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How one can persuade a NIMBY to construct extra houses

Convincing Americans to build more housing is the only way to solve the national housing crisis. A new survey by Data for Progress / Vox suggests a way to convince them: Let’s say it’ll help the economy.

The poll, conducted February 19-22 of 1,551 likely voters, found that a strong economic case for changing zoning laws to allow multi-family housing to be built can potentially change the minds of voters. Zone changes were 10 percentage points more popular when combined with an economic case than with a racial justice argument, with fewer voters against it.

As housing supply hits record lows, many Americans contend over dwindling homes and millions are losing I hope they can even find an affordable place to rent, let alone own one. In general, apartment building is the cheapest option, especially in cities and suburbs with high opportunities. The same amount of land can be used to build one or more houses so that multiple families can live on a single piece of land. But building more of them is often unpopular (in practice, if not in theory).

Many people try to block new developments near their properties by adopting restrictive zoning rules at the local level. They cite reasons ranging from concerns about the change in neighborhood character to inadequate parking and congestion, and sometimes express an apparent hostility towards low-income and minority communities who might become their new neighbors.

Much has been written about racism and classism embedded in zone codes that dictate what can be built where. These rules were designed to prevent people of color, and especially black Americans, from living in predominantly white neighborhoods with higher opportunities. And now they are effectively preventing low- and middle-income Americans from finding affordable housing, especially near well-funded schools and neighborhoods that are filled with amenities.

These regulations take the form of seemingly innocuous rules that mandate minimum lot sizes, minimum parking spaces, height restrictions, and more. Ultimately, they often prevent developers from building anything other than large single-family homes. And even if they can build apartment buildings, the cost of dealing with all of these regulations makes it so that only luxury units are profitable.

This is a big reason why current housing supply in the market is at record lows. The National Association of Realtors calculated that by the end of 2020 only 1.9 months of living space were available – that is, if no other houses were brought onto the market in just under two months, the stock of houses would be completely sold out given the current market conditions.

A chart from the National Association of Realtors showing home supplies in months of inventory. National Association of Brokers

The suppression of the supply of houses artificially increases the cost of all houses and causes widespread economic damage. In a 2015 study by the University of Chicago economist Chang-Tai Hsieh and UC Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti, researchers find that moving to high productivity areas has become prohibitively expensive for middle- and low-income Americans drag Growth was reduced by more than 50 percent from 1964 to 2009.

It is vitally important to convince enough Americans that building more housing is in their personal economic interest to ensure that cities and counties reverse some of these most restrictive practices. But many proponents are divided on the best way to do this. While the original use of exclusion zoning tools to trap black Americans in areas with low odds is well documented, it may not be the most compelling way to attract converts.

In the Vox / Data for Progress survey, 44 percent support “changing zoning laws to allow multi-family housing” when respondents are told it is a racial justice issue [that is] Preventing black Americans from realizing economic opportunities and the American dream of owning a home. “With this framework, almost the same number was against it: 43 percent.

However, when respondents were told that changing these laws “will fuel economic growth … [and] give more Americans the opportunity to get affordable housing, ”support for the proposal reached 47 percent and the opposition fell to 37 percent.

Most of this change appears to have come from Republicans who had net support of -29 percent from a racial justice perspective. With the economic framework, the proposal is still under water, but the net support jumps 14 points to -15 percent.

Notably, there is a large age gap in support for changing these laws – 54 to 59 percent of those under 45 support building multi-family houses, depending on the argument put forward, while only 38 to 41 percent of those over 45 do so. This reflects the gap between older Americans, who mostly own their own homes, and younger Americans, who watch this opportunity slide out of reach.

Polls can show the relative popularity of these arguments, but it is difficult to say how effective they will be in practice. Often times, people will generally say that they are in favor of more housing. But when asked about a new building in your neighborhood, you can almost exclaim, “Not in my backyard!” Changing this mindset takes more than the economic housing density argument, but it is a start.

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