Zoning and Immigration Restrictions

The impact of California’s high housing costs on refugees has rightly gotten some play in the media lately. CALmatters ran an article detailing the challenges faced by people trying to earn a living in a new country with high rents looming over their heads.

The inability of California to welcome more refugees due to high housing costs highlights that the crisis arises not just from inadequate tenant protections, but from a lack of supply. Tenant protections and rent stabilization will help people who already live here, but don’t do anything for people who are trying to escape desperate situations elsewhere.

Many Californians like to think of our state as welcoming to refugees, but we can’t fulfill that ideal unless we build more housing and make the state more affordable. And the local policies that prevent California from being affordable spring from the same poisoned mindset as the Trump Administration’s immigration policies, devised by Steven Miller, a SoCal son we’d all like to disown.

Research by Jessica Trounstine, associate professor of political science at UC Merced, finds that whiter neighborhoods are more supportive of restricting development, and that cities that were whiter in 1970 are more likely to have restrictive land use in 2006. As racial resentment drives whites fearful of demographic change to support Trump’s cruel practices and proposed cuts to immigration at the national level, so it drives the push to restrict development at the local level.

The research concludes that policies restricting development are effective at maintaining segregation. They are, in effect, border walls put up at the edge of neighborhoods. So if we want California to be welcoming to refugees, we need to change the exclusionary land use policies that were enacted to keep people out.

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