"Promoting housing affordability by combating exclusionary housing policies"

  

 

 

            “Housing is a necessary of life.”

United States Supreme Court

Block v. Hirsch, 256 U.S. 135, 156 (1921)

(per Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)

 

Despite the general recognition of the crucial importance of a good home to human development, tens of millions of low- and moderate-income Americans do not have the opportunity to buy or rent decent housing in wholesome neighborhoods. 

Exclusionary governmental housing practices (“regulatory barriers to housing affordability”), such as exclusionary zoning, are a major part of the problem. "State and local regulations are among the principal culprits behind the nation’s persistent affordability problems,” according to the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies. For more about those regulatory barriers, please click on EXCLUSIONARY HOUSING PRACTICES.

The Equitable Housing Institute (EHI) is a charitable organization that focuses on eliminating exclusionary housing policies in the United States, in order to reduce homelessness and poverty. EHI is the only national organization focused primarily on removing those barriers for all low- and moderate-income Americans. For more, please click on ABOUT EHI.

 

EHI ARTICLES

 

EHI issues initial recommendations for statute to ban exclusionary housing practices comprehensively

 

Major reform of land use regulations is needed, in order to combat exclusionary zoning and other economically exclusionary housing practices. There is an emerging consensus to that effect among housing policy experts, economists, and even Presidents of the United States—across the political spectrum. (For more about that virtual consensus, please click on EMERGING CONSENSUS ON REGULATORY BARRIERS TO HOUSING AFFORDABILITY.)

In response, EHI issued a report in December 2019 that contains its initial recommendations for a new statute that would ban exclusionary and discriminatory housing practices comprehensively—including economically exclusionary housing practices. Such a statute could be enacted by any state, or by the federal government (in a slightly different form). To access that report, please click on TOWARD A COMPREHENSIVE BAN ON EXCLUSIONARY HOUSING PRACTICES.

EHI’s report summarizes some major problems created by economically exclusionary housing practices. For example, they:

  • Play a primary role in Americans’ mounting problems with housing affordability,
  • Seriously aggravate the increasing residential isolation of Americans into “rich” and “poor” neighborhoods—cutting against efforts to reduce residential isolation of minority groups (most members of which are on the lower half of the income and wealth spectrums); and
  • Interfere with interstate commerce and the nation’s economic growth because, for example, their use in wealthier states adversely affects mobility and productivity among low- and moderate-income Americans in other states as well.

The statute that EHI envisions would expand protections against housing discrimination beyond those in the Federal Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq.) which is the basic, federal housing discrimination statute. That statute does not address economic discrimination generally. It addresses discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, and national origin.

EHI’s report concludes that the approach of the Federal Fair Housing Act shows some promise as a model for a comprehensive ban on exclusionary housing practices. Studies show that since creation of that statute in 1968, racial isolation in housing—notably of African-Americans from whites—has been decreasing steadily and substantially in each decade, in the nation overall.

Among the strengths of that statute are its specific definitions of prohibited conduct, and its strong enforcement provisions. The statute may be enforced through legal action by the Justice Department, and by victims of violations, as well as by the U.S. Dep’t of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A variety of strong remedies are authorized where violations are found.

EHI also analyzes the prominent, time-tested, state statutory approaches in Massachusetts, New Jersey, California and Oregon. Each of those statutes introduced bold, innovative and helpful features, and each of them has been credited with leading to substantial increases in the amount of housing in the state that is affordable to low- and moderate-income people.

However, those state statutes have not been able to prevent worse-than-average housing affordability problems in their states. None of those statutes includes an outright ban on exclusionary housing practices.

Thus, none of those statutes appear to offer a sufficiently reliable model for minimizing those practices comprehensively, statewide or nationwide. Nor do any other state statutes of which EHI is aware make a comprehensive ban on exclusionary housing practices unnecessary. For more, please click on TOWARD A COMPREHENSIVE BAN ON EXCLUSIONARY HOUSING PRACTICES.

Despite low unemployment and rising wages, 299,000 more American renter households were cost-burdened in 2018 

Housing production is considered unlikely to catch up
to household formation in the foreseeable future

 

According to ApartmentList (a nationwide, rental apartment information service):

  • The share of American renter households that are cost-burdened increased from 49.5 percent in 2017 to 49.7 percent in 2018—the first increase in that rate since 2014. (There are approximately 44 million renter households in the United States.)
  • The number of cost-burdened renter households increased by 299,000 from 2017 to 2018, and that number is now 2.8 million higher than in 2008.
  • The median rent grew faster than the median renter income for the first time since 2011.

U.S. housing production is unlikely to catch up to household formation in the foreseeable future, according to Yardi Matrix (a real estate consulting company that monitors the nation’s largest (50+ unit) apartment buildings). Yardi reports a cumulative deficit in housing production from 2010-2018 of almost 2.5 million units nationally.

Meanwhile, the nation has been losing low-income housing units rapidly. The number of units renting for under $800 fell by 1.0 million in 2017 alone, bringing the total drop in 2011–2017 to 4.0 million. As a result, the national vacancy rate for both owner-occupied and rental units fell again in 2018, to 4.4 percent, its lowest point since 1994.

There is a “powerful connection between homelessness and access to housing people can afford,” according to the U.S. Inter-Agency Council on Homelessness. Nationally, homelessness edged up 0.3 percent in 2018, to 552,830, from 550,996 in 2017, based on the U.S. Dep’t of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) point-in-time survey.

Among the side-effects of the housing shortage are increased calls for rent control. Oregon enacted the nation’s first statewide rent control law in February 2019, out of widespread frustration with escalating rents. California enacted the second such statewide law in September 2019. All told, moves to expand rent control through ballot initiatives or legislation have arisen since 2017 in about a dozen states.

Economists caution that rent control is problematic for the housing market because, for example, it tends to discourage the production of needed, new rental housing. For more specifics and sources about the current housing cost situation for low- and moderate-income Americans nationwide, please click on UPTICK IN RENTAL COST BURDENS AND HOMELESSNESS IN 2018

Effect of Amazon’s HQ2 on housing prices in Washington, DC, area appears to be even greater than previously thought

 

For the first time since 2011, rent increases in the Washington, DC, metro area exceeded the national average, year-over-year, in large apartment buildings—according to Yardi Matrix. DC-area rents were up 3.5 percent in the year ending June 2019 (20 basis points above the U.S. average), even though the DC area had the second-largest multifamily housing production pipeline in the nation (after Dallas, TX). For more about DC-area rental housing costs in 2018, please click on UPTICK IN RENTAL COST BURDENS AND HOMELESSNESS IN 2018

The home-buying frenzy near Amazon’s new HQ2 in suburban Arlington and Alexandria appears indirectly responsible for some of the overall increase in rents in the DC area. Figures from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), reported by MarketWatch.com, show that:

  • Initially, home prices in Northern Virginia rose 21%, following Amazon’s HQ2 announcement in November 2018
  • A year later, the median listing price of a home for sale in Arlington County was up 33% year-over-year, and
  • By contrast, the median sales price in Manhattan dropped 15 percent in that same, one-year period.

In February, Amazon dropped its plan for an HQ2 near Manhattan, in New York City, that was scheduled to have about the same number of new jobs (at least 25,000 by 2030), as the one in Northern Virginia. (The NAR’s figures reported by MarketWatch.com (a major, online financial services company) were based on data provided by Realtor.com. Both of those online companies are owned by subsidiaries of News Corp.)

Overall, Amazon reportedly has pledged about $113 million in recent months toward affordable-housing initiatives—largely in metro areas where it has offices, including HQ2. Amazon’s pledges actually pale in comparison to recent commitments by four other tech-based corporate giants, who have pledged a total of more than $5 billion for affordable housing production, mostly in cities near their headquarters (such as San Francisco and Seattle). Apple reportedly has pledged $2.5 billion; Facebook, $1 billion; Google, $1 billion; and Microsoft $500 million.

Those commitments may have been too little, too late, however, to stem the exodus of tech workers from those areas, which have had record-setting home prices lately. “Workers are leaving California for cities like Austin, Texas and Charlotte, N.C., where thousands more homes are being built that can be bought for a fraction of the price,” according to MarketWatch.

Even with ample funding, a new residential development will not be built if local governments or voters prevent it. That happens all-too-frequently. For more specifics and sources on Amazon HQ2 developments since June 2019, please click on: ONE YEAR AFTER AMAZON’S HQ2 ANNOUNCEMENT, HOUSING PRICES CONTINUE TO SOAR. For more on previous developments regarding Amazon’s HQ2 initiatives, please click on AMAZON HQ2 HOUSING CONCERNS. (June 2019) and AMAZON HQ2’s BRING HOUSING CHALLENGES (Dec. 2018).

 

Rapidly growing Loudoun County, in Northern Virginia, approves new Comprehensive Plan with much more housing than previously envisioned—as EHI urged

 

On June 20, 2019, Loudoun County, Virginia’s governing body (the Board of Supervisors) approved the first Comprehensive Plan in 18 years for that that burgeoning, outer suburb of Washington, DC. The amount of new housing that should be planned for was among the chief sources of debate during the 3½-year planning process, which included more than 100 public meetings. However, the final Plan (which covers the period to 2040) appears fundamentally consistent with the expanded housing demand forecasts by the County’s Planning Commission and planning staff, as well as outside experts—including EHI.

According to those forecasts, the county will need much more new housing than previously envisioned, in order to balance the tremendous job growth there by 2040. Loudoun anticipates about 110,000 new jobs by then—almost a two-thirds increase from 2015.

To balance that job growth, about 73,300 new housing units would be needed by 2040, based on the commonly-used standard of one suitable housing unit for approximately 1.5 jobs in the community. However, the county’s official housing forecast had been for only 45,800 new housing units—about 62.5 percent of that amount.

Failure to balance Loudoun’s enormous job growth with enough housing growth would lead to problems such as increased traffic congestion, development sprawl, loss of open space, housing price escalation, residents living in poverty, and perhaps even more homelessness—in Loudoun County and the Washington, DC, region.

Under Loudoun’s new Comprehensive Plan, the new housing will be concentrated in the urbanizing Eastern end of the county, near Dulles International Airport and the county’s two future Metrorail (commuter rail) stations. A substantial portion of that housing will be affordable to low- and moderate-income people, under Loudoun County policies.

Loudoun’s comprehensive planning process was spearheaded by first-term Board Chair Phyllis Randall. The county’s Planning Commission came out strongly for meeting housing needs, in its Draft Comprehensive Plan transmitted to the Board in March.

EHI has been involved in Loudoun’s housing planning for four years. EHI’s in-depth report on Loudoun’s Metrorail-related housing needs was submitted to the members of the current County Board at the beginning of their terms, in January 2016. EHI’s President, Tom Loftus, has been a member of the Loudoun County Housing Advisory Board since 2017.

EHI submitted written comments to the Board as part of the public hearing in April 2019. To read them, please click on EHI COMMENTS TO LOUDOUN BOARD ON 2019 COMP PLAN. To read EHI’s previous report mentioned above, please click on LOUDOUN’S METRORAIL-RELATED HOUSING NEEDS (2015). For further background, please click on EHI's other Loudoun articles, such as LOUDOUN COMP PLAN HOUSING ISSUES (Dec. 2018).

Pursuing “win/win” solutions with current residents, to resolve concerns about permitting needed, new housing in their area

 

Residents’ resistance to permitting new housing in their area is probably the chief, underlying obstacle to creating enough housing in the right places, suitable for the low- and moderate-income people who need it. That resistance—often called NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) sentiment—is quite powerful, because the local officials responsible for decisions on housing issues are either elected by those residents, or appointed by elected officials.

Any new housing development, or any other land use that has potential side-effects on existing residents, will get a predictable response from those residents: “How will the development impact me and my family?”

Residents in the area may have a myriad of concerns. Typically, among the biggest worries are the risks of increased traffic congestion, loss of open space, lower property values, and/or higher taxes resulting from the development. Such adverse impacts generally can be avoided, but doing so takes careful planning and follow-through.

The surest way to overcome the NIMBY syndrome is to make sure that the vast majority of people in the area understand that the benefits that will flow to them and their community from the new development will outweigh whatever costs and impacts they are likely to experience. It appears that such a “win/win” solution often can be achieved through: (1) sufficient analysis and explanation to residents of the actual facts, combined with (2) a reasonably supportive attitude by the local government.

For example, the local government often can provide assurances pro-actively, early on, that it can commit adequate funding to make the needed infrastructure improvements (roads, schools, and other public services)—without heaping new tax burdens on current residents. The necessary public funding usually can be supplied from the increased tax revenue generated by new development overall, including commercial growth (such as new office, retail, and industrial development). Commercial growth typically provides a great deal of net tax revenue to the locality.

For more about strategies to address residents' concerns, please click on PURSUING “WIN/WIN” SOLUTIONS TO MEETING HOUSING NEEDS.

 

MORE EHI ARTICLES

 

  • EHI recommends “leveling the playing field” for victims of economically exclusionary housing practices, by authorizing courts to require reimbursement of their litigation expenses by violators. For more, please click on please click on LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD FOR VICTIMS OF UNLAWFUL, EXCLUSIONARY HOUSING PRACTICES.
  • EHI celebrated its significant achievements, both locally and nationwide, on its 10th anniversary--September 19, 2018. For more, please click on EHI's FIRST TEN YEARS
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing practices that have a disproportionately adverse effect on members of minority groups—unless those practices have a justifiable purpose and properly limited scope. For more, please click on SUPREME COURT DISPARATE IMPACT DECISION.
  • Major report by McKinsey Global Institute finds that overcoming exclusionary housing policies is the most critical step in providing affordable housing--in the United States and around the world. For more, please click on McKINSEY REPORT ON MEETING GLOBAL HOUSING AFFORDABILITY CHALLENGE.
  • EHI memorandum summarizes how exclusionary housing policies aggravate housing problems that have been linked to increased developmental problems among low-income children. Among those problems are children's health (physical, mental and emotional), safety, educational achievement, and general cognitive and behavioral development.. For more, please click on CHILDREN'S DEVELOPMENT & XHPs
  • Inside Philanthropy urges funders to support EHI’s efforts to break the grip of exclusionary zoning and other exclusionary housing policies on housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income people. For more, please click on Inside Philanthropy urges funders to support EHI
  • EHI letters printed by Washington Post highlight serious, adverse effects of local housing and land use policies For more, please click on EHI LETTERS IN WASHINGTON POST
  • EHI analyzes whether Congress has Constitutional authority to prohibit unwarranted state and local regulatory restrictions on housing supply, if those restrictions affect interstate commerce—as a number of recent studies indicate they now do. For more, please click on INTERSTATE EFFECTS OF REG. BARRIERS (2017).

 

Equitable Housing Institute

P.O. Box 1402

Vienna, VA 22183