Panel: Rules raise housing costs Report's title, "Not in My Back Yard," cites problem.

July 08, 1991|By New York Times

WASHINGTON -- Saying that zoning laws and other restrictions add as much as 35 percent to the cost of an American house, a presidential commission calls unnecessary regulation one of the chief barriers to affordable housing.

The commission proposes denying federal housing money to state and local governments that ignore its recommendations. Its report was to be released in a White House ceremony today, indicating that it has the support of President Bush.

While the report examines a wide range of regulatory barriers, its main criticisms are focused on suburbs that use zoning and building codes to keep out the less wealthy. Its reproving tone is reflected in its title: "Not in My Back Yard."

It is not just poor people who suffer as a result, the report said, but also police officers, firefighters, teachers and others forced into long commutes.

The commission's findings are the latest in a large body of research that has called local regulations an enemy of inexpensive housing. But it is the first federal proposal to tie housing assistance to local action.

The regulatory problems are difficult to address because the federal government has little direct influence over local regulations. And local attitudes are rooted in homeowners' fears that cheaper housing will cause the property values of existing homes to plummet.

"Everyone thinks, 'My God, if we lower the barriers, all the problems will come in here,' " said Cushing Dolbeare, a vice president of the National Coalition for the Homeless, who praised the report.

The promotion of home ownership has been a main thrust of the Bush administration's domestic policy, and the report comes at a time of rising concern about housing costs. Last month, the Census Bureau released a report that said only 9 percent of renters could afford to buy a median-priced home.

Anthony Downs, of the Brookings Institution, one of the commission's 21 members and a supporter of its recommendations, said: "This is a way to appear to be doing something about housing without spending money. It's also a good idea."

Downs estimated that several million new apartments could be created simply by changing zoning rules that forbid homeowners from adding on rooms to rent.

Dolbeare said federal leadership was necessary for change. "No town wants to be the town that gets overwhelmed with a lot of people moving in," she said. "If you do it on a statewide level, you can get around a lot of that problem."

But some housing experts have said many local governments would rather lose the housing money than modify their laws.

In addition to looking at zoning codes, the report called for a review of environmental laws and wage laws.

While critical of some government regulations, the commission does call for strict enforcement of others, including those meant to prevent racial discrimination.

The commission was headed by former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, a Republican, and was filled largely with other GOP aides, as well as people representing the interests of banks, developers and builders.

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