Democrats may use their massive “infrastructure” plan to bribe local governments to essentially abolish suburbs, by making grants contingent upon towns and counties allowing apartments in any neighborhood, including those currently limited to single-family homes.
That creates two scenarios, both of which benefit Democrats seeking power: If jurisdictions want to preserve a small-town feel, they must turn down the money, meaning the massive infusion of taxpayer dollars turns into a bonanza for Democratic-dominated cities, while leaving others out.
Or if centrist suburbs give in to the temptation to take the money, they would essentially be signing a contract to become architecturally dense, like cities — and once those apartments and townhouses were built and filled with residents, they’d likely become solidly Democrat, like most urban areas. Both outcomes would irrevocably and fundamentally transform the country.
USA Today reported in April that “Biden’s proposal would award grants and tax credits to cities that change zoning laws to bolster more equitable access to affordable housing. A house with a white picket fence and a big backyard for a Fourth of July barbecue may be a staple of the American dream, but experts and local politicians say multifamily zoning is key to combating climate change, racial injustice, and the nation’s growing affordable housing crisis.”
The logic is that minorities are “trapped in crowded neighborhoods” that are not pleasant to live in. Yet the solution, under this logic, appears to be making the places suburbanites live more crowded, with apartments and townhouses.
President Joe Biden reportedly reached a deal with a bipartisan group of senators on an outline for the stimulus Thursday, though the package could introduce more Democratic priorities during the “reconciliation” stage. Nine Republican senators who have been involved in infrastructure talks did not return a request for comment from The Daily Wire about whether zoning has been part of the discussions.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of the negotiators, has appeared focused on whether the plan would raise taxes. But tucked inside vague language in the bill could be conditions around architecture and density that would have a far more vast day-to-day impact on the lives of Americans, the majority of whom choose to live in suburbs rather than cities.
During his campaign, Biden telegraphed that he was looking for a way to do away with single-family zoning in such a manner. His campaign’s housing plan said he would “Eliminate local and state housing regulations that perpetuate discrimination” with something like Sen. Booker’s HOME Act, which would withhold federal dollars from local governments who have “ordinances that ban apartment buildings from certain residential areas or set a minimum lot size for a single-family home.”
In March, the White House said it wants “an innovative new approach to eliminate state and local exclusionary zoning laws, which drive up the cost of construction and keep families from moving to neighborhoods with more opportunities for them and their kids.”
The infrastructure package comes with just the sort of federal dollars which would be tempting for many cash-strapped jurisdictions — even if an influx of poverty and crime associated with lower-end housing eventually offset that money.
Asking Americans to give up their “picket fences” and “American dream” is a radical and unpopular proposition, one that so far has attracted little attention. It would leave Democratic politicians in an extraordinarily tight spot since many suburbanites typically vote for Democrats but chose their neighborhoods specifically because they prefer a lot of space, and peace and quiet.
If the bill ultimately includes those provisions, it would prove Donald Trump’s warning last year fortuitous. The then-president said Biden wanted to “abolish suburbs” and “destroy your neighborhood and your American dream.”
So far, Democrats have played word games, denying that they want to “abolish the suburbs” or “ban single-family zoning” because people would still be permitted to build single-family houses. Single-family zoning refers to planning ordinances that earmark some parts of towns as quiet neighborhoods reserved exclusively for low-slung, standalone houses. Other parts of the town, meanwhile, are set aside for house industrial uses, offices, and high-rise dwellings.
But because the value of land rests in the potential for how much can be built there, buying a lot for a single-family house in a desirable location could become unaffordable because the family would be bidding against developers who could put up a townhouse complex or high-rise on the same lot.
Meanwhile, people who bought in suburban neighborhoods for the natural views and seclusion could soon find themselves looking out their windows at a crowded parking lot.
The changes pushed by Biden would also target one of the most basic aspects of local zoning: minimum lot sizes that provide different aesthetics of neighborhoods for different preferences. Even among single-family-house-only zones, towns often have some areas with walkable neighborhoods of closely-built homes, along with other areas where every house is on multiple acres, providing a wooded feel. The change could press towns to allow any lot to be subdivided in order to fit as many single-family houses as could fit on it.
Ironically, Democrats justify increased density in part with environmental arguments, even though the result could be simply deforesting large lots for many cookie-cutter McMansions. That is perhaps a more likely result than apartments everywhere since Americans’ revealed preferences show that many don’t actually want to live in city-style areas.
Determining the physical feel of a town is one of the most basic functions of local government, and architectural and population density is one of the main things that give towns their unique “feels.” That makes the idea of the federal government influencing local zoning a dramatic encroachment on local control.
In 2019, Virginia state lawmakers rejected a bill pushed by a far-left lawmaker that would have had similar results. “Authority over land use and zoning must be reserved for local governments,” Democratic state Sen. Barbara Favola said at the time. “It is not appropriate for the state government to override single-family zoning decisions.”
But the infrastructure bill could give Democrats a loophole: they aren’t forcing local governments to do something — they’re just saying that they’ll miss out on millions of dollars if they don’t do it. The drinking age was raised to 21 in a similar manner: federal law didn’t require it, but states would lose out on highway funding if they did not comply.
Every state complied.
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