Liberalism and real estate reality: The long view

I am an older person. This means I learned about climate change 50 years ago. Since then we have had the Vietnam War, Nixon and Watergate, Carter (who took fuel conservation seriously), Reagan (who did not), Bush the Elder, and Clinton, who worried out loud about the climate before his Vice President Al Gore lost a presidential recount (although he won the popular vote).

Al Gore knew something about climate change and tried to sell the grand vision that the problem was worth addressing. Then we had Bush the Younger, who made climate lip service fashionable. Obama at least appointed people who grasped the problem. But he had his hands full and what little he could do has been largely undone by President Trump (the only US President ever to lose the popular vote in a Presidential election twice).

I’m a closet socialist raised by a union organizer and my values go back to New Deal Liberalism. If you think I don’t understand or care about climate change because of my age, I can’t help you. If you want to blame me for not doing enough, I’ll just say that history is complicated and so is democracy.

I was here when single family zoning was established under Mayor Tomi Allison in the 1990s. I’m a homeowner who bought a decayed house and restored it, along with thousands of homeowners who have invested in the old pre-automobile suburbs when they were the least desirable housing in the city. Single family zoning is what made that feasible for all of us.

As a result, I have been publicly referred to as a NIMBY who is selfishly defending single family zoning to maintain the cultural privilege that somehow endowed me with a home of my own, a little yard for a small garden and a dog…the American dream writ small and sustainable.

I have been called a racist and accused of wanting zoning to keep out people of color and lower incomes, when the goal is only to keep the density of my neighborhood livable, the investors and multiplexes and cars at bay, to maintain a modest quality of life in a neighborhood I grew up in.

Our city is being treated like a giant math problem where home ownership, community, quality of life and love of neighborhood are casualties to this cynical equation of pure futurism and cold numbers.

The laws of real estate have not changed since the 1990s. It is magical thinking to believe that a simple zoning revision will provide great urban experiences, increase density and lower rents with no unintended consequences!

Upzoning will not bring affordability in anything like the near future. It will, however, immediately increase property values, price out new home buyers who will now have to bid for properties against corporate investment buyers, convert the city’s last remaining havens for affordable home ownership into dense rental neighborhoods, and price out and displace tenants in some of the city’s most affordable rental properties.

This will happen all in the name of saving our planet and achieving social equity by micromanaging a small percentage of the housing in Bloomington — I say a small percentage because the majority of homeowners live in areas that have protective covenants which insure single family zoning, or live over the line in the county, which has no such plan to change single family zones. The city’s core neighborhoods, which will shoulder most of the burden for what is supposedly a city-wide influx of multiplex housing, actually account for less than 5% of the city’s area. (See the map, above.)

This one-track upzoning concept probably got someone an A at SPEA, but it fails the real world test simply by virtue of the damage it will do to our community and our citizens, and how little it will deliver of the promised benefits of affordable housing, social equity and climate mitigation. Let’s put the density where it fits. Let’s keep the best of Bloomington and make the rest better. Better for us and better for our future.

Chris Sturbaum

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