Where Dysfunctional Zoning Policy Meets Dysfunctional Immigration Policy

I can understand why homeowners get upset when someone buys a house in the neighborhood and then leases out rooms to unskilled, semi-literate immigrants, who proceed to trash the place. Responding to the proliferation of illegal boarding houses, Fairfax County officials have begun cracking down by strictly enforcing zoning codes. (See the Fairfax County Times story.)

But it appears that part of the problem is of the county’s own making. The mortgage on a modest, middle-class rambler can cost $4,000 to $5,000 per month. Very few households can afford that on their own. That is one of the motivations for leasing out individuals rooms for up to $600 or $700 per month. (See the companion story in the Fairfax County Times.)

Marta Reyes … lives with her husband and two young children in a small, beige rambler with a perfectly manicured lawn on Frederick Avenue in Springfield.

Rooms rent for $400 month. She said that 11 people live in the house and that she would rent to six more. Her mortgage is $4,000 a month and, like many who rent out their homes, she said, “I can’t pay for the house myself.”

Clearly, there is a shortage of affordable housing. It doesn’t cost $4,000 a month to mortgage middle-class houses in fast-growth cities like Atlanta or Houston. That price reflects scarcity of supply — a scarcity induced by zoning policies that discourage construction of low/moderate-income housing.

The underlying cause of illegal boarding is clouded by the immigration issue. Most of the inhabitants of the illegal boarding houses are of Hispanic origin (Honduran in the case of the woman profiled by the Times), so there is a presumption that they are here illegally. Maybe the are, maybe they aren’t, I don’t know. If they are illegal, they shouldn’t be here — which means that we need to repair our dysfunctional immigration policy, too.

Update: The City of Winchester, population 25,000, has received 94 overcrowding complaints since July 2006, according to the Winchester Star.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


11 responses to “Where Dysfunctional Zoning Policy Meets Dysfunctional Immigration Policy”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Without opening up the floodgates could you explain further

    “Clearly, there is a shortage of affordable housing. It doesn’t cost $4,000 a month to mortgage middle-class houses in fast-growth cities like Atlanta or Houston. That price reflects scarcity of supply — a scarcity induced by zoning policies that discourage construction of low/moderate-income housing.”

    Is your basic solution abolish zoning.

    Without getting too longwinded its the main topic that this blog usually gets back to

    On the one hand you have the existing residents, enviromentalists who basically want to keep the status quo

    On the other hand you have the builders and businesses and “future residents” who want more places

    So I think we agree remove the regulations and let the market decide

    Is there a document where you layout your whole argument?


  2. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    There will be soon.


  3. The building and zoning codes are deliberately written to be punitive against poor people.

    For example, 4 kids in double bunk beds per bedroom was no big deal 50 years ago.

    Now it is easy to keep the Hispanics out of the apartment complex. You limit occupancy to 2 people per bedroom. Of course this is done for safety and health reasons.

    We have come a long way as a civilized people in how comfortable we want everyone to be.

    There is a Tavern built around 1828 at Fort Necessity National Battlefield (where George Washington surrendered to the French). “Taverns were required to have a license. There were four considerations for licensing: financial status of the Inn Keeper; location; facilities for the public; and the ability of the Inn Keeper to discharge his duties.”

    Here’s where it gets fun. “Beds were shared with strangers. It was possible to have two or three bedmates during the night. Travelers would arise at all hours to get an early start on the road and another tired wayfarer could crawl in that vacant place in the bed.”

    “Three of the Mount Washington Tavern’s seven bedrooms are on display. The second room on the left is more typical of tavern bedrooms. Furnishings for these rooms would have been limited to mostly beds, two or three per room, a few chairs, and a wash stand.”

    Apparently they slept in the attic too. “Today, the attic is used for storage, but during the stagecoach period some of the tavern’s sleeping accommodations may have been in this area. This did not provide for much privacy for there would have been bed after bed, dormitory style, in one large room.”

    Available here: http://www.nps.gov/archive/fone/mwt.htm

    We just can’t have this kind of thing going on in Fairfax County today. We’ve moved beyond stagecoaches to autonomobiles!

    Oh, that’s the problem. Those Hispanics have too many older autonomobiles parked outside.

  4. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “For example, 4 kids in double bunk beds per bedroom was no big deal 50 years ago.”

    Yep. That’s the way I was raised.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “The building and zoning codes are deliberately written to be punitive against poor people.”

    I don’t know about the deliberate part but I agree about the outcome.

    It’s hard to believe when one drives around NoVa that there can be NO OPTIONs for low cost shelter for folks of limited means.

    and isn’t it a bit ironic that when we talk about “affordable housing” – that we’re usually NOT talking about housing for service workers in NoVa (hispanic or otherwise) but folks with 100K incomes looking for that single family home in a subdivision.

    Sometimes I am in awe at our collective stupidity….with regard to the differences between the purposes of our stated policies – and how things actually play out – on the ground – where people are actually affected…

    we yammer on and on about the need for affordable housing.. while at the same time.. seek actions to make it harder for more people to share a shelter.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Its just how our political system works or the squeaky wheel gets the grease

    Most of the real poor who would directly benefit from real “affordable housing” are less educated, struggle with English, don’t vote in large proportions at all, and don’t contact their local politicians

    The people with 100k incomes on the other hand are politically active, vote, and complain to their reprsentatives.

    The job of a politician is to remain in office hence why we these issues policies.

    I have recently become close to a few politicians and I am constantly amazed that they are routinely contacted by a core group of people on an almost daily basis. I don’t know what these people do in their daily lives but to ignore them is to face sure defeat at the ballot box during election day.


  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Four kids in double bunk beds isn’t the problem with over- crowded housing, and I think we all know that.

    I have posted in the past about the problems I encountered in my apartment complex when a lightly populated complex suddenly became densely populated and I won’t go into them again except to note that when you stuff 6-8 or more adults into an apartment designed for 1-4, you have safety problems.

    I have mentioned the problems that we had regarding crime with so many unknown tenants in our complex. My downstairs neighbor in his late 70’s was the victim of an attempted home invasion. That was certainly bad, but worse still was the constant fear of fire.

    When you increase density, you increase clothing, bedding, paper work, etc. If you doubt this, ask a fireman. In my complex were a large number of third world men living together, tightly compacted with lots of flammable material AND they were smokers. I’d be reading late at night and I could smell the cigarette smoke flowing through the A/C system, which meant that they were smoking inside. Major, major fire hazard with over-crowded housing.

    I lived in an apartment with one entrance in the living room and with my bedroom in the back behind this L/R. If a fire had broken out in the night while I was asleep, smoke could have completely filled my 3rd-floor apartment and, in fact, flames could have engulfed the L/R area so that I couldn’t escape through my front door. In overcrowded housing L/R’s are often used as sleeping quarters and a sleeping smoker, cigarette still lit, could have set off a fire in that area or it could have spread from a nearby apartment. Had this happened, I might have escaped had I been able to break my bedroom window, leap out and survive a 35 foot drop to the ground. No problem if I’m a 30-something Navy SEAL in fine fighting form, but since I was a 50-ish woman with 30 years in a desk job, the likelihood that I would slit my throat while going out the window was only exceeded by the EXTREME likelihood that I’d break my neck in the 35+ foot fall.

    Granted I missed the beautifully decorated balconies and patios, the trash free grounds, the clean laundry room and parking areas, the general pleasant feeling of living in a community that cared about itself – (who wouldn’t?); but I confess the fear of crime and fire was the main concerns that I had in my last few years there.

    If you haven’t lived this fear, don’t under-estimate it.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    The 5:47 comment was mine – forgot to leave m name! Deena Flinchum

  9. Miako Avatar

    There’s an easy solution to this:
    Build more Japanese style apartment buildings.

    They fit tons more people together.

    Easy, huh?

  10. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Miako — that’s my solution, too. But it’s got problems. What would be the impact of all those people on schools? Wouldn’t the inhabitants represent a net drain to the county tax base? And what about the localized traffic congestion? Wouldn’t that drive the neighbors crazy?

    How do governments deal with those problems in Japan?

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    And what, pray tell, are “Japanese Style” apartment buildings? And while we’re at it, will they work with folks who aren’t “Japanese”?

    Culture matters.

    Deena Flinchum

Leave a Reply