Upzoned

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April 13, 2022  

Who Should Be Able to Veto New Housing Production?

April 13, 2022

Should states and counties push back against local governments to crack open more options for housing? Will that be counterproductive? How much do multiyear litigation strategies by “Neighborhood Defenders” affect new housing production in tight markets?

A recent post in the DCist blog written by Ally Schweitzer got a lot of traffic from the housing, transportation and urbanist communities, who debated this nuanced question. A zoning battle ten years ago in the affluent Maryland suburb of Silver Spring was so contentious it’s still hot as a coal today and provides the infrastructure for this debate.

“Fights like this play out every day in cities and suburbs across the country, “ Schweitzer wrote. “But in the D.C. region, where local governments are struggling to address a severe housing shortage that is driving up prices, elected officials are under growing pressure to push back against civically engaged homeowners who mobilize against new housing construction. Montgomery County, an affluent D.C. suburb that has experienced transformative growth and demographic change in the last 30 years, exemplifies how hard that can be.”

Jenny Schuetz, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who examines the national housing shortage in her book Fixer-Upper: How to Repair America’s Broken Housing Systems, told Schweitzer: “We have this system where local governments are the gatekeepers for new housing production…local governments, in turn, have outsourced a lot of their authority to existing residents, so existing homeowners in particular have essentially veto power over proposals to build new housing.”

Upzoned host Abby Kinney and her guest, Strong Towns Content Manager Jay Stange, discuss how to respect local neighborhood’s choices about where and how new housing options should be considered in tight markets. Top down solutions rarely work, but change has to be greater than zero or communities will stagnate.