By David M. Greenwald
Land use politics defy conventional labels for the most part, and that seems to be getting even more strange as time goes on.
Where I grew up, land use for the most part was fairly straight forward. The right was aligned with developers, the left opposed new growth as anti-environmental, and there was a group in the middle—that tended to be left of center and supported some growth and development but wanted to avoid runaway sprawl.
When I came to Davis there was left and far left, slow and slower growth.
But as the cost of housing has skyrocketed, land use battles became more muddled. Suddenly housing became as much an equity issue as an environmental and sustainability issue. That has pitted the left against the left and even the fair left against the far left.
The article notes the strange alignment of politics in Florida with Republican Governor Ron DeSantis apparently “actively urging cities to knock off zoning reforms that legalize more housing.”
This, as we have seen, has blue states like California either “proposing or passing laws that override localities’ ability to say no to new development.”
At issue, the Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) sent a comment letter to Lauren Poe, Gainesville’s mayor, “recommending that the city withdraw a provisionally approved zoning amendment that allows two-, three-, and four-unit homes to be built in neighborhoods that were once zoned exclusively for single-family homes.”
The legalization of this so-called “missing middle” housing “results in a scattered, unplanned, unfocused, and untenable approach to providing affordable housing,” reads the department’s letter.
The letter adds, “This approach may result in fewer opportunities for providing access to affordable housing.”
“I find it interesting that probably the most progressive [city] commission in the state of Florida is pushing to allow more property rights to bring down housing prices,” counters Gainesville City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who supported the city’s zoning reforms. “A Republican executive branch under DeSantis is trying to stop people having more property rights.”
As Reason notes, the politics here are all over the map. Zoning reform “is becoming a bipartisan movement.”
They write: “(I)t’s not hard to see why. Free market advocates and conservatives see in it the promise of less regulation and enhanced property rights. Liberals and progressives like the idea of denser housing leading to more environmentally friendly, inclusive neighborhoods.”
So you have Gavin Newsom, the California Governor who has “endorsed a slew of YIMBY (“yes in my backyard”) reforms and beefed up state departments tasked with cracking down on anti-development jurisdictions that thwart state housing laws.”
You have also had Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, a Trumpist Republican, who has “fired rhetorical broadsides against restrictive zoning laws and the local governments that enforce them.”
Reason notes, “The federal YIMBY Act, a modest bill that requires jurisdictions receiving some federal grants to report on barriers to new housing construction, has managed to attract co-sponsors like conservative Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) and progressive Sen. Brian Schatz (D–Hawaii).”
Opposition to such zoning reform “also appears to cut across partisan lines.”
For example, DeSantis is offering the same criticism of fourplex legislation that you hear out here in places like Berkeley, San Francisco, and, yes, Davis.
The article prompted California YIMBY Policy Director Nolan Gray to tweet, “Truly bizarre behavior from DeSantis’ administration: as most states are desperately trying to nudge municipalities to liberalize zoning, Florida is chastising Gainesville for leading on the issue. Whatever happened to conservatives supporting property rights?”
He added, “Democrats for property rights, Republicans for government planning…I’ll say it again, land-use politics are weird.”
As Conor Friederdorf pointed out in a Tweet on Monday, those complaining about greedy developers are missing a critical point: “We *don’t* have power to “dictate how we are housed” when the construction of more housing is forbidden.”
If you need a house, you have to pick an ally.
Developers: “We would like to take this land, build more housing on it, and sell a unit of it to you at a small profit.”
NIMBYs: “Build nothing.”
Leftists: “People power will allow you to dictate how you are housed.”
I would actually argue that the argument I hear most often from NIMBYs is that we need housing, but not this housing, not here, and not now.
Some would argue, if we just build affordable housing, then that would be all right.
But as Fridersdorf pointed out, “To the NIMBY-aligned leftists who believe that developers simply rake in huge profits in a rigged system: why not coordinate to start a development company, or invest in one, and use the huge profits to help the poor and homeless?”
That would definitely put their money where their mouths are. But I think most of it is an excuse not to build housing, throwing up barriers to housing that is politically correct, when they know that there are real equity issues.
At the end of the day, I’m not pro-developer so much as a pragmatic realist. We need housing. The easiest path to that is to allow people willing to invest and build housing to do so. I’m fine with local communities attempting to moderate that housing and create community standards so long as it does not amount to a poison pill that kills the housing.