Biden Budgets $10 Billion to Incentivize Inclusionary Zoning


Eliminating Single Family Zoning Could Have Positive Impact on Ending Homelessness

President Joe Biden’s administration is working to create a $10 billion program that seeks to incentivize local governments to move away from single-family zoning and increase their housing supply.

Single-family zoning, also known as exclusionary zoning, is a type of land use policy that only allows for the development of detached homes rather than townhomes or condos. It is also the most common form of zoning in the U.S., and one that has come under increasing scrutiny since the pandemic began in 2020.

Biden’s program seeks to make grant funding available for local governments to build affordable housing units and make corresponding infrastructure improvements to sewer, water, and road systems, so the additional density does not disrupt local communities. It is part of his $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, also known as The American Jobs Plan, introduced in late March.

“This is the moment to reimagine and rebuild a new economy,” Biden said.

Zoning laws originated in the U.S. in 1916 when Berkeley, California, passed a set of ordinances that codified each parcel of land according to particular uses. These ordinances also controlled what kind of construction or commerce could occur on a particular plot of land.

These policies were created during the progressive era. Thus many contain language about providing for the common welfare. However, the policies have fallen well short of that goal in many instances.

For example, single-family zoning ordinances restricted multi-family development so that it was nearly impossible for many working-class and non-white families to move into predominantly white communities.

Zoning has also been shown to decrease housing opportunities for low-income earners and people trying to escape homelessness. For instance, single-family zoning can concentrate areas of poverty that often lack quality jobs, schools, and job opportunities. People in these areas also tend to experience the most significant housing instability during times of economic depression.

Following the Great Recession in 2009, many cities began to re-examine their zoning laws to promote more equitable housing development.

Minneapolis, Minnesota, became the first major American city to outlaw single-family zoning in 2018. But the COVID-19 pandemic kicked these efforts into overdrive for many governments. For instance, California outlawed single-family altogether in 2021. New York lawmakers are looking at ways to pass similar legislation.

President Biden’s economic advisors have similarly described single-family zoning as a policy that has “systemically discriminated against Black families” for attempting to walk the path toward economic well-being.

To begin rectifying the damage wrought by single-family zoning, Biden’s proposal would award local governments a series of tax credits and grants to increase their supply of affordable housing. A final draft of the bill has not yet been released. USA Today reported that the White House wants to pass the legislation this summer.

While zoning is typically discussed at the local level, some housing and policy experts agree that it is time for the federal government to intervene and end the practice.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge told USA Today that the plan is part of the Biden administration’s overall goal of advancing equity in the country.

“The result of this sort of investment will be critical to increasing housing options for low- and moderate-income families,” said Fudge.

William Fischel, an emeritus economics professor at Dartmouth College, recently told the Lincoln Institute that the move to end single-family zoning is “momentous,” but one that could ultimately yield positive results for low-income and communities of color.

Real estate organizations like the National Association of Realtors have also praised Biden’s proposal for its aims to increase housing supply.

“This unprecedented investment demonstrates how seriously the White House views the supply crisis,” said Shannon McGahn, NAR’s chief advocacy officer. “We worked with the administration and Congress over the past year on comprehensive policy proposals, and now a consensus is growing across Washington that decisive action is needed.”

How You Can Help

The pandemic proved we need to rethink housing in America. We need to redesign the laws surrounding housing development to increase access for communities that have been historically shut out of the housing market.

Contact your officials and representatives. Tell them you support creating strong land-use guidelines that spur affordable housing development. They have proven effective at building housing for people at all income levels, which is the first step to ending homelessness.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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