Neighborhood Defenders: Participatory Politics and America’s Housing Crisis, Katherine Levine Einstein, David M. Glick and Maxwell Palmer

Mark Paul
Content Type
Journal Article
Political Science Quarterly
Issue Number
Publication Date
Winter 2020-21
Academy of Political Science
America is in the midst of a housing crisis. For millions of Americans, stable housing is simply out of reach. A full-time worker earning minimum wage cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment in any county in the United States. Twenty-one million households, nearly half of all renters, are rent-burdened, with rent claiming more than a quarter of their income. There are a number of contributing factors to the crisis, including pervasive economic inequality and the lack of rising wages over an entire generation for nonmanagerial workers, but many economists, political scientists, and housing experts point the finger at a lack of housing supply. Specifically, much ink has been spilled over the “not in my back yard” (NIMBY) phenomenon, whereby local residents support more housing in theory, just not in their own neighborhoods. But do local residents really have the power necessary to slow new and denser development in ways that curtail housing supply and contribute to rising house prices? In their timely and important book, Katherine Levine Einstein, David M. Glick, and Maxwell Palmer provide an excellent analysis of the political institutions that empower certain local residents to resist change in their neighborhoods. While the NIMBY sentiment is worthy of consideration regarding the housing crisis, without the right institutions, the movement would not have legs. Neighborhood Defenders provides an in-depth study of how institutions initially designed to democratize local zoning and development decisions have resulted in unintended consequences. Specifically, they document how participatory institutions that could, in theory, keep developers accountable to the people have instead backfired, leading to a shortage of housing supply and a precipitous rise in prices.
Book Review, Political Science, Crisis Management, Housing
Political Geography
North America, United States of America