Environmental Rollbacks in the Guise of Cheap Housing

The Upper Las Virgenes Canyon preserve--once the site of a massive planned housing development outside of Los Angeles

California Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority

I began my career as an environmental advocate 20 years ago working on open space and wildlife preservation in Southern California. Then, as now, one of the most consistent threats to those open spaces, big and small, is housing development. Not high-density and transportation-friendly urban development, but housing built far from urban centers—and without even a hint of public transportation.

And then, as now, one of the biggest opponents of protecting open space, endangered wildlife, and water resources is the housing industry or, more specifically, home builders. The National Association of Home Builders is a constant political force in Washington, pushing to weaken the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and a host of other environmental regulations.

So when I saw President Trump’s most recent Executive Order, “Establishing a White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing,” alarms started going off. Then I saw Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson’s op-ed in the Washington Post touting the measure included a prominent reference to the National Association of Home Builders—a not too subtle tip-off of the real agenda behind this effort. Sure enough, the order is not limited to affordable housing at all. Instead, the Trump administration has ordered the federal government to take comprehensive stock of all “regulatory barriers” that “hinder the development of housing” and make efforts to “reduce and remove” those barriers.

What are some examples they highlight?

  • Wetland or environmental regulations
  • Historic preservation requirements
  • Rent controls
  • Labor requirements
  • Energy and water efficiency mandates
  • Parking requirements

There is, to put it mildly, a lot of room for mischief in this long list of rollbacks. What are the odds that the Trump administration looks at those regulations that may truly be standing in the way of poor and underserved communities getting more access to clean, safe, accessible, and affordable housing? And what are the odds that, instead, it targets “wetland and environmental regulations” or “historic preservation requirements”?

With the Home Builders whispering into Ben Carson’s ear, I fear we are going to need to fight some truly awful ideas.

About the Authors

Andrew Wetzler

Deputy Chief Program Officer and Managing Director, Nature program

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