In my part of Massachusetts, zoning laws are doing EXACTLY this. Towns are allowing building of retirement communities while forbidding market rate housing and especially multi-family housing. Their rationale is explicitly what you are saying - they will pay property taxes and won't "burden our already struggling school system" with additional students.

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Oct 17, 2022·edited Oct 17, 2022

I saw the same behavior in our (then) deeply anti-growth SF bay area town. No high density housing had been built for 30 years, except 3-4 assisted living facilities. The rhetoric was around traffic rather than schools, but same thing.

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"because our absurdly expensive public schools are largely funded by local property taxes"

This is flat out wrong, like not even a little true.

Essentially every school district in America uses a mix of state and federal level funding to equalize spending in every school district. Poor districts usually get slightly more than average total funding.

Honestly, voting to increase education funding by raising property taxes is a complete suckers game. You will get lose more state subsidies.

What people don't like about the poor is how they act. They don't like that Jamal beats their kid up on the playground and disrupts the classroom. They still won't like that even if Jamal is fully funded. Just type "school brawl" into Youtube and it doesn't take much to see why people don't want the poors in their school district.

"Poor yet permanently childless folk, in contrast, can easily be net local taxpayers."

Yeah, Baltimore was such a better place to live then my SFH exurb with nothing but families.

Oh wait, it was a crime ridden shithole with dramatically higher taxes to pay for welfare that was miserable.

I think you ought to run some empirical tests here. Aging areas with few children are not exactly economic powerhouses or libertarian low tax utopias.

"Communities with single-family zoning rarely deign to make a standard exception for retirement housing."

Literally every single big development in the exurbs usually has a 55+ sister community nearby from this same builder. But it is also SFH, just a downsized footprint, and rarely cheap for the size. It almost as if the same middle class people that wanted their kids to grow up near other middle class people want to downsize when the kids leave the house but still want to live near the exact same type of people they raised their kids around.

Of course such people have money, and at 55 are often still working.

There is a lack of building huge depressing Medicaid LTC facilities for really old poor people who want to die, but they are not exactly a source of tax revenue and quite frankly depressing to be around. And rarely are those people the older versions of the people that moved into the town when they were younger and raising a family. And here's a hint, those old poor people have young poor family that will come by.


The fundamental problem is that the value of real estate is related to the quality of life of someone living there and the biggest driver of quality of life is the demographic characteristics of your neighbors.

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Interesting and excellent. Thanks, especially the property taxes bit.

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My parents moved to a 55+ community. A large one. The locals thought they had the gravy train for the schools. Then the oldsters voted to crush school spending.

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The most intellectually credible NIMBY arguments are local arguments. They take local characteristics of a specific place - it's very nice as it is, if there's more development of whatever type it'll cause problems, and so on.

Many of these arguments are, in fact, correct. Zoning regulations are not bad in every single case. Our political system just doesn't have a great way to balance these local arguments with a regional need for more housing.

I think you are misunderstanding a key aspect of NIMBY belief. The NIMBY position is not anti-housing. A NIMBY can be a very strong supporter of building housing. The NIMBY just thinks that housing should be built *elsewhere*.

I believe this is why YIMBYism is starting to succeed in California. Many of the same people who are NIMBYs when it comes to their own neighborhood can agree at a state level that California needs more housing.

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Let me give a simple example of something that would make a NIMBY more YIMBY.

When we were in the north all of the school districts were town based. Your town had some elementary schools, a middle school, a high school. All the issues got decided by the town.

Down in the mid-atlantic its all county based. People who live an hour away from me that I have no interaction with can have a profound impact on the operations of my school. And school district boundaries, especially on things like high schools, can be very wide.

So if I care about the nature of my schools, now all of a sudden it matters what the zoning policy is many miles away in another part of the county.

One possible solution is to reduce the size of school districts, so that "my back yard" became effectively smaller and I didn't have to care as much what went on outside my back yard.

Another would be to implement school choice vouchers, so that I didn't care about who was zoned to my schools at all.

Another would be to try and change school discipline policy, so that unruly kids are less of a problem.

I could go on and on.

The bottom line is that telling people they shouldn't care what goes on in their back yard is a losing battle. You have to shrink the size of their backyard / neutralize the things that disrupt their back yard. Then they won't care as much when you build.

But all of that stuff is....really hard. And YIMBYs aren't really up to doing to work on it.

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I think this is a good example of why YIMBYism works better at a state level. If the only thing that happens is your county adds a ton of low-income housing, it might hurt the quality of the schools. But if the same rule is applying all across your state, and every county is increasing their overall housing target by 20%, it's a lot less likely to cause chaos in your county.

That is basically how I feel about my own school district. I wouldn't want us to be the only school district in the area that is adding a bunch of low income housing. But if everybody is doing it because we have a shared obligation, and the rules are fair at a state level, I think it makes a lot more sense.

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It's not the case that neighborhood schools are still mostly funded with local taxes:


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I think many of the claims here could do with some numbers to back them up. If you don’t like to break up the flow of your argument, footnotes would be fine.

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the elderly are also cheap in many other ways locally. no crime & police externalities etc etc

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I doubt most NIMBYism is that narrowly financial. A lot of it is much like deciding who to let into your club. Making it too easy to join or letting in the wrong people will negatively affect not only your reputation but your sense of identity as a member as well.

In the modern us projecting youth and vitality is seen as desireable and lots of retirees threaten that image. Look at how ppl feel about parts of Florida with large retiree populations.

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Coordinating multiple localities to build more housing is going to be painful no matter how good the argument. I’m afraid the only plausible and *fast* solution I see is top-down mandates, coming from state or federal government

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Interesting. I'd love to see you discuss this with Matt Yglesias.

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In walking distance of my house is a new housing development that is restricted, and was marketed to the community as being restricted, to those 55+ and wealthy.

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And if the grandkids are living with the grandparents?

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A lot of 55+ communities expressly forbid that happening.

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And, in any case, it would be *very* rare.

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