Bedtime Stories: Affordable Housing And ‘The Little Engine That Could’

three parked front end loaders
Construction Equipment photo by Andrew Rivett is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Equipment at the ready for the next construction project. Just blow away that red tape the building industry will leap into action.

The beating drums of housing industry lobbyists thunder on incessantly, drumming the industry’s idea of good sense into the beleaguered brains of city councils worldwide. One example: it only stands to reason (housing industry reason) that affordable housing is difficult or impossible to build without government subsidies to developers and builders. This includes every ‘type’ of affordable, from the meanest ‘public housing’ shack up to ‘missing middle’ townhouses costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. The exception is luxury housing, a pie which the industry is all too happy to eat by itself without the oversight which comes with government handouts.

A second monotonous clatter is a demand that the industry be allowed to build more housing, and faster. We are told that this will flood the market with housing and drive down housing prices, satisfying the world’s critical demand for more affordable housing.

It is nearly impossible to imagine why the housing industry, left to its own devices, would deliberately overbuild housing, drive down both prices and, as part of the process, their industry profits. But let’s pretend that their arguments are convincing in this matter and ask politely, “How more? How faster?”

The image that is painted in response is of a mammoth, quivering steam behemoth shuddering to a standstill on its rails, its great snowblower maw chewing helplessly at twenty foot drifts of. . . snow? No, not snow.

Red tape.

All that bureaucracy. All those building codes. All that needless consumer protection. All those safety regulations, financial protections for buyers, etc., etc..  Cut them all away, and that awesome, newly energized monster that is the housing industry will leap forward unfettered upon its tracks, dragging civilization holus bolus to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, where affordable houses are two a penny.

Okay, you might think it a little silly, but let’s buy into that, too, exercising only the tiniest caution. We’ll look about for some scrap of evidence — any scrap, we don’t need much — to support conventional wisdom that the mighty housing industry behemoth, unchained, doing that much more, that much faster, will unplug the affordable housing plumbing and allow prices to drain into the basement.

Found some. Uh oh.

Based on an extensive study, it seems that building more housing faster and higher may not be the miracle cure that it’s touted to be. Read more in the Bellevue Reporter: Housing Study Pokes Holes In Conventional Wisdom

Never mind the researchers, there is also some recent regional suggestion that not all politicians believe that this hard working little housing industry engine can actually solve the housing problem by chugging along harder, faster, and higher than ever before.

California has just shelved Bill SB50, which was aimed in that direction. This comes much to the dismay of a reporter in Mother Jones, who believes California is abandoning its affordable housing crisis. Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps, the Sacramento State Legislature is not quite so convinced that the ‘build more faster, higher’ approach is actually going to produce the affordable housing it promises. Read more in Mother Jones: California Lawmakers Just Shelved Their Only Bill Focused On Solving The Housing Shortage Crisis

P.S. If you missed the link to the University of Utrecht study quoted by the Bellevue Reporter, here it is.



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