In an article appearing in the New York Sun, August 10, 2022, Howard Husock, Senior Fellow, Domestic Policy Studies at AEI suggests that fixing zoning can be “the ticket out of poverty.”
The Ticket Out of Poverty: Fix Zoning
Re-examining zoning codes to make possible the kind of spontaneous friendships that arise in shared communities. That will require the adoption of zoning for homes, including two- and three-family houses, that are less expensive simply because they’re smaller and income-producing. What won’t help is a push for public housing-style low-income projects that will spark resistance and not lead to either upward mobility or cross-class friendships.
What was the secret formula? It’s surprisingly simple, and based on the following approach: relatively small homes densely built on relatively small lots.
Today, similar neighborhoods — including newer versions — could be starter homes for our children, convenient homes for teachers, police and firefighters, and protection against the insularity of the social classes.
It’s an approach that we’ve not only forgotten, but one we have effectively banned. The ownership, agency, and wealth accumulation that comes with owning even a small home on a small lot was swept away first by public housing, where private asset ownership was a contradiction in terms, and then by exclusively single-family zoning.
Let’s start with what we should not do: “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing.” This Obama-era idea involves subsidized apartments set aside for racial minorities in affluent zip codes. Why isn’t this a good idea?
Because it’s a program guaranteed to create backlash. Those who have worked their way up, including Black and Hispanic homeowners, will resent those who have not scrimped and saved but reaped the same rewards they did. And it puts alleged beneficiaries in the awkward role of being charity cases. Worse still, it sends the message that the decisions that enable upward mobility — marriage and saving — can be bypassed.
Instead, local community planning boards across the country need to embrace that a range of housing types can make for a better community. When kids, and their parents, cross paths spontaneously — through youth sports, school parent nights and church activities — the kind of friendships Chetty has shown to have value can sprout.