Are Municipal Politics to Blame for the Rise in Rents?

Mark Bergen, with the help of David Schleicher, argues that zoning policies are to blame for slowing development and escalating rental costs in cities across the country.

In his piece for Forbes, Bergen interviews Schleicher, a law professor at George Mason University, who has recently published a paper arguing that, "[b]y default, city governments make land use decisions that snub small developers, stymie growth, and send housing costs up."

Schleicher cites the lack of competitive local parties in urban legislatures as the root cause of the breakdown in the historical pattern in which an unencumbered housing market responded to rising housing prices with housing development, thus reducing costs.

According to Schleicher what results from the lack of political competition is that, "City Councils end up featuring what one journalist called the 'ironclad principle of aldermanic privilege' or a norm that Members of the City Council have an absolute power to veto zoning changes in their district."

"This makes a big city like a bunch of exclusive suburbs, at least for zoning purposes. Projects that would help the whole city, benefiting economic growth and reducing housing costs for newcomers or renters, lose out because the neighborhood in which they are located doesn't want them and because each project is presented to the Council seriatim."

A problematic result of this situation is that large developers have the resources to push their projects through the political logjam, but small and incremental developers do not. "Cities end up with a bunch of towers but strong limits on incremental housing growth-small new buildings, granny flats, and the like. This too pushes up housing costs," argues Schleicher.

Full Story: The Stagnant City: How Urban Politics Are Stalling Growth and Pushing Rents Up

Comments

Comments

"According to Schleicher

"According to Schleicher what results from the lack of political competition is that, "City Councils end up featuring what one journalist called the 'ironclad principle of aldermanic privilege' or a norm that Members of the City Council have an absolute power to veto zoning changes in their district."

What's great in Denver is that the power to veto projects has been removed from individual councilmembers. Now that the form-based zoning code, based on Blueprint Denver, has been adopted, to change zoning against a property owner's wishes requires not only a super-majority of the Council, but if an individual councilmember proposed the change, they are not permitted to vote on it. Of course, this assumes the recent city-wide rezoning resulted in a positive outcome.

We saw this recently where NIMBY's in NW Denver were unable to stop a project on one of the few areas in our neighborhood zoned for multi-family housing. The Mayor re-affirmed Denver's commitment to predictable zoning.

M.C.

Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $199
Planetizen Courses image ad

Planetizen Courses

Advance your career with subscription-based online courses tailored to the urban planning professional.
Starting at $14.95 a month
Red necktie with map of Boston

Tie one on to celebrate your city

Choose from over 20 styles of neckties imprinted with detailed city or transit maps.
$44.95
Book cover of Insider's Guide to Careers in Urban Planning

So you want to be a planner...

Check out our behind the scenes look at 25 careers in the Urban Planning field
Starting at $14.95