Dems Favor Land Use Reform

photo by DonkeyHotey

The Democratic Party has released its draft 2016 Policy Platform. Its housing platform follows in its entirety. I find the highlighted clause particularly intriguing and discuss it below.

Where Donald Trump rooted for the housing crisis, Democrats will continue to fight for those families who suffered the loss of their homes. We will help those who are working toward a path of financial stability and will put sustainable home ownership into the reach of more families. Democrats will also combat the affordable housing crisis and skyrocketing rents in many parts of the country that are leading too many families and workers to be pushed out of communities where they work.

We will increase the supply of affordable rental housing by expanding incentives and easing local barriers to building new affordable rental housing developments in areas of economic opportunity. We will substantially increase funding for the National Housing Trust Fund to construct, preserve, and rehabilitate millions of affordable housing rental units. Not only will this help address the affordable housing crisis, it will also create millions of good-paying jobs in the process. Democrats also believe that we should provide more federal resources to the people struggling most with unaffordable housing: low-income families, people with disabilities, veterans, and the elderly.

We will reinvigorate federal housing production programs, increase resources to repair public housing, and increase funding for the housing choice voucher program. And we will fight for sufficient funding to end chronic homelessness.

We must make sure that everyone has a fair shot at homeownership. We will lift up more families and keep the housing market robust and inclusive by defending and strengthening the Fair Housing Act. We will also support first time homebuyers, implement credit score reform to make the credit industry work for borrowers and not just lenders, and prevent predatory lending by defending the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). And we will help underwater homeowners by expanding foreclosure mitigation counseling. (4-5, emphasis added)

Much of the housing platform represents a continuation of Democratic policies, such as increased funding for affordable housing, improved enforcement of the Fair Housing Act and expanded access to counseling for distressed homeowners.

But the highlighted clause seems to represent a new direction for the Democratic Party: an acknowledgement that local land use decisions in areas of economic opportunity (read: the Northeast, the Bay Area and similar dynamic regions) are having a negative impact on low- and moderate-income households who are priced out of the housing markets because demand far outstrips supply.

This is a significant development in federal housing policy, flowing from work done by Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko, among others, who have demonstrated the out-sized effect that the innumerable land use decisions made by local governments have had on the availability of affordable housing regionally and nationally.

There is a lot of ambiguity in the phrase “easing local barriers to building new affordable rental housing developments,” but the federal government has a lot of policy tools available to it to do just that. If Democrats are able to implement this aspect of the party platform, it could have a very positive impact on the prospects of households that are priced out of the regions where all the new jobs are being created.

Affirmatively Furthering Neighborhood Choice

Professor Kelly

Professor Kelly

Jim Kelly has posted Affirmatively Furthering Neighborhood Choice: Vacant Property Strategies and Fair Housing to SSRN (forthcoming in the University of Memphis Law Review). He writes,

With the Supreme Court’s Inclusive Cmtys. Project decision in June 2015 and the Obama Administration’s adoption, the following month, of the Final Rule for Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, local government accountability for ending segregation and resolving the spatial mismatch between affordable housing and economic opportunity has been placed on a more solid footing. Instead of being responsible only for overt, conscious attempts to harm protected groups, jurisdictions that receive money from HUD will need to take a hard look at their policies that perpetuate the barriers to housing opportunity for economically marginalized protected groups. The duty to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing, although somewhat aspirational in its formulation, requires HUD grant recipients to engage with fair housing issues in a way that the threat of litigation, even disparate impact litigation, never has.

For cities struggling with soft residential real estate markets, HUD’s concerns about land use barriers to affordable housing may seem tone deaf. Advocates challenging exclusionary policies have often focused on cities with high housing costs. Even a city with large vacant problems, such as Baltimore, was sued primarily because of its location with a strong regional housing market. But, concerns about social equity in revitalizing communities make the Final Rule’s universal approach to AFFH very relevant to cities confronting housing abandonment in its older, disinvested neighborhoods. This Articles has shown that attention to the Final Rule’s new Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) reporting system is warranted both as a protective measure and as an opportunity to advance core goals of creating and sustaining an attractive and inclusive network of residential urban communities. (30-31)

For those of us who have trouble parsing the contemporary state of fair housing law in general and the AFFH rule in particular, the article provides a nice overview. And it offers insight into how fair housing law can help increase “the supply of decent, affordable housing options to members of protected groups . . .” (2) Not a bad twofer for one article.

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