A new Housing Policy Toolkit from the White House admits that “local barriers to housing development have intensified,” which “has reduced the ability of many housing markets to respond to growing demand.” The toolkit, however, advocates tearing down only some of the barriers, and not necessarily the ones that will work to make housing more affordable.
“Sunbelt cities with more permeable boundaries have enjoyed outsized growth by allowing sprawl to meet their need for adequate housing supply,” says the toolkit. “Space constrained cities can achieve similar gains, however, by building up with infill.” Yet this ignores the fact that there are no cities in America that are “space constrained” except as a result of government constraints. Even cities in Hawaii and tiny Rhode Island have plenty of space around them–except that government planners and regulators won’t let that space be developed.
Instead of relaxing artificial constraints on horizontal development, the toolkit advocates imposing even tighter constraints on existing development in order to force denser housing. The tools the paper supports include taxing vacant land at high rates in order to force development; “enacting high-density and multifamily zoning,” meaning minimum density zoning; using density bonuses; and allowing accessory dwelling units. All of these things serve to increase the density of existing neighborhoods, which increases congestion and–if new infrastructure must be built to serve the increased density–urban-service costs.
Raj Rajkumar, a self-driving vehicle researcher at Carnegie Mellon, warns that self-driving cars are being over-hyped. Despite promised by Ford, Nissan, and other companies, they are actually many years away.
Ford’s promise to have fleets of self-driving cars in cities by 2021 is deceptive, the critics say. “Dig into the statements and press for details,” says the Wall Street Journal, “and a Ford spokesman says that car will only be self-driving in the portion of major cities where the company can create and regularly update extremely detailed 3-D street maps.”
However, that is exactly what the Antiplanner said a few months ago. As the Antiplanner noted at the time, a company called Here has already mapped two-thirds of all paved roads in the United States, and updates its maps every day. It seems likely that all paved roads will be mapped by 2021.
Palo Alto may be the most expensive housing market in America. The American Community Survey says the home of Stanford is the only city whose median home price was more than $2 million in 2014; the survey numbers don’t go higher than $2 million so we don’t know how much more.
Coldwell Banker’s 2015 report on average prices of a four-bedroom, two-bath home found that Palo Alto’s was $2.1 million; only Newport Beach, at $2.3 million, was higher–but the American Community Survey says a median home in Newport Beach was “only” $1.7 million. (Coldwell Banker’s 2016 numbers don’t include Palo Alto.)
Palo Alto residents earn more than the national average, but not enough to make up for the high housing prices. The median family income was $176,000 in 2014. That happens to also be the nation’s highest, but value-to-income ratios are still more than 11 when they should be under 3.
The CEO of Valley Metro, Steve Banta, “went golfing on workdays, took 50 days off that did not count as vacation time, flew first class and failed to provide documentation for his expense reports,” says the Arizona Republic. Banta and his wife spent $26,000 of taxpayer money flying 56 times between Portland and Phoenix for “relocation-related trips.” A city auditor found $272,449 in “unallowable or questionable” expenses.
After the Republic revealed these excessive expenses, Banta, who previously worked for Portland’s TriMet, resigned. But then he changed his mind and, when Valley Metro’s board wouldn’t give him his job back, hesued Valley Metro for “wrongful termination and breach of contract,” asking for $1.65 million. The case was settled last week: without either side admitting any wrongdoing, Valley Metro will give him $125,000 severance pay.
Strangely, the Republic blames Banta’s behavior on Valley Metro, which “created a system that allowed him to” do these things. But that’s not really fair. On one hand, the public has a right to expect that any public official who is paid $265,000 a year will be honest in their use of taxpayer money. On the other hand, the real problem is that Valley Metro, like TriMet and so many other rail transit agencies, has become a giant scheme for transferring billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to the pockets of rail contractors, manufacturers, and operators. It is only natural that agency officials seeing all that money going out the door for truly trivial transportation benefits would want to get their fair share of the take.
HDR, an engineering consulting firm that has been behind many of the nation’s streetcar plans, wants to build a new headquarters in Omaha. The firm is very familiar with tax-increment financing (TIF), since TIF played a role in funding many streetcar projects and developments around those projects. So, naturally, it asked the city of Omaha for nearly $21 million in TIF subsidies to support its new building.
Omaha’s city council eagerly agreed to give HDR the subsidy, but for some reason that plan fell through. Now it has a new headquarters proposal for which it is seeking $15 million in TIF subsidies.
The amount isn’t smaller because HDR had a pang in conscience. The original proposal was to build the headquarters in downtown Omaha, while the latest plan is to put it more than five miles away from downtown, where it would probably pay less property taxes. Since TIF effectively returns the property taxes back to the developer, lower taxes mean less TIF.
The share of American workers who live in households with no vehicles yet nonetheless drive alone to work grew from 20.4 percent in 2014 to 20.9 percent in 2015, according to the latest American Community Survey. This growth came at the expense of slight declines in carpooling, transit, work-at-homes, and “other” (taxi, bicycle, motorcycle), while walking to work increased slightly. No one knows for certain how people with no cars drive alone to work, but most probably use employer-supplied vehicles.
You can download 2015 commuting data by numbers of vehicles in the household for the nation, states, and counties, cities and other places, and urbanized areas. For comparison, 2014 data for the nation, states, and counties, cities, and urbanized areas are also available.
Only 4.5 percent of American workers live in households with no vehicles, a share that remained stable from 2014 to 2015. Nearly a third of them are in the New York urban area. Outside of the New York area, the only places with double-digit vehicle-less households tend to be in the Boston, San Francisco-Oakland, and Washington, DC urban areas.
The Department of Transportation says that it plans to issue a series of rules for self-driving cars that will potentially preempt state laws and regulations. This comes after lobbying by Google, which was disappointed when a state law that Google had supported led the California Department of Transportation to issue rules that forbade the use of cars that didn’t allow human drivers to override. Since Google was planning cars that didn’t have steering wheels and other controls that drivers could use, the state rule conflicted with Google’s goals.
The Antiplanner has urged against federal regulation, fearing that the feds would be as likely to get it wrong as the states, whereas if the states were left to regulate, at least a few states would get it right and the others would emulate their examples. Federal regulation wouldn’t be bad if the rules were perfect, but how likely is that?
For a more detailed free-marketeer’s view of the Department of Txansportation’s proposal, see Marc Scribner’s analysis. Here, I want to focus on one thing: the debate over fully autonomous vs. semi-autonomous vehicles.
For the United States as a whole, the value of a median-priced owner-occupied home increased from 2.7 times median family incomes in 2013 to 2.8 times in 2014. The 2014 numbers are from the 2015 American Community Survey, which estimates both home values and family incomes for the year before the survey. In the survey, median family incomes are found in table B19101 while median home values are in table B25077.
You can download my spreadsheets combining data from these two tables from the 2015 survey (which, remember, are for 2014) for the nation, states, and counties, urbanized areas, and cities and other places. For comparison, data for 2013 (from the 2014 survey) can be downloaded for nation, states, and counties, urbanized areas, and cities and other places.
In places where land for new housing is abundant, value-to-income ratios tend to hover around 2. Value-to-income ratios above 3 suggest real or artificial limits on the ability of homebuilders to meet the demand for new housing. While the national ratio of 2.8 is worrisome, many states are well under this ratio.
The share of commuters driving alone to work grew from 80.0 percent in 2014 to 80.3 percent in 2015, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. This increase came at the expense of carpoolers; the share of people taking transit, walking, and cycling remained the same.
The Census Bureau posted 2015 data early this month, giving data junkies lots of information to play with. The bureau has conducted the American Community Survey every year since 2005 based on surveys sent out to about 3.5 million households each year. This makes it far more reliable than a typical poll, which usually surveys only a few hundred people. However, the data should still be used with caution for small categories, such as the number of Latinos living in households with no cars who walk to work in Buffalo, New York.
To save you time, the Antiplanner has downloaded journey-to-work data, table B08301, for the nation, states, and counties, urbanized areas, and cities and other places. For comparison, I’ve also posted the same raw data for 2014: nation, states, and counties, urbanized areas, and cities and other places.
Michael Lind, a co-founder of left-leaning New America, is urging the federal government to create universal mobility accounts that would give everyone an income tax credit, or, if they owe no taxes, a direct subsidy to cover the costs of driving. He argues that social mobility depends on personal mobility, and personal mobility depends on access to a car, so therefore everyone should have one.
This is an interesting departure from the usual progressive argument that cars are evil and we should help the poor by spending more on transit. Lind responds to this view saying that transit and transit-oriented developments “can help only at the margins.” He applauds programs that help low-income people acquire inexpensive, used automobiles, but–again–thinks they are not enough.
Lind is virtually arguing that automobile ownership is a human right that should be denied to no one because of poverty. While the Antiplanner agrees that auto ownership can do a lot more to help people out of poverty than more transit subsidies, claiming that cars are a human right goes a little to far.