Housing Policy

Is 2021 the YIMBY Movement's Time to Shine on Capitol Hill?

A crop of bipartisan bills in Congress aims to reduce local and state regulations on new housing.

|

The YIMBY movement isn't quite a high-density household name yet. But its focus on peeling back government regulations on new development is starting to make a bipartisan splash on Capitol Hill.

Last week, Sens. Todd Young (R–Indiana) and Brian Schatz (D–Hawaii) reintroduced the Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) Act, a law aimed at pruning back red tape in states and localities that receive certain federal housing grants. "Discriminatory local zoning and land use policies drive up housing costs in communities across America," said Young in a press release. "My legislation will require cities, towns, and rural areas across America to face this reality under a new level of transparency and encourage them to cut these harmful regulations."

To induce that transparency, the YIMBY Act would have any jurisdictions receiving funding under the $3.4 billion Community Development Block Grant program to file reports every five years with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Those reports would detail whether they've adopted any of a list of 22 land use policies spelled out in the bill—and, if not, what are their plans to adopt them.

The policies on the list include expanding "by-right" multifamily zoning (meaning individual projects are not subject to the discretionary approval of bureaucrats), reducing minimum lot sizes, eliminating minimum parking requirements, ditching single-family-only zoning, allowing the conversion of offices to apartments, and permitting pre-fabricated construction. With one exception—donating vacant land for affordable housing construction—they all entail easing or eliminating government-imposed barriers to development.

The bill would not strip funding from jurisdictions that do not adopt particular policies. But proponents hope it will generate useful data—and kickstart discussions about rolling back barriers to building homes.

"This bill is not a stick. It's not a carrot. It lives somewhere in the middle," says Mike Kingsella, executive director of Up for Growth Action. "We believe that local leaders will be able to start conversations in their community because these questions are being asked by HUD."

The YIMBY Act was first introduced in Congress in 2019. It managed to pass with unanimous consent in the House in March 2020, but it stalled in the Senate as lawmakers turned their attention to COVID-19.

That same year, the Trump administration proposed a similarly themed executive rewrite of Obama-era federal fair housing regulations. The original idea was to require HUD grant recipients to report on obstacles to fair housing, such as lengthy permitting processes and burdensome environmental reviews, and then propose three concrete steps to eliminating those barriers. Unlike the YIMBY Act, that rule offered the possibility of extra grant money or regulatory relief to jurisdictions that saw housing affordability improve.

President Donald Trump yanked his own rule in the summer of 2020 in favor of one that matched his campaign-trail rhetoric about saving the suburbs from multifamily housing development. (The Biden administration is now in the process of bringing back the repealed Obama-era fair housing rule.)

Kingsella says he's optimistic about the YIMBY Act's passage this year, partly because of that easy journey through the House last time and partly because the bill's backers are increasingly bipartisan.

In the House, the bill has the sponsorship of six Democrats and five Republicans, including Reps. Derek Kilmer (D–Wash.) and Trey Hollingsworth (R–Ind.). It also has the support of a diverse set of advocacy groups, from Americans for Prosperity and the National Taxpayers Union to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition and the National Fair Housing Alliance.

For much of the past few decades, federal efforts to grow the supply of affordable housing have mostly involved funneling money to affordable housing developers.

Legislation targeting local and state restrictions on development is increasingly part of the mix, says Kingsella. Unlike the YIMBY Act, many of these other bills come with plenty of carrots and sticks.

On the stick side, there's the Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, and Equity (HOME) Act, introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D–N.J.) and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D–S.C.) in 2019. It would require recipients of federal housing and transportation dollars to implement strategies for making housing more affordable and "inclusive." Those strategies are a more mixed back of deregulatory reforms and more interventionist changes, such as taxes on vacant land and bans on landlords vetting tenants for their criminal history.

As to carrots, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.), Time Kaine (D–Va.) and Rob Portman (R–Ohio) introduced a bill in March that would create an annual $300 million grant program to award states and localities that drafted housing plans aimed at increasing the supply of housing, improving housing affordability, and reducing barriers to housing development.

President Joe Biden's American Jobs Plan also calls for a competitive grant program to reward jurisdictions that "take concrete steps to eliminate such needless barriers."

All these bills show that the idea of government regulation as the enemy of housing affordability is sinking in among federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. But their indirect approaches to tackling those regulations demonstrate that the real action will still have to come from state and local officials.

NEXT: Trump's Trade War With Europe Is Biden's Trade War Now

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Speaking of new regulations, I just saw the Supreme Court struck down the proposed “community caretaking” exception to the Fourth Amendment in a (surprising to me) unanimous decision. Surprisingly, the Court didn’t seem interested in poking yet another hole in the Fourth, perhaps out of fear that the Fourth was more hole than substance at this point.

    1. Oh, yeah, and fuck this YIMBY shit – the feds aren’t interested in decreasing regulation, they’re only interested in replacing local regulation with federal regulation, I guarantee it. You’re not going to be any freer to build as you please, you’re only going to be freer to build what the feds tell you to build.

      1. Don’t worry, this legislation is mere virtue signaling. Report every five years? Come on, by the time a report is due, the non-compliance is both ancient history that no one will remember. And if said report is even noticed and acted upon, the offending community will be given years more to correct any deficiencies.
        I wonder how many metrics, reports, commissions, and etc. that were formed to monitor the results of LBJ’s “Great Society” legislation ever were acted upon?

        1. Fantastic work-from-home opportunity for everryone… Work for three to eight hrs a day and start getting paid in the range of 7,000-14,000 dollars a month… Weekly payments…
          CLICK IT

          1. USA Making money online more than 15$ just by doing simple work from home. I have received $18376 last month. Its an easy and simple job to do and its earnings are much better FDCX than regular office job and even a little child can do this and earns money. Everybody must try this job by just use the info
            on this page…..VISIT HERE

      2. The shining city on the hill Minneapolis did it. They were too dumb to let investors build before they banned credit checks and convicted felon rent applications.

  2. lol “my legislation is all non-discriminatory up in here just ask the developers”

  3. So Reason wants more regulation and Federal zoning laws? That’s the trouble with living in D.C, like clocks ticking on the same shelf eventually they all synchronize.

    1. I’m not a big fan of zoning laws in general, so I certainly don’t want federal ones.

    2. Where did you get that the author wants more regulation? Seems like the complete opposite to me.

  4. So… YIMBY is when the distant, central government makes decisions for smaller, local governments?

    1. Yes In Your Back Yard

    2. Local government is frequently more tyrannical. Higher levels of government generally have to balance competing interests while local governments are often beholden to one dominant local interest at the expense of others in the community. These problems can’t be fixed by unnuanced opposition to all federal intervention. Also note these are simply conditions the federal government places on receipt of federal funds. Are you trying to argue local governments are entitled to federal tax dollars?

  5. Good luck on forcing local accountability via federalism.

    Here in the Philly area, city council members have councilmatic prerogative and can basically veto any land arrangement. Incidentally, many of the council members work in real estate. Funny how that works.

  6. “As to carrots, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.), Time Kaine (D–Va.) and Rob Portman (R–Ohio) introduced a bill in March that would create an annual $300 million grant program …”

    Don’t praise the deficit financed carrot please. It’s not really a carrot. It’s a slush fund to reward those who do their bidding.

  7. Is thisike Chicago releasing feral cats to fix the rat problem? We need federal regulations to end state regulations?

    1. That’s how Reason is trying to sell the latest leftist powergrab to libertarians.

    2. Federal intervention against local tyranny is one of the few legitimate uses of federal power. Always amazes me when libertarians think this is a good way to argue against the federal government. Why not focus instead on where the Feds actually cause harm and infringe on individual freedom?

  8. This is exactly what the left voted for complete and total rule over all by the federal government. To them the federal government is their almighty god, from whom all blessings and freedoms flow. Bow down bow down and obey.

    1. Until the Republicans gain power again at the federal level. Then Democrats become highly interested in states’ rights.

      Not too dissimilar to how the Republicans are on budget deficits.

      1. The DNC in bed with the Department of Education, Teachers Unions and Military IC. I don’t know of a Republican for critical race theory, Marxist re-education at against school choice. Perhaps a few, I don’t know of them.

  9. How very libertarian; replace local regulations with federal laws.

    1. Apartments that will accept section 8, more federal transfers ( for the children!!!)

  10. This should really be called YIYBY, “yes in YOUR back yard”, because you know damned well they will never allow it in theirs. Laws for thee but not for me.

  11. Time Kaine? You mean Tim Kaine?

  12. “…ditching single-family-only zoning,..”

    ‘Comrade, we are certain you can fit another family in your spacious apartment!’

  13. Another reason why Senators should be appointed by their governments and not elected.

  14. Total horseshit. There should NEVER be a single federal penny net given to either directly prop up housing or anything else that should be paid for by property taxes in that state. The reverse – the feds should be partially FUNDED by states via property taxes.

    States have a far bigger tax base than the feds. They don’t, with a few exceptions, rely on that because there is a ton of corruption available to distort the prop tax there and suck on the federal debt and income tax teat instead.

    No surprise Reason is carrying water for precisely those rentier groups who have created the entire problem for lower-cost housing here. There is a reason the US has the 2nd or 3rd highest rent burden (maybe behind UK and Spain – or maybe not now) in rich countries. And it ain’t because of zoning or because of a shortage of land.

  15. “…There is a reason the US has the 2nd or 3rd highest rent burden (maybe behind UK and Spain – or maybe not now) in rich countries. And it ain’t because of zoning or because of a shortage of land.”

    Thank you for sparing us your arm-waving, baffle-gab ‘explanation’.

    1. Or union labor in Democrat controlled states, cities or countries or anything

      1. counties

  16. Cool. I’m sure the feds will trade my lumber, enough to build a duplex , for a 50 shares of Berkshire. The housing will be somehow mysteriously cheap!

  17. Suburbanite will vote out these politicians as soon as they figure out that these people want to end local control.

  18. Ending criminal background checks by landlords?
    That is a terrible idea!
    The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior.
    I don’t want violent felons, or convicted pedophiles moving into my peaceful neighborhood.
    This is a blatant effort to plant democrat voting people into my Republican district.

  19. People fail to realize that this legislation is an attack on the Americn Dream. we ahe seen it in California. Under the guise that evil white people have caused homelessness because they often live in single family homes, all R-1 neighborhoods have been declared examples of white racism (no matter who may actually life there), and the only way to reverse this racism is to construct multi-family rental properties in all R-1 areas. Judge read Judge David Carter’;s April 20, 2021 Order US District Court Los Angeles) claiming that white racism has caused Black homelessness. He has no opinion what causes white people to be homeless.

    The short term impact of desroying R-1 aras is tor aise housing prices sky high. Immediately all family homes are worth their Development value. A single family home worth $400,000 for a family is worth over $1 M to a developer. Thus developers outside families. As soon as Judge carter announced his intention, R-1 home prices in LA jumped upward even though the census data should that LA has an exodus of family millennials. Hollywood lost 1.3% and the state lost a Congressional seat.

    The long term result will be to destroy family ownership pf homes and create a nation of renters, depend on the whims of mega wall Street firms. The attack on the R-1 areas is actually more threatening to liberty than if they took away everyone’s guns

  20. States have a far bigger tax base than the feds. They don’t, with a few exceptions, rely on that because there is a ton of corruption available to distort the prop tax there and suck on the federal debt and income tax teat instead.

    No surprise Reason is carrying water for precisely those rentier groups who have created the entire problem for lower-cost housing here. There is a reason the US has the 2nd or 3rd highest rent burden (maybe behind UK and Spain – or maybe not now) in
    https://wapexclusive.com ,rich countries. And it ain’t because of zoning or because of a shortage of land.

  21. Hello! Thank you for keeping us posted! So they passed a law requiring a bureaucratic report to be produced every 5 years from thousands of municipalities. Said report does nothing.
    I’m all for cutting regulations. But this bill does not do that. All it does is create more bureaucracy which only empowers the political class.
    https://contractorfinder.bradfordwhite.com/contractors

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.