30 arguments against rezoning for affordable housing
Left or right, avoid sounding selfish
Across America, communities are desperately seeking to ease their affordable housing crises by reforming their dated zoning rules to permit denser housing.
“More States See Zoning as Lever to Lower Housing Costs,” the nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts reports.
Naturally, single-family homeowners are fighting tooth, nail, and garden trowel to protect the private slice of heaven they worked hard to earn.
Zoning is the rare political fight that bridges our nation’s political divide, bringing together Liberals and MAGAs in common cause.
The zoning fight is consistent for conservatives who traditionally claim property rights, have limited noblesse oblige, and certainly don’t want to oblige poor neighbors who might lack noblesse. Conservatives also hate when government tinkers with the free market when it doesn’t help them like, for instance, oil subsidies do.
The zoning fight is cognitively dissonant for virtuous liberals who care deeply about the less fortunate and support affordable housing in theory, but need enlightened reasons to oppose rezoning plans that encroach on them so as not to appear hypocritical.
This is understandable.
No matter our politics, it’s human to avoid admitting selfishness, which is also human. So we mine housing proposals for imperfections, attack the political process, or rationalize and elevate our narrow personal interests into broader public interests we’re selflessly fighting for.
To help out, here are 30 actual arguments — by both liberals and conservatives— against affordable housing up-zoning plans:
1. The new, denser housing will not be affordable, but more expensive, as greedy, predatory developers build luxury units and/or the rush of buyers and renters bids up prices.
2. The rezoning plan is a sop to greedy, predatory developers by their bought politicians.
3. The plan is nothing more than developer-funded strip-mining of single-family homes. It ignores present and aspiring homeowners in favor of developers and absentee investors who will turn our community into a real estate casino for speculators who don’t even live here.
4. The plan is an on-ramp for building multi-family units in single family neighborhoods. Why are homeowners responsible for affordable housing initiatives? Our community is racing down a road to disaster.
5. The plan is more racist redlining, since it would only produce more unaffordable housing for people of color. The plan is also racist because it will accelerate White gentrification that displaces people of color.
6. The plan was plotted in a smoke-filled back room in the dark of night without any public notice or involvement after only two years of public notices, meetings, presentations and information-sharing, online posting of the meetings, official hearings, media coverage and public fights. Why not stop the presses, hold REAL forums, listen to people’s concerns, and adjust the proposals accordingly?
7. How could hard-working families with children possibly have focused on the rezoning plan that threatens their way of life when they were busy trying to keep their families safe during a pandemic?
8. (Don’t say this out loud, but maybe we could kill the zoning plan by using the public engagement process to gum it up, slow it down, and raise the costs so it’s not affordable?)
9. If we can’t stop the rezoning plan with our public participation, moral suasion, and powerful rhetoric and labeling (e.g., “strip-mining of single-family homes”), let’s raise money to hire lawyers who are dying to file motions and throw legal wrenches into the works for billable hours.
10. More housing will bring swarms of traffic, which pollutes the air, and otherwise endangers our beautiful children who are our future. More housing will also make it even harder to park, even though people should walk, bike, scooter or take mass transit no matter their age or the weather.
11. The plan will overcrowd our schools, destroying our children’s educations and futures. Why won’t someone think about the children?
12. The plan violates the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and as many other Acts as we can find.
13. The new multifamily buildings will create a “concrete canyon” on our village streets and loom over our homes, casting shadows that turn day into night and threaten our flora and fauna that needs the sun to thrive.
14. The taller buildings will fuel global warming by reflecting the sun’s heat.
15. The new housing will destroy old growth trees that fight global warming.
16. The new housing will threaten wildlife, nesting grounds, and migratory patterns and also lead to a honeybee apocalypse.
17. The new housing will destroy green spaces where families and children need to socialize, exercise and play.
18. The rezoning will force families into smaller and smaller spaces, closer and closer together, and nobody wants that.
19. My payment of property taxes established an implied social contract with the government that entitled me to the zoning rules that existed when I bought my home.
20. The rezoning plan is based on faulty data, corrupted studies and false assumptions, according to my superior data, uncorrupted studies and trustworthy assumptions I’ve heard from confirming experts on the internet or I talked to. What about the failed up-zoning in Minneapolis!
21. The housing plan will hurt the middle class by encroaching on the homes they’ve lived in for decades and hoped to age in place there. You don’t care about our elders? Why don’t you put them on an ice floe that’s shrinking due to climate change?
22. Housing plan supporters assume single-family homeowners fighting up-zoning are White, rich, selfish NIMBYs, which not all of us are, how dare you?!
23. People living alone will be forced to rent out extra space in their homes because they have unused bedrooms and bathrooms that could house someone, according to something I heard or misinterpreted.
24. The plan will flood the community with the old, horrible SROs, aka, Single Room Occupancies, aka, “flophouses.” You know, the kind of homes where the Village People stayed at the YMCA, or that Catholic Charities supports as “a final stepping stone in the journey from homelessness to stable, independent living.”
25. People will build tiny, giant and/or ugly homes in their back yards to sell or rent.
26. Under the liberal affordable housing plans, big government is overriding local zoning and dictating to local towns and cities.
27. The liberal affordable housing plans are forcing the construction of high-density, low-income housing projects in residential neighborhoods, cramming apartment complexes into single-family neighborhoods.
28. The liberal housing plans are shutting out people of color from single-family neighborhoods who once fought for the right to live in one.
29. The liberal housing plans are killing the dream of young Americans who aspire to raise their families in a single-family home in a family-friendly neighborhood free from the crime and disorder of Democrat-run cities.
30. The threat to the suburbs of these liberal affordable housing plans is no exaggeration. The Biden-Schumer-Pelosi plan is already underway, as California recently moved to abolish zoning in an ugly liberal power grab. See this Republican political ad for more truth.
Feel free to use any of these arguments next time you attend a public meeting or vent on Nextdoor to fight affordable housing up-zoning plans.
Or if you embrace progress and also love to laugh, play Rezoning Bingo. When you hear five of these arguments, yell “NIMBY!”
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.