Newsrooms and Implicit Bias

Elaine Clisham
Jul 30, 2015 · 4 min read
Bailey Corner in south Jersey, a successful inter-municipal affordable-housing collaboration. Photo courtesy New Jersey Future

Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy.

As you may have heard, we have quite an affordable-housing tempest going on in New Jersey right now. The state Supreme Court finally got fed up with the Christie administration’s governance-by-neglect approach to the issue and authorized lower courts to act as arbiters to determine whether municipalities are making good-faith efforts to provide housing for people of all incomes, as a previous court decision and subsequent state law both require.

  • No; if you’re poor it’s your fault;
  • How about some subsidies for rich people?

Missing: an option that says, “Yes; our zoning excludes lower-income residents intentionally and there needs to be some mechanism to counteract that.”

This is my biggest objection to the poll — the assumption that there’s nothing wrong with the way we provide housing at the moment. In case no one has noticed, local zoning is a massive intervention in a market, explicitly intended to foster a certain outcome. And in many, many areas (full disclosure: including my own township) local zoning, either intentionally or as a side effect, excludes people of lower incomes, via any or all of several mechanisms, including:

  • Only one type of housing permitted. Want to build a duplex? Want to add an apartment over a garage? A carriage house? Want to develop a piece of property with four attached townhomes? In many areas (again, including mine, with some narrow exceptions), you can’t. Single-family only, please, because otherwise one or both of two things might happen: “Those people” — you know, the ones who can only afford to live in cramped, multi-family housing — will bring with them all the urban pathologies you fled the city to avoid; and/or you’ll be making room for lots of families with schoolchildren, and we know what a drain on public services they are.
Elaine Clisham

Written by

Community planner, former newspaper marketing goddess, fascinated by the intersection of the two. Choral singer, runner, rower, cyclist, lover of big ideas.