State and Local Failures to Act Structurally
While the Nevada legislature failed to pass Senate Bill 398, which would have reinforced the rights of local governments to come up with their own solutions to the ongoing affordability crisis, and local authorities keep pushing small projects rather than structural changes, such as rent control to name just one possibility, should we turn to federal solutions for the future?
The White House itself recently said it would look to federal programs to have local governments modify rules currently slowing down new construction. This comes as there is a massive housing shortage across the country from starter homes to rental apartments. There is also a lack of available construction workers in certain regions, including Reno, which has had a mostly prudent market since the Great Recession.
A recent study from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies says last year there was a deficit of a quarter million new homes. Meanwhile, almost half of all renters nationally now have to spend more than 30% of their incomes on housing. More than 10 million households spend more than half their incomes on rent, a problem increasingly moving from poor families to the middle class. This explains why, even if the topic was not directly addressed during the recent Democratic Party debates to kick off the 2020 election cycle, housing policy is still a major concern.
Diagonal Lines Between the White House, YIMBYS, NIMBYS and Democratic Candidates
On the issue of creating more affordability, it seems, the differences are more nuanced and more diagonal than along habitually engulfed party lines.
The recent White House statement concludes with a commitment to improve “access to sustainable home mortgages,” enabling access to federal housing programs to finance first home purchases and underlining a program started last year to “encourage more landlords to participate in the Housing Voucher Program, the country’s largest rental subsidy program.”
Is this a YIMBY / upzoning proposal (Yes In My Backyard) as opposed to NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) such as Reno’s failed attempt to allow granny pods because of opposition from homeowners in affluent neighborhoods?
Some cities such as Minneapolis are trying this route by eliminating single-family zoning within city limits, while Seattle changed zoning codes in several neighborhoods to allow denser housing.
There are fears the White House will want to defund much used Community Block Development Grants from areas resisting deregulation.
Democratic 2020 frontrunners such as Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren have both suggested similar ideas, even though often more nuanced and attached to other proposals. More progressive platforms tend to favor public housing and community land trusts over new market-rate solutions.
Pressure, Talking Points and Precise Plans
The White House approach seems to rely on pressure for local and state authorities to move on deregulation, a process which has so far failed at the legislative level in California, dividing the Democratic party there. California State Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 50 bill would have modified single-family zoning codes, but it has been delayed amid concerns from poorer neighborhoods it would bring about more gentrification, rent hikes and displacement and also opposition from rich neighborhoods not wanting extra density.
A popular refrain is that housing should be a human right, and why not? but how do we turn that slogan into a reality rather than just an aspiration?
Bernie Sanders it seems has focused more on the problem than the minutia of possible solutions. "It is not acceptable that, in communities throughout the country, wealthy developers are gentrifying neighborhoods and forcing working families out of the homes and apartments where they have lived their entire lives," he wrote recently in the Las Vegas Sun.
Julian Castro, who impressed in the first Democratic debate in Miami June 26th, and with experience as a Secretary of Housing and Urban Development during the Obama administration, says he would increase the number of housing vouchers as well as spending on affordable housing, while also providing a refundable tax credit to renters who spend more than 30% of their incomes on housing. Senator Kamala Harris, the winner in many accounts of the second debate June 27th, wants a renters' tax credit of up to $6,000 for families making $100,000 or less.
Senator Elizabeth Warren who has been gaining ground on Bernie Sanders has even more pinpoint ideas, such as a $10 billion grant program that would fund parks, roads or schools in return for land-use reform, followed by $500 billion in spending on affordable housing.
There was disappointment from some quarters affordable housing wasn’t discussed directly during the Democratic debates. There was discussion though of income inequality and the need for higher wages. But where is the emergency, and why isn’t this an absolute priority for the White House or a question being directly asked during election debates?