As some states pursue affordable housing guidelines for communities, one critic argues it just requires money to live in the suburbs:
Racial discrimination is abhorrent and should be prosecuted. But as a Brookings Institution analysis of the 2020 census shows, race isn’t a barrier to suburban living. Blacks are moving to the suburbs at a faster pace than whites. Anybody can be suburban. It just takes money — especially in Connecticut. In 2017, developer Arnold Karp purchased a colonial house on tree-lined Weed St. in small, ultra-wealthy New Canaan. There are no commercial or multifamily buildings on the street. He now wants to build a five-story, 102-unit apartment complex with 30% set aside for affordable housing.
The data does suggest people in all racial and ethnic groups are moving to suburbs. Here is what William Frey concluded from 2020 Census data:
This analysis of suburban and primary city portions of the nation’s major metropolitan areas shows that these big suburbs are more racially diverse than the country as a whole. Moreover, in contrast to how white flight fueled growth there in the past, most big suburbs have shown declines in their white populations over the 2010-20 decade. Their greatest growth came from Latino or Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, persons identifying as two or more races, as well as Black Americans—continuing the “Black flight” to the suburbs that was already evident the 2000-10 decade.
Today, a majority of major metro area residents in each race and ethnic group now lives in the suburbs. And for the first time, a majority of youth (under age 18) in these combined suburban areas is comprised of people of color.
But, as a sociologist of suburbs, here is what is missing from the critics’ analysis: people of different racial and ethnic groups are not evenly distributed across suburbs and not all racial and ethnic groups have the same wealth, income, and resources to obtain suburban homeownership.
In other words, because social race and race and ethnicity in the United States are connected, it is not just about money in reaching the suburbs.
What is really at stake? From the critic:
Local control will be obliterated. Albany will call the shots on what your town looks like, how much traffic there is and ultimately what your home is worth…
Ensuring a supply of affordable housing within a region is more reasonable than demanding every town alter its character.
Suburbanites like local control and local government. These arrangements allow leaders and residents means by which to decide who can live in their community. This is often done through housing values and prices; ensure the land and homes or rental units expensive enough and the community can be exclusive.
Additionally, one of the problems of affordable housing – and other land uses less desired by suburban homeowners (including drug treatment centers and waste transfer facilities) – is that few suburban communities want it. Communities with means and political voices will keep affordable housing out. This means affordable housing is not plentiful often and is often clustered in particular locations. One reason states are pursuing this at a metropolitan level is that there is not enough affordable housing in the current system that prioritizes local decision making over what is good for the region.
Suburban residents may not like the idea of affordable housing arriving in their community. However, the legacy of housing in the United States is often one of exclusion and restriction, not about communities and residents coming together to provide housing for all.