Category Archives: Housing

The Evils of Urban Containment

The Antiplanner is flying to the East Coast today to help some local activists fight a proposed urban-growth boundary. Coincidentally, the Antiplanner’s faithful ally, Wendell Cox, released his annual international survey of housing affordability today.

As the Antiplanner has done for American states and urban areas, Cox shows that, among international urban areas, there is a high correlation between urban containment policies–whether through growth boundaries, greenbelts, or other tools–and unaffordable housing. Simple supply and demand says that when you restrict supply in the face of rising demand, prices will go up–and that’s exactly what we see all over the world.

Cox supplements data he has gathered himself from eight countries (plus Hong Kong) with additional data for urban areas in China and Malaysia. With a little work, it should be possible to add urban areas in non-English-speaking Europe. Perhaps we can have this done in time for the 2018 survey.

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Stuck in Place

Geographic mobility–the movement of people from place to place in response to changing job trends–had declined in the United States, which in turn contributes to the reduction in economic mobility. David Schleicher, a Yale University associate law professor, has written a paper arguing that this reduction is due to government regulations, including land-use regulations that make it expensive to move and occupational licensing that makes it expensive to enter new markets.

This is an important paper, partly because it gained the attention of media ranging from Slate to Reason Magazine, and partly because it documents in detail some things the Antiplanner has said for years.

In Best-Laid Plans, I wrote, “A researcher in England has found higher levels of unemployment among people who own their homes. But this is because Britain’s growth-management planning has made housing there the least affordable in the world. Such high-priced housing greatly increases the cost of moving and discourages people who own homes from relocating to a city with more jobs. To date, this effect is much weaker in the United States, but continued housing shortages could potentially reduce American mobility.”

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Aussie Housing Bubble

That sound you hear the next time you go to the beach (at least on the West Coast) may be the Australian housing bubble popping. After Hong Kong, Sydney is rated the second-least affordable housing market in the world (see page 12), with median home prices more than twelve times median household incomes–and that’s based on 2014 data. Prices since then have gone up much faster than incomes.

As of September, prices in the country as a whole are 7.2 times incomes; that’s more than all but a handful of urban areas in the United States. Home prices and price-to-income ratios have both risen sharply since 2000. The country’s housing stock is worth nearly US$4.5 trillion, or roughly 20 percent of the U.S. housing market, which is pretty high for a country that only has 7.5 percent of the U.S. population.

Economists have been expecting Australian home prices to collapse for some time, and it hasn’t happened yet. But the UBS Housing Bubble Index ranks Sydney as the fourth-riskiest housing market in the world, after Vancouver, London, and Stockholm.

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The New Housing Bubble

Because the past few years have seen the slowest recovery from a recession on record, the Federal Reserve Bank has been keeping interest rates low and in fact cutting them to almost zero. But this has raised concerns among leading bankers that the low rates are producing another asset bubble, including another housing bubble.

The above graph shows the home price index for several metropolitan areas calculated by the Federal Housing Finance Agency using the Case-Shiller method. (The official Case-Shiller Index published by Standard & Poors doesn’t include as many metropolitan areas as the FHFA index.) It shows that, not only are housing prices rising again, in some urban areas–on the chart, Honolulu, San Francisco-Oakland, San Jose, and Seattle–already have prices much greater than they were at the peak of the 2006 bubble. It seems likely that these prices are going to crash again soon.

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Portland Falls to Number 2

Portland housing prices have been rising faster than in any other major city in the nation, but the latest data show that the city has fallen to number 2 in that measure. Seattle housing prices rose by an annualized 11.0 percent in September, while Portland prices rose by “just” 10.9 percent. No other major city saw prices rise as fast as 10 percent.

Seattle prices are rising so fast that the city is selling every available vacant lot that it has, even though some would rather those lots be turned to parks. Seattle developers are renting studio apartments for $750 a month that are so small–just 130 square feet–that there is no room for a bathroom door.

Portland’s housing market is so tight that 17 acres is considered a large parcel. Naturally, the owners are planning to put multi-family housing on it at 70 units per acre. The largest available parcel in Portland suburb Lake Oswego is a mere 4.5 acres that will be developed at 48 units per acre.

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Secretary Carson

Ben Carson has accepted Donald Trump’s nomination as Secretary of Housing & Urban Development, leading to all sorts of personal attacks and dire predictions for the future of cities under his leadership. The main point of contention is Carson’s belief that the federal government should not get involved in most local issues, which ought to be supported by the fact that many federal urban programs have had disastrous results, particularly for blacks.

The Antiplanner’s friend, Samuel Staley, has some “early thoughts” on what Carson might do as secretary. Most of them sound good to me and I hope they aren’t wishful thinking.

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Back in the Air Again

The Antiplanner is flying to Washington DC today to participate in a forum on housing tomorrow, Should Urban Areas Grow Up or Grow Out to Keep Housing Affordable?. The forum will include a broad range of views including Gerrit Knaap of the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Emily Hamilton of the Mercatus Center.

If you plan to attend, please register at the above link. If you are unable to attend in person but would like to view the conference over the Internet, also use the above link to get the live stream.

The Antiplanner’s presentation will be based on a recent paper on The New Feudalism and additional data showing that increasing densities makes urban areas less affordable, not more.

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Portland to Displaced Blacks:
Have We Got a Deal for You

By driving up land and housing prices, Portland’s urban-growth boundary has accelerated gentrification of low-income neighborhoods, displacing blacks, Latinos, and other families. As the Antiplanner has shown in a recent paper, the number of blacks in Portland actually declined between 2010 and 2014.

Portland promised to find affordable homes for displaced blacks, but for some reason those blacks aren’t too thrilled with the 387-square-foot condos the city has offered them. The city is making the condos available to families earning less than $47,000 a year, with priority given to people displaced by gentrification (which is often subsidized by the city’s urban-renewal agency).

Such people will be welcome to buy these condos for a mere $164,000, or nearly $425 a square foot. Such a deal, especially considering many of the displaced people were living in single-family homes several times the size of the condos, and that such homes in places without urban-growth boundaries would cost half of what the city wants for its “affordable” condos.

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Portland: Still the Model for Unaffordability

The Census Bureau estimates that the city of Portland is growing by more than 10,000 people a year while the Portland urban area is growing by more than 40,000 people a year, or more than 100 people a day. Despite, or more likely because of, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on growth planning, the region is doing a very poor job of producing the housing those people need to live in.

Metro, Portland’s regional planning agency, brags that not only is the region following most of the advice recently offered by the White House for making housing more affordable, it actually pioneered several of the techniques. Yet according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Portland-area housing prices are currently growing at 13 percent per year.

Metro has an article describing some recent housing developments that inadvertently reveals just why housing is getting so expensive. Continue reading

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Seattle Millennials Should Move to Houston

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says it has found the best Seattle homes for Millennials. Judging by the paper’s suggestions, Seattle Millennials should move to Houston. Houston may not have Mt. Rainier, but it has beautiful lakes, a sea coast that is just about as nice as Washington’s (though not as nice as Oregon’s), and most important, it doesn’t have urban-growth boundaries which means it has much more affordable housing.


Click any photo to go to the listing for that property.

The P-I‘s first suggestion is a 720-square foot, two-bedroom, one-bath home on a 5,000-square-foot lot. On the plus side, the living room has hardwood floors. On the minus side, the asking price is $259,950–and if Seattle’s housing market is anything like Portland’s, it will go for more than that. At the asking price, the cost is $361 per square foot.

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