The headline summarizes the argument: “Team Trump just called a halt to the Obama-era war on the American suburbs.”
But the big win came last month, when — based on Westchester’s experience and expertise from groups like Americans for Limited Government — the Trump administration replaced Team Obama’s AFFH regulation with its own.
Gone is the federal mandate dictating the modeling of communities based on statistical formulas. Restored to local officials is the power that gives them the flexibility to weigh real-world factors in making housing decisions. Restored, too, is the prosecution of bad actors by the courts — not bureaucrats — under the Fair Housing Act.
And builders are now more likely to build affordable housing, since the attached strings have been removed.
The Democratic candidates for president didn’t get the memo. They continue to support radical, divisive and failed housing policies aimed at abolishing single-family residential zoning. And they’d use billions of our tax dollars to local communities — and the threat of lawsuits — to get their way.
The United States needs affordable housing. By replacing social engineering with common sense, guarded by strong nondiscrimination laws, the country is now better positioned to meet that need — and that’s a victory for everyone.
Conservatives claimed the Obama administration wanted to push Americans away from suburbs and into cities. This claim of social engineering tends to ignore the social engineering of suburbs, with plenty of federal government help, toward whiter and single-family home communities.
More broadly, this gets at a fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives. Liberals will argue that government intervention is needed regarding housing. As noted above, this might start with more serious enforcement of housing laws already on the books. But, this would not necessarily tackle the harder issues of residential segregation or exclusionary zoning, These issues would require communities across metropolitan regions to provide cheaper housing so that certain communities do not carry the burden. The conservative argument is different: the government needs to get out of housing and should let local governments make the decisions that would best serve their residents. Builders and developers will be empowered to construct cheaper housing with fewer regulations. Or, perhaps neither party really wants single-family home suburbia.
I have argued before that free markets for housing will not work. When given the opportunity, wealthier communities will not build cheaper housing as they would prefer to remain more exclusive. Recent efforts in California suggest it will take a lot even at the state level to promote more affordable housing. Plus, major political party candidates do not seem too keen to tackle housing. Americans may not like the idea of the federal government weighing in on local development decision but in many metropolitan regions the preference for local control is not moving the logjam of needed affordable housing.