Secretary Ben Carson has been pushing his agency, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to eliminate regulations on housing development, ostensibly to stimulate the construction of new housing and bring down housing costs.
Railing against burdensome regulation is hardly a surprise from a Republican appointee. But research finds that proponents of deregulation (conservatives) as well as proponents of more equitable housing policy for the poor (progressives) both oppose more housing in their own neighborhoods. That’s especially true of older homeowners, data shows, and the most vocal participants in the debate (those who show up to local meetings, for example) overwhelmingly oppose development.
Carson told the Wall Street Journal last week he wants to replace the regulation known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) and enforce the Fair Housing Act by lifting burdensome local zoning regulations that restrict the construction of new housing. Last week, a federal judge allowed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to weaken AFFH.
Carson says he plans to tie HUD grants to less restrictive zoning codes, but it’s unclear how Carson plans to go about attacking NIMBY (“Not in my backyard”) policies, which have restricted low-income people‘s mobility and contributed to segregation and rising home costs. As the New York Times points out, neither Republicans or Democrats are champions of housing development (either in the guise of deregulating markets or helping low-income people) since both conservatives and liberals are largely in favor restricting development. People in whiter neighborhoods are often more in favor of restricting development, Jessica Trounstine, a political scientist at the University of California, Merced told the New York Times.
The most vocal opposition to such changes are home-owning older men who have actively participated in local elections and lived in the community for a long time, according to one forthcoming study funded by Boston University’s Initiative on Cities.
But they aren’t alone: the vast majority of people attending zoning meetings oppose development. And only 19.4 percent of Democrats and 12.8 percent of Republicans supported the projects at those meetings.
Our forthcoming research looks at actual participants in planning and zoning board meetings. It shows that opposition to new housing is overwhelming. Only 15% of attendees show up in support of housing projects! https://t.co/FZBHc5lt5O https://t.co/7NKvGfTIkJ
— Katherine Einstein (@katherineeinst) August 21, 2018
People often oppose such zoning policies by speaking at local zoning meetings or creating neighborhood groups that influence board members by opposing new developments or push for new land use regulations that restrict higher density construction projects.
The study looked at the participants of zoning and planning board meetings dealing with the construction of multiple housing units in 97 Massachusetts cities and towns and matched those individuals’ demographics to their voting file, and whether they supported a statewide housing ballot referendum.
Two-thirds of the people, researchers found, spoke out in opposition to new housing developments. A number of them often attend multiple meetings to speak out against local housing projects, raising concerns ranging from the development’s impact on trees to traffic.
Researchers found that even in areas where public opinion favors curbing the housing shortage and increasing housing supply, local opposition is prevalent.
As the study points out, elderly people more frequently participate in political activities because they have more time, resources, and policy interests that encourage them to participate. And people who own homes and have lived in a community for long periods of time, especially white men, are more likely to engage collective action, which likely translates to the general participation at neighborhood meetings. The opinions at those meetings can often be unrepresentative of the opinions of the rest of the community, where more progressive political views are — at least hypothetically — in favor of mixed-income developments.