We Must Build More Homes – The Emerging Political Consensus

This op-ed originally appeared in Daily Herald on May 25, 2024.

Despite politicians from different parties often having stark political differences, increasingly their assessments of America’s housing market woes are aligned. Despite ongoing debates about rent control and the minimum wage, the prevailing notion is that the most effective way to make progress with our housing shortage is for the government to allow more housing to be built.

To get a feel for how much consensus there is across the political spectrum on this point, let’s look at some examples.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden?

In 2019, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order stating:

“Driving the rise in housing costs is a lack of housing supply to meet demand. Federal, State, local, and tribal governments impose a multitude of regulatory barriers … these regulatory barriers include: overly restrictive zoning and growth management controls … unreasonable maximum density allowances.”

Further, in 2023 Trump proposed a competition to establish 10 new “freedom cities” on federal land. His goal? To give, “hundreds of thousands of young people and other people, all hardworking families, a new shot at home ownership and in fact, the American Dream.”

The Biden administration, while not calling for a new city competition, echoed similar rhetoric in the “Housing Supply Action Plan.” Among other goals, the plan seeks to reduce “barriers to building housing like restrictive and costly land use and zoning rules.”

While more recent statements made by both presidents on the topic of housing present much less agreement (including a partial U-turn on the part of Trump), it’s still rare to see even minimal overlap in today’s polarized era.

Up north in Canada

Our neighbors have also seen their housing crisis produce cross-ideological calls to remove government barriers and let more homes be built. In fact, Conservative Pierre Poilievre has leaned heavily into the issue, making it one of the centerpieces of his campaign to replace Justin Trudeau as Canada’s prime minister.

For example, Poilievre has given speeches next to large signs that call for governments to “Build Homes Not Bureaucracy.” Calls to “Build the Homes” are a frequent rallying cry Poilievre uses as he describes how local governments in Canada need to improve their ability to issue permits. Poilievre even produced a documentary called “Housing Hell” that walks through Canada’s housing shortage and what his plans to fix it are.

For his part, Trudeau created the Housing Accelerator Fund, the purpose of which is to help cities “unlock new housing supply by speeding up development and approvals, like fixing out-of-date permitting systems, introducing zoning reforms to build more density, or incentivizing development close to public transit.”

Trudeau also continues to unveil updates to the fund, with the goal of getting more housing, “especially for the nurses, the teachers, the construction workers, the emergency workers who work in a particular city to be able to live in that city.”

From Florida to Montana

After signing four housing bills, Montana’s Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte said, “Zoning regulations constrict housing supply and make affordable housing less accessible. We’re removing these roadblocks so Montanans can better afford to live in the communities where they work while protecting our treasured wide-open spaces.”

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado was recently asked how much zoning and property rights played into high housing costs. He stated, “I think we’ve defined (the line) too far in the direction of your nosy neighbors rather than your own property rights.”

In Virginia, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has stated, “We must tackle root causes behind this supply and demand mismatch; unnecessary regulations, overburdensome and inefficient local governments, restrictive zoning policies, and an ideology of fighting tooth and nail against any new development.”

What we see behind these governors’ comments (and more could be included) is that concern and solution-oriented rhetoric about our housing shortage cuts across ideological lines in unexpected ways.

A truly emerging trend?

As with any issue politicians seize upon, there’s a risk this is more rhetoric than resolution. Housing is complex. Many — perhaps most — of the bottlenecks exist at the state and local levels, and it’s easier to talk about solutions than go through the tough work of passing laws and actually rolling back regulations.

Still, there are reasons to be encouraged. Housing proposals are coming from conservatives and progressives alike, a rare moment of bipartisan attention, if not exactly agreement. States across the country are experimenting with different approaches.

And if nothing else, soundbites and proposals from national politicians — even if they stand no real-world chance of being advanced — get and keep North America’s housing problems front and center in the public eye.