The Washington, DC, public housing authority has figured out how to solve the region’s affordability problems: Evict people from public housing, convert the dwellings into luxury homes, sell them at a profit, then use the profits to build more affordable housing. This cycle can be repeated endlessly, especially since it won’t really solve the problem.
The housing authority claims it is only selling homes at “scattered sites,” especially ones in “more desirable neighborhoods,” while it concentrates the subsidized homes in what must be less-desirable neighborhoods. In other words, it is increasing income segregation, exactly the opposite of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s goal of promoting more integration of both races and incomes. Apparently, DC’s housing authority didn’t get the memo.
In Portland, which has been known to have its own issues with raising rents on so-called affordable housing, the city just passed another rule that will make housing less affordable. After cheering developers for tearing down homes and building apartments or several smaller homes, the backlash against the practice has grown so strong that the city council has decided to charge developers $25,000 for every house they tear down. That’ll make housing more affordable (Not)!
Over at Market Urbanism, economist Emily Washington argues that Washington, DC’s Silver Line was the result of a deal between property owners, urban planners, and Washington Metro (WMATA). The result was a new rail transit line that harmed just about everyone except those who were party to the deal.
Washington’s tale is correct in general, but my memory of it differs in the particulars. She is right that the main pressure for the Silver Line came from the owners and developers of Tysons Corner, who wanted to build more high-rise housing, hotels, retail, and office space. Fairfax County wouldn’t approve these plans because the area wasn’t served by adequate transportation.
Far from favoring the rail project, however, Fairfax County planners recognized that too few people would ride the rail line to support the proposed new developments. Though the planners questioned the new plans, they were overruled by the county supervisors.
Thanks to the wonders of government planning, San Diego County residents have to pay more for water they are not allowed to use. California, as everyone knows, is suffering a drought, so the state legislature mandated water conservation statewide, whether it is needed or not.
San Diego is one place where it isn’t needed, as that county has 99 percent of its normal amount of water. Yet residents are still required by state law to “let their grass die.” The costs of providing water haven’t declined, so the reductions in water usage due to mandatory conservation measures have forced the county water authority to raise its rates to cover those costs.
But it gets worse. San Diego is about to get an overabundance of water that is more costly than ever as a new $1 billion desalination plant is about to open that will increase the county’s water supply by as much as 10 percent. The plant is privately financed, but was built only after the county signed a contract agreeing to buy water from the plant whether it needed it or not. The water authority expects to spend $114 million next year buying water that was previously costing it only $45 million. This has led it to increase in water rates yet again.
The Antiplanner dogs, Smokey, Zephyr, and Buffy, wish you a happy Thanksgiving. Buffy will be 17 in a few days and is still going strong. The long-haired dogs are thankful for our first snow of the season.
I am thankful for my faithful readers and all of their polite comments (not so much the impolite ones). I hope you all have a wonderful and safe holiday.
The big question about self-driving cars is “when?” On one hand, there are rumors that Google will start selling its self-driving cars next year. While even the Antiplanner doesn’t think that’s realistic, Ford is promising self-driving cars in 2019 and other manufacturers are saying 2020.
On the other hand, many are saying that, due to liability concerns and technical problems with such factors as rain and snow, it will take much longer than that. Another study predicts that, even if the first self-driving cars enter the market in the next decade, it will take several decades after that for them to dominate the roads.
The Antiplanner has written on this before, but the more I learn, the more I am convinced that the first self-driving cars will be for sale by 2020 and that they will be the dominant form of travel within not much more than a decade after that.
Progressive Railroading, which has never met a passenger train subsidy it didn’t like, claims that, after six years and $1.3 billion, work on moderate-speed rail service between Chicago and St. Louis is “nearing the finish line.” Since the trains will go a maximum of 110 miles per hour, it isn’t true high-speed rail; Progressive Railroading calls it “higher-speed rail” while the Antiplanner prefers the term “moderate-speed rail.”
It turns out that Illinois is also approaching “the finish line” at moderate speeds. After nearly six years of work, Illinois has trains running at 110 mph on only one 15-mile segment of the 284-mile trip. The “final phases” of the project will be completed “within the next few years,” the magazine says vaguely.
When it is done, trains that currently take 5 hours 20 minutes will finish the trip in “about” 4 hours 30 minutes, for an average speed of 63 mph. Google maps says people can drive the distance in 4 hours 20 minutes, so the train will still take more time than driving. Plus, of course, the train probably won’t go where most people want to go as there just aren’t that many businesses or residences within walking distance of either Chicago Union Station or St. Louis’ Amtrak station. If you are driving alone, the $27 cost of an Amtrak ticket is enough to pay the marginal costs of driving; if you have some passengers, you’ll save money even counting all the costs of driving.
Property-rights and housing-affordability advocates were surprised and elated that the chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, Jason Furman, gave a speech blaming housing affordability problems on zoning and land-use regulation. They shouldn’t be: while Furman is correct in general, he is wrong about the details and the prescriptions he offers could make the problems worse than ever.
There is no doubt, as Furman documents in his speech, that land-use regulation is the cause of growing housing affordability problems. Yet Furman fails to note the fact that these problems are only found in some parts of the country. This is a crucial observation, and those who fail to understand it are almost certain to misdiagnose the cause and propose the wrong remedies.
Citing Jane Jacobs (who was wrong at least as often as she was right), Forman blames affordability problems on zoning that “limits density and mixed-use development.” Such zoning is found in almost every city in the country except Houston, yet most cities don’t have housing affordability problems. Thus, such zoning alone cannot be the cause of rising rents and home prices.
The State of Oregon should change its name to Denial, as state and local leaders seem to be living in that state most of the time. Although Portland Mayor Charlie Hales has declared the region’s housing crisis to be an emergency–one that contributed to his decision not to run for re-election–no one wants to get serious about fixing the problem.
The latest is that Metro, Portland’s regional planning agency, has decided that there is no need to expand the region’s urban-growth boundary as there is plenty of room to accommodate the 400,000 new residents that region is expected to gain in the next two decades. Metro’s plans calls for housing 80 percent of those new residents in multifamily housing primarily located in downtowns and along transit corridors.
Downtown Austin today houses about 10,000 people.
As Texas transportation official Mike Heiligenstein pointed out at the American Dream conference in Austin two weeks ago, the idea that huge numbers of people can live downtown is absurd. Downtown Austin today seems to be a forest of high-rise condos, yet only 10,000 people live there. He pictured what it would look like with 20,000 more residents and it seems impossibly dense–yet 20,000 is less than 5 percent of the region’s anticipated growth. Most Americans simply don’t want to live in Manhattan, and given the nation’s wide-open spaces, they shouldn’t have to–yet planners in both Portland and Austin think they should.
The Los Angeles Time seems surprised to report that Los Angeles’ 9-mile-long Expo Line has failed to relieve congestion in the corridor it serves. Rail and bus boardings increased about 6 percent after the line opened in 2012 (at least some of which would be due to transfers of passengers from bus to rail who previously could go the entire distance of their journey by bus), but the rail line had no “significant or consistent impact” on auto traffic.
Many people believe rail transit depends on population density, and if so then the Expo Line should be a perfect candidate, as the area it serves has 26,000 people per square mile (about the same as New York City and nearly ten times the average urban density in the United States). On one hand, even that’s not dense enough for rail to attract a lot of riders. On the other hand, light rail is really low-capacity transit, so is truly the wrong solution for areas of high transit demand.
As the L.A. Times observes in other articles, rail does benefit some people. First, it gives perverts opportunities to engage in anonymous sexual harassment. Second, it gives politicians opportunities to spend a lot of money: with the prompting of Governor Jerry Brown, Los Angeles is considering spending billions of dollars on six more rail lines.
As previously noted, the Antiplanner left Oregon late in October to drive to Austin for a conference. I just returned on Sunday. To keep up my reputation as an expert in public land management, I also visited eight units of the National Park System.
Cedar Breaks National Monument. Click any image for a larger view.
My first park was Cedar Breaks National Monument, and I was lucky enough to arrive after the first snowfall but before the snow got so deep that the road to the park was closed. Most of my photos use a combination of high-dynamic range (HDR) exposures of several different angles stitched together in Photoshop. This means the photos shown here are anywhere from six to 24 different exposures combined together. One nice thing about HDR is that you can shoot directly into the sun and still get great photos.