Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Which state holds the highest incidence of “exclusionary zoning” –- laws that prevent low-cost housing from being built? Remarkably, it’s New Jersey, according to a summary by Bruce Katz and Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution of a forthcoming book. This is notable because, of course, New Jersey was supposed to be at the vanguard, by virtue of the Mount Laurel litigation, of the effort to require localities to take affirmative steps to ensure the provision of their fair share of low-cost housing! There are stories all over the place these days about the affordable housing crunch and questioning the practice of exclusionary zoning. Local defenders of such zoning counter that it’s in the best interests of the residents of the town to keep the town’s population down and its property taxes per capita high. This is no doubt true. But the point of the Mount Laurel decisions was that land use policies are not matters of concern only for the current residents. One town’s exclusion simply pushes the demand for low-cost housing elsewhere and raises the cost of housing for the less affluent across an entire area.
When will state governments finally realize these facts and rein in towns’ selfish laws? Repeat after me: Nothing that government does in domestic law is more harmful to the public welfare than exclusionary zoning.