Good ends and questionable means

I have been a critic of land-use policy in local government for over two decades, back to when I was a college student. I have long believed that it is too restrictive and should be relaxed, so part of me is happy to see “YIMBY” legislation pushed by Senator Todd Young and Representative Trey Hollingsworth. Young lived in Bloomington for years, and only recently moved to Indianapolis, so he has seen first hand how local government can be overly intrusive. One overlooked aspect of the housing shortage and homeless problem is how local government’s regulations prevent the construction of necessary housing infrastructure.

But is federal legislation really the best solution?

If Hollingsworth and Young were in the state legislature and state senate and were proposing similar legislation I would be all for it. The state does need to occasionally step in and protect the private property rights of people when local government overreaches. While I generally support home rule (allowing city and county government to manage their own affairs without interference from above) that authority is not unlimited. My concern is that it is the federal government putting pressure on local government’s land-use policy. Ultimately, this will be enforced by the executive branch, as local government explains to federal agencies why their local zoning laws meet federal guidelines.

But are bureaucrats in one city on the East Coast really the most qualified to determine land use policy in every community in the nation? Whether you agree with local elected officials or not, they do know a lot more about the needs and desires of the community than a federal agency, simply because they live here. They drive on local streets, are involved in local community organizations and they talk to their neighbors. That connection does not exist with a federal bureaucracy.

Finally, giving the federal government authority to push local government’s land use policy may accomplish conservative policy goals in the short term, but that law must be tightly written. What we do not want is a broadly written law that opens the possibility of future administrations using federal power to push local land-use policy in a bad direction. That is one reason this issue should be left to the sovereign states.

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