast her exotic, irresistible spell.

          2. There were signs of an odd slant beginning about a decade ago, but it didn’t really go off the rails until about 5 years ago.

            In the prodromal phase, they were just looking hard for any excuse not to align with “conservatives” or Republicans, so they could appear to be “different”, “independent”, etc. That’s the “trouble” if the libertarian movement succeeds too well, or even moderately, in becoming too prominent within an existing tendency of political party: The people for whom the movement is either their livelihood or their major avocation have their reason for existing threatened.

            But once Trump announced his candidacy, they pretty much invented TDS. He was uncouth, so you couldn’t be seen to be on his side.

            1. Or maybe they have legitament grievances with Trump? Using “TDS” makes it seem like you dismiss any criticism of Trump as wrong. Makes you look like a boolicking, uneducated, inbred hick. Are all conservatives inbred Hicks? No, but all inbred Hicks are conservative.

      2. Ha-ha, exactly. That’s the sort of thing, a snide, snarky leftie says.

  4. Joe bidens plan doesn’t remove zoning laws… it updates them for democratic vision.

    Biden’s plan is to force suburban towns with single-family homes and minimum lot sizes to build high-density affordable housing smack in the middle of their leafy neighborhoods — local preferences and local control be damned.

    It alters zoning to force areas of high density housing. Stop fucking lying about what is being proposed. It isnt more free zoning laws at all.


    1. Gee you’d almost think that Reason is a Marxist publication pushing the Marxist Agenda 21 urban planning guidelines that it’s been promoting for 15 years now.

      1. There is woke and there is Reason woke.

  5. Right. The solution to local governance issues is to impose federal mandates on how local zoning boards do business, instead of allowing residents make that decision through local elections. That’s putting aside the inevitable creep of the program. They inevitably WILL become subsidies and eminent domains.

    ALL of the issues in this article can be solved through local choice. If residents want “little downtowns,” they’ll vote for local government officials who also want them. The fact that they don’t vote for local officials who want them, means that local residents don’t want them. If local officials think it’s beneficial to change that, then local officials can make that case to their constituents. The federal government doesn’t need to be involved in how local governments in Podunk towns like mine do business.

    People choose to live in suburbs with strict zoning laws because that’s where they WANT to live, and that’s HOW they want to live.

  6. Let’s start with semantics. Eliminating single-family zoning does not ban the construction of single-family homes.

    It doesn’t? What makes you think you’re the one who gets to decide what this proposed rule means? It’s HUD and their lawyers and the courts that are going decide what it means, and they’re experts at arguing that black means white, that up means down, and that may means shall. They get this innocuous-sounding language put into the rules, knowing that nobody could possibly object to such feel-good legislation, and then they go to work “interpreting” the rules to mean the exact opposite of what the plain-English reading of the rules would suggest.

    1. Why on earth would anyone, especially an alleged libertarian, trust the government not to abuse this? The federal government ruins everything it touches.

      Since when do we favor government mandate over individual choice?

    2. But it’s so much fun:

      “Let’s start with semantics. Eliminating private property does not ban the ownership of private property.”

      “Let’s start with semantics. Mandating Jewish ghettos does not ban Juden from living elsewhere.”

      “Let’s start with semantics. Ending capitalism does not ban capitalism.”

    3. Who could possibly be opposed to a law that prevents social media companies from being held legally culpable for actions taken on their platform?

  7. Is There a Democratic Plot To Abolish the Suburbs? Don’t Believe It.

    You mean other than the constant Marxist drumbeat of seizing everyone’s property and businesses, equalizing everyone’s income, alotting them all appropriate jobs, and cramming them all into public transportation?

  8. Of course there is a plot. They’re Democrats! Anyone who says otherwise is a Democrat sympathizer. So obviously Reason hates Trump and wants Biden to win.

    1. You’re more of a shill than a sympathizer.

        1. Your entire body of work here.

          1. Be specific. Find one, just one, statement of mine where I’m shilling for anyone. And mockery of you and others isn’t shilling. Not that you have the intelligence to understand the difference.

            1. You’re shilling for Biden now while stating the only people against federalized zoning laws are Trumps supporters. Like when you wrote this only TDS I see is his supporters in an article about Biden’s plans.

              1. No, I’m mocking you.

                1. No, you’re shilling.

                  1. No, you’re a towel! idjit

                2. I’m sure you think so

              2. I’ll sum up everything you’ve ever posted on this site:

                “Reason hates Trump! Libertarians are leftists! Waaaaah!”

                No shilling. Just mockery.

                1. Cite?

                  That isn’t mockery. It’s you not being able to form a cogent argument. I have literally had interactions with you where I have listed where I disagree with republicans and Trump. You’re so fucking broken though that you conveniently always forget.

                  What you’re doing isn’t mockery, it is hyperbolic strawman. The last vestige of a broken person who no longer has the mental capacity to make an actual argument.

                  You’re broken.

                  1. All one need do is look at how he interacted with Tony yestwrday to see that sarcasmic is fucking lying.

                    1. Be specific, dill hole.

                  2. You say I’m a leftist shill but admit that I don’t make arguments. How can you read into my mind and call me a leftist if you have no arguments of mine to base it on? Get your story straight.

                    1. Pretending you aren’t making arguments by exclusively criticizing only one party doesn’t mean that anyone else takes you at your word or doesn’t see straight through your bullshit. When you spend 8-12 hours a day on a website stalking particular users and presenting a supposed performance piece mocking only one group of people while offering no corresponding criticism or mockery of anyone else your transparent defense of the party spared from your supposed performance art is obvious. Not to mention that some of us have been here as long or longer than you have and remember when you still pretended to be a serious person before you became the simpering bitch of the Trump supporters on this site by giving them the entirety of your brain as a free homestead. You have always been a leftist Marxists, you’ve just only recently decided to try to frame it as a performance.

                    2. “Not to mention that some of us have been here as long or longer than you have and remember when you still pretended to be a serious person before you became the simpering bitch of the Trump supporters on this site by giving them the entirety of your brain as a free homestead.”

                      This part, minus the ire. I save that for the Tonys of this site.

            2. “Be specific. Find one, just one, statement of mine where I’m shilling for anyone.”
              “Of course there is a plot. They’re Democrats! Anyone who says otherwise is a Democrat sympathizer” – sarcasmic
              September.18.2020 at 9:07 am

              “And mockery of you and others isn’t shilling”
              Mockery in the service of shilling is still shilling.

              You’re objectively terrible at this. Do you really think that you’re fooling anyone? Media Matters should ask for its fifty cents back.

              1. Making fun of you folks who hate everything Democrat as a matter of principle is shilling? And you say I’m broken? You’re a fucking idiot.

                1. Making fun of you folks who hate everything Democrat as a matter of principle is shilling?

                  That’s not what you’re doing, but even if you were, yeah, it would be shilling when your performance is exclusively mocking one party and never any other. OpenBordersLiberal-tarian is a good example of the same thing from the opposite side of the aisle, only you’re really shitty at it and he’s at least occasionally funny because he doesn’t take himself seriously and is also 100% dedicated to the shtick.

                2. “And you say I’m broken? You’re a fucking idiot.”

                  I didn’t say that you’re broken. What the hell are you even sperging about? Fucking nutcase.

    2. Youre fucking broken. You could read bidens plan and see how it forces commonly designed zoning onto local governments. But no, you’d rather wade im with an knfantile strawman argument.

      Fucking broken.

      1. You can’t understand that I’m making fun of you, and you say I’m broken?

        1. Except you’re not. You’re utilizing histrionic strawmen because you’re so fucking broken you can’t criticize a democrat zoning plan at this point.

          You’re fucking broken. Deeply broken.

          1. “Reason hates Trump! Libertarians are leftists! Waaaaah!”

            1. Again, broken.

              Wait. Nevermind. You’ll claim you were hacked again on Monday. Stop drinking dude.

              1. I contacted Reason and they say they fixed the problem that allowed certain assholes to fraudulently use user names that belong to other people.

    3. Of course there is a plot. They’re Democrats!

      And Democrats are politicians.

      So, what are you struggling with?

      1. Nothing. I’m just making fun of the deranged Trump sheeple who reflectively hate everything Democrat because Democrat bad. Very bad. Baaaaaaah, er I mean baaaaaad!

        1. See, even if it’s true, he’s obligated to defend it from the criticism of the Trump supporters hiding under his bed. Because the only thing worse than government totalitarians being government totalitarians is imaginary Republicans calling Democratic government totalitarians out for being government totalitarians. And the only reason that he offers no corresponding criticism of Democrats behaving hypocritically or opportunistically is because you are a Republican Trumpalo…

        2. Democrats lie about everything. Tell us what they don’t lie about?

    4. Wow, you finally got it! Congratulations on finally believing those damn lying eyes of yours.

  9. “Zoning bad!”

    “I rarely agree with any federal housing edicts, but what’s wrong with…”
    Oh FFS Reason.

    1. At least broken sarc agrees.

      1. Really? When did I say that? All I did was mock you.

        1. Do you normally go into threads about democratic zoning plans to solely attack your perceived republican enemies? Is that something someone against centralized planning normally does?

          Are you going full jeff again?

        2. By the way, what you’re doing isn’t mocking. It’s just dumb. You’re broken.

          1. People on the receiving end of mockery always say that.

            1. People on the receiving end of mockery always say that.

              Not always. For example, you usually just whine like an owned little bitch about how persecuted you are.

  10. The idea that Democrats support a free market in anything is laughable.

    1. I’m going to buy a couple hundred acres near “Freedoms” Georgia and found “RealFreedom” Georgia. It’s going to look like the DMZ in Korea…. except if Biden is elected, we would get drone bombed

  11. There’s been a Democratic plot to destroy the urban center that we’ve watched in slow motion over the last 50 years. Why do we think they’re not turning their sites on the much-hated-by-the-left suburbia?

    1. FYI, it takes very little work to find instances of Democratic open disdain for the suburbs and the [white] people who live there. They often characterize them as symbols of late-stage capitalism which is, according to the modern Democrat, “inherently racist”. If you think the ‘long march on the institutions’ stops at the edge of the urban core, think again.

    2. Here’s a synopsis:

      To urbanists, suburbia is self-evidently evil: Sprawl is an environmental disaster, subsidized by lavish post–World War II road-building programs and the mortgage-interest deduction (which promotes home ownership) and turbocharged by low interest rates. Why would any sophisticated architectural thinker want to get involved with such iniquity? In 2012, the Museum of Modern Art tried to rouse a group of high-caliber architects to stage a suburban intervention in the wake of the 2008 recession and the foreclosure crisis that followed. The show, “Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream,” was well-meaning and inventive but it left no trace in the real world, and the designers who were recruited to rethink towns and subdivisions didn’t return to the topic. The trouble with throwing up your hands at suburbia’s obstacles and contradictions is that it means giving up on most of the country.

      Being ‘given up on’ by a pack of utopian urbanists who want to ‘stage an intervention’ in your neighborhood might be the best outcome one could hope for.

  12. When I was a small child, we moved from Klickitat County Washington to LA. We lived one-half block east of Figueroa on 79th Street. This was considered to be a lower middle class neighborhood at that time. During the war there had been a lot of the sort of infilling Mr. Greenhut recommends.
    Check out what it has become. It looks much the same from the air on Google, but is a very high crime area. What do you suppose the people – mostly African American – who moved to the Baldwin Hills would think of the neighborhood they left following them?

  13. OK, let me explain this.

    High density housing is high density. This means that, once even a small percentage of the area of a suburban neighborhood is occupied by high density housing, most of the people in the neighborhood are in it. That one condo development or apartment complex outvotes many blocks worth of ordinary homes.

    At that point, politically, you don’t have a suburb anymore. You have an urban area with some grandfathered in single family houses. The people living in the single family houses are now a powerless political minority, and every local political decision going forward will be made in favor of the interests of people in high density housing.

    I live in a suburb that let in high density housing. The families who live in most of the suburb lost control of the local government. Now large swaths of suburban homes have been rezoned; The present owners are grandfathered in, but once they move, the homes can only be used for commercial purposes. IOW, they rot unoccupied until somebody tears them down to build a strip mall. It makes you want to cry, they’re nice houses with pleasant, sprawling lots, plenty of room for a garden and playing children, and they’re sitting there empty, rotting, because nobody is permitted to live there.

    This is why the only way suburbs can continue to exist as an option is if they don’t permit high density housing.

    The decision that they can’t exclude it, is, de facto, the decision to abolish suburbs.

    Now, understanding that, you might say that, if suburbs go away, they go away. I just want you to understand your position DOES mean the end of suburbs.

    1. Greenhut somehow misses the extra costs associated with high density housing as well. It generally means larger sewage lines, bigger access pipes for utilities, some form of mass transit to handle parking/travel issues. It doesn’t come cost free. It in fact imposes a cost.

      1. If you resist the political second-order effects that occur with the forced elimination of single-family housing, it’s NIMBYism. Make no mention of a new kind of NIMBYism that often accompanies that new reality.

        1. But it’s NIMBYism by the “right people,” and therefore good NIMBYism.

        2. Foreseeable consequences blah, blah, blah…

          This place seems intent on putting a torch to every possible aspect that might be appealing to anyone interested in actual liberty.

          Conquest’s law indeed.

      2. More school capacity is a big one too.

        I love how there’s no price gouging during hurricanes, etc. Those are “healthy price signals”.

        Skyrocketing house prices in desirable areas are not healthy price signals, those are a symptom of government oppression driven by pearl-clutching NIMBYs.

        Never mind that those areas are desirable precisely because the NIMBYs have maintained a reasonable level of population density.

        But screw that, clearly bureaucrats in Sacramento and technocrats at the Reason foundation know what’s best for my neighborhood than I do.

        And I used to like Greenhut. Not gonna ignore him like I do Brischtigi over just one article, but I don’t like the trajectory he’s on.

      3. But what happened to the places where the high density residents used to live? Did the costs diminish in those locales?

    2. Maybe it’s not considered nice to point out the human nature factor, but it’s nevertheless true. I lived 4 years in a cheap apartment with mostly Section 8 people as neighbors, and the small town I moved back to has a couple of similar developments. They really don’t invite the same quality of people that suburban homeowners are, people who take pride in themselves and their capacity to take care of what they have.

      1. But if they’re in an apartment building, who sees their “care of what they have”? They can’t turn it into an eyesore.

        1. You haven’t really had to deal with urban realities, have you?

    3. Why did they rezone it that way? How did that benefit those who were in political control?

  14. The question isn’t whether you approve of stripping other people of their property rights*. The question is whether this removes single family zoning from people’s property over their objections and against their will. No one should have single family zoning inflicted on their property without their consent, and the government should not be able strip single family zoning from people’s property without their consent either–not in the name of global warming or anything else.

    *Rights are the obligation to respect other people’s choices, and property rights are no exception. Owning a pencil or a piece of land means you’re the one that gets to choose who uses it, if it’s used, for how long–and how it’s used, etc. Because you’re against how other people choose to use their right to speech, which religion they choose, or how they choose to use their property does not justify violating their rights.

    1. You are talking about two different groups of people here: Those that want to make changes in their _own_ property, and those that want to control their _neighbor’s_ property. If you think the second group is “libertarian”, you have forgotten what the word means.

  15. I rarely agree with any federal housing edicts, but what’s wrong with “little downtowns,” provided they aren’t created with subsidies and eminent domain?


    1. Pick a suburb, most any suburb. Now imagine the time and expense of purchasing a contiguous set of properties – most or all already built and occupied single family homes. Then tearing them all down; bringing in the necessary infrastructure of water, sewer, electric, storm water drainage, expansion of residential streets into arterial roads; converting much of that land into parking; and only then building your ‘little downtown.”

      Now imaging doing it in a manner that would not be ruinously expensive, much less remotely profitable, with private equity alone.

      Maybe unicorns do exist, but they sure as Hell are not common.

      Is Greenhut simply ignorant of what would be involved? Or too lazy to think it through? Or maybe he’s not playing straight with the topic? Are there any other reasonable explanations for his argument here?

      1. “Now imaging doing it in a manner that would not be ruinously expensive, much less remotely profitable, with private equity alone.”

        All of the storm drains, streets, sidewalks, curbs, schools, fire houses, etc. you see in your planned community were built by private developers for profit. Property taxes pay for the maintenance of these things, but the original expense of all that infrastructure is covered in the purchase price of the people who bought those properties.

        We pay fees to the school district, the fire department, and the parks and recreation department, etc., etc. based on the projected occupancy of project. The primary reason “senor housing” costs so much less than other housing is, because they’re age restricted to 55+, the developer doesn’t have to pay fees to the local school district.

        We pay fees to the local government for street upkeep in that neighborhood as well based on a transportation engineer coming in and determine how much extra traffic people who live in that community will place on the roads surrounding the project. How much will the people in that development use the local parks?

        1. Don’t take my world for it. I pulled this fee schedule up at random:


          Look at the example for a single family detached house. You’re paying $47,289.56 in fees–and that’s before the local school district gets their fees. The local school district has their own elected politicians–so they’re by themselves, not subject to city hall. Same thing with the fire department. You’re not done yet until you, as a developer, have paid for the schools and the fire department, and you can’t get a building permit until they sign off on your plans.

          1. Yes, I get that. I was trying to make it implicit that whoever pays – be it the single family dwellers, or the developer(s) trying to convert some of it into an urban environment – are going to be paying alot. Especially so since much of what the prior/existing homeowners paid is going to effectively be erased and new payments will be required from the new developers.

            Meaning that absent some form of subsidy – even just a waiver allowing the conversion of existing amenities into services for the new urban center – it’s just not going to be economically feasible to make these transformations. You have to destroy too much in the process.

            Putting paid to any notions of doing these things “without subsidies.”

  16. It’s not a lie that proggies have long desired to have everyone live in dense urban areas, beholden to public transit instead of their cars, but like everything else, it’s not exactly shaking out that way. Suburbs and exurbs have suddenly become much more desirable because of Covid and teleworking, and millennial hipster types were already starting to get tired of cities as they look to have kids and settle down, yet, developers have continued to build there, so there should soon be a glut of urban housing, which will make increased density in suburbs unnecessary, assuming there are enough people who still want to live in the city.

    1. People pay a premium to live in a development with strict HOA rules–because they know the neighbors can’t do certain things that will diminish their property value in the future. Being subject to those rules can be tied to the title–just like a previously agreed to easement by a former owner. Stripping titles of their legal and willfully accepted obligation to abide by those rules should be unconstitutional.

      1. This is true. And it’s one reason I can’t abide HOAs. They make sense for a condominium complex, but for single family homes? God no! You end up with shit like rules on paint color and height of hedges and even what species of grass for the lawn and don’t you dare neglect watering your lawn even during a drought!

        1. You should see Rancho Bernardo.

          Those homes were built in the 1970s, and they still look pretty much exactly like they did when they were built. People pay a premium to live in Rancho Bernardo, and it’s single family homes as far as the eye can see in every direction–and it’s been that way for 50 years.

          Some of the strictest HOA rules in the country.

          It isn’t like that in neighboring Escondido.

  17. Here’s a test for Greenhut.

    Take all your net worth and buy a house in the suburbs, in one of those “exclusionary” single family zones. Commit to live there until you die. Now consider all zoning changes as would be applied to the properties literally next door.

    Report back to us in 10 or 20 years.

  18. Portland has already done this and yes they are requiring multiple homes per lot not single and they have also decided areas outside their zone can no longer subdivide anymore which forces new home owner into the city they can no longer move to the suburbs.
    Reason has no reason anymore

  19. I’ll pass on this. If they’re interested, they could create “free market zones” that not only lift zoning restrictions but forbid government development and eminent domain use. That way, people could enjoy the freedom to build whatever they want without fear of what the government is going to come in and do with them, either with housing projects or outright theft.

    Democrats have a history of always siding with state power, so if they genuinely want to move in the freedom direction here, that should be no problem for them. And somehow I’m sure that’s a no-go.

    1. ” forbid government development and eminent domain use. ”

      Maybe these could be trusted if they were (at least state) constitutional in nature. Otherwise, if they are mere laws, then forget it.

      And even if done by state constitution I’d only support it if the changes also stated something to the effect of “we will hunt down and kill every known descendant of every politician helping to enact this change should it ever be violated or repealed.”

  20. Abolish the zoning board. They are a form of central planning and they generally make things worse and more difficult.

    But seriously, if anyone is interested in the how’s or why’s of this, I do recommend reading J.H. Kunstler’s 2 books:

    The Geography of Nowhere
    Home from Nowhere

    The former does a commendable job of identifying some problems with the built landscape of modern suburbia and some of the root causes. The latter does its best to look for solutions and features some pretty reasonable ideas, even though it falls a bit prey to the concept of New Urbanism – which is just a different flavor of central planning, in my view.

    1. Modern zoning and urban planning also has racism at its roots. Look at Levittown for an example.


      The idea of cheap and affordable single family homes, when land was plentiful, is fine. The problem was the Federal government getting involved with the FHA, as well as state and local restrictions. Most of which were designed to “plan” ideal White neighborhoods.

      1. What you call racism is various groups of people choosing to associate with one another and not others. IF you don’t believe in the CRA and last I looked libertarians didn’t, then how can you object to people forming voluntary associations by choosing to live with just one race?

        1. Lol. Choosing to associate. Yes, banning blacks from living in their neighborhoods was a choice they made. Indeed.

          1. No laws ban blacks from living in town Tony and no such laws have existed for decades.

            That is not what we are talking about. So, try making a comment that makes some sense next time.

            1. Yes. Now imagine if all of your ancestors from your parents back had been banned from living where they want and were relegated to the shithole parts of town and all the poor education and job opportunities that came with it. Would you be the model upstanding Trumptard you are today?

              1. I absolutely would because I would still hate the Democratic party for doing all of those things. Only a racist would vote for the party of Jim Crow and slavery.

  21. My Gawd, you have a photo where most lots have TWO homes on them! Out here in California that’s a capital offense! Gosh, your photo is what we’re talking about! Cats living with dogs out of wedlock! Mother in Law additions to homes! Shrinking lawns! Hedges too high!

    1. It’s a bad photoshop. Look at the house on the corner lot that directly abuts the one just below.

      1. I’m not sure if it photoshopped. I’ve seen crap like this. You can’t build over this line, okay boys get out the chain saws. I know a contractor who bragged about that one time. Saw another where they built over the line and the county did make them cut it off just like that

        1. It’s photoshopped.

  22. If a local municipality wants to change their zoning laws, so be it. The federal government should have ZERO involvement in local zoning.

    1. What if a bunch of Californians buy up a bunch of property in Utah or Montana specifically to influence regional, state, or even federal politics? Not to detract from your assertion and certainly not to lend creedence to a priori action, but I could see a narrow case for why the FedGov might need to get involved.

      1. Well, if they start to live in Utah or Montana then they are no longer Californians, so do get a say in their locality. If they remain in California they really won’t have much say. Unless the ‘property’ they buy is politicians.

        That is a problem, but not really this problem.

      2. Unless they’re a resident of that state, they’d have no ability to influence zoning. At least that’s my understanding of the issue – I may be wrong.

  23. The same magazine that thinks Trump countering the 1619 Project with the 1776 project is exectutive overreach because it intrudes on local control of schools by way of putting strings on funding, is totally okay with the federal government ending all local zoning and imposing a centrally planned mandate that every area accept and build multifamily housing whether it wants it or not.

    It is not so much Reason’s constant inconsistency that is the problem so much as how the inconsistency always favors the leftist central control option.

    And if the plan is to ban zoning and make it impossible for a suburb to remain a suburb once someone decides to build an apartment building in the middle with it, then yes, the plan abolishes suburbs. The author of this article likes that idea. Good for him. But, he needs to just say that up front instead of lying and pretending the Democrats’ plan is anything other than what it is.

    1. That they will not make a straightforward honest argument tells you everything about what they really mean to accomplish.

  24. Suburbs are wholly artificial and nobody likes living there. Even your lawn is a freak thing not found in nature. It’s all centrally planned (and racist!) social engineering. Nothing about it to defend.

    1. Suburbs are wholly artificial
      So are cities.
      nobody likes living there
      I do.
      Even your lawn is a freak thing not found in nature
      My lawn is mostly natural. I didn’t seed it when I built.
      It’s all centrally planned
      Other than where the streets went, mine wasn’t
      (and racist!)
      Nothing about it to defend.
      Lower crime rates, generally better education, room to breathe, quieter, neighbors who know each other’s names.

    2. Suburbs are wholly artificial and nobody likes living there.

      Gallup says otherwise. City life is attractive to only a minority of people (often young single people looking for sex and entertainment).

      About half of people who live in cities right now would rather live somewhere else.

      It’s all centrally planned (and racist!) social engineering

      How is people voluntarily moving to a single family zones area “central planning and social engineering”? People like those kinds of neighborhoods, that’s why they move there. And it is local property owners that elect the people who create the zoning, same as in a private association. The state wants to interfere in that association.

      1. All government mandated social engineering that you like is legitimate.

        1. Like requiring that Christian bakers make gay wedding cakes?

        2. Zoning in the suburbs functions the same way as a CC&R: you agree to it when you buy, and you can change it by having all the property owners vote on it. There is no social engineering involved.

          A government mandate is the state government interfering in those local choices. Social engineering is when the state government overrides local choices and preferences.

        3. He didn’t, in the above post, say that he liked it. He provided evidence that the people who lived there like it and that the people who live elsewhere are likely to leave and establish their own similar norms/governments/communes elsewhere.

    3. A lot of people prefer to live there.

      People like you don’t attack the suburbs; you attack the warped version that exists only in Hollywood movies, “progressive” music, and your own prejudiced mind.

    4. I didn’t think Tony would be able to explain how Democrats lost in 2016 and plan to lose in 2020 so succinctly, and yet here we are.

  25. Removing single-family zoning will not dismantle the suburbs, but it will dismantle the ability of NIMBYs to use the government to control other people’s property.

    Zoning functions like CC&Rs. When you buy a house, you know what the zoning is, you rely on it, and you agree to abide by it. For the state government to impose its zoning rules on local government against the wishes of local property owners is a violation of property rights.

    And let’s be clear about the motivations: Democrats want to turn purple suburbs blue by moving more people there from the cities, and they want more class conflict between lower income apartment dwellers and home owners.

    1. Exactly. That property was priced with the assumption that the zoning would remain as it is. To change that amounts to a giant taking.

  26. Kind of non-sequitur but the article brought it to mind: IIRC, when Nat King Cole bought a house in a tony (white) L.A. neighborhood in the late ’40s, a wary neighbor greeted him with, “We don’t want any riffraff around here.” His answer: “Well, neither do I — and if I see any, I’ll be the first to tell everyone!”

  27. The attack on “suburban sprawl” has been going on since the 1980s and is led by the UN, which has variously titled the effort “Agenda 21,” “Sustainable Communities”, and most recently “Agenda 2030.” It is behind urban planning worldwide, and is really all about keeping home prices outrageously high by keeping unbuilt land unbuilt, by law, so that those who already own nice homes can profit at everyone else’s expense.

    The environmental movement is not the same thing but is related. The public needs to stop buying into the lie that when a rich, green politician “protects” an area from development he’s doing the public a service. He’s really fattening his own wallet.

  28. Zoning laws are, per se, government micromanagent. Property owners are the ones with the right to decide what kind of construction they want on their property. Theres nothing wrong with NIMBYism if its actually your backyard.

    1. Zoning laws are, per se, government micromanagent.

      In the suburbs and rural areas, zoning laws are decided on mostly by property owners, same was as in a private HOA. They are not “micromanagement”.

      Property owners are the ones with the right to decide what kind of construction they want on their property.

      If you have a 100 ac spread in a rural neighborhood, you can make that argument. When your neighbors are closer than that, your construction may infringe on their rights, which is why we have zoning or CC&Rs.

  29. If you knowingly buy property zoned for single family housing and complain because you can’t build an apartment building, that makes you an asshole.

    If you unknowingly buy property zoned for single family housing and are surprised to find you can’t build an apartment building, that makes you an idiot.

    Pick one.

    1. Around here when it has been tried it goes to a referendum which always fails. I don’t know what kind of contract goes on with the property. I would think there was some kind of conditional sale.

      And yes there is racism involved. We have a top school district and they don’t want “those people” moving in.

      Anyway I live in a NIMBY HOA in a NIMBY suburb. Never again.

      1. Bullshit. I live in a NIMBY suburb with a top school system, and no one cares if black people buy houses here, and black kids go go the local schools. What people don’t want is all the bullshit that comes with high-density housing, including congestion, traffic, noise, property crime, etc- none of which has has anything to do with black people. I’m sure the black homeowners who live here feel the same way, because otherwise, they’d live in a more urban area.

      2. Around here when it has been tried it goes to a referendum which always fails.

        Yes: property owners in single family neighborhoods don’t want single family zoning changed to multi family. When are you going to listen to what property owners actually want?

        And yes there is racism involved. We have a top school district and they don’t want “those people” moving in.

        Wealthy property owners don’t want people with lower incomes and lower home values moving in: it depresses home values and forces wealthier home owners to subsidize poorer ones. Race has nothing to do with it.

        I’d be happy if a black millionaire moved in next door. I’d be unhappy if a white welfare recipient moved in next door.

      3. You need to get off your couch and walk around your own neighborhood. Residents don’t want problem neighbors. They couldn’t care less if a POC doctor or physicists moves next door.

  30. The trouble with these proposals as I understand them is that they don’t eliminate zoning, they just forbid jurisdictions from adopting a certain kind of residential zoning. I doubt many municipalities that have single family zoning are instead going to adopt laissez faire. So the range of options that property owners might have some local influence over will shrink.

  31. I don’t have to look any further than my own suburban City Council and Mayor, all of who have gone “woke,” to know that the elimination of single family homes for anyone but themselves is PRECISELY what they want! The local pastor pushed the City (which he’s tight with) to propose “affordable housing” on his church site and hire a “consultant” to show us nice PowerPoint presentations of multifamily apartment buildings built in the urban core, all while saying “We’re not advocating this to be build here,” and “We will have a vote by consensus on what will go there – not necessarily housing” when they’ve been talking about building a peoplehive all along. Mind you, this is a historic building (the former City Hall) owned by the church but leased by the City (the collusion here stinks).
    Covid-19 shut that down. Now the City Council has been reduced to screaming at residents, the people who voted for them, that we are “racist” and “anti-Semitic” “privileged” bigots, etc. Public service has gone out the window and people are banding together to form a recall effort and also to sue the local school district for suddenly espousing Critical Race Theory. This is a mess. I voted for Obama twice – he should have shut this down and Biden should have spoken out, not claimed a black man invented the light bulb.
    It’s worse than you think, and they’re out to get the suburbs. I watched Minneapolis, where I lived for many years, get burned down and I’m seeing people I personally know cry on camera while being interview. A town center? No, I DON’T want one near me!

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  36. Seriously, Reason? No discussion of local v. state v. federal decision making, as though they’re all the same? No drawbacks in allowing a state or the federal government to override local preferences for what kinds of neighborhoods they have?

  37. An analogy – Most people would agree that rent control is bad. However, once bought in, it is almost impossible be rid of. Same with zoning. People that have invested in it are in fear of what will happen if they lose it, thinking their homes will decrease in value as section 8 slums full of rapacious vermin destroy their neighborhoods. I think the only solution is to get rid of all federal tax benefits and subsidies for home owners. This will take decades to fix.

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