10/14/2019

Obama takes on zoning laws in bid to build more housing, spur growth

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 White House published a “toolkit” of economic evidence and policy fixes to help local political leaders fight back against the NIMBYs that tend to hold sway over municipal zoning meetings.

“In more and more regions across the country, local and neighborhood leaders have said yes in our backyard,” the paper states. “We need to break down the rules that stand in the way of building new housing.”

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.

“When unnecessary barriers restrict the supply of housing and costs increase, then workers, particularly lower-income workers who would benefit the most, are less able to move to high-productivity cities,” said Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. “All told, this means slower economic growth.”

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