The Mayoral Primary inspired more discussion between growth advocates and renters’ advocates. Renters’ advocates wonder why market urbanists* didn’t rally to Nikkita Oliver. Market urbanists wonder why Oliver didn’t embrace developers who can address the affordability crisis.
There are also some attempts to bridge this gap and form common cause against NIMBYs that oppose both density and public housing: Galen Herz’s essay is an outstanding example of this genre. Although I can’t endorse everything he recommends, it’s a useful starting point to not be outraged that other people are inspired by different issues than you are.
Nevertheless, it is common rhetoric that current policy is “just” resulting in “luxury” units, doing nothing to address the housing shortage. Leaving aside its factual validity, this assessment is philosophically bankrupt.
Instead, construction of market-rate units, provided it’s a large net increase on density on the site, has significant positive public policy impacts. For one thing, today’s fancy apartments are tomorrow’s “naturally occurring” affordable housing. That doesn’t solve the problem today, but it does prevent us from continually having to solve it in the future.
Moreover, there are two possible outcomes to blocking such housing. The market urbanist prediction is that would-be residents will instead enter the market for existing housing, thus driving up rents for current residents. Everyone agrees that this would be bad. For market skeptics, the alternative must be that would-be residents are living outside the city instead.
Even that outcome is bad. First, rents in the suburbs matter. Second, encouraging people to live farther from work is not good for congestion, productivity, or the environment. Affluent residents build the tax base to fund the city’s progressive dreams. Most importantly, the central rationale for subsidizing housing is to be inclusive and not deny people the opportunity to live here. Artificially limiting units fundamentally undercuts the entire philosophical foundation of progressive intervention in the housing market.
* Throughout this essay, “market urbanists” do not refer to people that believe that all housing problems can be addressed through the free market. This rhetorical position seems to be more common in the imagination of renters’ advocates than among actual people in the debate.