The American public is generally far more receptive to the idea of new public housing than either the politicians they elect, or the lumbering behemoth that is the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). That august institution has continued to follow the directions of successive administrations for many decades of determination to throw out the baby, but keep the bath water.
However, that majority support of an American voter changes dramatically if the question at hand refers to public housing in their personal neighbourhood. Then it’s no! Not In My Back Yard!
A recent article in Vox unpacks the stats to explore just who in particular are receptive (in the theory at least) to the idea that more public housing could help solve America’s enormous and growing human shelter crisis. The article goes further to examine the roots of reflexive NIMBY behaviour that drives even the most socially conscious Americans to the neighbourhood battlements to defend the status quo. Read more in Vox: 60 percent of likely voters say they’re in favor of public housing. So why isn’t there more of it?
What can be done about all this? After exploring experiments in changing neighbourhood attitudes, Vox eventually focuses upon the neighbourhood battlements themselves — the bylaws still in place almost everywhere that ring neighbourhoods with legal protection against the arrival multi-family dwellings. Without bylaw change, promoting public housing can be an exercise in futility, absent the occasional discovery of a rare unicorn of still-unprotected public space that is suitable for the development of social housing.
But the by-law “problem,” if indeed it is any such thing, is truly an enormous can of worms. A recent article in Shelterforce makes this clear by calling for a re-examination of a new President Biden initiative to eliminate “exclusionary zoning,” a vague “I’ll know it when I see it” kind of concept. In defense of local, as opposed to Biden’s national, lawmaking, David Imbroscio explains at length just what a tangled and complex issue this is. Read more in Shelterforce: Say It Ain’t So, Joe: Biden’s Ill-Advised Plan to Eliminate Exclusionary Zoning