If Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden gets elected, he has promised to take away your local zoning laws. He would empower federal Housing and Urban Department (HUD) bureaucrats to force multi-family, low-income housing to be built in your neighborhood. But, like so much else, he’s trying to hide it.
President Donald Trump has said that Biden’s housing program will bring “chaos and crime” into suburban neighborhoods by forcing high-density, multi-family, low-income, “affordable” housing into them– thus destroying the safety and value of single-family homes. Biden responds that he never said he would “do away with single-family homes.” It is correct that Biden has never uttered that exact phrase. But he is playing games.
The truth is that Biden’s plan will not “do away with” existing single-family homes
(how could it?). But it WILL remove the ability of zoning laws to protect your single-family residential neighborhood from encroachment by other land uses– specifically high-density, subsidized, low-income multi-family housing. That, in fact, is the purpose of his plan. No more single-family home neighborhoods will be built; the ones that now exist will, over time, become multi-family-dwelling neighborhoods.
This has quietly become part of the “progressive agenda” nationwide, allegedly to end “economic discrimination” in housing. It has already happened in several “Deep Blue” jurisdictions, even without federal prodding. In California and Oregon, state lawmakers have abolished single-family zoning by allowing “clusters” of duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes to be built on any single-family plot of land in the state. Bills to do this have also been introduced in other states, including Minnesota, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington state. Minneapolis abolished single-family zoning in 2019 by providing that EVERY single-family lot can be re-developed as a MATTER OF RIGHT with up to 3 dwelling units.
It’s even happening here in Georgia. The city of Atlanta’s Director of Zoning and Development, Keyetta Holmes, and a Development Services Planner with the Chatham-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission, Matt Lonnerstater, were part of a panel discussion last year that proposed Georgia communities “explore” eliminating single-family zoning, to “encourage more diverse housing types.” Their presentation, incidentally, specifically criticized Sandy Springs for having 85% of its “residential land zoned for detached single-family homes.”
Biden’s plan will require every state, city and county to develop a plan for “inclusionary zoning” or lose federal Community Development Block Grants and Federal Surface Transportation Block Grants. (This could add up to billions of dollars in Georgia.) “Inclusionary Zoning” means that all jurisdictions must allow for high-density, low-income, multi-family housing to be built in areas zoned for single-family-only housing. The plan will have to be approved by HUD. If it is deemed insufficient then states, cities and counties will have to revise it until some faceless HUD bureaucrat accepts it. Otherwise the funds will be lost.
Simply put, Mr. Biden’s plan is a federal takeover of local zoning laws to ban single-family neighborhoods.
Already, under the Obama-Biden administration, HUD in 2015 issued an order to local communities requiring they develop these “inclusionary plans” or lose federal money. This order was based on an abusive extension of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Trump HUD Secretary Ben Carson called it “social engineering” and rescinded it. He said, “Washington has no business dictating what is best to meet your local community’s unique needs.” Indeed.
Decision-making about land use is one of the two or three most important functions of local government. The number one reason why Sandy Springs fought for 30 years to become its own city was to get zoning decisions made locally, instead of by the far-away Fulton County Commission. Now Biden wants zoning decisions made by unelected HUD bureaucrats in Washington, DC!
Think we are exaggerating? Biden’s official campaign website (joebiden.com –The Biden Plan for Investing in Our Communities Through Housing) lays out all the aforementioned initiatives. He’s not talking about it; he doesn’t want you to know about it; but it’s there. Most of his plan is based on bills already pending in the U.S. Congress by Senator Cory Booker and Representative James Clyburn, though Booker says part of it can be done by Executive Order, without any Congressional action.
For most middle-class families, your home is your most important investment. The purpose of zoning is to protect that investment and your family by making sure the other structures in your neighborhood are comparable to yours in size, use, and value. You work and save to buy a nice house with a yard, in a safe neighborhood with good schools. Critics of single-family zoning say that’s “racist.” But it’s not. It’s the American dream. Everyone wants it. And we want it for everyone, too.
Some middle-class voters, especially in the suburbs, don’t like Trump for various reasons and think it is safe to vote for Biden. Biden wants you to think that– but he is trying to trick you. He’s not talking about his plan for dramatically changing neighborhoods in this country. He’s trying to hide it.
While President Trump’s tweets may be annoying to some, they are not going to change your quality of life; and the tweets are not going to change your right to choose how you live. Biden’s housing plan will.
Lynn and Bob Irvin are Atlanta residents; Bob served 15 years as a representative in the Georgia Legislature.