by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
YIMBYism is the ideology of “Yes in My Backyard.” Its advocates support urban development to bring down rents, among other benefits, and they’re primarily concerned with overly restrictive local zoning rules. But lately they’ve made some inroads in the federal government: The White House issued an executive order on housing affordability, and Senator Todd Young introduced the “YIMBY Act.” While small moves, these are promising signals of the growing concern over the affordability crisis.
President Trump’s “Executive Order Establishing a White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing” commits the White House to lowering the cost of housing construction. It will create a council chaired by the secretary of housing and urban development that will study and recommend measures to reduce housing costs.
Senator Young’s bill would require communities that receive Community Development Block Grant funding to state why they are or are not adopting “pro-affordability” housing policies, from relaxing mandates on off-street parking to “upzoning” areas around transit hubs.
While welcome, both of these efforts are largely toothless. In the case of the executive order, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is not capable of dictating zoning rules to cities. Previous proposals by Secretary Ben Carson to tie federal funds to relaxed zoning rules are certainly positive, but haven’t yet translated into action. Additionally, many of the areas with the strongest restrictions on housing — wealthy suburbs — receive relatively little in the way of federal funds, so HUD doesn’t have much of a carrot with which to persuade local lawmakers.