Tennessee-based political analyst Justin Hayes writes a series of articles in which it “aims to explore issues that might have broader appeal among left, right, libertarians and centrists on multiple fronts – from economic and philosophical perspectives to constitutional considerations and beyond”. The first piece in the series focuses on the issue of exclusionary zoning:
As the United States grapples with a deepening affordable housing crisisYIMBY (Yes-In-My-Backyard) groups have sprouted all over the country advocate for major reforms of the exclusionary zoning practices prevalent in most major cities. These zoning policies often prioritize single-family homes and hinder the construction of more affordable housing options for low- and middle-income residents. A paper 2022 by Jonathan Levine describes the YIMBY movement as “a loose and shifting pro-housing alliance of tenants, progressives, and libertarians who argue that land-use exclusion policies in urban and suburban areas exacerbate housing unaffordability and racial segregation and increase long-distance commuting and greenhouse gas emissions.”
These coalitions primarily focus on zoning reform within local or metropolitan jurisdictions, where traditional parties and ideological lines are blurring, and national culture wars are limited in scope, allowing people from diverse political backgrounds to unite in this cause. After all, the overarching goal of the YIMBY movement – to create an affordable place to live for all – is hard to argue against, regardless of its ideological perspective.
However, despite the undeniable merits of ending exclusionary zoning, the path forward has not been so straightforward. Misconceptions about increased housing density persist and surface at zoning hearings in nearly every city, voiced by concerned residents and NIMBY (Not-In-My-Backyard) groups. Their concerns range from traffic congestion to potential overcrowding in schools and perceived threats of crime to “community character”.
Hayes goes through a list of reasons why conservatives, libertarians, and progressives all have good reason to support the YIMBY cause. It also addresses a number of common objections.
I myself have made similar arguments (some of which emphasizing the interideological nature of the issue), and Hayes cites some of my earlier writings on this topic. The same is true for others, such as Richard Kahlenberg. But Hayes’ article is nevertheless a very useful summary of the case from the point of view of each of these three major ideologies.
I would add a few points to his analysis. For libertarians, it is important to point out that zoning not only restricts property rights, but that it is the most widespread and severe restriction on landowner rights in the United States today, preventing millions of people from using their land as they wish. For progressives, I would point out the long history of zoning as a tool of racial and ethnic exclusion— often deliberately used for this purpose. To date, zoning restrictions disproportionately harm blacks and Hispanics.
Finally, for conservatives, I would point out that reducing exclusionary zoning would greatly help the working class, including the white working class that the GOP claims to defend (and which is increasingly that party’s largest constituency). It would do this both by allowing more working-class people to “seize the opportunities” and by stimulating a vast construction boom that would create many thousands of relatively well-paying jobs for the working class. Like I have long underlinedzoning reform is a major underappreciated common interest of the predominantly Republican white working class and its majority Democratic minority counterpart.
For those who are particularly concerned – as many conservatives are – about expanding opportunities for working-class men, I would point out that construction workers are disproportionately male (almost 94%, according to the Construction Employers Association). But expanding employment opportunities in this way would also help many working and lower-middle-class women, albeit in less direct ways. They, like men, benefit from being able to move on occasion. Moreover, increased opportunities for male construction workers clearly benefit their wives and daughters and improve the potential marriage market for single working-class women. If you care about family values, the latter is an important consideration at a time when working class marriage rates have plummeted.
Much more can be said. And I’ve actually said more in previous posts, and I hope to write more in the future. In the meantime, Hayes’ article is a very useful introduction to the subject, covering a wide range of perspectives and issues. I also look forward to his analysis of the other issues he plans to cover in his series on Inter-Ideological Common Ground.