Joe Biden

Who's Worse on Housing, Trump or Biden?

When it comes to the two major party candidates' housing plans, libertarians are left looking for the lesser of two evils.

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President Donald Trump's pitch to the suburban voters he badly needs is that he saved their neighborhoods from destructive housing policies that a Joe Biden administration would reinstate and expand.

"Suburban women, will you please like me?" said Trump at a rally in Jonestown, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday. "I saved your damn neighborhood."

It's not a new pitch. Since this summer, the president has been touting the fact that his administration scrapped an Obama-era fair housing rule. That rule, he argues, would force low-income housing into tranquil suburbs; should Biden win in November, he says, that will be reversed.

"Biden supports Cory Booker's Bill that will force low income housing in the Suburbs, which will lower property values and bring crime to your neighborhoods," tweeted Trump last week. "If Dems win, GOODBYE SUBURBS!"

So how exactly would a President Joe Biden eliminate the suburbs?

The bill Trump is referencing is the Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, and Equity (HOME) Act, sponsored in 2019 by Sen. Cory Booker (D–N.J.). It would attach conditions to funding from the federal Community Development and Surface Transportation block grant programs, requiring states to implement strategies for making housing more affordable and "inclusive."

Biden's housing platform endorses the HOME Act. It also says that he would direct his transportation and housing secretaries to identify other federal grant programs that can be amended to require states and localities to amend their zoning codes.

The HOME Act would require recipients of federal housing and transportation funds to file strategic plans and annual progress reports detailing "transformative activities" they've taken to "reduce barriers to housing development, including affordable housing, and increase housing supply affordability and elasticity."

The bill offers a detailed menu of policies that states and localities could adopt to boost affordable housing production, including removing restrictions on multi-family housing, eliminating off-street parking requirements, shortening permitting timelines, and removing height limits on new construction.

It is this—encouraging new construction in tightly regulated areas—that Trump calls the death of the suburbs. It's also an approach some free marketers have embraced, given the deregulatory nature of many, though not all, of the HOME Act's policies.

"Localities should show real progress in deregulating onerous barriers to housing development and righting the wrongs of redlining in order to receive HUD funding and even transit dollars," says Michael Hendrix, state and local policy director at the Manhattan Institute.

Programs like the Community Development Block Grant program, he says, send a lot of money on a per capita basis to wealthy communities that maintain some of the most restrictive regulations on housing development.

"We should really question what exactly we are incentivizing here," Hendrix tells Reason. "Are we incentivizing more regulation and more exclusivity? That hurts everyone."

Before the president adopted his "war on suburbs" rhetoric this year, he favored a limited version of this very approach: requiring recipients of federal housing dollars to report on specific things they're doing to deregulate their housing markets.

Booker's HOME Act takes this approach further by also linking federal transportation dollars to local housing reform.

The idea here is twofold: to give the feds more leverage over the most exclusive jurisdictions (who might prioritize their own local zoning codes over federal housing dollars, but would hate to lose federal transportation funding), and to create a rational link between land use policy and transportation funding.

"Implicitly, the current regulations around the built environment point toward more sprawl," argues Hendrix, saying that tighter restrictions in high-demand places push more housing development out toward the periphery of urban areas—necessitating more federal infrastructure spending.

On the other hand, the more leverage the federal government has over state and local governments' land use policies, the greater the risk that leverage is used for policies that have little to do with free markets.

In addition to its deregulatory aspects, Booker's HOME Act would also encourage states and localities to tax vacant land and ban landlords from considering a tenant's criminal history or source of income. And while the legislation does encourage localities to eliminate specific policies that stymie housing development, it does so, in part, to encourage the construction of new below-market-rate units that are restricted to renters making specified incomes.

"It's become quite popular among left-of-center urbanist types to see inclusionary zoning [where new construction is required to have a certain number of these below-market-rate units] as a panacea," says Marc Scribner, a transportation policy researcher at the Reason Foundation (which publishes this website).

These programs don't have a great record. New York City's inclusionary zoning program has produced a paltry number of new units (about 2,000 in a city of 8 million), most of which have benefited from public subsidies.

Inclusionary zoning policies in the D.C./Baltimore area, according to one 2019 study, have been associated with increased housing prices, as developers increase prices to cover the costs of the below-market-rate units they're required to build.

Hendrix acknowledges that giving the federal government more leverage over land use decisions comes with the risk that they'll encourage counterproductive policies. But, he says, it's a risk worth taking as long as those federal grant programs are there.

"For better or worse, the federal government funds a lot of transportation in America and doles out a lot of dollars in grants to localities," he says. Attaching strings to those dollars so that they are not going to the jurisdictions with the most restrictions on housing development is an improvement on the status quo.

The ideal libertarian response might be just to eliminate federal transportation and housing grant programs. The feds wouldn't have any leverage to encourage localities to deregulate their housing markets, but they also wouldn't be subsidizing their exclusivity either.

As a matter of practical politics, that's unlikely to happen anytime soon.

While budget plans put out by the Trump White House have called for eliminating Community Development block grants and reducing federal transportation spending, none of those cuts were ever enacted. Since the president has also ended his administration's efforts to retool fair housing rules to encourage local deregulation, Trump's approach basically boils down to doling out the same amount of grant money while asking less of the jurisdictions receiving it.

Biden's housing plan, meanwhile, would tie some deregulatory strings to the money going out the door but also greatly increase the amount the feds spend on housing. In addition to his embrace of the HOME Act, Biden backs more tax credits for first-time homebuyers and lower-income renters. He also promises to create a $100 billion Affordable Housing Trust fund.

Libertarians are left to decide which approach is the lesser evil.

NEXT: Afraid of Foreign Election Meddling? Worry More About America's Sick Political Culture.

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  1. Did I just read a “libertarian” saying good things about FEDERAL zoning laws?

    1. You heard a Marxist saying good things about federal zoning laws. Which is to say, yes. All they need to do is repeal the 10th amendment along with Citizens United once they pack the supreme court.

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      1. He said federal regulations were deregulatory…

        In addition to its deregulatory aspects, Booker’s HOME Act would also encourage states and localities to tax vacant land and ban landlords from considering a tenant’s criminal history or source of income.

        1. I think he’s saying Bitchtits is no libertarian

        2. Federal regulations can be deregulatory if they mandate removing other regulations.

          I’m not defending this – I don’t know the policy let alone its ramifications – but pre-emption can reduce the total number of regulations you have to follow. Can. They can also replace that hodgepodge with something worse.

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    3. No. Not if you actually read this article.

      Maybe Britches didn’t condemn it *enough* for my liking but his point is that we’re choosing between too evils here – which one is marginally less evil?

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  2. In addition to its deregulatory aspects, Booker’s HOME Act would also encourage states and localities to tax vacant land and ban landlords from considering a tenant’s criminal history or source of income. And while the legislation does encourage localities to eliminate specific policies that stymie housing development, it does so, in part, to encourage the construction of new below-market-rate units that are restricted to renters making specified incomes.

    Thank you for at least being honest about this part of the plan, the act isn’t so much about de-regulation as regulating in a way that’s preferred by the federal government.

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  4. Let me guess without even reading the article. Trump is deregulating, and that makes him evil.

    1. Close. Trump allowing municipalities to set their own zoning rules makes him a meddling fascist. True liberty means the federal government setting zoning rules for every locality in the country.

    2. It’s even worse – it’s a suggestion that Corey Booker is deregulating.

    3. No. Trump is for regulating in a different way than Biden is. That’s the gist of the article. Some parts are better, some are worse, and is one of them, on net, less worse than the other – that’s the article.

  5. The lesser of two evils is still evil.

    1. yeah but like there’s evil like sex ,drugs and rock and roll evil and evil like deep dish pizza.

    2. And what does a rational person do with such knowledge?

      1. Cry about the lesser evil daily is his answer.

      2. This rational person chooses to abstain from voting. Any vote is statistically worthless so why bother with the stress of caring about politics. It’s much less stressful to make fun of both sides and generally not give a fuck. Why pull your hair out and hate people over something you cannot control?

    3. and idioms aren’t meant to be taken literally

  6. Libertarians for federal zoning rules! If anybody understands how to optimally plat out Casper Wyoming it’s a desk jockey in Washington D.C. Free markets baby!!!!!!!!! WOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. They’re not for federal zoning rules. They’re for analyzing a situation where federal zoning rules are probably coming whether you want them or not and which ass-raping can you choose so it hurts the least.

    2. The ideal libertarian response might be just to eliminate federal transportation and housing grant programs. The feds wouldn’t have any leverage to encourage localities to deregulate their housing markets, but they also wouldn’t be subsidizing their exclusivity either.

  7. There is no reason for the feds to have any say in housing. Or medical care or education or energy or transportation. All of those departments should be defunded and bureaucrats fired.

    1. Why do we even have an 10A?

  8. “Who’s Worse on Housing, Trump or Biden?”

    Who’s worse on Obama’s election obstruction/coup? REASON or MSNBC?

    1. ^^^^^^^^^^^

      REASON or MSNBC

      The only difference at this point is the wrapper.

      1. we have LiberalsarePeopleToo

  9. can’t we just suspend evictions forever?

    1. Of course we can.
      Then we can set up a federal agency to take care of the buildings abandoned by the”owners” because they can’t afford repairs.
      Then we can set up a federal agency to check all the tenants and be sure they are “deserving” of free rent, most likely by checking their voter registration cards for the “proper” party.
      Then we can set up a federal agency to oversee the “adjustments” to taxes to reflect the “free” housing.
      Then we can set up a federal agency to investigate why all the quote marks keep getting used up.

  10. >>Booker’s HOME Act would also encourage states and localities to tax vacant land

    bitch if you don’t use your fucking land so we can tax it, we’ll tax it.

    1. Maybe Booker is unaware that vacant land is taxed. The assessed value is lower because of the lack of improvements.

      1. Maybe Booker is unaware

        You can stop there.

  11. Libertarians are left

    Not this one, bitch.

  12. Why should the Federal government have anything to do with local housing (unless it’s military housing)?

  13. No. Housing is not the only reason that the choice between Biden and Trump is no choice at all.

    1. He never said it was. It is, however, just one more thing to compare them on.

  14. I haven’t read the article yet, but before I do I’m going to make a prediction, which should be easy because it’s Britschgi.

    Trump is bad because of some statement a conservative made that Britschgi will tie himself in knots to attribute to Trump. Britschgi will then defend an unlibertarian government boondoggle or regulation that Trump disparaged.

    Biden is bad because Trump is forcing him to react to Trump’s attack on the aforementioned boondoggle.

    Then something, something Both Sides.

    How did I do?

    1. Not bad, you only really missed “Booker is deregulating” and who could have predicted a psychotic break like that from Bitchtits.

      1. only Booker’s deregulation tells landlords they can’t check the criminal history of would-be tenants.

        so it really is a war on the suburbs.

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  15. GFY

    Trump doing away with stupid “Housing Plans” is the only acceptable libertarian position

  16. Booker’s HOME Act would also encourage states and localities to tax vacant land

    You might want to recheck this – either you misread it or Booker is wrong. I’m not aware of anyplace that doesn’t tax vacant land.

    Property taxes are based on the market value of the underlying land *plus* any improvements on it. So even if you just buy a lot on the edge of a city and leave it vacant for 30 years, over time its value climbs as the city builds around it and your property tax bill increases along with it.

    1. The people who write these things don’t own property or invest in anything. How would they know that everything is taxed?

  17. Get rid of the mortgage interest deduction and the insane zoning laws that artificially limit supply, thereby inflating the home values of greedy boomers.

    1. <.. greedy boomers.
      You mean old hippies who didn’t like money?

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  19. Restrictive land use zoning is an interference in free markets and a violation of property rights – and by the way makes housing less affordable. But is it the Federal Government’s role to rescue us from local zoning laws? Especially when the “rescue” comes with a lot of other baggage? The answer is a resounding “maybe”. In the world we live in, not the one we’d like to live in, we have to use our judgment to see if the good outweighs the bad. We can certainly espouse our ideals to all who will listen, but at the end of the day if we insist on all or nothing, guess what we end up with?

    1. No, we can tell the Feds to take a hike. Then work for change at the local level,

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  21. Suburbia as it exists will not survive under the Green New Deal. It’s just not set up for trains or bicycles. The whole layout of large portions of it are based almost solely around individual motorized transportation – AKA ‘cars’. There are some subdivisions I’ve been to that don’t even have sidewalks. Cars are banned under the Green New Deal, so . . .

    Also, considering that every existing building in the country will have to undergo a major renovation – if not be completely torn down, to meet the new – and retroactive! – energy efficiency standards that are proposed to be applied to even existing buildings, your average middle-class suburban family might be better off looking for a residence in one of those nice new government tenement blocks that they plan to build.

  22. trump is an incompetent,immoral fool who was lucky enough to have a parent who was a businessperson
    he only made money as a game show host

    so vote for incompetence and pretend it is a virtue

    1. So then, lucky?
      Lucky that regulations removed themselves, judges nominated and approved themselves, unemployment dropped so low the dems had to go full fascist in response to the latest seasonal virus (and the economy is still damn near back)?
      Then I like my presidents like Napoleon liked his generals, lucky.

  23. You can’t take the Marxist rebellion to the suburbs unless you have a few bases there.

    1. unless you have a few bases there

      Every school in the district?

  24. One plan spends more on housing. Why isn’t that the deciding factor? Do you want more Federal involvement and more Federal money in housing or less? Trump is for less.

  25. It is this—encouraging new construction in tightly regulated areas—that Trump calls the death of the suburbs. It’s also an approach some free marketers have embraced, given the deregulatory nature of many, though not all, of the HOME Act’s policies.

    Stomping your jackboots all over subsidiarity is not “deregulation” or “free market”.

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  30. The ideal libertarian response would be to eliminate implicit and explicit subsidies for home ownership, eliminate zoning restrictions, kill property taxes, and implement a land value tax system that would disincentivize real estate speculation, reduce urban sprawl, and drive housing prices down, but that ain’t gonna happen.

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