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.
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.
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.
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.
Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is following the White House’s advice by proposing to increase the densities of nearly two-thirds of the city’s single-family neighborhoods. Under the proposal, duplexes, triplexes, and accessory dwelling units would be allowed in single-family areas.
The plan also proposes to limit the size of a home to about half the square footage of the lot it is on, while at the same time allowing buildings to cover a larger area of the lot. That’s supposedly to prevent McMansions, but it also just happens to encourage people to build two separate homes on one lot (one of which would be called an “accessory” unit).
Portland’s current mayor, Charlie Hales, is a strong advocate of densification–so long as it isn’t in his backyard. When the city proposed to increase densities in Eastmoreland, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods on the city’s east side, residents strongly protested. Hales, who just happens to live there, backed them up. Judging from the map on page 14 of the proposal, neither Eastmoreland nor the wealthy Tualatin Hills neighborhoods are among those that would be rezoned. Continue reading →
Urban-growth boundaries and other forms of growth management make housing expensive, housing prices volatile, and particularly harm low-income people. They slow regional growth, are a primary if not the primary cause of wealth inequality, and cost the nation nearly $2 trillion a year in economic productivity. These and other problems are documented in a new paper that the Cato Institute will publish tomorrow. Antiplanner readers can get a preview of the paper today.
Titled The New Feudalism, the paper points out, as the Antiplanner has previously noted, that strict government control of land uses resembles feudalism in every way but whose names are on the land titles. You may own land in California, but your ability to use that land the way you see fit can be restricted just as heavily as faced by occupants of land in Africa or other places where the government or a few oligarchs hold title to most land.
The paper also argues that regions that practice strict growth management aren’t going to solve their housing affordability problems by building to higher densities. Higher land costs, higher construction costs (at least for mid-rise and high-rise housing), and higher permitting costs can all add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of a single housing unit.
The Washington Post is publishing a series of opinion pieces on what housing policies the next president should adopt. The first, by Urban Institute fellow Erika Poethig, argues that federal rental assistance should target the most vulnerable populations instead of, as is done today, simply anyone who makes a certain percentage below median incomes. The second, by University of Virginia economist Edgar Olsen, goes further and argues that all low-income housing subsidies should be in the form of rental assistance, not construction of low-income housing, which he says is not cost effective.
The most recent article is by the Antiplanner, and readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that it focuses on land-use regulation. One point that I didn’t make in the article for lack of room (I was given a 500-word limit) was that land-use restrictions that make housing more expensive impose higher costs on taxpayers who are expected to provide low-income housing.
On the same day, Oregon’s Cascade Policy Institute published a paper arguing that Oregon land-use regulation violates the Fair Housing Act just as much as if Oregon put up a sign saying, “No blacks allowed.” This is similar to a paper previously published by Hawaii’s Grassroot Institute, but of course with more of a focus on Oregon law.
Members of the city council argued that unoccupied short-term rental houses often get turned into noisy, “party houses” and that the use of those homes for short-term rentals made housing more expensive for everyone else. The first point might be legitimate, but no owner or renter wants to see their home trashed and so it is likely to be self-policed. The second point isn’t legitimate at all; it is Austin’s over regulated land-use rules that make housing there unaffordable.
The city of Portland, which likes to call itself “the city that works,” subsidized the renovation of a 50-unit downtown apartment building. The apartments will now be made available to people who earn less than $15,400 a year.
“In Portland, we strongly believe that downtown should be a place where people of all incomes can live,” said city commissioner Dan Saltzman. One problem with that philosophy, as Willamette Week‘s Nigel Jaquiss points out, is that the city spent $514 per square foot renovating those apartments. For a lot less money, it could have built twice as many brand new apartments elsewhere in the city.
In many ways, Portland is the model for nearly all of the policies advocated in the White House policy paper described here yesterday: minimum-density zoning, streamlined permitting for developers who want to build high densities; all single-family neighborhoods put in zones allowing accessory dwellings; lots of neighborhoods zoned for high-densities and multifamily housing; tax-increment financing and property tax abatements to subsidize density; and elimination of off-street parking requirements (which is the only policy discussed in detail by a Washington Postarticle about the White House paper). Yet, despite doing all of the things that the White House recommends to make housing affordable, Portland politicians claim that the city is suffering from a terrible housing crisis. Of course, most of the ideas proposed to solve the crisis, such as rent control and inclusionary zoning, will just make it worse.