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There’s Nothing to Trump’s Affordable-Housing Fearmongering

Waving a gun at protestors doesn’t make you an urbanism expert.

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There’s a pernicious myth about affordable-housing developments: They lower property values in surrounding areas. President Trump has seen its value as a way to scare suburban voters, many of whom turned against him in the midterms, back into line. And it again took center stage of the first night of the Republican National Convention, where it was echoed in speeches throughout the night.

“They want to abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single-family-home zoning,” said Patricia McCloskey, who along with her husband was charged with felonies for waving guns at nonviolent protesters in St. Louis, in a speech during the convention. “This forced rezoning would bring crime, lawlessness, and low-quality apartments in now-thriving suburban neighborhoods.”

McCloskey wasn’t the only convention speaker who predicted a doomsday scenario for the suburbs under a Joe Biden presidency.

Except, of course, the federal government does not have the legal authority to dictate local zoning laws and thus couldn’t even do so if it wanted to. No one is going to “abolish the suburbs,” because no one can.

But it’s Trump serving red meat to his rural base. He’s previously tweeted about how “low-income people” are “invading” the suburbs, and, racism aside, the message plays on the fear of suburbanites that their home values will drop if apartments or affordable housing are built in the area.

Problem is, there is almost nothing to suggest property values drop because of affordable-housing developments or apartments. After reviewing dozens of studies on the topic over decades, New York University’s Furman Center concluded in a 2009 policy brief that “the vast majority of studies have found that affordable housing does not depress neighboring property values, and may even raise them in some cases.”

In fact, there are a number of ways that affordable housing can benefit residents who aren’t tenants of those developments. Sometimes, affordable-housing projects involve redeveloping an abandoned building or developing an empty lot. The loss of the abandoned building removes blight and brings stability to the neighborhood, according to the brief. The “thriving suburban neighborhoods” the McCloskeys referred to are particularly well protected from potential downside to the addition of an affordable-housing development because they are already strong neighborhoods with high home values and low poverty rates. The design and management of specific developments will also determine how they ultimately affect a neighborhood.

NYU’s brief also says that a high concentration of affordable-housing developments could have a negative impact on property values if the neighborhood is moderate in size, because if the development is large enough, it could swing poverty levels. In smaller neighborhoods, moderate levels of affordable housing are recommended. But in areas that are already distressed, a high concentration of new affordable-housing developments can actually raise property values because it is increasing the number of attractive housing units in the area, particularly if the affordable housing is a redevelopment of a blighted property.

While every neighborhood is different and should be considered on a case-by-case basis, home values dropping because of the addition of an affordable-housing development is highly unlikely.

“We can say generally that there is very little evidence — no evidence — of the significant reductions in property values that communities fear,” NYU professor Ingrid Ellen says in the brief. “What almost all the research is showing is that there is a range from no impact to a positive impact.”