The Obama administration is leaning on local governments to resist NIMBY rent-seeking and make it easier for the market to developers to come closer to meeting market demand for new housing. Politico reports:
The Obama administration Monday is calling on cities and counties to rethink their zoning laws, saying that antiquated rules on construction, housing and land use are contributing to high rents and income inequality, and dragging down the U.S. economy as a whole.
City zoning battles usually are fought block by block, and the president’s involvement will create friction, particularly among environmental groups and the not-in-my-backyard crowd. But the White House jawboning is welcome news to many others, including mayors and builders increasingly foiled by community opposition to development. […]
The prescriptions call for more density, speedier permitting and fewer restrictions on accessory dwelling units such as basement and garage apartments. The plan rejects some of the arguments made by environmentalists, labor unions and other liberal constituencies that have stood in the way of development and endorses changes long sought by builders and the business community.
The role for the federal government in housing policy doesn’t extend much beyond exhortation and allocating small grants for mayors to “update” land use policies. But exhortation from this White House could get a hearing where it’s needed: As we’ve noted before, Democrats seem to have a particularly strong preference for heavily zoned communities.
One concern is that the White House offensive on zoning will turn Republicans—who should be natural proponents of stronger property rights and a more market-oriented housing policy—against efforts to lower housing costs by expanding the supply. The 2016 GOP platform contained no mention of the zoning crisis.
This would be a grave failure for a Republican Party looking to disrupt networks of entrenched elite privilege. More than anything else, setting local housing policy is a way by which the upper middle class perpetuates its own prosperity at the expense of people further down the ladder, pulling up the ladder to high social capital communities and putting a sizable drag on job creation.
The White House deserves credit for parting with its environmentalist, NIMBY, and union-oriented base and taking on this issue on behalf of the working and middle classes. Wise Republicans will see this as an area for collaboration and compromise.