On Oct 12, 2021, the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy and the Center for Ethics in Society at St. Anselm College released a first-of-its-kind study on how local land use regulations affect the supply and price of housing in New Hampshire. The event included a panel discussion on housing regulation with Sarah Marchant of the City of Nashua and Ben Frost of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.

For those who couldn’t make the event, we’re offering the full video on our YouTube channel here.

The study and its findings are available here.

This study finds that residential land use regulations are associated with growing socioeconomic segregation and slowing population growth.

As housing becomes more expensive, fewer people are moving to New Hampshire, especially to those towns that are most expensive. Those who stay are disproportionately wealthy and college-educated, while middle- and lower-income families leave because they cannot find affordable housing.

Costly housing in towns with better schools also limits families’ access to educational opportunity. Finally, the sprawl caused by anti-density policies such as minimum lot sizes increases drive times and road maintenance costs and worsens air and water quality.

 

 

When New Hampshire Republicans start asking the state to regulate private businesses, something’s stopped making sense.

GOP Executive Councilors Joe Kenney and Dave Wheeler last week suggested the state should forbid private businesses from requiring employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Florida and Texas have passed such big-government dictates, and Montana adopted a similar one in May.

But most of the 12 states that have passed some form of restriction on vaccine mandates have prohibited only government entities, not private ones, from requiring proof of vaccination. (New Hampshire is one of those.)

The reason for the distinction is simple. While it’s undisputed that government can set its own policies for its own facilities, it’s generally accepted, in Republican and conservative circles at least, that government ought to have only the most limited authority to impose its will on private business.

That the Biden administration is pursuing a legally dubious (read: blatantly unconstitutional) nationwide vaccine mandate is no justification for New Hampshire to impose a legally dubious mandate of its own, even in response.

It’s not difficult to parse out where the free-market, limited-government Republicans should fall iu this dispute.

Employers, as property owners, have the basic right to control access to company property and to determine what level of risk is acceptable within that property.

Government has a strictly limited role, intervening only to protect individual rights or to prevent externalities that harm others.

That’s why it’s illegal to dump raw sewage into the Merrimack River, or to racially discriminate. 

But the choice not to vaccinate against communicable diseases never has conferred a similar legal protection against discrimination because, obviously, no one has a natural or civil right to transmit dangerous communicable diseases.

Employees who choose not to get vaccinated against a potentially fatal communicable disease simply do not have a right to keep whatever job they happen to hold, even if their reasoning for refusing vaccination is sound and their concerns are valid.

They also have no right to force others to associate with them. Though they remain free not to vaccinate, they have no legal basis for then turning to the government to force others to associate with or employ them.

The state has no grounds for intervening in these private business decisions.

Gov. Chris Sununu called a state ban on private-sector vaccine mandates “Communism.” That goes too far. But such intervention certainly would represent a small step toward statism and away from property rights and personal freedom.

The Josiah Bartlett Center’s new study of local residential land use regulations provides a first-ever ranking of N.H. municipalities’ local housing restrictions.

The study ranks N.H. municipalities by the inelasticity of their housing supply, that is, by how much local conditions, especially land-use regulations, restrict the ability of the private sector to provide new housing in response to rising demand. 

Excessive residential land use restrictions have sharply restricted New Hampshire’s housing supply, our study finds. That supply shortage has led to dramatically higher housing prices, increased income segregation, larger gaps in educational performance, slower economic growth, and slower population growth.

The ten municipalities where housing is most restricted are:

 

1.     New Castle

2.     Rye

3.     Portsmouth

4.     Newington

5.     New London

6.     Hanover

7.     North Hampton

8.     Moultonboro

9.     Hampton Falls

10.  Waterville Valley

 

The ten municipalities where housing is least restricted are:

  1. Ellsworth
  2. Hart’s Location
  3. Hale’s Location
  4. Stratford
  5. Northumberland
  6. Berlin
  7. Colebrook
  8. Stewartstown
  9. Warren
  10. Clarksville

In a few weeks, the Business and Industry Association will present its Lifetime Achievement Award to the imminently deserving Claira Monier, director of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority from 1988-2007. With New Hampshire housing prices setting new records every month, the timing couldn’t be better.

Had local elected officials listened to Monier over the years, New Hampshire would not have a housing crisis today. For decades, she’s advocated for the freedom to build. Local boards have instead restricted that freedom.

Today, thanks to a massive shortage of apartments and single-family homes, the median two-bedroom rent in the state is nearly $1,500, and the median home price is $410,000. 

In a New Hampshire Business Review profile of Monier, she calls the housing shortage “the major issue in the state” and identifies its root cause.

This was her analysis from 2007:

“In my mind, it is restrictions at the local level. It came about in the ’80s when we saw this massive migration of population here in New Hampshire because of our economic growth. The towns, in response, said, ‘We don’t want any more growth. We don’t want it to happen that fast. Let’s put land use restriction in place.’ And I think that’s been a major factor in inhibiting the growth of the housing market.”

Regarding local land-use boards, she pegged the problem with precision:

“They know the need for housing; they just want it to happen somewhere else. NIMBY is very alive and well.”

We’re pleased to see her receive such an honor, and her ideas receive renewed attention. The housing shortage in New Hampshire is old and getting worse, and she’s offered wise solutions for decades. Perhaps the current crisis will at last cause people to heed her counsel. 

For anyone interested in learning more about the state’s housing crisis and discussing ways to solve it, our land use regulation conference on October 12 is a great opportunity. 

We’re releasing a new report, Land Use Regulation In N.H.: Causes and Consequences, and hosting a discussion in partnership with the Center for Ethics in Society at St. Anselm College. 

To attend either in person or via Zoom, and to learn more about the study and the panel, follow this link. 

A September report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that transit ridership in New England plummeted during the pandemic. 

From March 2020 to July 2021, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority lost 340,584,000 passenger trips, while the City of Nashua’s public bus system saw 339,000 fewer trips and Cooperative Alliance for Seacoast Transportation experienced a loss of 295,000 trips.  

Much more interesting, though, was how New Hampshire systems are funded vs. others in New England. 

Massive Taxpayer Subsidies

The study found that only four of the 38 New England transit systems it examined “relied on directly generated revenue to cover at least half of their operating expenses in 2019.”

That is, in 34 of 38 systems, taxpayers covered more than half of expenses before the pandemic. 

In 26 of 38 systems, directly generated revenue covered less than 25% of operating expenses, the study found. 

(Directly generated revenue includes fares, parking fees and advertising.)

A New Hampshire Advantage for Taxpayers

But in New Hampshire, those percentages were reversed.

“The smaller public transit systems in New England are, on average, less reliant than the larger systems on directly generated revenue to cover operating expenses, but there are a few notable exceptions. These include the small systems in New Hampshire, which, on average, fund 75 percent of their operating expenses with directly generated revenue. The smaller systems in the other New England states generally are more reliant on local, state, and federal appropriations.”

In other words, New Hampshire’s famous frugality affects even its municipal public transit systems. At least for the two systems included in this study, operating expenses are covered primarily by riders and advertisers rather than taxpayers.

Nationally, fares cover about 1/3 of transit system operating costs, according to the Federal Transit Administration. 

Subsidies Replacing Subsidies

The report also noted that the “combined appropriations from the three federal stimulus packages fully replaced transit systems’ lost revenues.”

But with only 12 receiving at least a quarter of their revenues from fares, fees and advertising, and only four of those 12 receiving at least half of their revenues from those sources, it appears that in most cases the federal government was replacing taxpayer subsidies with other taxpayer subsidies.

The Wall Street Journal reported in August that federal COVID relief aid for public transit agencies totaled $69.5 billion, or “$15 billion more than the country’s 2,200 agencies spent combined to run their systems in 2019, the last year before the pandemic hit.”

Note: The study covered “full-reporter” transit systems, which are those large enough that the Federal Transit Administration requires them to file monthly ridership reports. The Manchester Transit Authority and other municipal bus services in New Hampshire were not included in the study because they are not full-reporter agencies. The two New Hampshire systems covered in the report were Nashua’s city bus service and the Cooperative Alliance for Seacoast Transportation. 

As the federal government works to resettle Afghans who fled the Taliban, New Hampshire officials should ask Washington to send us more than our share.

From a humanitarian standpoint, the appeal is obvious. Giving refuge to freedom-loving people ill-treated by their own government is a tradition woven into the fabric of the nation.

For New Hampshire, there is an additional practical appeal. The state is desperate for people.

New Hampshire’s population growth in the last decade was the state’s lowest in a century. From 1960-2000, the state’s population roughly doubled, and from 1960-1990 it grew by more than 20% per decade. 

But from 2010-2020, the growth rate was down to 4.5%. That was the lowest growth rate since 1910-20, when it was a paltry 2.9%. 

New Hampshire has enjoyed sustained economic growth because people continued to relocate here. Close to 60% of New Hampshire’s population was born out-of-state. In the rest of New England, with its lower economic growth, the percentages are reversed, and about 60% of the population is native-born.

In the last decade, immigration accounted for 89% of New Hampshire’s population growth, according to an analysis of Census data by the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH.

Granite Staters aren’t having enough children to sustain a vibrant economy we’ve built here. New Hampshire has the second-lowest birth rate in the nation, at 8.8 live births per 1,000 people. That puts us just a hair behind the state with the nation’s lowest birth rate — Vermont. Its rate is 8.7. 

Were New Hampshire a country, it would have one of the lowest birth rates in the world. Our rate is lower than that of many Eastern Bloc countries whose populations and economies have been decimated by decades of misrule, corruption and poverty, including Latvia, Croatia, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Belarus.

The state’s economy has helped to counter the shrinking birth rate, and the foreign-born have always been an important part of the state’s immigrant population. 

In 1900, 21% of New Hampshire’s population was foreign-born, according to data compiled by the Carsey Institute at UNH. That has fallen to around 6%.

In the late 1800s, mill owners aggressively recruited foreign immigrants as Granite Staters moved away for better opportunities. The state even got into the act, creating a Commissioner of Immigration in an attempt to revive the declining agricultural sector.   

As early as the mid-1800s, New Hampshire and other New England states relied on immigration (often from what were then-considered less-desirable populations, including Irish, Germans, French-Canadians and Poles). In his 1871 book on farming, Horace Greeley wrote that in some New England townships, farm work was “done mainly by foreign-born employees.”

The state’s economy is in much better shape today, but our massive labor shortage represents a threat to future growth.

New Hampshire has tens of thousands of job openings. A search on glassdoor.com shows more than 30,000 openings, and indeed.com shows more than 40,000. Yet the state’s latest employment report showed only 22,210 unemployed Granite Staters and an unemployment rate of 3%. 

Afghan immigrants have a long and successful record of migration to the United States. The crime rate of Afghan immigrants is 11.6 times lower than the crime rate of native-born Americans, according to crime data analyzed by Alex Nowrasteh and Michelangelo Landgrave of the Cato Institute. 

During the Cold War, the United States prioritized refugees from Communist countries and screened them for Communist sympathies and associations. Cuban and Vietnamese refugees famously became two extraordinarily patriotic refugee groups after being resettled in the United States.

Similarly, Afghan refugees are screened twice for jihadist sympathies and terrorist connections, once overseas and again after arriving in the United States.

New Hampshire expects only 100-200 Afghan refugees. Even10 times that number would not be enough to provide a statewide economic lift. But for the businesses desperate for help, every hire matters.   

And if there’s any group of people who should be welcomed in the “Live free or die” state, it is refugees who literally lived that motto by risking their lives for freedom. 

Join the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy and the Center for Ethics in Society at Saint Anselm College on October 12 as they present the findings of a first-of-its kind study showing how residential land use regulations have affected the supply and price of housing in New Hampshire.

“Residential Land Use Regulation In New Hampshire: Causes and Consequences,” a study conducted by Jason Sorens, Director of the Center for Ethics in Society, and published by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, examines how land use regulation in New Hampshire has suppressed the supply of new housing and driven up home prices and rents.

At this event, Sorens will explain his study’s findings, which show how and where local regulations have changed the supply and price of housing in New Hampshire. After the presentation, Sarah Marchant, Director of Community Development for the City of Nashua, and Ben Frost, Managing Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, will join Sorens in a panel discussion about housing scarcity and the larger effects it has had on New Hampshire’s society, economy, and politics, moderated by Andrew Cline, President of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.

HYBRID EVENT: This event will take place in the Frost/Hawthorne room at the DoubleTree by Hilton Manchester Downtown (700 Elm Street, Manchester, New Hampshire, 03101). Please arrive at 9:45 am to sign in. If you choose to attend virtually, the Zoom webinar will begin at 10:15 am.

Event details:

10 a.m., Tues., Oct. 12

Frost/Hawthorne Room, Doubletree by Hilton, 700 Elm St., Manchester

The event will also be streamed live on Zoom. 

Join us:

To attend in person, get on our guest list here.

To attend via Zoom, register here.

About the speakers:

Jason Sorens is Director of the Center for Ethics in Business and Governance at Saint Anselm College. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University in 2003 and a B.A. in economics and philosophy (with honors) from Washington and Lee University in 1998. He has researched and written more than 20 peer-reviewed journal articles, a book for McGill-Queens University Press titled Secessionism, and a biennially revised book for the Cato Institute, Freedom in the 50 States (with William Ruger). His research has focused on fiscal federalism, U.S. state politics, and movements for regional autonomy and independence around the world. He has taught at Yale, Dartmouth, and the University at Buffalo and twice won awards for best teaching in his department. He lives in Amherst, New Hampshire.

Andrew Cline is President of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy. Before joining the Bartlett Center, he was a communications consultant and a newspaper editor. He spent 14 years as editor of the editorial page of the New Hampshire Union Leader, where his work won him two New Hampshire Press Association Editorial Writer of the Year awards. A USA Today contributor, he has been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines, including The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, National Review, and The Weekly Standard. He was appointed chair of the State Board of Education in 2017.

Sarah Marchant, AICP joined the City of Nashua in June 2014 as the Director of Community Development. In this position, she is responsible for the budget and leadership of the Community Development Division which consists of six departments, including Building Safety, Code Enforcement, Planning and Zoning, Waterways, Transportation, Urban Programs, and various commissions, boards and programs. Sarah was elected President of the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association (NNECAPA) representing NH, VT and ME, in the fall of 2015 and serves on the National APA Policy and Advocacy Committee. She also serves on the Executive Committee of the New Hampshire Planners Association (NHPA), after serving as President from 2010-2014, and in 2019 was appointed to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority Board of Directors. She holds a BA from the University of New Hampshire and an MA from the University of Connecticut.

Benjamin Frost, Esq., AICP is the Managing Director of Policy and Public Affairs at New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, where he manages legislative initiatives, communications, research, and strategic planning, and also serves as internal legal counsel. He frequently lectures on issues of affordable and workforce housing, land use law, and ethics. Ben has 35 years of experience as a land use planner and over 25 years as an attorney. He is a founding member of the Governing Council of Housing Action NH, a low-income housing advocacy organization. Ben is the Treasurer of both the NH Planners Association and the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association and serves on the Amicus Curiae Committee of the American Planning Association. He holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in Geography (with a focus on USSR environmental policy) from Colgate University and Syracuse University, respectively and a J.D. from Cornell Law School with a concentration in business law and regulation.

In May, Foster’s Daily Democrat reported the exciting news that celebrity chef Bobby Marcotte planned to convert an abandoned Portsmouth gas station into a unique Asian-Spanish fusion restaurant. 

Portsmouth has a certain cachet, cultivated by its inhabitants as well as its government. One might think that a super-fashionable, high-concept restaurant helmed by a local celebrity chef would be just the sort of thing to sail through the city’s approval process.

One might also be unfamiliar with just how absurd local zoning restrictions can be.

On August 17th, the restaurant concept that was met with such fanfare in May was rejected by a 4-3 vote of the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The Portsmouth Herald report can be read here.

The reason for the rejection? 

To make the restaurant work, Marcotte needed the ability to seat up to 100 customers during warm weather. The current zoning caps restaurant capacity at 50. 

Larry Gormley, attorney for Marcotte and his business Partner Paul Simbilaris, explained that the converted space would seat 50 people inside year-round, with an additional 40-50 people outside on a new patio when weather permits. 

The capacity would be “up to 90 or 100 at peak in the appropriate season,” Gormley said.

Board member Beth Margeson objected, saying the additional seating would bring too much traffic and parking to the neighborhood.

Gormley pointed out that the restaurant is within walking distance of the city’s new parking garage, which is where restaurant employees will be required to park.

Gormely didn’t say, but might have added, that the location is 0.4 miles (less than a 10 minute walk) from TWO parking garages, including the city’s new, $26 million Foundry Place garage, which the city itself acknowledges is only half full on a daily basis.  

The city built that garage for the express purpose of enabling additional commercial activity in the city, given the relative scarcity of on-street parking. 

The city has had several meetings to try to figure out how to increase the five-story garage’s use, as it has remained well under capacity since it opened in 2018. 

And yet the Zoning Board of Adjustment continues to cite on-street parking as a reason to reject commercial development within a short walk of the multi-million-dollar taxpayer-funded garage. 

“We think we’re presenting an amenity for people to walk to and from the area,” Gormley explained. 

But a majority on the board couldn’t see that.

Some members fixated on the current zoning’s 50-seat capacity limit and the idea that an increase might have people parking on side streets when the patio is open. 

Gormley didn’t even win over any board members when he described this restaurant’s food as “Asian-infused tacos.”

Not a single board member leapt up and screamed, “ASIAN TACOS!!”

Which seems weird. Not ASIAN TACOS. Those seem delicious. It seems weird that no one stood up and screamed, “ASIAN TACOS!!”

Even weirder, four Zoning Board members willingly chose an abandoned gas station over… ASIAN TACOS.

Not all board members chose a vacant service station over tacos filled, presumably, with things like General Tso’s chicken or seafood tempura. 

Board member Arthur Parrott said the restaurant “will be a net gain to the neighborhood and the city as a whole because the one thing that’s clear to everybody is what’s there now is an eyesore and is long deserving of an improvement. Does a gas station belong there? No, but it’s there, and we have to deal with it.”

That’s precisely the choice the board had. It was either an abandoned gas station, or a 50-seat ASIAN TACO restaurant with an additional 40-50 seasonal patio seats. 

But the nays envisioned a third option — a magical Ideal Use that would perfectly fit the zoning ordinance and be commercially viable for the long term, but which, mysteriously, no one has proposed in all the years the ordinance has existed.

“I think this is just too much restaurant use,” Margeson said.  

She added later that the property is “just seemingly cursed or something, I don’t know.”

Explaining his yes vote, Parrott said he’s voted four times on proposals to convert the property to a better use, and yet it remains an eyesore gas station. 

Given that record, maybe the property is cursed. 

Maybe, just maybe, the curse is that city officials have dictated an extremely narrow range of approved uses for the property, none of which is economically viable under current market conditions.

A majority of the board imagines that on some glorious day, someone will appear before them and propose a use that is both profitable and consistent with the severe restrictions set by the city’s ordinance.

Until that day, however, they’ll ensure that the property remains an abandoned gas station.

In the last decade, New Hampshire’s population grew at the slowest rate in a century, signaling that generations’ worth of astounding economic and cultural gains could be put at risk.

New Hampshire’s population grew by 4.5% from 2010-2020, the lowest growth rate since the state had 2.9% growth from 1910-1920. 

It marked the first time since 1920 that the state’s population growth rate has fallen below 5%.

The decline follows a 43% drop the previous decade and represents the fourth straight drop in population growth recorded by the Census. 

New Hampshire enjoyed double-digit population growth in each decade of the second half of the 20th century. But the rate began falling in the 1980s and has been in sharp decline since the 1990s.

2010-2020: 4.6%

2000-2010: 6.5%

1990-2000: 11.4%

1980-1990: 20.5%

1970-1980: 24.8%

1960-1970: 21.5%

1950-1960: 13.8%

Vermont’s population grew by just 2.8% in the last decade, down from 8.2% in the 1990s. New Hampshire is at risk of following Vermont’s path toward population stagnation. Both states already rely on immigration, rather than births, for population increase.

For decades, New Hampshire has prided itself on its pro-growth economic policies. Keeping taxes low and government small helped make our state the economic marvel of New England. Even without a large port or a cluster of elite research universities, we grew rapidly while states with better natural resources struggled. 

But New Hampshire’s focus on tax rates has left the economy vulnerable in other ares. As the state was chasing growth, local governments were trying to limit it.

Local governments have succeeded in choking off the state’s once robust population growth. That threatens the state’s economic future because the real secret to a vibrant economy is innovation, and innovation comes primarily through people sharing ideas.  

To simplify, it’s not the size of the population itself that matters as much as the size of the market. New Hampshire’s slower population growth is a problem because it is constraining the growth of the state’s economic marketplace.  

You just have to look at the help wanted signs posted everywhere to see the severity of the problem. 

“Larger markets induce more research and faster growth,” as economist Paul Romer put it.

New Hampshire has done a tremendous job stimulating increased market activity by focusing on pro-growth economic policies. But low taxes cannot be the sum of our pro-growth agenda. When creating the conditions for a vibrant marketplace, low taxes are just one factor. 

A vibrant market needs policies that allow innovation and investment, but it also needs people to do the innovating and investing. 

Local regulations that severely restrict the construction of new housing are not the only factor contributing to the state’s lower population growth, but they have played a significant role.  

Using U.S. Census data, we calculated the growth in housing units in New Hampshire in each decade going back to 1940. You can see the huge drop starting in the 1990s. 

2010-2020: 3.9%

2000-2010: 12.4%

1990-2000: 8.6%

1980-1990: 30.4%

1970-1980: 37.5%

1960-1970: 25.2%

1950-1960: 17.7%

1940-1950: 20.5%

Until the 1990s, the growth in the number of housing units was larger than the state’s population growth. In two of the last three decades, the population growth has been larger than the growth in home construction. 

That has produced a huge shortage of housing. The housing shortage is not only driving up home prices and rents. It’s constraining population growth. 

This housing shortage is reducing the supply of available workers, which is hurting the very businesses that legislators have worked so hard to help. (See all the help wanted signs.)

It’s also constraining the growth of the state’s economic market. It doesn’t do much good to help a business create a new job if, with the other hand, you make sure there’s no one around to fill the job.  

In the long run, the local regulations that have created a de facto cap on population growth will work against the tax cuts and regulatory reforms that brought us the tremendous growth of the last 70 years. 

Policymakers need to understand that creating a vibrant, innovative marketplace requires more than just keeping taxes and spending low. Artificially limiting the number of market participants shrinks the market and hurts the whole state.  

The Center for Disease Control’s plainly unconstitutional eviction moratorium, begun in the Trump administration and continued by President Biden, is much more than a presidential abandonment of the rule of law. It’s a rejection — and reversal — of the very foundation on which James Madison based all government power — private property rights. 

And the problem it’s trying to solve would be much less of a problem were it not for other government restrictions on private property. 

Government in the United States exists to protect individual rights, including the right to property. In fact, Madison believed that government itself was justified primarily for the purpose of protecting property rights. 

As Thomas Jefferson put it in the Declaration of Independence, the purpose of government is to “secure these rights” — the unalienable ones endowed by man’s creator. 

Madison, explaining his thinking in 1792, wrote that protecting property rights was the very foundation of government. 

“Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”

Madison believed that people had property rights not just in physical objects they owned, but in their ideas, their beliefs, and their labor. The Constitution secures rights to free speech and religious worship because each of us has a property right in our own conscience and our own faith. Our ideas and our thoughts are a form of property on which government can have no claim, he believed. 

Protecting these individual rights from violation by other individuals or groups was the very purpose of government, Madison wrote. And violating property rights was inherently unjust.  

“That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty, is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest.” 

The eviction moratorium is just such an arbitrary seizure. It appropriates private property for public purpose, and does so both illegally and unnecessarily. 

The federal and state governments have had other, less intrusive means of achieving the eviction moratorium’s goals. The obviously correct method is to pay landlords, not to appropriate their property. 

To this end, the federal government has made $46.55 billion in rental assistance available. Being the federal government, it has ineptly managed this aid, most of which remains undistributed. But the government can’t argue that its own bureaucratic incompetence is a justification for illegally appropriating private property. 

Today, many arguments for extending the moratorium rest primarily on leftist political theory, not public health. The idea is not that evictions will spread COVID, but that they are an evil in and of themselves because they allow people with power and money to exploit people who have less power and money. 

This, however, is Madison’s very definition of unjust government, that being one in which property “is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest.”

Whether it exists for public health or “social justice” reasons, the eviction moratorium is an unconstitutional Madisonian nightmare. 

And, as with so many government “solutions,” it is a property rights violation issued to correct a problem caused by previous property rights violations. 

America’s primary housing problem is not that the country has too many “greedy” landlords, but that the country has too few of them. 

The vast majority of landlords in the United States are not corporations, but individuals, Census Bureau data show. As the Pew Research Center put it last week:

“Landlords aren’t a homogenous group of faceless corporations. In fact, fewer than one-fifth of rental properties are owned by for-profit businesses of any kind. Most rental properties – about seven-in-ten – are owned by individuals, who typically own just one or two properties, according to 2018 census data. And landlords have complained about being unable to meet their obligations, such as mortgage payments, property taxes and repair bills, because of a falloff in rent payments.”

It’s not big companies that provide so much American rental housing, but individuals who buy or build properties for investment purposes, often to provide a retirement income. And this entrepreneurship is suppressed by government.  

For decades, local governments have systematically constrained rental housing through a variety of private property restrictions. Knowing that people left free to use their property as they see fit would voluntarily build duplexes, apartments, and small rental homes, governments nationwide have banned or severely curtailed such construction. 

From rent control laws to bans on boarding houses and accessory dwelling units, localities have intentionally discouraged people from becoming landlords. Without such property restrictions, rental housing would be much more plentiful, rents would be much lower, and landlords would much have less power over tenants. 

Competition for tenants drives prices down and services up. Limiting the supply of landlords reduces that competition, which pushes rents up and services down. 

As is often the case, a seemingly intractable problem some say can be solved only by unprecedented government intervention was in fact caused in the first place by unwise government intervention and would be largely remedied simply by removing government restrictions that created the problem in the first place.