Affirmatively Furthering Food Deserts?

In his attempts to close the sale, Our President has tossed in an appeal to “suburban women,” something along the lines of “I’m protecting your suburbs” with references either to “projects” or “Section 8.”
On [August 16] The Wall Street Journal published a joint op-ed by [housing secretary Ben] Carson and President Donald Trump in which the two warned that eliminating single-family zoning would import urban dysfunction into thriving suburban communities.
Not surprisingly, he’s getting called out for that sort of language.  “Inclusive and equitable suburbs build more affordable housing, advance fairness in education, and centers environmental justice.” 
Yes, and for all the talk of a vanishing middle class, the upscale suburbs are becoming more diverse (and sprawling further?)  Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff suggests that suburban and exurban residents might have reason to fret.
[P]ursuant to [the policy] Dubuque, Iowa was required to provide low income housing to residents of Chicago, some 200 miles away. The Obama administration forced Dubuque to give these out-of-staters preference for affordable housing over needy residents of the town, many of whom had been providing Dubuque with tax revenue for decades.
The policy was being questioned in the Senate before Mr Trump became president.  Mr Mirengoff suggests it well might resonate with suburban voters.  In DeKalb, the northwest corner of the city is home to Fraternity Row, a lot of rental units catering to students and to Section 8 residents, and that neighborhood gets more than its share of shootings, and, for some reason, arson fires in apartments.  You can count on the comment section of the newspaper, if they consent to comments, getting lit up with gripes, either about the students, or about the “Section 8 people.”  National Review‘s Stanley Kurtz suggested that exporting Chicago’s troubles extended beyond the Mississippi River.
Dubuque is not an upper-middle-class suburb but a small and economically struggling city. At $44,600, median income in Dubuque is well below the state median of $51,843. Like other nearby Mississippi river towns with aging populations, Dubuque is hard-pressed to provide good jobs and decent housing for the low-income people already there: poor families with children, retired elderly, and disabled adults. The city’s priority is to revive its economy by keeping its young people from moving away, and by attracting new residents who are willing and able to start businesses. Like any city, Dubuque’s first obligation is to see to the needs of the citizens who already live there, vote, and pay taxes. Or so it was in pre-[new policy] America.

Our story begins about eight years ago. Just as Dubuque was reeling from the effects of the 2008 recession and dealing with an uptick in its own low-income housing needs, the city was hit with a wave of “Section 8” low-income housing voucher applicants from Chicago. A few years earlier, Chicago had systematically demolished its most drug- and crime-ridden high-rise public housing facilities, using grants from HUD. Yet through its own mismanagement, Chicago had failed to properly replace its now depleted low-income housing stock, leaving many Chicago residents looking to use their Section 8 vouchers elsewhere.
Mr Kurtz suggested that the national government was “commandeering” the Mississippi River towns in Iowa to “solve Chicago’s public housing shortage.” Perhaps, or perhaps not, but Mr Mirengoff sees a campaign issue. “[I]f folks in the suburbs of cities like Atlanta, Milwaukee, Detroit, Houston, and Philadelphia come to understand that Biden is committed to radically transforming housing and transportation patterns where they live, more than a few of them might well reconsider their support for the former vice president.”

But if the suburbs are to be “saved,” perhaps it ought to be from local zoning ordinances, if the contagion-avoiding movement away from thickly settled areas is to have any permanence.
But rejecting mixed-use planning has made suburban communities unexpectedly resilient in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not so appealing to be able to walk to the corner café for brunch (a cooked omelet, presumably) when the venue has been shut down by shelter-in-place orders. Even as restaurants and retailers reopen, dining in or shopping has been degraded by the coronavirus: Restaurant occupancy is restricted by social distancing; establishments are struggling to make ends meet; and worries about contamination in enclosed, air-conditioned spaces damage the experience. All of that might return to normal eventually, but by the time it does, the gastropubs and ice-cream parlors may have gone under anyway. The coffee shops may conver for good into tableless pickup stands. Commercial catastrophe will affect the allure of existing mixed-use developments far more than single-use, low-density residential communities, which never relied on those benefits as a condition of residency.
The single-use, residential communities will not have any gastropubs or drive-throughs on their commercial-zoned stroads, you mean.  There goes the business tax base.  “An increasing number of developers want to appeal to people who prefer to live and work in places where they don’t have to drive for everything they want.”

Reason‘s Christian Britschgi sees the strange bedfellows.
[T]he president shares a lot in common with many of his progressive detractors in deeply blue areas of the country who are also happy to use regulation to keep new housing at bay, and who organize against attempts from higher levels of government to force them to accept new development.
Paradoxically, he notes, “It’s unlikely that Trump will pick up too many votes in the blue suburbs of blue cities, but his defense of local control and low-density zoning probably isn’t hurting him there.”  Steven Greenhut, also in Reason, elaborates.
[G]overnment enforces zoning specifically to limit any meaningful choice and to control what other people do on their own property. “All zoning is exclusionary, and is expected to be exclusionary; that is its purpose,” wrote the late Bernard Siegan, a prominent free-market academic.
Doesn’t matter whether it’s snob zoning or socially conscious zoning, it’s imposition of constraints that might actually militate against people being able to provide decent, cheap housing. “So next time you notice a block that has seen better days, take a look at your zoning code and see how a few key changes could make a world of difference.”

Thus, if the president is attempting to reach conservative voters (whatever that means) he might want to lead the charge against what Strong Towns writer John Pattison describes as the suburban experiment.  That is, “[R]elaxing zoning laws, allowing greater building flexibility, allowing duplexes and granny flats, letting small business districts form, etc.—should appeal to Republicans’ social conservatism, free-marketism, and populism.”  Yes, and if a few holders of Section 8 vouchers are in the mix, it’s unlikely to be the kind of clustered poverty of the slums or of the projects.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

19 thoughts on “Affirmatively Furthering Food Deserts?”

  1. Control should be local. It’s none of the federal government’s business what local zoning laws are. Though if we’re going to do so, then it’s another way we can try to destroy cities and encourage moves back to small towns, but not like the stupid Obama program.

  2. Steve Sailor has observing this subject for awhile:

    “▼So, the Obama Administration has paid particular attention to greasing the skids under urban blacks so they won’t face any resistance to their abandoning all the potentially valuable real estate they occupy and moving to less fashionable locations. For example, the Obama Administration has been at war with Dubuque, Iowa over its resistance to Chicago plans to relocate Chicago’s poor, violent blacks to Dubuque. Obviously, the liberal Democrats running Chicago are liberal Democrats so they can’t be racist in their desire to pawn their troublesome Chicago blacks off on the small city losers of Dubuque, who are no doubt vicious racists, just look at them.

    The general term chosen by the Obama Administration for this strategy of dumping the hot potato of poor blacks on the rest of the country to create trillions in new value for urban real estate interests is Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. I suspect this awkward term was chosen to dissuade talk radio hosts from taking it up because it’s hard to say without sounding like Daffy Duck.

    My position on all this is that poor blacks will always be a hot potato that powerful interests are plotting to dump on less well-connected Americans. That’s always going to happen, but at least we can have fair arguments about the machinations if we all lay our cards on the table and publicly criticize each other in open debates.”

  3. I spent a few years on the planning commission of my small California city. California has a nexus of building developers, “public interest” law firms and politicians who make a joke of zoning attempts. My small city was a “Planned Community” that began development in the 1960s. By 1972, when I moved there, there was still no supermarket for groceries. By 2000, it was built out to capacity.

    The nexus, every few years, would come up with a finding that the city did not have enough “affordable housing.” The developers were funding the law firms, which would then sue the city and the politicians would decided we had to find more affordable housing.

    In one case, a developer built a Section 8 project alongside an “over 55” project. They looked identical and there was about 20 feet between them but the developer put a fence so children could not get to the green areas included in the adult project. It turned out that fire engines could not turn around so the fence had to go. I quit the planning commission about that time and don’t know if it was ever resolved.

  4. Unlike most Republicans, Trump excels at using leftist political tactics against the Left.

    I think zoning is a bad idea and should be abolished.

    However, I support Trump and his use of leftist political tactics to benefit his middle-class, pro-USA constituency, as opposed to lefty candidates who use leftist political tactics to benefit mainly rich tech entrepreneurs and financiers, welfare recipients, illegal immigrants and the anti-American institutional Left.

  5. “Control should be local.” I largely agree, but I’m also in the minimum standards camp.

    “I think zoning is a bad idea and should be abolished.” A Libertarian idea and valid, but as most Libertarian ideas, limited to best circumstances. In any seriously competitive environment, there will conflict for scarce resources, and many things that might protect the little guy, largely bypassed. Then the outcome will depend on economic might. That will eventually destroy the society it occurs in. Oh wait ….

  6. This all seems like a way of nationalizing and politicizing culture; a town’s identity lies at least to some degree in its inhabitants sense that they are unique and have a unique way of dealing with their problems. Of course, few are unique, but there is enough city individuality to supports this warmth, sense of place, and pride to lead to a civil civic culture. It is the bourgeois and the individual that these loons want to erase – two sources of strength to our culture and two oppositions to stamping us all from the same cookie mold. I’ve got to admit that I thought I was against zoning until two houses across from us started renting to 5 students each (somehow 5 students have 5 significant others and those five seemed to always sleepover in the houses on our street – the obstacle course they put up of cars on our street, that has no sidewalks and is half a block from a grade school, were irritating and dangerous; I lessened the problem by lobbying my husband to at least buy the lot next door. I think it will turn out to be a money-losing project but having a somewhat cleaner street may have been worth it – and that was our choice, we didn’t lobby to tell other people what to do.)

  7. So basically complaining that the most conservative President since Ronald Regan is insufficiently …… libertarian.

  8. }}} I think zoning is a bad idea and should be abolished.

    I would not go quite so far as that, but it certainly should be strongly constrained.

    The solution to two government “problems” is generally pretty simple.

    1) Zoning should be constrained to 5-10 “general” categories. Urban. Suburban. Agricultural. Manufacturing. Etc.

    2) Gerrymandering — while there is a need to adjust districts, this can be fixed by constraining any district to a fixed number of “sides”, which must be either a straight line or an obvious “natural” boundary — either a river, a state line, a single contiguous section of road… Call it 10-15 sides, max.

  9. I’ve got to admit that I thought I was against zoning until two houses across from us started renting to 5 students each (somehow 5 students have 5 significant others and those five seemed to always sleepover in the houses on our street

    One perennial problem we had on the planning commission was an apartment complex very close to a junior college (a big one with 25,000 students). The code specifies parking by one space per 600 square feet or so (I can’t remember). The apartments were around 900 to 1200 square feet. The idea was that they would each have two residents but, of course, that was outdated. As a result, single family homes for a half mile in each direction had their streets filled with cars from the apartment complex. No parking for visitors or guests. We had to come up with parking permits and enforcement.

  10. Ginny:
    I lessened the problem by lobbying my husband to at least buy the lot next door.

    Before you bought the lot, did students use the lot as a parking space?

  11. Our VERY suburban but large HOA had 1 section 8 housing experience. Our documents prohibit leasing less than 6 months at a time, but an ex-real estate agent had friends in the county bureaucracy who decided to overlook a few little details. The voucher holder was apparently a nice lady with 4 children, a little shy the neighbors said, but pleasant. The owner agent wasn’t paying the HOA fees nor keeping up the place, evidently. Within a few months, the lady’s 17 year old son returned from Juvie with a few friends, followed by several older friends who needed a place to stay. Within 6 months, the gang had set up a border at the entrance to the street, charging residents a fee to enter, had about 10 cars parked randomly along the streets, none of the kids could go outside to play. A couple more months and mom sent the 4 underage kids back to the city to stay with friends or relatives because THEY were in danger. She left shortly thereafter but continued using the vouchers for her son and “friends”. When the HOA complained to the county, they refused to send anyone out to check. Ultimately we (actually our local police) complained to the children’s bureau and when they came out to check, not one of the alleged residents was there. When the HOA took over for non-payment of fees (just ahead of the city, for non-payment of taxes and the mortgage holder for non-payment), the house was trashed. I used to think that section 8 might be a good idea. Not even the progressives in our neighborhood think that any more.

  12. I used to think that section 8 might be a good idea. Not even the progressives in our neighborhood think that any more.

    Liberals think that giving the dregs of society middle class trappings will magically convert them into middle class people, instead of the reality: that they’ll still be the dregs of society, just temporarily in possession of middle class trappings before returning to their natural habitat, but not before preying on actual middle class people for a while.

    For my part, I want a Yankees uniform, after which I’ll be their starting pitcher on opening day of next season. After all, I’ll have the trappings of a Yankee, right?

  13. Oh, Section 8 … if it’s such a damn good idea, park Section 8 Units in the top-drawer neighborhoods.
    Miss S., the daughter-in-law of my next door neighbor, Miss I (who is an upright, hardworking churchgoing woman of color) had things to say about Section 8 tenants which would peel varnish and paint off furniture and walls. Miss S. and her family had to move from their first house, in a neighborhood which degenerated so badly, with so many Section 8 units and the low-lives who took them – and trashed them. Miss I.’s son and daughter-in-law are as upright and hard-working as she is, and her three sons all worked from the age of 16 (mostly at food-service jobs) and the oldest are now raising families of their own.
    Now and again, there are stories on the English Daily Mail about horrible neighbors, trashy neighbors, vile and thuggish families who are moved into fairly comfortable and otherwise functional working-class neighborhoods … and basically wreck the place. One bad apple … and the whole street goes down the drain. Decent, working-class families leave, if they can. IF they can.

  14. If you are a taxpayer, that is to say, regularly employed, you should know that when a politician uses the word “fairness” he, or she, or zi intends to take something from you and give it to someone unencumbered by employment.

    The average Section 8 recipient is a “single” mother with 3-5 children from a similar number of fathers. Between the ex baby daddies, present baby daddies and would be baby daddies, neighbors will be entertained with various sorts of high drama on a near nightly basis. Since none of the cast have a job to go to, festivities generally begin around midnight and continue at full volume until the arrival of law enforcement.

    As the years take their toll on our multiparous ingenue, The drama supplied by her own attachments is augmented by grand-baby daddies, would be grand-baby daddies and the no longer innocent babies.

    Once a landlord starts to take Section 8 vouchers for apartments, they better figure on being all section 8 since nobody that can pay their own rent will stay.

    “I think zoning is a bad idea and should be abolished.”- there speaks a man that has never had to live close to the “Local Used Cow Dealer”, i.e. a rendering plant. The town was zoned but so small that there wasn’t much chance for separation.

  15. I know that Mankiw’s Principle #7 is “Governments can sometimes improve market outcomes”, coming right after (surprise) Principle #6 “Markets are usually a good way to organize economic activity”, but the problem as i see it is how to protect the gov’t entity that controls the specific economic activity from becoming co-opted by someone who isn’t trying to impartially arbitrate between the competing parties.

    My cynical take is that if a market provides scarce resources only to those who can afford them, then any entity that is responsible for allocating those resources will eventually be either bought out by the rich or controlled by the fanatics, who will probably be eventually bought out by the rich.

  16. The house next door to us was briefly rented to two women, one of whom had a 20-something son (who apparently wasn’t poor, as he drove a late model BMW).

    Junior used to dance in the street with his shirt off. Drugs may have been involved. Junior and Mom used to have flaming rows on a daily basis, and I do mean flaming. My study is about 15 feet away from their house, and I used to hope that any gunfire was directed the other way. (The arguments were just that hot.)

    The paramedics showed up once to take Mom on a platter. (I don’t know exactly what happened there, but I could guess.) Two cops parked in front of our house – twice – and walked next door (for obvious reasons) for a tete-a-tete with Junior out on the driveway.

    A few days later, two Hell’s Angels showed up on their motorcycles. Once again, I was hoping that if this business meeting turned violent, they’d be shooting the other way, and I was grateful that they got the right address.

    Finally, Mom and Junior moved out, to the relief of our tony neighborhood. (House prices in seven figures.) Mom and Junior been there a grand total of … ONE MONTH.

    Unbelievable. We had more excitement in that month than this sleepy neighborhood has had in 25 years.

  17. Our planned small city was in south Orange County and, when originally developed, was to be a far distance commuter suburb of LA, which is 60 miles away. I bought my first house there in 1972 for $47,000. Over the years, limitations in planning appeared. For example, then original plan expected kids to walk to school and so schools were in the center of housing clusters, all single family. By the time I was on the planning commission, the demographics had changed. Houses were $500,000 and mostly owned by older families with grown kids. Parents were now driving kids to school and creating traffic jams in residential neighborhoods. Then developers managed to overcome the general plan from 40 years before and built a 700 apartment complex on land zoned for office buildings. Traffic was as you would expect. The neighbors revolted and organized a small political reform group but the local politicians that they (we) supported to replace the corrupt city council soon made new friends and we ended up dissolving the reform group.

    I moved to Arizona ahead of the worst craziness of California.

  18. Gringo – No, that would have gotten the cars off the street, of course, but they were law abiding and respected property, indeed, they were nice kids. They just all had a car (and here that is a huge pickup apiece) and a lot of foreign grad students and people from some lower class housing close by walk their kids to school down our street. And some of us just like to walk a bit.

    My friend who rents a good many duplexes has story after story – and she will not rent to whatever our equivalent is, that is, people whose rent is subsidized by the government. She sees landlords as the last holder of some bourgeois standard – she’s got a point.

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