AMAC Exclusive – by Seamus Brennan
Among the policy issues quickly ascending to the forefront of American politics is the systematic effort of Democrats to abolish the suburbs by eliminating single-family zoning. Legislators in California recently enacted laws to eliminate zoning protections for single-family neighborhoods, and progressive-minded liberals in dozens of other cities and states are trying to do the same. The initiative is also being pushed by President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress. But the movement to ban single-family zoning didn’t begin in the Golden State. It started in Minneapolis, and its origins there warrant attention so that other jurisdictions can ready themselves for the arguments to abolish single-family zoning—which could soon be coming to your neighborhood.
Minnesota has been particularly hard-hit by high housing costs and the availability of affordable housing—more so than any other state the nation. As Jeff Johnson, former state legislator and Republican candidate for Governor from Minnesota put it, “Nearly everyone acknowledges that the lack of housing available for people of low and middle income is one of the most serious problems facing the Twin Cities.”
Johnson notes that according to a measure used to determine housing affordability, nearly a third of Minneapolis residents in 2017 were “cost-burdened,” or spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing expenses. As a result, 85 percent of Minneapolis residents cannot afford newly constructed homes. On top of this, only 12 percent of “affordable housing” units built in 2017 were actually affordable to low-income residents.
In 2019, in an effort to encourage the construction of more affordable housing units, Minneapolis became the first American city to ban single-family zoning in all of its neighborhoods. The initiative to tackle housing costs was described in its early phases as “a social experiment of epic proportions.”
Supporters of the enterprise generally cite three rationales for pushing this unprecedented policy: increasing affordability, atoning for systemic racism, and addressing concerns about climate change. “In Minneapolis, for now, we have a political coalition that is supportive of adding more housing and demanding a race-equity approach to housing access,” the city council president said. The Atlantic echoed this sentiment, claiming in reference to the city’s zoning plan that “single-family zoning not only segregates people by race and class, but also artificially increases prices and hurts the environment.”
Joe Biden himself has also recently advocated for such so-called zoning reform on the basis of combatting “racial discrimination,” “the racial wealth gap,” and “racial injustice.” Moreover, Biden’s campaign website advocated the use of housing policy to “battle climate change.” In particular, Biden champions “[a]ltering local regulations to eliminate sprawl and allow for denser, more affordable housing near public transit [that] would cut commute times for many of the country’s workers while decreasing their carbon footprint.”
Despite such claims, however, the fact remains that the reasons for the housing crisis in states like Minnesota have little to do with racism or lingering effects from the Jim Crow era; rather, they are largely the result of blue state government regulations and codes. “No amount of spending will solve (or even lessen) this problem,” Jeff Johnson writes, “unless government is willing to do what it hasn’t in the past: reform and actually roll back government mandates, regulations and fees that are contributing considerably to the lack of affordable housing in the Twin Cities.”
As Johnson goes on to observe, Minnesota has “the strictest codes in the Midwest” and “myriad fees and zoning restrictions” that exacerbate high costs of living. Additionally, although racially restrictive covenants did in fact prevent racial minorities from purchasing homes in certain jurisdictions over the course of many decades, such covenants have been banned in Minnesota since 1962. In fact, America’s suburbs are now more diverse than ever before, offering a welcome escape from the crime and poverty that plague Democrat-run inner cities. Today, the majority of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans live in the suburbs.
One of the leading sources of the skyrocketing housing costs in Minneapolis is the state’s Metropolitan Council, a regional planning organization comprised of unelected members charged with mandating arbitrary “growth boundaries” and “urban containment boundaries” to prevent housing development outside of the Twin Cities’ “urban core.” Despite experts’ claims that building beyond urban areas has been “a successful strategy for developers for decades” and that “people drive to affordability,” Lisa Barajas, the Council’s director of community development, said that “the region doesn’t need more single-family homes.” Thus, rather than building more suburbs that extend beyond the Twin Cities metropolitan area, the unaccountable Metropolitan Council has instead opted to break up the existing suburbs—a decision that is, in reality, only further aggravating high housing costs. Real estate developers now have an incentive to bid up the cost of land and turn former single-family lots into multi-family rental apartment buildings.
Efforts to ban single-family zoning are now rapidly spreading throughout the nation and becoming a significant component of the Democrat agenda. Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat nominee for Governor of Virginia, has called for “spearheading zoning reform”—for which he was notably attacked in a recent television advertisement. McAuliffe’s campaign website promotes his policy under the banner of “Neighbors for More Neighbors,” a slogan that was—not-so-incidentally—the name of one of the leading coalitions behind abolishing single-family zoning in Minnesota. As Stanley Kurtz recently wrote for National Review, there are reasons to believe “zoning may be on the cusp of emerging as a high-profile political issue.”
Even the New York Times has acknowledged that the elimination of single-family zoning laws would substantially increase housing prices in addition to effectively destroying suburban America as it currently exists. The path to lowering housing costs does not need to include the construction of high-density housing units in single-family neighborhoods, and the source of high housing costs is not “systemic racism”—instead, it’s very often the government imposing costly regulations and other impediments, including those being issued from unaccountable bureaucracies like Minnesota’s Metropolitan Council. Until the American people can fully understand the damage inflicted by government-driven housing mandates and regulations like those in places like Minnesota, the housing affordability crisis will not diminish, but almost certainly worsen. The Democrat plan to abolish single-family zoning will only further compound the problem.
Minneapolis is gradually cementing its status as the birthplace of dangerous left-wing ideas and movements. Is it any surprise that so-called “housing reform” movement emerged from the same city as the “Defund the Police” movement, and that combatting “systemic racism” was cited as a reason for both? Should Democrats win out in their crusade to eliminate single-family zoning, America is in danger of becoming an increasingly feudal country—a nation of permanent renters to corporate landlords.
The city of Minneapolis offers us a dire warning about the rise of alarming left-wing ideas and trends that eventually circulate throughout the entire nation. Every American—and every conservative in particular—should recognize the left’s movement to abolish residential single-family neighborhoods for what it is and do everything in our power to oppose it while we still can.
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