The Housing Affordability Crisis Can Be Addressed Today
Washington, August 24, 2022
In communities across the United States, especially within Watauga County, businesses, renters, and homeowners are being pummeled by slanted land use and local zoning policies that are the epitome of inflationary with respect to home prices. America’s housing affordability challenges continue to be exacerbated by these policies, and our hometown newspaper, the Watauga Democrat, has continued to report how businesses, renters, and homeowners in our area are being pummeled. The consequences of this crisis are laid bare for everyone to see.
The federal government has long taken a broader role in community development, including affordable housing initiatives, through grant programs that lack the appropriate level of transparency needed to ensure that federal taxpayer dollars aren’t subsidizing the projects of local governments that retain restrictive land use policies. Guardrails to protect federal taxpayer dollars and ensure full transparency in these programs are minimal at best. Indeed, there is considerable room for improvement. As evidenced by the many years this issue has been studied locally, there’s no quick fix, or one-size-fits-all solution, to address the affordable housing challenges communities face.
However, ample room for substantive progress does exist, and it comes in the form of H.R. 3198, the Yes In My Backyard Act (YIMBY), bipartisan legislation that I’m proud to help lead as an original cosponsor in the House of Representatives. Currently, a considerable amount of latitude is given to local governments regarding how funding from these grant programs is being used – and little, if any, rationale is being conveyed to citizens about why pro-affordability housing policies are not being adopted. This means that artificial barriers are created and the opportunity to build more affordable housing is quashed in the process. The simple truth is that increasing the stock of overall housing leads to more affordable home prices across the board – it’s a no-brainer.
YIMBY is the answer to this problem. Under this legislation, local governments, the recipients of these grant programs, would be required to submit detailed information on their land-use policies – such as zoning policies that restrict home construction, by-right development, and permitting speed. The policies that YIMBY requires reporting on are widely accepted to have significant, positive impacts on the supply of affordable housing in a community. Some examples are multifamily zoning, minimum lot size, parking requirements, increasing density, and use of duplexes. Zoning laws provide great examples of policies that have a huge impact on housing affordability but because grant applications do not provide information on those, the impact is not always recognized.
The key here is ensuring that taxpayer dollars are used wisely, and not simply funneled to local governments that only erect walls of regulations that serve as detriments to their citizens. Transparency in this process serves as a steppingstone towards not only growth, but also flourishing among communities. We can all agree that local governments should do their part to make housing more affordable for everyone. Requiring local governments to put pen to paper on these pro-growth principles is the very least we can do when they ask for federal tax dollars and will inevitably yield more inclusive land use policies – and thus, more affordable housing.
Published In The Watauga Democrat