When poor public policy also is illegal

When poor public policy also is illegal

Is a very shortsighted public policy signed into law by the City of Pittsburgh to, supposedly, foster “affordable housing” also patently illegal? That’s what a federal lawsuit is claiming. And it appears the plaintiffs have a solid case.

It was on May 2 that Mayor Ed Gainey signed a City Council measure that would expand “inclusionary zoning” laws into the Bloomfield and Polish Hill neighborhoods from adjacent Lawrenceville. Some would like to see the law go citywide.

The measure would require 10 percent of new housing construction or renovation projects that produce over 20 housing units – for rent or for sale — to remain “affordable” for qualified, low-income individuals.

Never mind that the scholarly research is clear that such zoning tends to produce exactly the opposite – fewer housing units and higher costs for the other units produced.

And as deleterious as this Orwellian public policy can be, it also shreds the both the U.S. Constitution and Pennsylvania’s home rule law, argues a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh by the Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh.

The association says the zoning law improperly shifts the burden to fund low- and moderate-incoming housing to residential real estate developers and violates constitutional due process. And it argues that the city is proscribed from adopting any ordinance that “regulates business … by imposing duties, responsibilities or requirements.”

As Builders Association Executive Director Jim Eichenlaub told the Post-Gazette:

“The ordinance effectively is a tax on housing. It forces real estate developers — or the other 90 percent of the units — to subsidize the cost of the so-called ‘inclusionary units.’

“This, in turn, will increase the cost of new housing,” Eichenlaub said. “As a result, the ordinance will further limit the housing opportunities of lower- to moderate-income families.”

Exactly.

As we noted a few weeks ago, citing a review of available research by scholar Emily Hamilton at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center:

“No studies of [inclusionary zoning’s] effects indicate that it increases housing supply or contributes to broadly lower prices.”

And the fact that, as the Builders Association appears to properly argue, such a law does not meet legal snuff should send Pittsburgh’s exclusionary “inclusionary zoning” law onto the ever growing pile of poorly conceived public policy “solutions.”

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).