U.S. President Joe Biden is seeking to allay a national affordable housing shortage. This shortage may be eased by pushing local governments to allow apartment buildings in neighborhoods. This refers to neighborhoods that are currently restricted to single-family homes.
Biden’s $5 billion plan could place the White House into a debate. It puts older homeowners in conflict against younger workers seeking to gain a foothold in the most expensive U.S. cities. That is where many families spend a third or more of their income on housing.
The proposal is an example of the broad social policy changes Democrats are, including Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure bill. The proposal would provide financial incentives to local governments. This refers to local governments that change zoning laws restricting many neighborhoods to single-family homes.
According to critics of the zoning laws, they drive up housing costs. They say they contribute to urban and suburban sprawl and perpetuate racial segregation.
It’s an enormous step forward. Hence, very few politicians have taken the next step to propose something really meaningful to change the system. This was a statement from Richard Kahlenberg, a housing expert at the Century Foundation, a left-leaning think tank.
The U.S. president’s infrastructure bill would need to pass the Democratic-controlled Congress. However, republicans are already attacking it, saying the bill is not focused on roads and bridges.
In the United States, zoning laws were rare. Until the Supreme Court in 1917 struck down laws that prevented Black people from purchasing property in white neighborhoods.
This prompted local governments to adopt rules that set minimum lot sizes. Moreover, it barred apartment buildings from many neighborhoods.
Urban areas with the tightest restrictions in place, such as coastal cities including New York and San Francisco, have increased since 2006. And that was with pressure from politically active homeowners, according to a University of Pennsylvania survey.
However, some groups have pushed some cities in the opposite direction. These were the younger Americans, civil rights groups, and employers.
Zoning Laws in The States
Minneapolis has allowed the building of small apartments in residential areas across the city in recent years. Oregon made a similar change for all urban areas.
Last year, California allowed the building of smaller living spaces next to single-family homes. However, its Democratic-controlled legislature rejected a bill that would have required cities to allow developers to build high-density apartment buildings.
This refers to buildings near transit lines and job centers. That is even if they are single-family neighborhoods.
Roughly one in three U.S. households still spent more than 30% of their income on housing, near record highs. This was according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. That’s with the U.S. economy near full employment in 2019.