Obama hopes to change America through upzoning

Administration calls on local governments to increase development

Midtown East and Barack Obama
Midtown East and Barack Obama

It’s not every day that real estate developers find themselves in agreement with the Obama administration. On Monday, the White House released a “toolkit” of economic facts and talking points encouraging local and county governments to overhaul their zoning laws and housing policies. The takeaway? The president wants more development — and higher densities — to combat a nationwide housing shortage that’s dragging down the economy.

The report calls out local resistance to development and suggests ways for city and county governments to combat community opposition and NIMBYism.

“Over the past three decades, local barriers to housing development have intensified,” the report notes, particularly in areas of high job growth like New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. “The intensity and impact of such barriers are most evident in the vibrant job-generating regions where fervent demand far outstrips supply.”

The inability for workers to find housing in areas where the jobs are is exacerbating income inequality and stifling economic growth, the report says. According to one estimate, barriers to development in major cities cost the U.S. economy about $1.95 trillion a year, Politico reports.

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The “toolkit” prescribes more density, faster permitting, and fewer restrictions for developers in regards to parking and accessory dwelling.

The federal government has no jurisdiction over county or municipal zoning laws.

In New York City, debates over zoning are a constant. A Midtown East rezoning proposal, released by the city in August, would upzone the area around Grand Central Terminal and allow for a 30 percent increase in maximum density. The Real Deal looked at which property owners would benefit the most if the rezoning goes through.

In June, the city pushed for changes to a state law that currently limits the size the city’s residential buildings. The proposed laws would allow more residential development in high-density commercial areas, but opponents worry it would invite more supertall towers and lead to even more congestion.  [Politico]Chava Gourarie