City leaders in Mesquite are considering changing the city’s zoning and development code to require that new single-family homes be at least 2,000 square feet.
Officials who support the plan say it’s designed to fend off neighborhood “decline.” Housing experts, however, warn that it could price out many would-be residents.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Why is the City Council considering this requirement of at least 2,000 square feet?
Francesca D’Annunzio: So they’re looking at a zoning and development code overhaul that would increase the minimum permitted home size by more than 30%. When we spoke to the City of Mesquite, they said one of their chief concerns is neighborhood decline. They want to make sure that homes maintain their quality over time.
It would be possible, in theory, for City Council to permit waivers in certain circumstances. But by putting this into their code, they would be telling developers that in the vast majority of circumstances, do not come here if you want to build a home smaller than 2,000 square feet.
What exactly is it that some of these experts are objecting to? What is it that rubs them the wrong way about about this policy?
Home size does not guarantee a neighborhood’s success over time. So if you build a large house or you build a neighborhood of large houses, that doesn’t guarantee that over time, those houses won’t fall into disrepair or that that will be a successful and thriving neighborhood. There are other factors that are going to determine if that neighborhood’s successful, like community groups and access to park space and amenities and other things as well.
Just to be totally clear about this: Is this new code designed basically to alter the socioeconomic status of people moving to Mesquite? In other words, you’re going to have to have a pretty good amount of money if you want to buy one of these homes if the minimum is 2,000 square feet.
So the city told us, no, they don’t want to price people out. They said their chief concern is making sure that neighborhoods maintain quality over time. But they’re still in preliminary talks, so this rule hasn’t been finalized. They are looking at completing their zoning and development code overhaul and having it implemented sometime in the fall. But they just echo that their main worry is preventing neighborhood decline.
Are there any state or federal housing laws that restrict a city’s ability to increase the minimum size of a home like this, or is such an ordinance perfectly legal?
It’s a bit murky. There’s not a handbook from the federal government that says which exclusionary zoning policies are legal and which aren’t. It’s really about the intent of the policy or the outcome of the policy. So there’s nothing from the federal government or the state of Texas that says cities must not require homes larger than X.
But if a lawyer saw and wanted to pursue a lawsuit where they could see that a city is trying to discriminate and there’s evidence for that, or that the outcome of a policy or multiple policies at the city level discriminate against protected classes, then that would be illegal.
Within the past few years, the City of Mesquite has evaluated its housing needs. How does this proposal fit in with the results of those evaluations?
(Leah Waters of the Dallas Morning News) and I read some city reports from 2015 and 2020. And for at least a few years, at least going back to 2015, Mesquite has needed more affordable housing. In 2015, the city’s own report recommended increasing affordable housing production. And then another report compiled by the city echoed the same concern. And they wrote in their own report, ‘Affordable housing for small or extremely low-income families is the greatest specific need.”
If that’s the greatest specific need, why would the city increase the size for new construction? I mean, that seems to go against the recommendations.
That’s a good question.
And city leaders are not being forthcoming about answers?
When we spoke with them about this, they said that they’re still in the talks, they haven’t completed the zoning code overhaul – affordability will be a major part of their discussion and that’s something that they’re concerned about and that this isn’t finalized. That’s what we’ve heard from them.