Trump campaigns on suburban preservation. Will it help him or the suburbs? – Daily News

on Oct15
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Presidential campaigns rarely push mundane housing matters like zoning disputes or local development choices into the national spotlight.

But eager to win suburban voters, President Donald Trump has brought housing policy into the national debate, taking swipes at California lawmakers, federal anti-discrimination policies and even efforts to allow duplexes in exclusive communities.

The renewed attention to critical housing issues — displayed most dramatically in California — could bring new resources and policies, but experts say the federal government holds so little sway over local issues that efforts may come to little but sound and fury.

“The reality is that the federal government doesn’t play a big role in determining local development,” said Jessica Trounstine, UC Merced professor studying housing policy and racial disparities. She hasn’t seen much policy substance behind Trump’s focus on the suburbs, she said, “other than finding a nerve.”

Nevertheless, the president’s vow to protect the suburbs from apartment complexes and inclusive housing could exacerbate a growing housing crisis, policy experts say. Many advocate a different approach to federal guidelines, aimed at alleviating long-standing problems with segregation, racist development policies and the shortage of affordable homes and apartments.

Chronic underbuilding has led to a national deficit of roughly 3.3 million homes across 29 states, according to an estimate by Freddie Mac. UC Berkeley researchers estimate California faces a deficit of 1.8 million homes, driving housing costs to some of the highest in the nation.

Restrictive zoning has been one major hurdle to residential development in California — and Trump broadly supported those restrictions in a recent op-ed, during the September presidential debate and in subsequent campaign speeches.

Trump and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson lambasted Democrats in a Wall Street Journal piece in August, claiming the party would enact policies encouraging high-density housing in suburban neighborhoods.

“The plan is to remake the suburbs in their image so they resemble the dysfunctional cities they now govern,” the pair wrote. “We won’t allow this to happen.”

Trump touted the administration’s role in reversing an Obama-era policy requiring cities receiving HUD funds to identify local housing policies that have led to limited opportunities for communities of color. It also mandated cities establish meaningful goals to change policies and offer more opportunities for historically disadvantaged communities.

“It encouraged jurisdictions to be thoughtful and introspective,” Trounstine said.

But the Trump administration’s policy shift was short-lived in California. The state enacted a law in January 2019 re-establishing the guidelines for California municipalities and added new requirements for cities planning future development.

Trump also attacked state Sen. Scott Wiener’s proposal to bring more density — including two, three and four-unit buildings — into suburban neighborhoods and near job centers. Trump claimed Wiener would end single-family home zoning. Wiener, D-San Francisco, called the charges “an ugly and desperate attempt to appeal to white suburbanites, who they fear are going to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris this November.”

Wiener’s unsuccessful proposals sparked fears beyond Trump’s rhetoric; California opponents worried about overburdened schools and traffic-clogged roads in many communities.

Ironically, the conservative American Enterprise Institute has also embraced a light density approach, which would allow more homeowners to build additional houses and accessory apartments on their properties, and let the market solve the housing shortage. “When the federal government comes in, it’s one size fits all,” said Edward Pinto, director of the AEI housing center.

Although Pinto disliked the Obama fair housing rules, he shared Wiener’s approach to loosen local zoning requirements and bring small duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes into residential neighborhoods. He called California’s current housing policy “bananas” or “build absolutely nothing near anyone.”

Ernest Brown, board chairman of the pro-housing YIMBY Action, said Trump’s arguments about preserving suburban character are still regularly heard from opponents of new developments at city planning and council meetings around the Bay Area. “It’s racist. It’s classist,” Brown said.

Biden’s platform calls for investing $640 billion in the next decade to support safe and affordable housing. The former vice president aims to end discriminatory zoning and lending policies and provide more financial assistance for middle class homebuyers and renters.

The emotional scuffles over housing policy are expected to continue in the president’s effort to woo badly needed suburban votes.

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