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EnvironmentA Latest Birth of Housing?

A Latest Birth of Housing?

A Latest Birth of Housing?

Omnibus’ “Baby YIMBY” Bill Offers An Opportunity For Cities — And For Advocates

Tucked deep inside the huge Omnibus bill is what has been called the “Baby YIMBY” provision — an $85 million grant program, to be administered by HUD:

The bill provides the U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with $85 million to dole out on a competitive basis to jurisdictions for “the identification and removal of barriers to inexpensive housing production and preservation.”

The secretary, currently Marcia Fudge, would have wide discretion to pick out grant awardees based on their demonstrable “progress and commitment to overcoming local barriers” to inexpensive housing production and preservation and “acute demand” for inexpensive housing amongst a jurisdiction’s lower-income residents.

Senator Brian Schatz, one in all Congress’ best legislators and best housing advocates, has been tweeting up a storm on it. But Reason’s Christian Britschgi has skepticism, and rightfully so. In any case, he notes, the language is so broad that it could cover a great deal of things, and there’s a definite possibility that municipalities will just use the federal money to backfill money that they’ll move around elsewhere.

It’s a horrid cliche, but it surely raises each challenges and opportunities for advocates and students.

First, how will HUD assess grant applications? Can it insist on maintenance of effort?

Second, how can advocates influence the method? That is an ordinary query, but it surely is a vital one. Are advocates able to push and shame? And this query is especially critical in the case of HUD, a department that has just about been dysfunctional for its entire history, and particularly so after 4 years of Ben Carson.

Third, how might this square with HUD’s Fair Housing Act responsibilities? Section 808(e)(5) of the Fair Housing Act requires the Secretary to “administer the programs and activities referring to housing and concrete development in a way affirmatively to further” fair housing. So — how will it be certain that Black and brown people will give you the option to access more housing?

Fourth, how will climate goals will fostered? Constructing inexpensive housing in exurbs will make things worse.

And there’s an enormous query for scholars, in my opinion: how “sticky” can a program be? Sometimes, you get a program in a single 12 months, and it quickly disappears (see, e.g. the American Rescue Act’s child tax credit, due to Manchinema). Sometimes, you get a tiny program and it lasts will beyond the circumstances of its enactment: the federal government began subsidizing mohair production in 1941 with a view to produce uniforms for US troops through the expected war; the subsidy continued through 1993, was only killed as a consequence of efforts by John Kerry, after which returned, like a zombie, still going strong today.

There’s, after all, an obvious answer to this query: it depends upon the structure of the interests benefitting from a program. The late James Q. Wilson developed a famous four-part typology to explain these developments:

1. Client politics, where the advantages are concentrated and the prices are diffuse;

2. Entrepreneurial politics, where the advantages are diffuse and the prices are concentrated;

3. Interest group politics, where the prices and advantages are concentrated; and

4. Majoritarian politics, where the prices and advantages are diffuse.

The mohair subsidy is classic client politics, which is one reason why it survived. The kid tax credit is majoritarian, which is why it died: there was no strong concentrated interest group to defend it.

So what’s federal YIMBY laws? The query depends upon how we determine costs. One could say that the prices are concentrated, i.e. against NIMBYs. But one could also say that the connection between the laws and the policy is so attenuated that it looks diffuse. Similarly, what in regards to the advantages? Are they concentrated because cities will want the cash? Or are they diffuse because the advantages are really too small to actually profit anyone?

It isn’t obvious to me how these varieties of grant programs slot in Wilson’s framework. But when the federal government goes to turn out to be involved in fostering more inclusive land use patterns — which it needs to be because exclusionary zoning has vast national implications for geographic and thus social mobility — we must always understand it more.

The YIMBY Act will do little in its first 12 months(s). It might be stillborn. Or it could the beginning of something greater. The federal government has no land use authority but it surely has vast financial power.


Brian Schatz, Christian Britschgi, Fair Housing Act, HUD, James Q. Wilson, NIMBY, YIMBY


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