Check out these two stories, and connect the dots.
An intriguing new analysis by a University of Washington economics professor argues that home prices have, perhaps inadvertently, been driven up $200,000 by good intentions.
Between 1989 and 2006, the median inflation-adjusted price of a Seattle house rose from $221,000 to $447,800. Fully $200,000 of that increase was the result of land-use regulations, says Theo Eicher[…]
This is a popular talking point for some conservative or liberatarian think tanks, and it is often employed when attacking a certain landmark 1990 bill:
A key regulation is the state’s Growth Management Act, enacted in 1990 in response to widespread public concern that sprawl could destroy the area’s unique character. To preserve it, the act promoted restrictions on where housing can be built. The result is artificial density that has driven up home prices by limiting supply, Eicher says.
I want to sidestep the politics here and take you to Erica C. Barnett’s recent column in The Stranger:
Growth management—which calls for concentrating growth in areas that are well served by transit, encouraging people to live close to where they work, and discouraging or banning new sprawl that promotes driving and harms the environment—isn’t working.
Growth management needs teeth to work. That means smaller growth-management boundaries, real limits or even a ban on growth outside those boundaries, affordable housing incentives in cities and inner-ring suburbs, sensible policies to encourage trip reduction, and land-use decisions that encourage tall, dense developments in cities and already dense suburban areas.
First, a few thoughts about that UW study:
The nearly 200k they reference includes lots of things you’d hate to see eliminated from your neighborhood. Without money for sidewalks, parks, or schools, our neighborhoods would suffer. Without a design review, folks would go nuts at the idea of another condo building and no means to influence its design, adn that’s something we value. Growth is supposed to pay for growth, even if it bumps up the sticker price on one of those crappy Quadrant homes.
Erica does get a lot of things right. Cities should build more within their own boundaries, so that the ‘burbs look a bit more like the good neighborhoods of Seattle. Anti-density NIMBYs here in town shouldn’t get to hog the housing agenda. Also, transit isn’t a panacea for sprawl. Then again, nothing is.
The people buying houses in and moving to places in Snohomish and Pierce counties are doing so because that’s where they can afford to buy a house. (I’m guessing that King County is omitted because even the shitty parts of it are getting pricey.) It’s supply and demand; not enough of the former and too much of the latter. Adam Smith is biting us in the ass.
We have constricted our housing supply. I don’t think constricting it further would have the effect Erica is looking for. People have proven to us that they will drive for hours (with the price of gas not a limiting factor until it nears 10 bucks a gallon) just to get a three bedroom ranch-style for less than 250k. Some folks will want to live in the city in a townhouse or condo, and some will want the picket fence. Can’t help that.
[As an aside: I’ve noticed that some NIMBY-types from Seattle lash out at sprawl in the ‘burbs while at the very same time complaining about condos in our neighborhoods. As a person who’d like to live in the city and NOT drive miles to my job, I find it odd that Seattle’s urban closed mindedness could be just another cause of sprawl.]