Secretary Ben Carson wants the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to solve NIMBYism (NIMBY stands for “Not in my back yard”), a practice whereby local communities impose strict regulations on housing development which stunts the growth of the nation’s housing supply and contributes to the rising price of rent.
Solving NIMBYism is important to improving affordable housing access, and it’s an issue that policy-makers have grappled with since the Nixon administration. But Carson, for his part, has been trying to kill an Obama-era rule that combats housing segregation. In August, he announced he wanted instead to enforce the Fair Housing Act by forcing cities to reduce “onerous zoning regulations” in order to receive HUD grants, specifically the Community Development Block Grant (CBDG) for various infrastructure projects.
ICYMI: @HUDgov is taking on the #NIMBYs. I agree with @Noahpinion that we must look at increasing the supply of affordable housing by reducing onerous zoning regulations. Zoning laws are holding back America’s cities. #YIMBY https://t.co/5K3dVAOd7A
— Ben Carson (@SecretaryCarson) September 12, 2018
A new report by the Brookings Institution, however, claims Carson’s plan will not work.
According to the Washington, D.C.–based think tank, HUD gives most of its funds through its CDBG Entitlement Program (the most relevant program for Carson’s goal of reducing zoning) to larger and poorer cities, since the amount given is based on population size, poverty level, housing age, and housing conditions.
But CBDG Entitlement Program funds are often distributed to counties or states, which then distribute the money to the individual communities, and not directly to the cities that have restrictive zoning policies. Those counties have “considerable discretion” on how they are allowed to distribute funds to smaller communities, according to the report. So cities that receive funds directly from HUD would be the most impacted by the agency’s pressure. The amount of control cities have over zoning policies varies, as well.
In California, more than one-third of cities and towns receive CDBG entitlement funds directly. However, cities and towns in the state have zoning power over incorporated land, while counties have authority over land-use regulations for unincorporated land, according to the report. About three-quarters of all CDBG funds allocated to California (about $1.7 million for the average city in the state in 2018) go to cities and towns directly, and the rest goes to county governments.
Cities and towns in New Jersey, which have authority over local zoning regulations, are typically much smaller than communities in California. Only five percent of New Jersey’s cities and towns receive CDBG entitlement funds, but 45 percent of the state’s CDBG funds go directly to cities and towns.
Those funds often go to high-poverty areas dominated by renters and not homeowners, even though homeowners are more likely NIMBYs and more likely to support burdensome regulations. NIMBY regulations are often found in smaller communities that receive CDBG funds from the counties. That means it’s unlikely Carson’s plan would actually have much impact on the “most NIMBY” of the NIMBYs — which he claims he is targeting with this policy.
Carson’s plan would replace Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, which was created in 2015 to better enforce the Fair Housing Act (the landmark 1968 civil rights legislation) and stop rampant housing segregation, which remains stubbornly persistent throughout the country. Carson previously characterized AFFH as a failed “social experiment.”
In May, HUD effectively scrapped the rule after the federal agency announced it would stop requiring cities and towns to complete a comprehensive assessment explaining how housing segregation exists in communities, and how those communities plan to address it. Completing the assessment had been a prerequisite for receiving federal housing funds and was the key enforcement mechanism.