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How to Repair America’s Broken Housing Systems

By Jenny Schuetz
Fixer Upper

Practical ideas to provide affordable housing to more Americans

Much ink has been spilled in recent years talking about political divides and inequality in the United States. But these discussions too often miss one of the most important factors in the divisions among Americans: the fundamentally unequal nature of the nation’s housing systems. Financially well-off Americans can afford comfortable, stable homes in desirable communities. Millions of other Americans cannot.

And this divide deepens other inequalities. Increasingly, important life outcomes—performance in school, employment, even life expectancy—are determined by where people live and the quality of homes they live in.

Unequal housing systems didn’t just emerge from natural economic and social forces. Public policies enacted by federal, state, and local governments helped create and reinforce the bad housing outcomes endured by too many people. Taxes, zoning, institutional discrimination, and the location and quality of schools, roads, public transit, and other public services are among the policies that created inequalities in the nation’s housing patterns.

Fixer-Upper is the first book assessing how the broad set of local, state, and national housing policies affect people and communities. It does more than describe how yesterday’s policies led to today’s problems. It proposes practical policy changes than can make stable, decent-quality housing more available and affordable for all Americans in all communities.

Fixing systemic problems that arose over decades won’t be easy, in large part because millions of middle-class Americans benefit from the current system and feel threatened by potential changes. But Fixer-Upper suggests ideas for building political coalitions among diverse groups that share common interests in putting better housing within reach for more Americans, building a more equitable and healthy country.

Watch the Book Release Event Discussion

On March 3, 2022, author Jenny Schuetz was joined by Vox policy reporter Jerusalem Demsas for a conversation exploring the themes of “Fixer-Upper: How to Repair America’s Broken Housing Systems,” assessing how the broad set of local, state, and national housing policies affect people and communities and how practical policy changes can make stable, decent-quality housing more available and affordable for all Americans in all communities. Brookings Vice President and Director Amy Liu opened the program with remarks.


Praise for Fixer-Upper

Fixer Upper “…is one of the clearest overviews of America’s housing policy failures and just its housing policies that you’ll find. But reading it, a much deeper argument struck me throughout. This is very much a book about when democracy works and when it fails… what [Schuetz] is saying is that this system, what we often imagine to be the essence of democracy, it is failing and it is failing worst in the places where it often looks to be operating best. It’s a pretty profound set of questions, not just for liberals, but for anybody who thinks about political systems, to grapple with.” – Ezra Klein interviews Jenny Schuetz on The New York Times’ The Ezra Klein Show podcast

“This book offers a well-written, well-researched, and insightful analysis of what is not working in housing and land use policies in the United States and how to fix them.” — Enrico Moretti, Michael Peevey and Donald Vial Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley

“Housing affordability is one of the most important problems facing American families. Using an economic lens, Fixer-Upper presents a clear and compelling diagnosis of today’s housing ills and illuminates the path forward to reach the nation’s goal of decent and affordable homes and strong communities for all.” — Chris Herbert, managing director, Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies

“If you think housing policy is dry and technocratic, Fixer-Upper will convince you otherwise. Jenny Schuetz clearly and succinctly explains how current policies—from local zoning to federal tax policy—contribute to some of the country’s most urgent economic and social problems. Her proposed solutions are both practical and provocative—worthy of serious debate.” — Sara Bronin, professor, Cornell University, and founder, DesegregateCT

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