Houses with fences separating them

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Neighborhood Activism Influences Inventory Woes

June 21, 2018

Homebuilders report that some of their attempts to add new homes are being blocked by local zoning boards and neighboring owners who are trying to stop new development.

“A lot of cities are reaching a crisis of affordability and supply of housing,” Rachel Meltzer, an urban policy professor at The New School in New York, told®. “But cities can really use [zoning] to direct how housing is built.”

Growing groups of neighborhood activists are reportedly utilizing zoning. These groups are pushing their zoning boards and commissions to protect the look and feel of their neighborhoods. These neighborhood groups also bring concerns to their city councils that these new developments may ruin the character of their neighborhood, cause an increase in traffic, or overtax social services, like the public schools.

Zoning was historically used to separate residential neighborhoods from industrial areas, but in the past 30 years, communities are using it to prevent new-home booms, Bill Fischel, Dartmouth College economics professor, told®.

“People are being very vocal now about what they don’t want to see in their neighborhoods,” Fischel says.

In response, some cities have added building restrictions that dictate the size of the lots for new housing. Often, the restrictions are to make sure builders construct a larger, more expensive home, which critics say is a way for these neighborhood groups to dictate who can afford to live there.

Homeowner Nicholas Ferreri says for nearly a decade he’s been fighting against a nine-story hotel being built near his two-house story in Queens, N.Y. Ferreri alleges the construction has damaged the foundation of his house. “We were a quiet, little neighborhood not far from [New York City],” Ferreri says. “Now it’s chaos here.”

Some cities are trying to change their zoning regulations to allow more building, given the persistent inventory challenges many towns are facing. For example, Prince George’s County, Md., is trying to simplify its zoning regulations. Changes, for example, would include faster approvals for smaller developments of up to 10 houses. “Our goal is to protect the public interest without chasing away good projects and needed investment,” Derick Berlage, the county’s chief of countywide planning, told®.