An article in this week's C-VILLE about a recent meeting of left-wingers (their term, not mine -- they call themselves "Left of Center") to discuss "affordable housing" (an issue I have previously addressed in Economics 101 terms that seem beyond the ken of the discussants) has this paragraph about local neighborhood activist Joy Johnson:
“Housing is a right,” said Joy Johnson, a panelist and herself a beneficiary of public housing. As she explains it, she relies on her publicly funded residence to keep her from having “to depend on a man or the system to take care of my family. It allows me to be independent.”Johnson gives a new meaning to "independent" that would make George Orwell blanch. As a "beneficiary of public housing," Johnson is, in fact, dependent on the taxpayers, who pay a good portion of the market value of her rent. Only in the lexicon of the loony left can "dependency" be synonymous with "independence."
The fact that people like Johnson suck on the public teat as a means to subsidize their lifestyle choices does not make them "independent" -- it makes them infantile.
In other "affordable housing" news, the executive director of the Free Enterprise Forum was on WVTF-FM's "Evening Edition" tonight, to discuss that group's new report on housing in Albemarle County. Neil Williamson said that the report, called "Locked Out: The Impact of Local Regulation on Affordable Housing," argues that land-use and other regulations have driven up the cost of housing in suburban Charlottesville.
According to a news release summarizing the report's findings:
Albemarle County ranks lowest in housing affordability in the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) according to a new report issued today by The Free Enterprise Forum. The “Locked Out” report finds that just 16% of Albemarle homes are available to families earning median income. The report also finds Albemarle County has the largest planning department staff, the largest comprehensive plan and the longest approval time for subdivisions. Fluvanna County had the highest percentage of homes available to families earning median income.That news release includes an interesting and informative graphic. (You'll have to open it in a new window to be able to read it properly.) It compares housing costs in the Charlottesville area to major metropolitan areas:
Underwritten by The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce and Hi-Tech Signs, the “Locked Out” report seeks to identify existing regulatory barriers and encourage an open cost/benefit analysis between regulation and affordability. The report includes an analysis of new urbanist design regulations, growth boundaries and their impact on land use patterns.
“Hopefully this report is the start of a new dialog with all the municipalities regarding their regulatory environments and its impact on housing affordability”, said Free Enterprise Forum Executive Director, Neil Williamson, “Median income workers in Detroit, Atlanta, Dallas and Houston have a better opportunity for homeownership than here in our region”.
The Free Enterprise Forum study merely reiterates what we have known for a long time -- restrictions, whether of land use or of other sorts, drive up costs and therefore the prices available to the consumer.
For instance, a 2002 report in the Journal of Real Estate Research found (according to a summary by the Reason Public Policy Institute):
According to the authors, the results suggest that local growth restrictions impede housing growth and lead to a larger appreciation in housing prices. This research also supports decades of scholarly research showing that growth controls can reduce housing affordability if they increase housing costs and limit the supply of land available for new housing units.One of the favorite suggestions by "smart growth" advocates -- in Albemarle County and elsewhere -- is that local governments should encourage infill development.
Chris Fiscelli, a research fellow in the Urban Futures Program at the Reason Public Policy Institute, wrote about this topic in a 2003 article:
Smart growth and the buzzwords that accompany it are swarming our neighborhoods - sustainable development, viable communities, healthy neighborhoods, and infill development are just some of the terms of choice for planners and politicians these days.Dr. Samuel Staley, a member of the Board of Scholars for the Virginia Institute for Public Policy and director of RPPI's Urban Futures Program, summed up the problems with "smart growth" as a response to the lack of affordable housing in an article he wrote for the Virginia Institute in 2002:
Infill housing, promoted by a new California law, is a process where vacant sites located closer to established, developed areas receive preferential treatment for development than sites not located as close to historical city centers. Infill housing is supposed to increase density, promote affordable housing closer to jobs, preserve open space, reduce traffic congestion, and improve the environment. It doesn't. An examination reveals this policy actually exacerbates many of the aforementioned problems and does very little to alleviate the others. . . .
Simultaneously, relatively cheap land on the urban fringe remains vacant-land that could be developed to allow subsidy-free homeownership opportunities for families with low to moderate incomes. It is clear that promoting infill rental housing over "for-sale" housing located on the urban perimeter is a more expensive alternative to society and hurts overall long-term housing affordability.
The traffic congestion and air quality benefits of infill housing, touted by smart growth advocates, are also based on misconceptions. The underlying assumption is that as densities increase, residents will reduce their driving and walk and use transit for their trips. This belief has little grounding in reality. With the exception of places with very high densities such as the downtowns of New York City, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco, increased density does not force people out of their cars. Since most markets will not bear densities high enough to induce the switch to mass transit, it is unlikely people will be leaving their cars at home. Witness Los Angeles; it is the one of the densest metropolitan areas in the country, but has very low transit use.
Since infill housing won't increase transit use, the increased density will actually increase traffic congestion as more drivers use the same amount of roadway. And that also means increased air pollution since vehicles emit more gases when traveling at slow speeds in stop-and-go traffic.
Virginians need to think outside the box. As incomes rise and consumer housing preferences become more and more diverse, real-estate markets need flexibility and room to adapt. Conventional planning is incapable of achieving this. The seemingly endless stream of public hearings, micromanagement of site plans, and special-interest opposition to new development creates a cumbersome, costly, and highly uncertain approval process. This process does more to stifle housing innovation than promote it.The most fundamental problem with "smart growth" and urban planning, in general, is that it assumes too much knowledge on the part of planners. The late Jane Jacobs and Friedrich Hayek, among other freedom-oriented thinkers, taught us decades ago that the market, with its diffusion of knowledge and communication through the price mechanism, is the best and most reliable "planner" we have available.