Feb 9, 2024 - Politics & Policy

House Democrats poke the NIMBY bear with 2024 housing push

Maxine Waters, wearing glasses and a gray suit behind a committee dais.

House Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Maxine Waters. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

House Democrats are wading into the contentious issues of housing affordability and local zoning heading into the 2024 campaign.

Why it matters: Housing can be a double edged sword in an election year, with the direct quality-of-life appeal to lower-income and urban voters often colliding with fierce backlash from suburbanites.

  • "Yes, there are going to be political problems," acknowledged Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee. "But we're politicians."

Driving the news: At House Democrats' annual retreat on Thursday, Waters announced an new initiative to work with local officials to "lower the costs of development and reduce other local barriers to fair and affordable housing."

  • That includes pressing communities to improve sometimes cumbersome building codes, streamline often slow permitting processes and, most notably, "eliminate restrictive zoning," Waters said.
  • In other words: Try to get cities and towns to stop mandating single-family homes in low-density neighborhoods and allow multi-family homes with affordable units.

Reality check: The federal government's role in housing policy is mostly that of a subsidizer, rather than a policy-maker, as evidenced by the housing-related bills Waters touted on Thursday.

What they're saying: Waters said House Democrats are going to "work on the locals so that we can get the price of building houses down."

  • "We have to deal with the NIMBYs who prevent the construction of affordable housing," said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), referring to "Not In My Backyard" homeowners who fight new development.

Flashback: This was a potent issue for former President Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee this year, during the 2020 election.

  • The claim that Democrats want to "abolish" single-family home zoning and "compel the construction of high-density 'stack and pack' apartment buildings" in the suburbs was a signature line in Trump's stump speech.

The big picture: It's not just national Republicans that Democrats may have to worry about – it's local suburbanites across the country fighting to maintain housing prices and the "pristine" quality of their neighborhoods.

  • In seemingly every effort to introduce density or build commercially in a residential neighborhood, there is a heated fight – with the so-called NIMBYs sometimes succeeding in killing the plans.
  • But Waters pointed to the salience of the issue for voters, telling reporters: "Not only do you see it in your daily lives ... it's affecting some of you."
  • "Politicians should know how to fight politically, and that's what we've got to do," she said of the potential backlash. "We understand that we are confronted with a lot of difficult issues, but we are determined."
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