Journal of Comparative Urban Law and Policy


The U.S. faces a housing choice crisis. The growing shortage of affordable rental homes and looming mismatch between the homes offered for sale by baby boomers and the homes sought by the next generation of homeowners point to a need to fundamentally reshape the extent and diversity of the nation’s housing options. Housing and land-use policy experts have appealed to the aim of expanding housing choice to justify the removal of regulatory restrictions on certain housing types, the construction of affordable rental housing in transit-adjacent neighborhoods, the elimination of housing market discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity, and the expansion of tenant-based rental vouchers in low-poverty neighborhoods.

Housing choice expansion is a battle being waged on multiple fronts in defense of a variety of causes, but conceptual confusion threatens to erode the foundation of this fragile alliance. This paper brings clarity to the cause by exploring the concept of housing choice, evaluating the normative arguments in favor of expanding housing choice, and proposing a refined conception of the goal to expand housing choice. I defend a conception of housing choice expansion that prioritizes effective housing choice and tenure and type neutrality. This conception provides a justification for several policy reforms, including an expanded demand-side housing subsidy funded by eliminating homeownership tax incentives, enhancements to renters’ rights of occupancy, expansion of flexible tenure arrangements, and reform of local land-use practices.

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