The next president, whether Vice President George Bush or Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, will have to confront the reality that there has been no federal urban policy over the past eight years. Either the new president can ignore this, as the Reagan administration did, or tackle a set of issues that has recently been rushing into the headlines.Of course, what urban policy now includes is much broader than in the 1960s, when this palette of issues was first lumped together and the cabinet-level Department of Housing and Urban Development was created. In fact, the term "urban" is now basically obsolete, since the issues of the 1980s and 1990s are regional in nature, affecting the entire metropolitan area.
The lack of a regional metropolitan policy has resulted in the proliferation of anti-growth movements. Fed up with the lack of political will or governmental mechanisms to handle problems such as overloaded sewers dumping raw waste material, air pollution spreading well beyond traditional industrial zones, and pervasive traffic congestion, citizens are revolting against residential and commercial growth. Both are seen as the cause of many of our metropolitan ills.
The major component to the solution of many pollution problems, as well as the economic ills of minorities and the working class, is quite simple: Get jobs closer to the workers and workers closer to jobs. Better employment-housing balance would cut down on commutes and traffic congestion, increase employment opportunities for minorities and the working class, increase the shrinking labor pool available for business, reduce the amount of money required to upgrade metropolitan transportation systems and cut down on air pollution by reducing the number of cars releasing hydrocarbons in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
The market place, left to its own, would eventually balance employment and housing. The average commute time, for example, in the Greater Los Angeles area did not increase between 1960 and 1980, in spite of a population increase of 3.7 million, because workers have simply moved their homes closer to work or their work closer to their homes. However, this process is now being frustrated by the combination of inadequate new or crumbling old transportation systems and obsolete local government land-use regulations.
Enforcement of existing housing discrimination laws will help balance housing and employment. Public-private partnerships are also critical to bring housing and employment closer together.
For instance, developers and major employers in the major metro employment cores have been organizing over the last few years to provide transportation improvements, shuttle service, security and even day care. In the future these quasi-public organizations should pool resources to provide land "write downs" or loan guarantees to private developments for affordable housing close to the core. Public agencies can assist with additional funding, land assemblage and zoning assistance.
Public agencies, starting at the federal level, should also consider diverting gas-tax money to guarantee loans and to write down land for private projects that promote employment-housing balance. Better balance is a much cheaper solution than building more freeway capacity.