New Paper Friday

In what I hope will be a regular feature, I want to highlight a few papers and articles in state and local government law that I’ve read recently and that I think you should check out.

1. Noah Kazis, The Failed Federalism of Affordable Housing: Why States Don't Use Housing Vouchers, 120 Michigan Law Review (Forthcoming)


This Article uncovers a critical disjuncture in our system of providing affordable rental housing. At the federal level, the oldest, fiercest debate in low-income housing policy is between project-based and tenant-based subsidies: should the government help build new affordable housing projects or help renters afford homes on the private market? But at the state and local level, it is as if this debate never took place. The federal government (following most experts) employs both strategies, embracing tenant-based assistance as more cost-effective and offering tenants greater choice and mobility. But this Article shows that state and local housing voucher programs are rare, small, and limited to special populations. States and cities almost exclusively provide project-based rental assistance. They move in lockstep despite disparate market conditions and political demands: project-based spending overwhelmingly predominates in states that are liberal or conservative and high- or low-rent. States have done so across decades of increased spending. This uniform subnational approach suggests an unhealthy federalism: neither efficient nor experimental. This Article further diagnoses why states have made this unusual choice, identifying four primary culprits: 1) fiscally-constrained states use project-based models to minimize painful cuts during recessions; 2) incomplete federal housing subsidies inadvertently incentivize project-based spending; 3) the interest groups involved in financing and constructing affordable housing are relatively more powerful subnationally; and 4) rental assistance’s unusual, lottery-like nature elevates the value of visible spending over cost-effectiveness. Finally, this Article points a path towards reform. Taking a federalist perspective allows for a new understanding of federal housing statutes. Better cooperative models could accept states’ limitations in providing rental assistance—and exploit their strengths.

This paper is a banger! It both identifies a real puzzle about the way we govern ourselves in a multi-level democracy and answers it. So, so cool. Kazis is fast becoming one of the most important land use and local government law scholars in the country. Check it out!

2. Local Productivity Spillovers, by Nathaniel Baum-Snow, Nicolas Gendron-Carrier, & Ronni Pavan (HT: David Fontana)


Using panel data on high-skilled services firms in three large Canadian

cities, this paper presents evidence of revenue and p