Opa-Locka Land War

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Miami New Times maps the spot where "affordable housing" meets corporate welfare, then observes one of the fights that erupt there.

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  1. Joe, the argument that I have against the govt officials is that on the bottom level you have building/permitting departments set up where applications can go months or possibly even years to clear all of the desks and sigs that you need to begin a project. Then, on the upper levels you have city commissioners and such who only approve certain projects to certain developers, often with a wink and a nod and a kickback on the side.

    And most often, the projects that you need to do all of these things for are the multifamily projects or the ‘affordable’ projects. Single family houses can get built with much more ease, with the exception of subdevelopments, which must go through all of the same hoops, which increase the costs of making those units as well.

    I’d imagine that these circumstances still add somewhat significantly to the costs of the development business. (Time is money as well, especially to developers)

  2. I’m not going to defend every building commissioner and planning board member in America, but corruption happens everywhere. Singling it out as a the cause of such a widespread problem is facile, especially when there is no evidence to believe that corrupt areas have larger affordable housing problems than clean ones, while there are numerous examples of housing shortages in places with decent, honest, and competent administrators.

    Your second paragraph is right on, though. Not only is there too much regulation overall, but the regulation is often greater for affordable housing projects.

    In Mass., we have an anti-snob zoning law. Does this law forbid snob zoning (that is, laws that limit all development to single family homes on large lots, in order to price moderate income people out of town?) Of course not! It uses a lengthy formula to determine which towns have 10% “affordable” housing. If a town doesn’t reach that level, the law allows local boards to approve projects that don’t meet the zoning, as long as 10% of the units are “affordable.” That’s right: if a town with snob zoning has succeeded in its efforts, it’s allowed to ignore the laws it put in place to keep out poor people, but only in order to let in poor people.

    Once the town shoots you down, and only then, you are allowed to go before a state board that has the authority to override local zoning. Not only does this lengthy process drive up the cost of building affordable units, but it guarantees that only big, sophisticated developers will bother to get anything through, and it means that only huge condo developments get built, since they are the only kind that are worth the time, money, and effort. A homeowner looking to turn his barn into a second, affordable unit has no reason to ever bother. Of course, the fact that the only affordable housing developments that get built are thus vastly different from the housing styles around them, and the fact that their builders are out of town, big business types, only makes the opposition more rabid.

    I’m not a libertarian; in fact, I’m an urban planner. (Boo hiss!) I strongly believe that the government has the right to regulate development in the public interests. I just don’t think it should do so to the public’s detriment.

  3. The nature of politics will never allow the government to regulate development in the “public interest”. This article does a good job of pointing out that too often the “public interest” is used to hide the true nature of these types of projects, which is to hand out our hard earned tax money to a few well-connected individuals. Whether or not the job is done right is secondary.

  4. Joe,

    Well i’m an urban planner in training and somewhat of a libertarian as well. I would agree that there are certain things that can be regulated that result in better urban/suburban spaces, but most of the things that we try to regulate in regards to separation of uses and etc. is plain stupid.

    I think the main point that you hit on is that there is no more room for the ‘little guy’. The way that we make things is that only big guys and big projects stand any feasibility of ever being built, and that’s the real shame.

  5. Damn straight, Perry. Although the crowding out of the little guy is only one of the real shames of zoning.

    How about this one, from a homeowner: “You can’t build a corner store withing walking distance from my house! There will be cars all over the place!” Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

  6. Bennett,

    You got that right. This story sounds an awful lot like the collusion between the “social landlords” and the State in the UK. Of course, their land barons are even more feudal than ours.

  7. Building commissioners and planning boards are put in the position of having to decide who is allowed to use their property as they see fit.
    It’s not just that sometimes this power can be abused. This is one of those powers, as Ayn Rand put it, that cannot be used honestly.

  8. Then, of course, there’s the elevation of half-assed corner cutting to High Principle.

    “What do I care who’s living there in 20 years?”

  9. Noone ever wants to actually get to the root causes of why ‘affordable housing’ can’t be built without massive subsidy – High construction/labor costs, high costs due to overzealous environmental reviews, costs due to overzoning, costs due to delay/downsizing of projects because of NIMBYism, costs due to the delay from inept and/or corrupt govt. officials in charge of approving plans and issuing permits and etc. etc. etc.

    Every set of rules that go beyond actual minimum public health/safety/welfare requirements and every new set of hoops to jump through makes development that much more expensive, and then we wonder why it is suddenly only feasible for developers to build luxury housing units.

    And then we use the fact that only luxury units are being built in local markets to justify more government subsidies for housing.

    What a great game it all is..

  10. Mobile, that is precisely why they should not have that power.

    By the way, you want to see some corner cutting, go check out a government subsidized low cost housing project…..

  11. Broadly speaking, Perry is right. While the market, left to its own devices, will not provide adequate shelter for everyone, it could do a lot better than it is allowed to right now.

    The argument about regulatory hurdles is a lot more accurate than the charge that labor and construction costs are too high. Naturally low cost housing gets built in multifamily zoning districts all the time, with exactly the same labor and construction costs.

    And the slap at corrupt and inept govt. officials is just silly. Developers themselves aren’t immune to playing dirty, or making stupid mistakes. Neither is any other field. But the vast majority know their jobs, and do them honestly and ably. To note this as a significant contributor to housing costs is a case of venting at the government, not an accurate depiction of how it works.

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