Tom Schumacher, Envision Board

The supply of affordable housing has not kept pace with the needs of homeowners and renters. Zoning and permitting are factors that limit and delay new construction. Two recent signals point to future improvements in the supply of affordable housing.

The NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) nature of residential zoning has constrained development of affordable housing in many neighborhoods. A recent Harvard University study, using data from Facebook’s parent, Meta, challenges that approach. Measuring interactions between Facebook friends, the study found that the degree to which rich and poor are connected explained, better than any other factor, why a neighborhood’s children were more successful later in life. Poor children who grew up in neighborhoods where 70% of their friends were affluent increased their future incomes by an average of 20%. These cross-class friendships had a stronger impact than school quality, family structure, job availability or a community’s racial composition.

Such results point to the value of freeing residential zoning from the exclusivity of “NIMBY” to a more mixed approach: BIMBY (Build In My Backyard).

A permitting signal comes from Florida where a new state law allows electronic submission and review of building permit applications. It also requires local jurisdictions to post the status of those applications online. Cities and counties have 30 business days to process or request corrections to pending permits. Any delay by government beyond the 30 days results in a refund of up to 70% of the application fee, which averages $1,000. The result? More housing construction and reduced financial and construction costs caused by permit delays.

For more information on these signals:

The Effects of Exposure to Better Neighborhoods on Children: New Evidence from the Moving to Opportunity Project, Harvard University

New Research on the Relationship Between Facebook Friendships and Economic Opportunity, Meta

Social capital I: measurement and associations with economic mobilit, Nature Portfolio

Social capital II: determinants of economic connectedness, Nature Portfolio

Florida Electronic Permit & Inspection Laws 2022: House Bills 667 & 1059, GovPilot

Opinion: Florida started penalizing bureaucratic delay. Housing permits spiked, Washington Post

Florida 2021 House bill 667, State of Florida

Florida 2021 House bill 1059, State of Florida