Kery Murakami, Washington Times, Wednesday, April 28, 2021
President Biden wants to transform the character of many American cities and suburbs by building more apartment buildings in quiet and frequently disproportionately White neighborhoods of single-family homes.
The Biden administration sees remnants of America’s segregationist past in what it calls “exclusionary” zoning laws, which allow only single-family homes in large swaths of cities and suburbs.
As part of a racial equity agenda the president is pursuing in his massive infrastructure plan, Mr. Biden would send federal grants to cities if they eliminate those zoning laws and allow more lower-income people, often minorities, in areas that typically have better schools and fewer social ills that plague poor, inner-city communities.
Zoning laws that allow only single-family houses “keep families from moving to neighborhoods with more opportunities for them and their kids,” the administration said in a fact sheet describing its $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.
The administration also is arguing that increasing the supply of housing by encouraging more apartment buildings would bring down the cost of rent.
The idea has been proposed before, at since at least the Obama administration, and always runs into stiff opposition.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed in August, President Trump and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson derided the idea of federal government discouragement of single-family zoning. They called it a policy of “coercion, domination and control.”
Mr. Trump and Mr. Carson accused Democrats of plotting to destroy the suburbs.
“As usual, anyone who dares tell the truth about what the left is doing is smeared as a racist,” they wrote.
The plan also ran into opposition from residents in liberal cities such as Minnesota and Seattle, where areas limited to single-family homes have been cut back or eliminated.
Proponents argue that Black families are less likely than White families to be able to afford property in areas limited to single-family homes, which tend to be expensive and sometimes prohibit rental units.
Policies barring Blacks from being able to borrow money to buy homes in certain areas may be gone, but policies such as single-family zoning can keep minorities out of the most desirable neighborhoods, racial justice activists argue.
“What’s confusing to people is why segregation is so persistent in this country,” said Tracy Hadden Loh, a scholar of metropolitan planning at the left-leaning Brookings Institution in Washington. “Racial segregation is like a hydra. You cut off one head and two pop up.”
Policies that make it easier to move out of inner cities, she said, also could make people of color less likely to have dangerous encounters with police.
In the White House fact sheet, which mentions the word “racial” nine times, Mr. Biden made it clear that he wants to deal with racial justice through the infrastructure plan. “Unlike past major investments, the plan prioritizes addressing long-standing and persistent racial injustice,” it said.
The plan includes projects that would disproportionately affect people of color, including rehabilitation of public housing, replacement of lead pipes that cause health problems and an expansion of public transportation.