by William Skink
The New York Times recently ran an opinion piece declaring Americans Need More Neighbors. The gist is that housing is unaffordable because single-family zoning caters to all the greedy families out there who want a home and a yard for their kids to play in. From the link:
Local governments regulate land use by chopping cities into zones, specifying what can be built in each area. This serves some valuable purposes, like separating homes from heavy industry. But mostly, it serves to protect homeowners. In many cities, including Minneapolis, more than half of the city’s land is reserved for single-family homes.
People should be free to live in a prairie-style house on a quarter-acre lot in the middle of Minneapolis, so long as they can afford the land and taxes. But zoning subsidizes that extravagance by prohibiting better, more concentrated use of the land. It allows people to own homes they could not afford if the same land could be used for an apartment building. It is a huge entitlement program for the benefit of the most entitled residents.
The loose fabric of single-family neighborhoods drives up the cost of housing by limiting the supply of available units. It contributes to climate change, by necessitating sprawl and long commutes. It constrains the economic potential of cities by limiting growth.
The first paragraph lays out the premise: greedy home-owners who don’t want a modern-looking apartment tower built on their neighbor’s lot have the potent municipal power of zoning to protect them.
The second paragraph ups the ante: people (single-families) who extravagently expect the freedom “to live in a prairie-style house on a quarter-acre lot” are actually getting some kind of subsidy because their greedy use of land is keeping an apartment tower from being built.
Driving up the cost of housing is a nefarious “loose fabric of single-family neighborhoods”, claims the third paragraph. Oh, and climate change. Because of sprawl and cars and stuff. So rack ’em and stack ’em.
Let’s back up from this enlightened approach to the housing affordability crisis and ask a few questions.
Question 1: who will own the density?
This is an important question. The rental market doesn’t offer the same nest-egg opportunity to build equity in a home. And the smaller home-ownership opportunities, called condos, what’s to stop that kind housing from turning into a VRBO?
Question 2: are local tax-structures, like Urban Renewal Districts funneling that sweet, sweet TIF money, being considered as a factor in the increasing cost of housing? Also, is enough of that TIF money being directed to counter the gentrification occurring in hot, in-land mountain towns like Missoula?
Question 3: will eliminating single-family zoning address the reckless monetary policies of central banks which has sloshed enough “liquidity” to the tippy top, making real estate, in whatever form, an attractive investment?
Locally, in Missoula, a high-density housing facility for seniors is being proposed. The only two council persons to vote against this project are the only two council persons not running for another term.
It seems stronger council persons must be found to dictate the terms of Missoula’s growth and to re-educate resisters to their duty to have more neighbors.
Because climate change.
And because your backyard is the problem, not the monetary policies of central banks.