Over-Regulation Threatens Communities

Apple or Android? Coke or Pepsi? Ford, Chevy, Toyota, or Honda? Buy or rent? Oreos or Chips Ahoy? Gas or electric? As Americans, we often take it for granted that we have a choice – and a voice – in our everyday decisions.

What happens when consumer choice is taken away? How does it affect individuals and families? How does it impact communities? And, most importantly, what can we do to ensure hardworking people have the ability to make safe, informed decisions?

No, We Don’t Always Have a Choice

What do you do when you get into your car? You buckle up. What if you feel the urge to smoke in a restaurant? You step outside. There are some areas in which we do not have a choice. Sure, you can refuse to buckle up, for example, but you will face a fine – or far worse. The law is designed to keep the public safer.

We must weigh public good with consumer freedom. To be sure, it can be a tricky balance to strike as our purchase decisions do have a social and environmental ripple effect. By and large, though, consumers make the best choices they can given their budget limitations.

In Indiana, this issue is playing out with costly aesthetic regulations on new home construction. In other locales, it’s natural gas. San Francisco, Berkeley, New York, Seattle, Denver, and other major cities have “discouraged” or outright banned natural gas in new homes and buildings.

This is a case of good intentions leading to a flawed plan. A plan that is not only unlikely to deliver results but will, in fact, have negative consequences for consumers – and the environment.

Creating Paths – Not Barriers – to Achievable Housing

Over-regulation is pricing households out of the market and making homeownership virtually impossible for median income folks.

About 39% of Indiana’s 2.6 million households could afford to buy a home (median price $317,395) in 2021. With a price increase of just $1000, another 4304 households are priced out. When onerous regulations are foisted on hardworking Hoosiers, they make an already obstacle-filled path to homeownership impassable for many median income people.

From Vinyl Bans to Mandatory Balconies

When those regulations, those barriers, are focused on aesthetics and not safety, we have a problem. Some jurisdictions prohibit certain exterior materials, like vinyl. Some prescribe a minimum square footage and the number of rooms in a home. Others require non-structural ornamentation, such as balconies and porches. From mandated full finished basements to specified expanses for front-facing windows and doors, aesthetic regulations add costs – for builders and buyers – that are too burdensome for many to shoulder.

Let’s zoom in on one aesthetic regulation: ordinances prohibiting vinyl. Vinyl siding has been maligned as “cheap” and “low-end” – but not by builders, homeowners, and home buyers. Vinyl is, in fact, one of the most durable, low-maintenance, cost-effective, and attractive options on the market. Bans are ill-considered at best and elitist at worst. Swapping out vinyl for Hardiplank or brick adds an additional $12,000 – $25,000 to the price of a home. As mentioned, even increases of $1000 freeze thousands of Hoosiers out.

To lend the benefit of the doubt, maybe these ordinances are well-intentioned, like natural gas bans. Folks do care about preserving the character of communities, which is why, they say, these regulations are necessary. We maintain that enriching the character of communities is a greater priority.
When homeownership is achievable for more people, neighborhoods thrive socially, culturally, and economically. They can also thrive generationally. As people have more diverse housing options, they can transition to spaces that suit their needs and phase of life while remaining in communities in which they have forged strong ties.

Consumers Need Choices

In the context of natural gas bans, the Consumer Energy Alliance argues:
Generally, consumers are rational and make the best decisions possible, given their budget constraints. This is why it is so egregious – and undemocratic – when localities start forcing their constituents to use or replace certain appliances and even prohibit using cheaper, dependable, and clean natural gas to heat their homes or cook and bake their food. Do you remember anyone running for office with a platform to take away your stove or furnace?

Aesthetic regulations function much the same way. They take away more affordable, dependable, durable, and safe options (e.g. vinyl); impose costly non-structural requirements which do not enhance safety (balconies), and, most impactfully, over-regulation limits consumer choice and freedom. Which, ultimately, impacts communities and our democracy at its very roots.

(cover image – <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/photos/business’>Business photo created by bedneyimages – www.freepik.com</a>)
Aesthetic regulations... ultimately, impact communities and our democracy at its very roots.

Join the Coalition

What could be more democratic, more in alignment with our ideals as a nation, than responsible, equitable, and balanced housing policies? With achievable housing, we have the opportunity to shape the future of our communities and ensure that they are diverse, vibrant, sustainable, and full of their own unique character.

Join the conversation at buildindianaroots.com.