The most intellectually credible - though rhetorically horrifying - NIMBY argument is: Since a lot of redistribution is local, we shouldn’t allow anyone to build housing for the poor. Otherwise, the poor will move into our area, and consume a lot more services than they ultimately pay in property taxes.
This argument has instant appeal if you’re rich; the fewer poor neighbors I have, the less the law will force me to help them. But on reflection, the argument makes almost as much sense for already-existing poor residents! If more poor people move into your neighborhood, you’ll have to share the loot with them.
You could object, “But most redistribution isn’t local. Per the Tiebout model, federal and state governments practically pick up the whole tab.” But this objection is deeply facile, because our absurdly expensive public schools are largely funded by local property taxes. The upshot is that every school-age child annually burdens their local community by many thousands of dollars.
If, like me, you’re a staunch natalist, you may be tempted to point to massive estimates of the average child’s lifetime fiscal contribution. Most of these gains, however, happen at the federal level, so NIMBYs can safely discount them. Indeed, even if most of the gains happened at the local level after kids reached adulthood, NIMBYs could fairly protest, “What are the odds that the kid even stays in our district after he graduates?”
Prudentially speaking, then, isn’t it reasonable for NIMBYs to oppose multi-family housing, insist on massive minimum lot sizes, and so on? Not at all. If you want to keep out fiscal burdens, the people to exclude aren’t really the poor. The people to exclude are kids - and anyone likely to have kids. Rich people with big families - the kind that buy single-family homes on five-acre lots - are still probably a burden on their local communities. Poor yet permanently childless folk, in contrast, can easily be net local taxpayers.
Still, when you give builders of affordable multi-family homes a green light, aren’t you ultimately inviting hordes of burdensome children into your locality? Again, not at all. One major kind of residential construction almost always more than pays for itself: retirement housing. While seniors are a massive drain on the federal budget, this rule completely reverses at the local level. You build homes for the elderly. They (or whoever owns their housing) pay full property taxes. Yet they never use the main service those property taxes pay: public education. It doesn’t matter how many “55 and better” dwellings you crowd into your area. The number of kids they’ll send to your public schools remains approximately zero. No grief, all gravy.
The upshot is that prudent NIMBYs would roll out the red carpet for elder construction. Fast track all the way. They’d pressure local officials to frantically court retirees - and anyone who builds retirement housing.
Real-world NIMBYs, in contrast, aren’t so prudent. Communities with single-family zoning rarely deign to make a standard exception for retirement housing. Despite a few high-profile reforms, single-family zoning remains the American norm. And as NIMBYs love to insist, “the rules are the rules.”
The case for welcoming retirement housing becomes even clearer if you think about three other classic NIMBY complaints: crime, traffic, and parking. The elderly commit almost no crime. And once they retire, they stop commuting - which drastically cuts their impact on traffic and parking. While I suspect the elderly call the fire department more than normal for emergency assistance, they are otherwise model citizens.
Perhaps this is all news to NIMBYs, and they’ll change their mind as soon as they read this. If not, at least we learn a valuable lesson about the NIMBY problem. Namely: NIMBYism is not primarily a movement of rational self-interest. Instead, it is a movement driven by status quo bias, economic illiteracy, innumeracy, and sheer paranoia. NIMBYs almost never ask questions like, “Counting all benefits and costs for our community, would the net effect of another retirement community be positive?” Instead, they ask questions like, “Can we imagine any possible problem with retirement communities?” Since the answer to this childish question is almost inevitably yes, their answer to developers is almost automatically no.
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.
"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.