Analysis

Developer, business interests crowd Trump housing council

An aerial view of housing density in a Los Angeles suburb. (Photo: trekandshoot, via Shutterstock)

A new presidential panel aimed at easing the affordable housing crisis is top heavy with business and developer interests, and does little to get at the roots of the problem.

President Trump’s executive order created the “White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing” in June. The council, chaired by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, is comprised of Trump cabinet officials.

Trump ordered the council to identify “federal, state, local and tribal laws, regulations and administrative practices that artificially raise the costs of housing development and contribute to shortages in housing supply.”

The order states that “funding and administrative support for the Council” will be provided by HUD, but does not detail who that support is and what it entails.

These “laws, regulations, and administrative practices” include:
–Overly restrictive zoning and growth management controls
–Rent controls
–Cumbersome building and rehabilitation codes
–Excessive energy and water efficiency mandates
–Unreasonable maximum-density allowances
–Historic preservation requirements
–Overly burdensome wetland or environmental regulations
–Outdated manufactured-housing regulations and restrictions
–Undue parking requirements
–Cumbersome and time-consuming permitting and review procedures
–Tax policies that discourage investment or reinvestment
–Overly complex labor requirements
–Inordinate impact or developer fees

In his congressional testimony, Carson acknowledged that his understanding of both housing and urban development is problematic, if not non-existent. The council’s vice-chairs will be two assistants to the president.

The rest of the council is made up of the secretaries (or their designates) of  Treasury, Interior, Agriculture, Labor, Transportation, and Energy, the EPA administrator, OMB director, Council of Economic Advisers chair, the president’s deputy assistant, and “the heads of such other executive departments and agencies and offices as the president, chair, or vice chairs may, from time to time, designate or invite, as appropriate.”

Not on the council: Anyone who has a specific background in housing. The order states that “funding and administrative support for the Council” will be provided by HUD, but does not detail who that support is and what it entails.

The executive order also directs the council to “solicit feedback from state, local, and tribal government officials, as well as relevant private-sector stakeholders, including developers, home builders, creditors, real estate professionals, manufacturers, academic researchers, renters, advocates, and homeowners.”

Since he took office, Trump has issued other orders calling for eliminating consumer, environmental, and labor protections.

Prior to taking the White House, Donald Trump had a life-long career in real estate as a developer and landlord. He still has an active stake in his company, the Trump Organization, which is run by his family. His son-in-law and presidential adviser, Jared Kushner is actively involved in real estate through his operation, the Kushner Company.

The Trump Organization has a long history of violating many of the regulations targeted by the executive, including energy and water efficiency mandates, housing discrimination, wetland or environmental regulations, emissions standards, permitting and review procedures, reporting on investment or reinvestment, and labor requirements.

The Trump golf courses, for example, have repeatedly been cited for violating environmental regulations, including breaching wetlands protections. The Trump National Golf Course in California’s Rancho Palos Verdes has been cited multiple times for improper management and/or documentation of “hazardous waste.” President Trump is a strong opponent of “water and energy efficiency mandates,” specifically anything involving wind turbines, which he claims causes cancer and ruin the views from his golf courses.

The Trump Organization has been accused of and/or fined for wage theft, workplace discrimination, union busting, unsafe working conditions and refusing to pay contractors.

In February, the Washington Post exposed Trump’s decades-long flaunting of immigration rules, alleging that his company knowingly employed undocumented workers at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Similar claims have been reported about Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.

Both the Trump Organization and the Kushner Company have violated New York City historical preservation and rent control laws.

Patch reports that Kushner’s company is currently the target of a lawsuit resulting from a three-year continuous renovation of the Austin Nichols House, an apartment building in Brooklyn. Plaintiffs accuse the Kushner operation of subjecting tenants to “a constant cloud of toxic smoke and dust” and construction noise, which resulted in “flooding” and “rodent infestation”– all in an attempt to drive rent control-protected tenants out so that the building could be converted to a luxury condominium. This is far from the first time Kushner or the Trumps have been accused of such actions.

Since he took office, Trump has issued other orders calling for eliminating consumer, environmental, and labor protections. Many of these have been blocked in the courts. Once a critic of government commissions, Trump has also used executive orders to create commissions (or “councils”) to come up with others ways to “reform” the “regulatory state,” such as 2018’s Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century, a 128-page proposal to radically restructure the government.

As of May 2019, California has sued the Trump administration 50 times on issues ranging from immigration to healthcare to environmental regulations.

If Trump’s White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing does come up with a list of laws to eliminate, it is not clear how the administration will force states, localities, and Native American tribes to comply with its wishes.

California and its cities have been very open in their opposition to Trump’s executive orders. As of May 2019, California has sued the Trump administration 50 times on issues ranging from immigration to healthcare to environmental regulations. At least 27 of the case have led to a judgement favoring California. Most others are still working their way through the courts.

Whether or not Trump succeeds with his executive order, Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, contends that the order’s language aids San Francisco state Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB50 and his fight against local building regulations. He said it mirrors that of Wiener and the “Yes In My Back Yard” —  YIMBY — movement in their fight against local control over zoning and regulations, something not lost on Gross.

“The executive order might be typical Trump BS, but the rhetoric fuels the fire on the attack on affordable housing,” Gross said.  “A lot of the issues Trump lists in his executive order are in Scott Wiener’s [housing proposals]. Scott Wiener seems to be more in line with our incompetent president who has declared war on poor people.”

Wiener rejected that interpretation.

“Only one piece of the order overlaps with SB 50: zoning reform, i.e., legalizing apartment buildings in communities that currently ban them. (The rest of the order has nothing to do with our work on housing),” Wiener said in a written statement. “I don’t take Trump’s executive order seriously,” he said. “Like most of the announcements from his administration, it’s probably just hot air.”

“[Trump’s] barriers to affordable housing” have “been proven time and time again to be a myth.” — Larry Gross

 

However, where Sen. Wiener and his allies target specific policy aims, the president’s executive order covers a wide spectrum of regulations, some of which were designed to aid those struggling to find a reasonably-priced place to live, or have little to do with affordable housing. Those include wetland protections, water conservation and energy efficiency rules, historic preservation requirements, labor laws, and others.

Even on targets such as “restrictive zoning and growth management controls,” “building and rehabilitation codes,” and “impact or developer fees,” Trump’s order cites no studies or even quotes from authorities to back up his claims.

According to CES’s Gross this is no surprise.

“[Trump’s] barriers to affordable housing” have “been proven time and time again to be a myth.” Gross adds that the “[real barriers to affordable housing] are Trump’s HUD refusing to help local housing authorities, his attack on public housing tenants, and cuts in funding for Section 8 housing.”

Editor’s Note: Updates 22nd graf with reaction from Sen. Wiener.

 


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