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If you saved your money and bought a house in the suburbs, your investment and lifestyle may soon come under attack. The single biggest item in President Biden’s “infrastructure” bill, now being negotiated with Congress, is $213 billion he claims will be used to increase affordable housing.
What he really wants is to put the federal government in charge of local zoning and to install apartment buildings throughout single-family-home neighborhoods.
That $213 billion is nearly twice the spending on roads and bridges. It would change towns everywhere and, for many families, torpedo the American Dream of a house with a patch of lawn.
The Biden plan’s backers are hypocrites. Biden himself owns a four-acre lakefront home in upscale Greenville, Del., where there is absolutely no public housing, affordable housing or rentals that accept housing vouchers. And don’t expect any to be built next door to the Bidens.
Biden has always had a passion for stately homes and swanky addresses, even buying a 10,000-square-foot mansion that once belonged to the DuPont family, of 19th-century gunpowder wealth. Not exactly the sort of housing setup you’d associate with “Scranton Joe.”
Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, meanwhile, own a $5 million gated home on a street of expensive single-family homes in Brentwood, Calif. That’s privilege.
These politicians love single-family zoning and exclusivity for themselves, but not for the rest of us. When Biden was vice president, Team Obama launched its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing program in 2015 to ensure that every neighborhood includes housing for low-income buyers and renters and public transportation. Now, as president, Biden would massively expand such efforts.
The United States has a housing shortage. But the answer isn’t to have Washington, DC, strong-arming local decision-makers. That’s what Biden’s plan does. The bill creates a gigantic pot of taxpayer funds to hand out to towns that surrender self-rule.
That’s a mistake. Local control is vital. Towns can take into account the availability of public transportation, school capacity and proximity to employment. Uncle Sam has no clue.
Advocates for federal control argue that if anyone can afford a neighborhood, everyone should be able to afford it. That means locating apartment clusters even way out on country roads. Bus routes and bus shelters would have to be built. Roads would have to be widened to accommodate traffic, and sewers and water lines would be needed. Say goodbye to country living.
Advocates for abolishing zoning mock suburbanites for worrying about home values. But for most people, their home is their biggest investment, and they waited years to afford it.
Local control allows them to be part of the solution. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is pushing to end single-family zoning, while her opponents warn that increasing density would strain schools and transportation and require cutting down the “tree canopy” over the city’s older neighborhoods. Atlantans will decide.
Other communities are building in-town housing for young working people and seniors, while allowing homeowners to build accessory apartments for extended family or renters. The point is this: Washington doesn’t need to put its big thumb on the scales.
Biden’s proposals to make housing affordable are laughable. He calls for “putting union building-trade workers to work” to “save families money.” Right, as if mandating union-only labor has ever been a money saver.
Biden is also proposing a first-time home buyer’s tax credit of up to $15,000 that buyers can receive when they purchase, rather than when they file taxes. Paying people to buy homes will push up housing prices, the same way federal college aid and loans have pushed up tuitions. Federal interventions have a way of backfiring.
Biden’s plan won’t expand the American Dream — but kill it.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.
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