Last week I wrote about how limiting housing supply in the urban core forces demand for transit into the suburbs, increasing the costs of supplying that demand. Sunday’s New York times has an important article that more or less bulids on the points I made last week: density also makes economic sense.
But elected leaders in cities like Seattle continue to play rhetorical and political games with land use, caving to the single-family lobby out to keep the status quo. Think I’m ranting? Here’s what Ryan Avent, the author of the article in the Times says about the single-family status quo crowd:
[They] fight development, aiming to protect old buildings and precious views, limit crime and traffic, and maintain high-quality schools. But what makes a city a city and a not-city a not-city is the fact that a city is dense and a not-city isn’t. The idea of it may chill a homeowner’s heart, but the wealth supported by urban density is what gives urban homes their great value in the first place.
What many single-family advocates forget is their home is more valuable because of the great stuff just a few blocks away, in dense commercial and residential urban villages. How about density it’s effect on housing supply? When housing gets cheap in sprawling areas because supply gets attenuated in the urban core, many people follow the lower prices.
Factors like taste and taxes account for some of the migration, but the biggest reason for the shift is housing costs. The average Phoenix home is worth about 30 percent of the price of a house in San Jose. The difference in prices is mostly due to differences in building. In every year from 1992 to 2009, Phoenix granted permits for two to three times as many new homes as did the San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas combined. Around the San Francisco Bay, neighborhoods dead set against change successfully squeezed the housing supply, just as OPEC limits the supply of oil when it wishes to raise its price.
Exactly. When the Seattle City Council dithers on big land use decisions, or tries to split the baby by supporting 65 feet when developers ask for 85, they do for housing supply what OPEC does for oil supply: reduce it. Less housing with increasing demand ensures higher prices. Higher prices for owner or renter occupied multifamily housing in the city just feeds the single-family lobby more ammunition and fulfills their prophecy of gentrification. What’s the obstacle to making density happen in Seattle and what’s at stake?
Rapid urban growth would mean denser neighborhoods, which makes many Americans uncomfortable. Preventing this density, however, denies workers access to the best opportunities, constraining the mechanism that helps support a strong middle class.
The standard, single-family home in Seattle is presented by the single-family lobby as apple pie. But Avent points out that the idea that density is a bad, socialist potion just isn’t true. To make our country, region, and city work we have to see land use as fiscal policy–loosen regulations and expand what housing suppliers can do and we can create not just more jobs but better jobs and more and better housing. The more we support density the better life, work, and play can become.
The public hearing on density in Roosevelt is right around the corner, September 19th. Now that the New York Times has weighed in, perhaps members of the Seattle City Council will give more credence to the arguments that squashing housing supply to appease single family home owners is bad for our local economy and way of life, not to mention transit, air and water quality, and climate.