Study Finds States with More Conservative or Less Professionalized Legislatures More Likely to Preempt Local Affordable Housing Policies

An article published in Urban Studies, “State Preemption and Affordable Housing Policy,” explores the factors associated with the preemption by state legislatures of local affordable housing policies, including inclusionary zoning, rent control, short-term rental regulation, and source-of-income discrimination protections. The authors, Christopher Goodman and Megan Hatch, find that states with more ideologically conservative legislatures are more likely to preempt local affordable housing policies, while states with higher rentership rates and more professionalized legislatures are less likely to preempt such policies. According to the authors, these findings point to constraints on how local affordable housing agendas can be pursued, particularly in more conservative political contexts and where state legislatures are less professionalized. 

Goodman and Hatch utilized data from the Local Solutions Support Center (LSSC) that tracked state laws preempting the implementation of inclusionary zoning policies, rent control rules, short-term rental regulations, and source-of-income discrimination protections at the local level between 1993 and 2018. They supplemented the LSSC data with other data on the characteristics of state legislatures and interest group power. State legislature characteristics encompassed legislative ideology; professionalism (measured relative to the U.S. Congress in terms of legislator salary, legislative staff per member, and total days in session); strength of one-party control; and electoral competition. Interest group power was measured at the state level in terms of the rentership rate, number of realtors and real estate brokers per capita, and per capita employment in the residential building industry.

The prevalence of affordable housing preemption laws varied by state and by region. Indiana was the only state to enact preemptions on all four policy areas, while Arizona, Idaho, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin enacted preemptions on three policy areas. Forty states passed fewer than two of the preemption laws. The authors also observed broader regional patterns. States in the Upper Plains Region had no preemptions or only one, while northeastern states had no preemptions, with the exception of New Hampshire, which recently passed a short-term rental law preemption.

Goodman and Hatch found that ideologically conservative state legislatures were more likely to pass laws preempting inclusionary zoning, rent control, short-term rental regulation, and source-of-income discrimination protections at the local level. More professionalized state legislatures were less likely to pass laws preempting these local policies. On average, state legislatures were 20% as professionalized as the U.S. Congress, indicating an overall low level of professionalization. The passage of preemption laws in a state was not associated with the degree of one-party control or electoral competitiveness. The state rentership rate was the only measure of interest group power significantly associated with the passage of preemption laws. Goodman and Hatch found that a 1% increase in the state rentership rate predicted a one percentage point decline in the likelihood of a state passing preemption laws.

The authors conclude that there are significant limitations constraining attempts to further affordable housing policies at the local level, especially in conservative political contexts and in states where legislatures are not professionalized. They reason that local stakeholders should lobby their state legislatures to expand local power to develop and implement housing policies. Goodman and Hatch also suggest that responsibility for affordable housing may ultimately need to be returned to the federal government.

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