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Sen. Todd Young tackles discriminatory land use policies with new bill.

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Office of Senator Todd Young)
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U.S. Senator Todd Young introduced the Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) Act to shed light on discriminatory land use policies, encourage localities to cut regulations, and bring transparency to the community development process.

As part of the Fort Wayne Media Collaborative, WANE 15 Evening News anchor Dirk Rowley spoke with Senator Young via Zoom about his efforts to push the YIMBY Act forward.

Dirk: Can you just broadly talk about the yes and my backyard act and then where it sits and maybe where it's headed?

Sen. Young: Sure. The “Yes In My Backyard Act” is legislation that I authored, that would require our state and local governments to report when they are implementing historically discriminatory land use and zoning policies that hit that bring up the cost of housing.

One of the primary drivers of housing costs around the country is the use of zoning and land use policies at the state and primarily local level. And the YIMBY Act would require public reporting of the sorts of cost driving policies so that more people can afford housing and so that Hoosiers don't have to send a lot of money to Washington, D.C. so that those in New York or San Francisco can enjoy affordable housing.

Dirk: So I guess explain a bit more how that would work. So the policy affects the affordable housing, can you give me a more concrete example?

Sen. Young: If there are unreasonable cosmetic features required on garages in a particular location, or if the setback requirements for building a house away from the street are unreasonably large in order to prohibit people from building in a particular area, then, of course, that drives down housing stock and increase the costs of rents and mortgage payments.

This is happening all around the state of Indiana in urban settings in suburban settings and rural settings. And it's happening all around the country. And it's not only crowding working Americans out of affordable housing.

It's also requiring taxpayers to send money to Washington, D.C. and repurpose that money for affordable housing in places like San Francisco where they have unreasonable zoning policies. So the foundation on which this YIMBY Act is built is recognizing that sunlight is the best disinfectant.

If we can bring transparency to zoning and land use policies, then the American people have the ability to determine when discriminatory policies are inappropriate and to prevent them from happening, or to vote out local office holders if they won't listen.

Dirk: Where does the legislation stand right now?

Sen. Young: Well, it's been referred to the committee of jurisdiction here in the United States Senate. Same thing in the House of Representatives. It has gotten public support. Most recently, a variant of this was supported by the President of the United States through issuance of an executive order. And that's terrific. But unfortunately, his policies have embedded within so many other far left liberal, expensive priorities that can't be supported by a bipartisan majority of the Congress. So he needs to pick up the phone. He needs to give me or other supporters of my legislation, an opportunity to work with him and get this done for the American people.

Dirk: So would it create a scorecard that basically shows okay, in Fort Wayne, we have a history of only approving these single family dwellings that have, you know, massive square footage requirements and setbacks and cosmetic details and don't seem to be focusing on the other side. And so that would be the legislation basically just scoring. What happens?

Sen. Young: We don't even go quite that far. Although I could see once all these justifications for discriminatory land use or zoning policies being made public there could be scoring. But instead, we just require a rationale to be provided by our local elected officials for use of these historically discriminatory policies we may find, and the constituents of these individuals may find that there are reasonable justifications for some of these policies to be implemented. But I very strongly suspect what we're going to find is that many of them are either unnecessary or imprudent or improperly discriminatory against certain classes of individuals. If that's the case, then our constituents can apply heat to their local officials and everyone will benefit as a result.

Dirk: Is there a penalty for failure to comply?

Sen. Young:  There is, as any mayor or city council member can tell you. Community Development Block Grants are very important sources of money for investment in local communities. And we intend to continue supporting these tools for our local government officials, but only if they report about these zones. and land use policies. If they don't, if they choose to withhold this information from the American people, then I think it's proper to withhold these, these incentives.

Dirk: Have you seen anywhere this has worked? Or how did you come about this idea?

Sen. Young: Well, we've seen various locations around the state that have what I would consider enlightened land use policies where they understand the need for mixed-use, mixed-income, residential accommodations to be made. And they understand that the primary cost driver for housing, a lower \-income housing, and modest-income housing is, is local regulations. And so to varying degrees, we see some cities and towns understand this. Others like San Francisco and New York and I won't name some in Indiana, are less understanding. And so we want to make their decision making process easier, want to incentivize them to put them in a position of, frankly, better behavior.

Dirk: You said this was widely supported, what pushback Did you receive? And if it's widely supported, maybe it's just the mechanisms of Congress? Why hasn't it passed?

Sen. Young: So I actually have not received pushback, which is very, I know, it sounds implausible, because there seems to be vested interest aligned against almost any policy provision that you'll propose here in Washington.

But in this case, we're not stepping on state or local prerogatives. Because this is in the end voluntary. It's it is not very labor intensive, it takes probably, you know, a half hour to an hour to sit down and type up justifications for these costly and burdensome regulations and land use policies. And it brings together the left, which is commendably, focused a lot on affordable housing over the years, and the right, which wants to focus on affordable housing, but in a more cost-effective way. So this has been endorsed by conservative and progressive groups alike, which is all the more reason why I'd welcome a phone call from the president so that we can get this done.

Dirk: How long do you think it would take if this passed to bring about real change?

Sen. Young: I think we would see real change almost immediately after assigning this legislation. The first year that this legislation is implemented, it would become clear to organized and vocal citizens around the country, what the real cost drivers are when it comes to affordable housing. And the people who would benefit from this the most would be people of modest means are senior citizens. And the working poor.

Dirk: I would feel like there would be Republicans that would say the market will decide that that if there's this vast, untapped, affordable housing market, nobody's taking advantage of entering that in providing that service. It feels like the market should get on that. Why hasn't the market I guess, fill that void?

Sen. Young:  Well, there are things we could do to allow the market to function more effectively. This is one thing. You know, markets only work when you have informed consumers and informed citizens. This provides more information to the consumers. I would also say the inputs, the cost of building things, based on the hardwood lumber costs, the costs of steel and aluminum and other things that go into housing, we could bring those costs down by reducing tariffs on many of these items, which are important.

We need more labor. So we need to continue to do a good job, skilling, upskilling, rescaling, our labor force so that they can fit, these fit, into these jobs.

And then there were bankruptcies that occurred in conjunction with the 2008 housing crisis, which was, in large measure, caused by the federal government and and a number of the financial policies that we have those bankruptcies continue to have their effect because we don't have enough companies that actually build houses and it's gonna take a while to get these things right.

But we shouldn't allow the market by itself to take care of this. We have a responsibility to set the parameters of the market here in Washington. That's what the YIMBY Act does in an aggressive way.

Dirk: So would you see a future neighborhood of single family dwellings be a mix then of maybe some of the higher end and lower end all in the same neighborhood? What's the vision that you're casting here?

Sen. Young: I think you will have a greater mix of housing. Of course, if you have very costly housing, located in an area that drives up the price of land located near that housing. So you're not going to have real highs and real lows, most likely, right next to one another. But I do think that you need to have more modest housing located near very high-end housing so that when people contract out for services in their local communities, it would be nice for both the working people, and those who buy their services to be able to live near those individuals.

And I also think there's an important civic component to this. We should not be a nation of gated communities. We need to know one another. We need to understand their circumstances. Our ability to be citizens in this republic is impaired. If we don't live near people who are somewhat different than we are.

Dirk: Is anything that can be done on the local level to move this forward, say if the national legislation fails? Can local municipalities pick this up to some extent and do this on their own?

Sen. Young: Well, they can. And they should show leadership at the local level, they should bring this level of transparency without prompting to their citizens, I would do this if I were in local government. It's not my job, however, to mandate local officials to do particular things. They're elected for a given reason. And so instead, I am, I'm using the tool of federal monies, to incentivize them, not just into a position of better behavior from a local standpoint, but to ensure we're not spending a lot of low income housing money at the federal level, unwisely in areas that should not be driving up the cost of housing.

Dirk: How big an issue is affordable housing, on your plate, like, where does it rank? How does it affect your agenda?

Sen. Young: It has for several years been one of my first order priorities. And this was before we're experiencing significant consumer price inflation across the board. Now my constituents are increasingly encouraging of my involvement in this area, knowing that we don't just measure our economic health by the extent to which our incomes are going up, but also by the extent to which the cost of the things we have to buy is increasing.

So this is a kitchen table issue. Hoosiers care a lot about their rents and the, you know, amount of mortgage payment that's going out the door every week and month and, therefore, this will continue to be an important issue to me.

The original version of this story appeared on WANE.

Sen Young: ‘Yes in My Backyard’ could reveal housing discrimination