Joe Biden is now the 46th president of the United States. I join many, likely most, of those in the community of scholars and reflective practitioners concerned with the sorry state of American housing policy in saying “good riddance” to our former president. And breathing an enormous sigh of relief.
YIMBYs, as well as many advocates for housing justice, have cheered a key provision in Biden’s housing plan that targets “exclusionary zoning” (EZ) for elimination. EZ, according to his plan, must go because it “perpetuate[s] discrimination” that “for decades [was used] strategically … to keep people of color and low-income families out of certain communities.”
In a recent article in Urban Affairs Review (UAR)—under the Strangelovian title “Rethinking Exclusionary Zoning or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love It”—I counterintuitively contended that, from a housing justice perspective, the attack on EZ is imprudent. In my choice of title I was, as I said at the outset of the article, of course being “deliberately provocative and more than a bit facetious.” Overly restrictive zoning can certainly be a source of harms. Rather than “love” EZ, my central claim was that we should simply come to accept it—and thus stop worrying about it so much compared to other much more virulent and insidious forces that militate against housing justice in drastically more significant ways.
UAR editor Jered Carr solicited responses from three smart housing experts with contrasting viewpoints—Katherine Levine Einstein, Edward Goetz, and Rolf Pendall. These, along with a reply from me, will appear in print just as the new Biden administration, with its plan to eliminate EZ in hand, assumes office. To mark the occasion, Shelterforce invited me to revisit my argument here.
I contend that the effort to eliminate EZ—what I dub the Anti-EZ Project—embraces a worldview whose actualization would be far more detrimental to the cause of housing justice (and social justice more broadly) than the actual impacts of EZ. While it is clear that EZ measures often (though not always) both reflect and perpetuate the ubiquitous racism and white supremacy that profoundly corrupt the promise of America, the project to eliminate them inflicts a greater degree of racialized suffering upon those disadvantaged by both class standing and skin color. In short, the Anti-EZ cure is worse—much worse, in fact—than the EZ disease.
Why? My argument boils down to this: