Eric Adams and "Zoning Budgets"

In his recent interview with Ezra Klein, Democratic nominee for Mayor of New York City Eric Adams said:

"We must all share the affordable housing crisis. And every community board should be given a number and told that you must come up with where you’re going to place your affordable housing in your community board. And if you don’t do it, then our planning board would come up with the plan to put affordable housing in the community. One solution must solve a multitude of problems."

This is pretty close to an idea Rick Hills and I offered in a series of papers, which we call the “Zoning Budget.” The central claim was that a city itself (or a higher level of government, which Chris Elmendorf notes is more effective) should set a target for housing growth. And then individual rezoning decisions should be held to (and judged against) that housing target.

Zoning budgets are meant to fight the crisis of slow housing growth in rich cities and metros like New York. (That there is such a crisis should not be doubted!) The crisis is partially caused by a politics in which every individual councilmember vetoes zoning changes in her district. The absence of competitive political parties inside local politics translates regularly into what Barry Weingast called “distributive politics” but what the rest of us call pork-barrel politics. In land use, this means “aldermanic privilege,” or the ability of individual councilmembers to stop new development. Even if all councilmembers and the Mayor want more housing, each district would prefer it is built elsewhere. The absence of competitive political parties means that it is hard to solve this particular prisoner’s dilemma. In land use, there is little difference between the power of Greenwich, CT and Greenwich Village in New York to stop new housing. Research shows that moves