John Hunt has an analysis of New York’s latest package of tenant protections. The inclusionary zoning provisions, while a potential way to mitigate the (relatively) high price of new housing, are too broad and could disincentivized development.
News and Commentary
Citylab did a profile of a NIMBY political activist. The piece does a good job of getting into the head of the other side and humanizing the more politically significant, but generally less sympathetic, source of opposition to zoning reform: desire for suburban preservation not necessarily fears of urban gentrification. One resident opened up about her dystopic prediction of a California ravaged by SB 375, saying “That’s a really horrifying thought to me: that most peoples’ greatest asset would be a bicycle. That’s a diminishment of the American dream.”
An article in City Observatory reviews the evidence on racial discrimination in housing markets. Attempting to control for other factors, they find that homes in predominately black neighborhoods tend to sell for 20 percent less.
Brookings held an interesting panel on housing affordability issues. While increasing supply must be central to any reform effort, there are other important considerations like protecting low-income residents and assuaging fears about changing community character. Any prudent or politically effective push for liberalization must navigate these other considerations. In doing so, we should recognize that all proposals to protect the least well-off are not all are created equal.
Though expanding public housing is often presented as a humane way to abate displacement, a piece in Curbed argues that New York City’s public housing policies are exacerbating segregation.
A New York Times article examines some of the demagoguery surrounding those evil developers NIMBYs will tell you about. The author disputes the premise that zoning reform largely enriches big companies (not that that should bother anyone) and argues that any solution to the housing crisis requires more building.
A forthcoming book by Daniel Shoag and Lauren Russell finds a correlation between restrictive zoning laws and low fertility rates. Since causal claims are hard to establish, it is possible that expensive cities are attracting people who want to have fewer kids. However, the association holds up after controlling for education and income levels, so there is some reason to believe other mechanisms, in addition to sorting effects, are in play. Certainly, there’s an intuitive story that raising children is harder when living expenses are inflated and living space is scarce. Meanwhile, an article in Brookings argues that, beyond affordable housing, more child-friendly municipal services are needed to reverse this worrying trend in America’s great cities.
A new paper in the Journal of Public Economics finds that tighter zoning control is associated with longer commutes and more vacancies. Their result concerning commute length is unsurprising. Having fewer available homes will push people toward further and less convenient locations. Their second finding warrants more analysis. A reasonable person could have guessed the opposite; with housing so limited people might just snap up whatever is on offer, lowering vacancy rates. However, the authors present an alternative view. Slowed by bureaucratic friction and unable to build to the profit-maximizing level, developers are disincentivized from improving or modifying existing buildings. Over time, this leads to a mismatch where the existing housing stock does not meet people’s needs and demand to live within the city proper falls, explaining lengthened commutes.