72 Fla. L. Rev. F. 171 (2023)
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Abstract

Response to John Infranca’s, Differentiating Exclusionary Tendencies

Incumbent residents routinely oppose residential development. Interestingly, this is true of both homeowners and renters, if for opposite reasons. Homeowners typically worry that new housing will cause the market value of their own homes to fall, resulting in a hit to what is usually a house-heavy personal wealth portfolio. Tenants typically worry that new housing will cause the market value of their own homes to rise, generating pressure toward higher rents and displacement. Both homeowners and tenants also express concern that new housing development will change the character of their neighborhoods in unwanted ways.

Resident opposition to housing plays out in community after community across the country, with pernicious effects on productivity and equity. These efforts choke off the supply of homes—essential ingredients in every human being’s life plan—in the very places where people most wish to live. The consensus view among housing scholars is that all of this opposition to residential development is wrongheaded. While homeowner opposition is often cast as normatively illegitimate NIMBYism, tenant opposition is criticized for just plain getting the facts wrong. Citing the law of supply and demand, academics point out that adding more housing will tend to decrease, not increase, the price of housing, which should help rather than harm the pocketbooks of tenants.

Professor John Infranca’s thoughtful and well-reasoned piece accepts this premise, but asks whether we should nonetheless view anti-development opposition by incumbent residents of some communities differently, not just as a matter of political expediency, but as a normative matter. Infranca’s “modest case for distinct treatment” rests on two hard-to-dispute claims: (1) that housing supply is the solution to, and not the cause of, housing unaffordability; and (2) that people living in lower-income communities long ravaged by racism and economic exclusion have a stronger normative basis for resisting neighborhood change than do affluent NIMBYs. Yet taking the first proposition seriously means that the people who are in the strongest normative position in opposing housing also tend to be on the shakiest ground empirically. Infranca addresses this tension by shifting attention away from incumbents’ arguments about rent levels and displacement risks—the subjects of quantitative empirical work—and toward incumbents’ efforts to protect interests like community character. This move cannot fully escape the empirical shakiness at the heart of opposition in lower-income communities, however, as many of the qualitative changes that incumbents oppose may not be substantially caused by (and indeed, should be mitigated by) the addition of new housing.

In this response, I suggest repurposing this causal weakness in the case against housing into a fulcrum for policy. The fact that adding housing supply reduces rather than increases home prices makes it workable—and incentive-compatible—to pair new housing development with protection against rising local housing costs. Notably, this approach distinguishes between two sets of fears voiced by housing opponents: those that relate to increasing home values (more commonly expressed in prototypical gentrification scenarios) and those that relate to decreasing home values (more commonly raised in traditional exclusionary zoning scenarios). Concerns about housing price increases stand on different empirical and normative footing than those relating to home value declines, which makes them both especially important and unusually feasible to address. Protecting incumbents against rising housing costs in neighborhoods experiencing growth in housing supply aligns both with current empirical understandings and with the normative distinctions that Infranca draws.
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