President Donald Trump warned you. In the name of equity and inclusion, the Biden administration is making moves that target the suburbs with federal regulation. It will pull zoning decisions away from city councils through the federal government’s typical mechanism to impose its will where it has no business intruding in our layered federalist system.
As part of his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, the Biden administration is pushing local governments to allow apartment buildings in neighborhoods that are restricted to single-family homes. The administration claims it’s a way to ease a national affordable housing shortage and combat racial injustice in the housing market.
Current zoning laws that favor single-family homes, known as exclusionary zoning, have disproportionately hurt low-income people who can’t afford to move to the suburbs, the administration said. Their only choice is living in crowded apartment buildings. Biden’s proposal would incentivize local governments to get rid of exclusionary zoning by awarding grants and tax credits to cities that change their zoning regulations.
So, the Biden administration wants people to move from apartments in dense urban areas to apartments in neighborhoods in the suburbs. Not apartments in suburban towns, which often have a decent selection of apartments and townhomes for rent. The administration wants apartment buildings in developments zoned for single-family homes. They will use grants and tax credits as the carrot and eventually pull highway funds through the Booker Amendment as a stick.
These are not the apartments often built in what is termed cradle-to-grave housing. Several developments in the Atlanta suburbs contain apartments, townhomes, single-family homes, and 55-and-over sections. They are planned communities where all residents use common areas, except for some reserved just for the active senior population. The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (AFFH), an Obama administration policy, has always called for high-density, low-income housing in the suburbs.
The Trump administration eliminated the rule, leaving zoning with state and local governments, as it should be. The change also eliminated the burdensome data collection required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to support the program. The insertion into the infrastructure bill appears to be a move to codify it into law, rather than just reinstating the rule administratively through HUD, where two new rules have already been proposed. One is the AFFH.
The second rule, the discriminatory effects standard, is premised on the same fiction that all equity policies are: disparate outcomes are evidence of discrimination. This lazy and inaccurate assumption leads to destructive policies all around, rather than dealing with the underlying causes of the identified disparities. The discriminatory effects standard bars seemingly neutral policies in lending, renting, and selling property. These may include requirements like minimum credit scores and security deposits. It is the same mentality that led to the sub-prime lending disaster.
Democrats enjoy making this a racial issue when it is actually a lifestyle issue. There is racial and age diversity in my neighborhood, and harmony is built on a shared lifestyle. Everyone pitches in and maintains our common areas to avoid paying homeowner’s association fees. We all maintain our individual properties and pet each other’s dogs when they get out. We have recent immigrants who came here and started successful businesses and residents whose family has been in the local area for generations.
Ultimately, the AFFH will insert itself into school assignments, mandatory industrial zoning, local transportation, and community planning. Eventually, it will use federal law to force the redistribution of tax revenue to more impoverished cities in the greater metropolitan region. As Stanley Kurtz wrote before the election at National Review:
What surprises me is that Biden has actually promised to go much further than AFFH. Biden has embraced Cory Booker’s strategy for ending single-family zoning in the suburbs and creating what you might call “little downtowns” in the suburbs. Combine the Obama-Biden administration’s radical AFFH regulation with Booker’s new strategy, and I don’t see how the suburbs can retain their ability to govern themselves. It will mean the end of local control, the end of a style of living that many people prefer to the city, and therefore the end of meaningful choice in how Americans can live.
The Biden administration is not concerned with diversifying my community as much as they are with the way we vote. In 2020, my county voted for President Trump by nearly a 40% margin. This pattern is consistent for all the counties surrounding the metro Atlanta area. President Biden won Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, by almost 50 points.
This percentage equates to a lot of wasted margin in Georgia’s most populous county for Democrats. They can engineer policy to export Fulton County residents to counties like mine, reduce their wasted margin by a significant amount, and remain comfortable. This policy could swing districts around them from purple and red to blue, affecting races at the local level, state legislature, and House of Representatives.
Kurtz made this prediction:
Progressive urbanists’ long-cherished dream of abolishing the suburbs is now within reach. With AFFH restored to its original form by a President Biden, enforced to the hilt, and turbo-charged by the Booker strategy, suburbs as we know them will pass from the scene.
With features codified into law via the infrastructure bill, it will be much harder to reverse. Make sure your senators know where you stand and tell them you expect their gated community to go first. And once again, Trump was right.