Affordable housing is one of the greatest challenges facing the United States. And one way the government could help is by making development aid to local communities conditional on them reforming their land use policies to allow for more construction. Pop Quiz: The foregoing is a high-level summary of the policy regulations adopted by (a) Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.); (b) Governor Glenn Youngkin (R-Va.); or (c) all of the above.
If you guessed right (c), then, like us, you’re finding a growing consensus that there is no serious solution to the housing problem other than building more of it, and that longstanding structural barriers are required to increase supply are to be tackled aggressively and creatively.
Mr. Youngkin put forward his reform-aid idea in a policy brief distributed concurrently with his remarks at the 2022 Virginia Governor’s Housing Conference in Richmond on November 18. Its goal, the paper said, is to “establish appropriate links between discretionary state grants of funding for localities and local policies and measures that encourage housing growth through executive action or bylaws.” The same concept was enshrined in Ms. Warren’s proposal — during her 2020 presidential campaign – Embodied in offering $10 billion in federal grants contingent on “reforms.” [of] Land use rules to allow for the construction of additional well located affordable housing units.” Mr. Youngkin plans to introduce a housing bill at the next session of the General Assembly, which opens on January 11th.
Of course, when Mr. Youngkin took office 10 months ago, he inherited a relatively robust state housing market. According to a 2021 analysis by Brookings Institution’s Jenny Schuetz, housing supply grew the most between 2010 and 2019 in Virginia, where people most want to live, “an indicator of healthy statewide housing markets.” Exceptions were in the northern Virginia suburbs — Fairfax County and Alexandria — where supply growth lagged behind the national average. Fast-growing Charlottesville and Blacksburg, home of the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech respectively, are showing signs of an emerging housing affordability crisis. Ms. Schuetz noted that in “California and Massachusetts, local zoning codes are now placing a significant strain on the entire statewide housing supply — a cautionary tale that Virginia should avoid.”
Critics were quick to accuse the governor of overriding development over environmental protection and quality of life considerations. These considerations are indeed important; Still, they can be claimed without due regard for necessary housing developments, including higher-density housing, allowing low- and middle-income people to find homes close to where they work. Mr Youngkin told the housing conference that a single-family project in Virginia can take up to 30 months to start and more than 36 months for a multi-family project. That’s a problem. “If you want economic growth, you need a workforce,” Mr Youngkin said. “Anyone who wants workers needs a place where they can live.” Although the details remain to be seen — and lawmakers should scrutinize them carefully as they are formulated — Mr. Youngkin’s ideas seem to go in the same direction as others’ more thoughtful ones leaders of both parties.
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