Charles Mudede’s anecdote about renting makes a basically correct argument that our cities will eventually invert their late-20th century income pattern. But on the way there he repeats a common critique of the rising rent:
The rent for her flat… recently increased to $1,000. Yes, her flat is tiny. Yes, everyone has heard the same story over and over. Yes, no one is doing anything about it, and nor can anyone do anything about it because the economic forces at work in this growing city are much deeper and more powerful than its form of democracy.
The section I’ve bolded strikes me as exactly backwards: high housing prices are the triumph of “democracy:” in this case, hyperlocal groups of active citizens championing severe regulatory constraints on housing supply, and (sometimes incidentally) boosting their house values in the process.
There’s an interesting debate on just how democratic the process really is. How representative are these active voices, and is the neighborhood the appropriate scope of interests to consider? Moreover, any democratic process will almost certainly underweight the interests of future residents, which is really what new housing projects are about.
Nevertheless, once you’ve put hard limits on housing supply, politics and economics merely decide who gets in to the inadequate number of homes. Under capitalism, given decent living conditions in the city, it’s the rich; in a rent control regime, it’s longtime residents and the well-connected. In a system where the government owned all the housing, it’d be politically favored groups. But any and all of these systems are inherently less fair than building homes in Seattle for all who want them.