"Promoting housing affordability by combating exclusionary housing policies"

 

CFC # 41863 (Combined Federal Campaign) 

 

Washington Post publishes EHI’s letter on consequences of 

local government failures to plan adequately for housing

 

On April 28, 2013, the Washington Post published the following letter by EHI’s President, Tom Loftus, in response to numerous recent Post articles on housing issues.

 

Problems described in the April 22 front-page article “Big firms scooping up home bargains,” about Wall Street firms outbidding individuals for homes in recovering real estate markets (such as this one), and in the same day’s Metro article “Budget cuts threaten to upend Fairfax man’s fragile existence” are aggravated by the failure of most area jurisdictions to plan for, and permit, enough housing for their workforces.

 

That failure also worsens the effects of gentrification in Alexandria, the closing of the District’s public housing list, homelessness and declining affordability in and around the city. The resulting inadequate housing supply hits low- and moderate-income people hardest.

 

Major potential sources of new housing in Northern Virginia are being planned along the new Silver Line to Dulles Airport and eastern Loudoun County. But the local governments that ultimately will make the decisions about these communities have resisted allowing enough housing for future workers in those areas.

 

There are many documented success stories of communities near transit that are predominantly residential. New residents generally are not a significant drain on local government finances, as some officials fear.

 

Thomas A. Loftus, Vienna

  The writer is president of the Equitable Housing Institute.

 

That letter is posted at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/governments-failure-to-plan-for-housing-is-hurting-people/2013/04/28/b169a93e-adc5-11e2-b240-9ef3a72c67cc_story.html. It appeared in the Post's print edition on April 29, 2013, p. A14, under the caption “Government’s failure to plan for housing is hurting people.” 

 

In response to certain online comments, posted on the Post webpage listed above, asking for a constitutional basis for EHI’s position, and questioning the role of “equity” in government housing policy, Mr. Loftus explained:

 

Actually, there is a strong constitutional underpinning to EHI’s arguments. First, all that EHI’s letter says is that when governments “plan for, and permit” land uses, those actions should allow the private sector to produce enough housing where it is needed. Local exclusionary zoning and other regulatory barriers too often don’t allow that. 

 

Allowing enough private-sector housing doesn’t cost government a thing. It doesn’t require government to provide everyone with housing. It just requires governments to do their planning and regulation right as regards housing. The failure of area governments to designate enough land and density for residences for current and future workers is well-documented. 

 

As to constitutional requirements—regardless whether governments have a duty to provide or pay for housing, they have a constitutional duty not to interfere unjustifiably with the opportunity of private citizens to provide and obtain housing. That is EHI’s focus. American constitutional law gives citizens a right to be free from governmental regulations that do not promote the public health, safety, morals or general welfare. Numerous state Supreme Courts have ruled that exclusionary zoning, which unduly limits residential development, is contrary to the general welfare and unconstitutional. 

 

Also, 35 state constitutions expressly declare the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights, as understood by the writers of the Nation’s constitutions, include opportunities for every American to meet basic needsincluding adequate housing, food, and clothingand to achieve reasonable personal fulfillment. EHI’s website (http://cswac.org) discusses the constitutional and other legal requirements. 

 

 “Equity” to EHI means fairness. Government housing laws are constitutionally required to be equitable in various ways. For example, there is the requirement of “equal protection of the laws” under the federal and state constitutions.

 

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  • For specifics on suburban communities near transit that are predominantly residential, both in the Washington metropolitan area and across the United States, CLICK HERE
  • For specifics on studies indicating that new residents in a community generally are not a significant drain on local government finances, CLICK HERE
  • For a summary of the comprehensive George Mason University report (Oct. 2011) finding housing planning and production insufficient in the Washington metropolitan area, CLICK HERE.
  • For a previous EHI letter published by the Washington Post (on Dec. 25, 2010), summarizing EHI's position that the imbalance between jobs and housing units in the Washington, DC, area is a major cause of escalating rents in that area, CLICK HERE.  (For a slightly re-edited EHI version of that letter, CLICK HERE.)