Biden Admin’s Push for High-Density Housing Rooted in Racial and Environmental Agendas: Professor

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The Biden administration is encouraging local municipalities across the nation to change zoning rules to create higher-density neighborhoods. The plan has elements of the racial and environmental agendas Biden has been advancing on most fronts.

The Housing Supply Action Plan, announced in May, aims to ease housing costs by increasing the housing supply in every community.

“One of the most significant issues constraining housing supply and production is the lack of available and affordable land, which is in large part driven by state and local zoning and land use laws and regulations that limit housing density,” a May 16 White House statement announcing the plan said. “Exclusionary land use and zoning policies constrain land use, artificially inflate prices, perpetuate historical patterns of segregation, keep workers in lower productivity regions, and limit economic growth.”

Under the plan, the administration will pressure jurisdictions to rewrite zoning and land-use policies to increase density, by tying federal grant applications to zoning.

For example, this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) gave higher scores for competitive grants totaling nearly $6 billion to jurisdictions that have implemented land-use policies to promote higher density. And, the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) evaluates grant applications in part by EDA’s environmentally sustainable development investment priorities, which already include “infill development”—that is, new construction on land between existing buildings. Now it will add prioritization of projects that increase density in other ways.

Connecting Zoning to Racism and Climate

The Zoning laws are intertwined with climate change and racial justice, according to Sara Bronin, a professor at Cornell University’s Department of City and Regional Planning and associated faculty at Cornell Law School who specializes in land use and sustainable development.

She is the founder of Desegregate Connecticut, a self-described pro-home coalition of neighbors and nonprofits advocating for more equitable, affordable, and environmentally sustainable land-use policies in Connecticut and focused on expanding diversity in the housing stock.

By Beth Brelje and Matt McGregor

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