Race affects why Americans don’t like people walking on their property

One writer contrasts the approach in Europe and the United States toward walking through the countryside:

In Sweden, they call it “allemansrätt.” In Finland, it’s “jokamiehenoikeus.” In Scotland, it’s “the right to roam.” Germany allows walking through privately owned forests, unused meadows and fallow fields. In 2000, England and Wales passed the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, which gave people access to “mountain, moor, heath or down.”

Nordic and Scottish laws are even more generous. The 2003 Scottish Land Reform Act opened up the whole country for a number of pastimes, including mountain biking, horseback riding, canoeing, swimming, sledding, camping and most any activity that does not involve a motorized vehicle, so long as it’s carried out “responsibly.” In Sweden, landowners may be prohibited from putting up fences for the sole purpose of keeping people out. Walkers in many of these places do not have to pay money, ask for permission or obtain permits.

We’re not nearly as welcoming in America. Travel across rural America and you’ll spot “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs posted on trees and fence posts everywhere. And even where there aren’t signs, Americans know they don’t have the implicit permission to visit their town’s neighboring woods, fields and coastlines. Long gone are the days when we could, like Henry David Thoreau on the outskirts of his native Concord, Mass., freely saunter “through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”…

Roaming rights began to erode in the late 19th century, according to Mr. Sawers. In the South, states passed trespassing laws for racial reasons, seeking to keep blacks from hunting and fishing so as to starve them into submission. Elsewhere, wealthy landowners of the Gilded Era became concerned with game populations, and trespassing and hunting laws were passed to restrict immigrants, he said.

It is interesting to note both (1) the historical change in the United States toward property rights and exclusion and (2) European countries may allow walking through property but have restrictions such as committing damage, walking near homes, and hunting. But, perhaps even more noteworthy is the suggestion that race matters here as well: as the United States was moving toward more equality and racial/ethnic diversity, property rights were another means by which to keep groups separate. We know that this would soon matter tremendously in terms of restrictive covenants and segregated neighborhoods but even restricting the simple act of walking was seen as necessary to keep certain boundaries.

Regulating sex businesses in the suburbs

Many suburbs want nothing to do with strip clubs and similar businesses so they employ several methods to discourage them:

Warren is running into something that has plagued businesses dealing in sex for decades. Local governments — and the officials elected to govern them — don’t want these businesses around, according to Judith Hanna, a professor at the University of Maryland.

Hanna has testified as an expert witness in more than 150 court cases involving sexually oriented businesses. She even wrote a book about her experiences…

The majority of the cases she testified for involve strip clubs, which Supreme Court rulings protect because of First Amendment rights…

Menelaos Triantafillou, a professor at the University of Cincinnati who teaches courses in planning and urban design, explains: “The only thing you can regulate is not the use itself,” he said, “but the specific location.”

Local governments typically allow these businesses to exist in industrial areas. Restrictions are placed on how close they can be to other establishments such as schools and day cares.

In the particular case discussed in this article, the community is working hard to make a swingers club go away. But, it sounds like they are making it up as they go to appease voters as several local officials have privately supported the new business.

Perhaps an alternative strategy is in order. Zoning is a big deal in suburbs as they get to keep uses that limit endanger property values or a high quality of life away from single-family homes. But, zoning can only do so much. Yet, communities can make it clear that certain businesses are not welcome. While suburbs often welcome new businesses (they provide jobs, property tax revenue, perhaps sales tax revenue), couldn’t they also make it hard for the new business to make money? I’m thinking bad publicity, protests, no invitations to the local chamber of commerce and local events.

“Armchair sociology” accusation in DraftKings, FanDuel case in New York

The recent case in New York involving the Attorney General and two fantasy sports sites included the accusation of “armchair sociology” this week:

“Rather than identify the concrete and immediate harms necessary to support a preliminary injunction, the NYAG instead resorts to smear tactics and speculation stretching to tie DFS contests to everything from child-abuse to over-eating, among other things,” reads DraftKing’s motion.

“The Attorney General’s armchair sociology would not pass muster on a daytime talk show,” continues the filing, which urges a panel of appellate judges to allow the online companies to continue operating in New York while the case works its way through the courts.

Schneiderman first filed suit in November, and was granted a temporary injunction on Dec. 11 to stop the sports giants from operating in New York. But that decision wasoverturned just hours later, and now the companies are operating under an emergency stay as the Appellate Division decides their fate in an expedited ruling.

Armchair sociology is a derogatory term here implying a false understanding of how people and/or society work. Additionally, there is a reference to daytime talk shows with the idea that the explanations given there for human behavior don’t match reality. Perhaps DraftKings and FanDuel would prefer more rigorous social scientific examinations of their practices and users? It would be interesting to see whether the “armchair sociology” claim has any influence or it is just PR posturing.

Just out of curiosity, I checked where I have seen the term armchair sociology before: see this earlier post where George Will accuses liberals of wrong ideas about how society works. There, the term is used to link sociology and liberal ideas, a thought that many conservatives may share.

“How [residential] segregation destroys black wealth”

A recent New York Times editorial highlights the ongoing effects of residential segregation:

Despite being better qualified financially, black and Latino testers were shown fewer homes than their white peers, were often denied information about special incentives that would have made the purchase easier, and were required to produce loan pre-approval letters and other documents when whites were not.

Moreover, real estate agents enforced residential and school segregation by steering home buyers into neighborhoods based on race. Whites were encouraged to live where the schools were mainly white; African-Americans where schools were disproportionately black; and Latinos where schools were disproportionately Latino…

This history of discrimination has taken an enormous toll on black wealth, as is shown in research by Douglas Massey and Jonathan Tannen at Princeton University’s Office of Population Research. In 1970, two years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, for example, the average well-off black American lived in a neighborhood where potential home wealth, as measured by property values, stood at about only $50,000 — as opposed to $105,000 for affluent whites and $56,000 for poor whites.

By 2010, affluent African-Americans had passed poor whites in potential home wealth but had fallen further behind affluent whites. There is more than money at stake, Mr. Massey and Mr. Tannen write, because home values “translate directly into access to higher quality education given that public schools in the United States are financed by real estate taxes.”

From de jure to de facto segregation. The resources of the past went to white suburbia and the deck is still often stacked against black and Latino urban residents. And the wealth differences are large and this has consequences for subsequent generations.

This editorial appears to be motivated by a recent housing discrimination complaint. This reminds me of the conclusion of American Apartheid where the authors argue that although the United States has the laws on the books that would even out housing opportunities, we often lack the political will to enforce them. This book was published over twenty years ago and there appears to be truth to it still today…

My prediction: courts and SCOTUS would rule in favor of inclusionary zoning

Opponents to inclusionary zoning laws are hoping their case makes it to the Supreme Court:

Developers in California are taking their fight against the state’s inclusionary zoning laws to the U.S. Supreme Court, just as cities across the nation are increasingly committing to similar laws to address affordable housing shortages. The California Building Association opposes the soon-to-kick-in law mandating that developers discount a percentage of units in new housing projects for low-income families. They claim it constitutes an illegal “taking” of private property by the government and hope that SCOTUS justices will agree with them

California’s Supreme Court rejected this argument in June, pointing to an affordable housing crunch of “epic proportions” as the compelling reason for the law. The supply of housing that families of modest income can actually afford is so low that advocates in San Francisco are considering suing the suburbs to intensify density.

But the California developers say that forcing them to build below-market-rate units as a condition of obtaining building permits amounts to extortion. Developers in Chicago are also making this argument, and have similarly filed a lawsuit against the city’s inclusionary zoning laws. In California, the homebuilders are also challenging the idea that there is a connection between new housing construction and affordability. In an interview with CityLab earlier this month, Steve Joung, CEO of Pangea Properties, a company that rehabs old buildings into new moderately priced housing, said there is a connection—but not the one that inclusionary zoning proponents would favor…

If SCOTUS agrees to review the California case, however, it could slow momentum around such plans. And if SCOTUS ends up agreeing with the developers, it could drastically change the current calculus around how to increase the supply of affordable housing.

Though it is hard to know whether this would actually reach the Supreme Court, I predict the developers will lose in court. I anticipate this result due to two reasons:

  1. The United States has few other mechanisms for addressing affordable housing even as it is a pressing issue. The free market clearly does not work. The federal government doesn’t want to provide much housing. Non-profits or community groups can only provide so many units. For decades, there has been little incentive for developers or communities to provide cheaper housing. In contrast, they can make more money with more expensive housing units and promote and/or protect a higher social status.
  2. Prior court cases have determined that developers can be made to provide other things to local governments in order to be able to build. For example, Naperville was a pioneer in the 1950s in having developers pay for some infrastructure (sewers, roads, etc.) and then several decades later asking for donations of land or cash to help build schools. Both decisions were fought in court by developers and the courts ruled in favor of the municipality. Additionally, other decisions have gone against exclusionary zoning practices that try to promote bigger lots and more expensive housing units.

This will be interesting to watch.

Suing Bay Area suburbs to provide denser housing

Changed plans for a new development in Lafayette, California have housing advocates looking to sue the suburb:

The California Renters Legal Advocacy & Education Fund has launched the website Sue the Suburbs to bring attention to the situation in Lafayette. The site is also set up to find people who could have rented one of the 315 apartments from the original housing plan, had it been approved. If the group can successfully find plaintiffs, this could be the opening salvo for potential legal action against other Bay Area cities to force them to kick in to help house the region’s explosive population growth…

Lafayette is a “semi-rural” town looking to stay that way. It actually lost 15 residents between 2000 and 2010. During that period, the number of renter-occupied housing units dropped significantly from 2,128 to 1,186 units. Meanwhile, Lafayette’s white population also dropped, from 86.8 percent to 84.7 percent, while its Latino population rose from 4 percent to 5.8 percent. The black population was mostly static at less than 1 percent over the 10-year period.

In 2013, the city outlined a number of reasons for its opposition to the apartments based on its general plan for land use. One of those: “The character and pattern of the proposed development is unprecedented in Lafayette and not compatible with the residential neighborhoods in the vicinity of the project, which are characterized by one-and-two story residences fronting on a network of residential streets.”…

Those amenities will fulfill Lafayette’s needs, but they leave the Bay and San Francisco hanging. The Association of Bay Area Governments set goals for new housing production for each municipality in the region, called the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, to accomodate population growth. Lafayette built just 65 percent of its goal between 2007 and 2014. Actually, none of the Bay Area counties are pulling their weight in the housing plan.

This highlights how affordable housing is an issue for all of metropolitan regions to address. Many wealthier areas, whether neighborhoods in large cities or suburban communities, are unlikely to promote affordable housing on their own. Even when studies suggest affordable housing won’t lower property values, these communities are worried about their quality of life – which also can be seen as code for not wanting certain racial/ethnic groups or poorer residents to move in.

Yet, most regions do not have effective mechanisms for compelling metropolitan wide action. Lawsuits are one route to go with a long history: see the Gautreaux case in Chicago or the Mount Laurel case in New Jersey as notable examples. Other options including combining city and county governments and developing metropolitan wide bodies with the ability to enforce regulations. None of these routes are particularly easy as many residents of wealthier areas did so in order to retain local control.

And if all the Bay Area counties are behind in promoting affordable housing, perhaps this lawsuit is only the beginning…

Gentrification as violating UN Human Rights

Some opponents of gentrification argue the process is a human rights violation:

It is the resulting displacement of people who can’t afford increased rents that, in the eyes of these activists, amounts to a human-rights violation. (Homeowners, at least economically, stand to gain from the changes, since their property values often rise as a result.) Drawing on Le droit à la ville, a 1968 work by the French sociologist Henri Lefebvre whose title translates to “The Right to the City,” the organization argues that all people, including the disenfranchised, have the right to remain in their apartments and homes and shape the political and cultural landscapes of their communities. The UN Declaration of Human Rights already asserts that everyone has the right to be protected against “interference with his… home.” Lenina Nadal, the communications director for Right to the City, says the group hopes to build on this idea. “It is an ideal time to  expand the idea that inhabitants not only have a right to their home, a decent, sustainable home,” she said, “but also to the community they created in their city.”

This is an interesting argument that suggests people are being moved from their homes and communities against their will. Americans generally don’t like the idea of others dictating where they can live; see the emphasis on local control, property rights, and opposition to eminent domain. Yet, social factors push and pull people to leave their homes and communities all the time as well as limit people from leaving their communities.

How exactly would this work out in a court of law or as an argument at the United Nations? I suspect there could be a lot of argument about what exactly the right to a home and community is. Could a suburbanite who doesn’t like that a big box store is being built nearby make a similar argument? What about residents who are moved through eminent domain or urban renewal?

Chevy Chase woman files lawsuit after lawsuit against her neighbor’s teardown

Chevy Chase, Maryland has experienced a number of discussions over redevelopment including this one-woman “all-out war” against her neighbor’s teardown:

First, in 2009, she sued the town of Chevy Chase in an attempt to block its approval of the Schwartzes’ building permit — but that failed. Then she appealed — and was denied. “I would say Chevy Chase has spent upwards of $50,000 because of Deborah,” Hoffman said. “Not just in legal bills, but in all the staff costs in answering her letters and telephone calls.”Vollmer next filed a similar lawsuit against Montgomery County and lost again. Soon afterward, she watched in horror as the Schwartzes erected a handsome, stone-encrusted house at 7200 44th St. The house, which she excoriated for its size, offers evidence of the neighbors’ clashing lifestyles.

Vollmer drives a Prius. The Schwartzes have a Mercedes. Vollmer prizes rough-hewn back yards with lots of vegetation. The Schwartzes appreciate a more manicured aesthetic. “Some people may question my motives,” Vollmer said. “But what’s happening in this town, these developers, tearing down old homes. I’m standing up for my rights. .?.?. And then this whole thing just kind of evolved” from that.

The dispute’s next evolution occurred in court. Vollmer sued the Schwartzes in Montgomery County Circuit Court — not once, but twice — over arguments involving the shared driveway. She lost both…

“We have had to go to court more than 16 times because of her multiple lawsuits and her behavior,” Schwartz said. “We love our home and our neighborhood, and we can only hope that reason will prevail in the future.”

And there is more here including an arrest for destruction of property, another lawsuit over paving the shared driveway, and a second arrest. In the end, is Vollmer simply standing up for her property rights (and she apparently has the resources and legal training to do so) amidst the bullying of mansionizing new residents or is she a public nuisance against inevitable change and wasting taxpayer money?

One thing this article does not explain: how in the world was the new house approved with a shared driveway? The picture with the story suggests the teardown was built close to the lot line:

Given Vollmer’s behavior, it is not clear this would have solved the issue. But, having a shared driveway could lead to issues even if the new neighbors didn’t build a new large home. Perhaps this is why suburbanites need passive aggressive signs to fight each other rather than lawsuits…

How to get wealthier communities to accept affordable housing

This article discusses two tools to promote affordable housing in wealthier communities: regulations and lawsuits.

But Massachusetts has a work-around: A state statute, called 40B, allows developers to get around exclusionary zoning and build affordable housing in communities where only a small percentage of units are considered affordable. (A few other states have similar policies.) The statute, passed in 1969 and upheld by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court in 1973, has led to the construction of 1,300 developments throughout the state, containing a total of 34,000 units of affordable housing, according to Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, or CHAPA.Projects built under 40B are almost always controversial: The statute was enacted in the first place because most communities outside of big cities didn’t permit multi-family housing, said Ann Verrilli, the director of research at CHAPA. Even with the statute, communities often spend millions of dollars in legal fees to try and stop the projects, Verrilli told me…

The experience of developers trying to build affordable housing in Massachusetts takes on added significance now, as housing advocates wait for a decision on a landmark case in front of the Supreme Court that concerns where low-income housing projects are placed. The case, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, arose when a nonprofit housing group sued Texas, arguing that the state primarily distributed tax credits for low-income housing projects in minority-dominated areas. Inclusive Communities argued that doing so perpetuated segregation and violated the Fair Housing Act, which was passed in 1968 to prevent landlords, municipalities, banks and other housing providers from discriminating on the basis of race. The Supreme Court case centers on whether this discrimination has to be intentional in order to be illegal, or whether the Fair Housing Act also seeks to prevent policies that may not be intentionally discriminatory, but that have a “disparate impact” on minorities…

Many affordable housing units in the suburbs are a direct result of court cases, and even enforcement of those programs are lax. In 2009, Westchester County in New York signed a desegregation agreement and agreed to build and market hundreds of apartments for moderate-income minorities after a court found it had misled HUD by applying for funds that it said it would use to integrate housing, and then did the opposite. Four years later, the county had not complied with the provisions.

The shift from discriminatory race-based housing policies to economic ones in the 1960s and 1970s was an important one. I suggest reading David Freund’s Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America. This is the logic still used today: better off residents argue that they worked hard to get to their higher quality of life and that others should have to do the same. But, since race/ethnicity and social class are inextricably linked, keeping out the lower classes through big lots, expensive properties, a lack of apartments, and other methods leads perpetuates residential segregation.

Two other relevant points from this article. First, affordable housing in the suburbs can be done well through good design and not high levels of concentration. Second, given the resistance to such projects as well as design guidelines that are helpful, still nowhere near enough affordable housing has been constructed. In one sense, the foot draggers of wealthy communities are winning because they have slowed down a process started by the courts in the late 1960s (the Gautreaux case) and 1970s (the Mount Laurel case). Plus, the wealthy can move easily if their properties are threatened.

Removing suburban strip clubs using zoning, eminent domain, and lawsuits

The typical suburb doesn’t welcome strip clubs but it can be difficult to remove them:

Kane County Board members voted — twice — to say that’s exactly what they don’t want. Those votes spawned a $16 million lawsuit by the pending new owners of the club. The outcome may determine the future of the strip club or any adult businesses in the county. As others have discovered, limiting an industry protected by the Constitution but rife with criminals, violence and deep pockets can be a long, costly road…

Neighboring DuPage County found Diamonds wasn’t its best friend when strip club owners became interested in an industrial area near the DuPage County Airport in 1999. Before the county even ruled on the zoning use, the would-be owners of the club, Palmetto Properties Inc., sued the county for creating unconstitutional restrictions…

After three years of research, the county crafted a legal defense for buffers by citing fears about strip clubs fueling crime and killing property values and development. The county also shrank the buffer between strip clubs and inaccessible sections of forest preserves, allowing Diamonds to open…

Having robust development has also limited where strip clubs can operate. Every commercial development and residential rooftop pushes areas for strip clubs farther out…

Neither did Bedford Park, a South suburban community of about 600 people, when it tried to block Diaz from opening a strip club within its borders. After more than six years in courtrooms, and about $400,000 in legal fees, the new Ocean Gentlemen’s Club opens this fall.

An interesting back and forth between businesses and suburban communities. A few quick thoughts:

1. If this was left to a referendum for voters, how many strip clubs would be approved? For those who approve of property rights (a topic that often comes up with teardowns), how many would also vote for strip clubs (and be consistent in their support of property owners)?

2. One note from the article on how to effectively word local regulations: “The court found the law did not infringe upon free speech because it did not ban adult expression, a key factor in successfully worded zoning laws restricting adult businesses across the country.” Thus, communities have to be very careful in order not to leave loopholes.

3. For clubs that already exist, it sounds like the most effective way to remove them is to find evidence of criminal or illegal activity.