Affordable Housing

Density or Sprawl? How To Solve the Urban Housing Crisis

Land use regulation is making cities unaffordable. In an unfettered market, how would Americans choose to live?

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The mass migration of human beings from the country to the city started with the Industrial Revolution. According to the U.N., 2007 was the tipping point when more of humanity lived in urban than rural areas. And the trend continues: A projected two-thirds of the global population will live in cities by 2050.

In the U.S., cities have become remarkably expensive because housing prices have outpaced wage growth. Developers don't build enough new supply to meet rising demand because a thicket of regulations artificially drive up building costs.

Is the solution more density in the core or more sprawl in the periphery—or both? If governments were to remove the artificial restrictions and incentives that shape the landscape of American cities, how would urban dwellers choose to live?

"There is a huge pent up demand for density and for urban living that simply is not being able to get met because of the restrictive zoning," says urban policy analyst Scott Beyer, founder of The Market Urbanism Report, which promotes market-based solutions to urban planning issues.

Beyer says that urban residents want to live close together in the center city, but that local and state governments are making that difficult with land-use regulations, citing onerous building codes and environmental and public review requirements.

"It really goes down the list of all the different ways that the government controls the pricing and use of land," says Beyer.

Libertarian urban policy analyst Randall O'Toole, who calls himself "the Antiplanner," agrees that many city governments overregulate land use but disagrees with Beyer's claim that more density is the answer to housing affordability.

"Truly affordable housing would be low-density housing built on the urban fringe," says O'Toole. He blames so-called "smart growth" policies meant to increase urban density for discouraging land outside of a city proper from being developed at all—a goal furthered by the passage of then California State Senator Darrell Steinberg's 2008 anti–greenhouse emissions law.

Eight years ago, Southern California's planners adopted a 23-year regional plan to help realize Steinberg's vision.

"The goal that urban planners have had for many years is not to make housing more affordable, but to pack people into higher-density urban areas," says O'Toole. "And that's a goal that I don't think Americans should support." 

"We used to build an enormous amount more housing more than we do today when we were a smaller state," California State Senator Scott Wiener (D–San Francisco) testified before the legislature in late January. "Because we did it the old-fashioned way: We built enough housing to accommodate our growth."

Wiener represents one of America's least affordable cities, San Francisco, where the density question is hotly debated and hugely consequential.

"Restrictive zoning ensures that housing is perpetually expensive and out of reach for most Californians."

For years, Wiener has been pushing State Bill 50, which would make it easier to build mid-rise housing near major transit stops by overriding local zoning rules that only allow the construction of single-family homes.

The legislature voted down the bill January 2020—for the third time.

The opposition includes all of the state senators from Los Angeles, which in recent years has seen a mild slowing in the rate of rent increases in the wake of newly added housing stock.

"I understand the supply side of housing," testified Maria Elena Durazo (D–Los Angeles) during the debate. "But…what about affordable housing?"

Durazo and her fellow senators who voted against the bill argued that Wiener's bill, which mandates a setaside for subsidized, affordable housing in new buildings with more than 10 units, didn't do enough to supply affordable housing. The bill, they say, would accelerate gentrification and displacement in their districts and amounted a handout to big developers.

"Scott Wiener is not going out and saying, 'Let's abolish zoning,'" says Beyer. "He's effectively just saying let's loosen zoning incrementally so that we can allow potentially double or triple the amount of housing on existing land without really having to add to traffic that much or change the character of areas too much." 

But Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz (D–5th District) disagrees and believes a bill like Wiener's would crowd out low- and middle-income residents.

"They think that you build a million luxury units that that will trickle down and reduce their rents," says Koretz. "The more luxury housing we build, the more companies will attract tech companies and others with well-paid employees. And we're sort of tilting the country into California."

Koretz is also concerned that more apartment buildings will erode the character of the city, which is predominantly occupied by single-family homes

"We would just ruin the aesthetics of single-family neighborhoods just because that Scott Wiener's vision," says Koretz. "It would look like our planners had lost their minds." 

Modern Los Angeles was born in the 1920s, as Americans came to work in the oil fields and emerging film and aerospace industries.

Land was plentiful and cheap. By 1930, 94 percent of homes in the city were single-family, but for reasons that had nothing to do with single-family zoning rules, which hadn't been widely imposed across the city yet.

During the New Deal, the federal government further encouraged low-density development with the creation of the Federal Housing Authority to underwrite mortgages.

And by the 1960s, L.A. homeowners groups were successfully agitating for more restrictive zoning rules to protect single-family home neighborhoods as the city grew.

Today more than 75 percent of residential lots in Los Angeles are zoned for single-family homes or duplexes. San Francisco followed a similar trajectory.

Beyer wants Los Angeles and all American cities to eliminate these restrictions.

"If you're actually a working mayor and you're looking for a politically realistic thing to do in your city, I think it would be to really question the idea of whether single-family zoning  should even exist in the city and then work for ways to ban that zoning."

But O'Toole says that growing out, instead of up, is the cheaper, faster, more realistic path to housing affordability, because both construction and land acquisition costs are more expensive in the urban core.

Despite its reputation for sprawl, California is actually home to seven of the 10 densest urbanized areas in the country.

O'Toole says the effort to fight urban sprawl has only driven up housing costs. He points out that there's still lots of room for growth on the periphery of major California cities, citing a state-sponsored report that identified more than 200,000 acres of privately owned land in both Los Angeles County and the Bay Area that could be developed without threatening sensitive ecosystems or farmland—if only planners would allow it.

"If you want to make housing more affordable, you have to provide an abundant amount of vacant land to build the most affordable housing we've got, which is single-family housing. And that means getting rid of urban growth boundaries and other growth management regulations," says O'Toole.

Beyer agrees that cities should loosen urban growth boundaries, but he argues that more density, not sprawl, would still be more likely in cities San Francisco, citing high land values as evidence of the pent-up demand.

Beyer also points out that homeowners typically don't pay the full cost required to get roads, electrical lines, and other city infrastructure out to the suburbs.

"And so I kind of view the suburbs as an outcome of social engineering and government planning to a degree. And I look at urban density as the outcome as a more organic market-based outcome," says Beyer.

O'Toole thinks that even with those costs built in, most Americans, even young adults, will prefer living in more spacious, less dense settings. He points to Census data showing that more 25- to 30-year-olds are moving from cities to suburbs than the other way around, and a recent Gallup poll finding only 17 percent of young people saying they want to live in a big city.

"Urban planners have spread these myths in order to justify their goal of increasing urban densities," says O'Toole. "But that's not the way Americans have wanted to live for the last hundred years. And there is no sign that American tastes have changed."

O'Toole attributes the lionization of cities to the influence of the urban theorist Jane Jacobs.

Jacobs' landmark 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, accused the federal government of destroying city life by financing the destruction of dense neighborhoods. The federal bulldozer replaced urban communities with modernist "towers in the park" that were missing what Jacobs called the "ballet" of urban street life.

The federal government also encouraged suburbanization with federally subsidized mortgages and the construction of the interstate highway system.

O'Toole agrees with Jacobs' critique of federal housing policy, but he says that her idealization of cities led even many free market urbanists to mistake her particular tastes for the opinions of most Americans.

So in a freer market, would we see more density, or more sprawl?

The city of Houston, Texas, provides clues.

Both Beyer and O'Toole point to Houston as an American city that gets it more or less right. It's one of America's fastest-growing cities, yet housing prices remain low compared to America's large coastal cities.

What makes Houston unique? It's the only large U.S. city with no zoning whatsoever and, just as importantly to O'Toole, no urban growth boundaries.

The result? A fairly dense downtown with several towering skyscrapers but with an enormous footprint and that quickly becomes far less dense as you move out towards the periphery.

"If Houston tells us anything, it's that if you liberalize the market and allow people to move into your area and access affordable housing, you're going to get a whole variety of housing types. You'll get everything," says Beyer. 

O'Toole points out that Houston's single-family homeowners can form protective covenants to restrict the development of single-family homes into apartment buildings. He sees this as mostly a voluntary market phenomenon that reflects the preferences of homeowners—even though these covenants are government-sanctioned, requiring 75 percent approval by participating homeowners.

"Property rights are sometimes described as a bundle of sticks," O'Toole says. He calls the ability to ensure one's neighborhood retains its character through deed restriction a "very valuable stick."  

O'Toole says that if cities were to abandon zoning, they would best serve their residents by allowing the formation of similar covenants, but Beyer disagrees.

"If somebody has located in a neighborhood and bought a home in a hot urban area, do they have a right to…prevent other people from moving in? And I would say no," he says. 

The density question can only be answered if the government stops interfering with the housing market, allowing consumer preferences to shape the urban landscape.

And that's something O'Toole and Beyer would both like to see.

"The government control of land use and zoning has caused housing to be unaffordable," says Beyer. "And I think that market urbanism is a way to reverse those trends."

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Jim Epstein, Andrew Hinton, John Osterhoudt, Justin Monticello, and Weissmueller. Graphics by Lex Villena.

Music: "Phase 2" by Xylo Ziko used under an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike Creative Commons License; "Hallon" by Christian Bjoerklund used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

Photo Credits: "Jane Jacobs" by Ron Bull/ZUMA Press/Newscom; "Darrell Steinberg" by Joan Barnett Lee/ZUMA Press/Newscom; ID 101299198 © Gábor Kovács | Dreamstime.com ID 111434954 © Jim Roberts | Dreamstime.com ID 131696329 © Ricardo Vallejo | Dreamstime.com ID 12653034 © Georgii Dolgykh.

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  1. If there really is an “urban housing crisis,” then it — like most problems in this country — could be solved by allowing unlimited, unrestricted immigration.

    #OpenBordersWillFixEverything

  2. “In an unfettered market, how would Americans choose to live?”

    This American would choose to live on a mountaintop with a good field of fire with the nearest neighbor no less than a mile away.

    1. I was just thinking this morning how cool a mesa a mile high and wide made of solid stone or even metal would be but I’ve gotta admit, that field of fire thing sounds pretty good.

      1. Don’t forget to set out range stakes – – – – –

        1. When I first moved into my current neighborhood, mine was the first house completed, and it was almost 4 months before the next house was completed and someone moved in. It was glorious. No traffic, no noise, no streetlights.

          In that 4 months I range carded my neighborhood. Distance to the stop sign at the end of the only street with access to the subdivision? 285 yards from my front porch. How far directly across the street to my neighbor’s house? 40 yards. The house at the curve at the other end of the street? 160 yards.

          As the neighborhood grew, I had to do it again to account for the blind spots. I was out one day stepping off distances and writing them down in my notebook and one of my neighbors saw me. Comes up asking what I was doing and I told him I was doing range cards. He was quiet for a moment and then said “that’s not a bad idea”. Dude is retired infantry, Desert Storm vet. Next day he was out doing it too.

    2. Not most people.
      Not if they had to drive 4+ hours per day to get to and from work.
      Not if it were cheaper to live in a nice 30 story apartment building and save money and time to spend on their family.

      1. That’s the beauty of a truly free market. It’s not limited to just providing what most people want. It can serve even the most niche of demands.

      2. LOL. The fuck kind of world are you living in? The only time people with families live in 30-story apartment buildings, they’re either extremely wealthy or incredibly poor.

        No middle class couple with kids is going to park themselves in DA BIG CITY. They migrate to the suburbs where the schools don’t suck.

    3. I’ll take being a mile from my nearest neighbor. But not the mountain top. I’d want a back yard with real wild life in it.

      Beware of Bears
      No Trespassing
      Violators will be eaten.

  3. “Truly affordable housing would be low-density housing built on the urban fringe,” says O’Toole. He blames so-called “smart growth” policies meant to increase urban density for discouraging land outside of a city proper from being developed at all

    O’Toole is 100% correct here. One example was the King County Critical Areas Ordinance which, if I recall, bars you from developing 40% of your land if that land falls in what KC defines as a ‘critical area’. It amounts to a “taking” in my opinion, and despite many lawsuits, it’s a law that I’m stunned still stands.

  4. Ask any urban planner and they’ll tell you to stop subsidizing sprawl, which we already do far to our detriment. Build up. Anyone who truly wants to live out in suburbia should be paying for it themselves and stop expecting us to subsidize their lifestyle by continually expanding roads and giving generous grants to build out new infrastructure to support them.

    1. In California any new subdivision pays for any and all road improvements but other laws make those improvement extreme. prime example one city requires all roads to be wide enough so that the lazy fire truck driver can turn around at any point. thus we get 70′ wide roads and tiny lots for homes to recocer that loss lands value.

      1. In California any new subdivision pays for any and all road improvements

        ^ This. They’ll often be required to fund parks, schools, police and fire stations, as well.

        1. YES and school fees of $3.00 per square foot wether you have kids or not. also electrical and water and road fees.

          Little note since 1990 the price of a house has gone up 250% while the fees have gone up 500% and thats in my town other towns are worse

    2. Define subsidizing sprawl. The argument that if a tiny bit of the urban chocolate spills over into suburban peanut butter == a subsidy, then that runs both ways.

      People in Eastern Washington hundreds of miles from the ocean pay for the Ferries in Puget Sound. That amounts to a subsidy for completely regional transit system that they never use or benefit from.

      “Oh but they do, because the commerce and trade that it effectuates benefits the entire state!”

      Sure. At some point when you live in a political district, monies get moved around into different pools to such a degree it’s impossible to track or say who benefits. It happens. So just because you can point to a dollar in the urban area that somehow benefited the suburbs doesn’t make it a subsidy, because I guaran-damn-tee you I can find plenty of dollars in the suburban end that benefit the urban center.

      1. It’s no great mystery that greater density is more efficient to power, etc. Not to mention all those metros produce far higher GDP.

        Just look at strongtowns, citylabs, or any other such thing to see the half century + of subsidization of sprawl to include FHA loans, the interstate, etc.

        People don’t like it because then they’d have to acknowledge that they’ve been the moochers they so often scorn. It’s true.

        1. It’s no great mystery that greater density is more efficient to power, etc. Not to mention all those metros produce far higher GDP.

          Not so fast.

          Also, as someone who lives in an urban area, all those cars I see coming INTO town during the day to perform those jobs in the urban area are coming from the suburbs. Those people are willing to suffer the long commute, pay the high gas taxes, road tolls and what not to fill those jobs. Without those people, your Urban employment picture changes dramatically.

          1. Interesting read, thanks.

          2. I suspect that if they could live near work in a nice 30 story Apartment Complex for less money, they would move and spend more time and money on their families or selves.

            1. Some would some wouldn’t.

            2. That world doesn’t exist, so give it up.

        2. In addition, this notion ignores several facts. The people who ostensibly have ‘less efficient’ living arrangements pay for that with higher energy bills. Also, people choose to live in those areas for their own personal reasons.

          Let people live and be how they want. Let them identify as a man or woman, let them live in a big house in the suburbs. It’s all choices man.

          1. Let people live and be how they want. Let them identify as a man or woman, let them live in a big house in the suburbs. It’s all choices man.

            ^ This. If density really is cheaper and more efficient and better in every way, then remove the market barriers and you’ll see more density.

            1. If you really removed all the government imposed market barriers, assuming that there really is some kind of housing crisis, I would bet on both an increase in density in the city centers and increasing sprawl on the edges.

              Efficiency isn’t the only driver for people’s decisions about where to live.

        3. subsidization of sprawl to include FHA loans, the interstate, etc.

          This is just what Paul is talking about – the interstates were built to benefit the urban cores that they interconnect. The sprawl was a side effect of that, since the interstates also made the space between the urban cores more accessible.

          That’s not really “subsidizing” sprawl. It’s actually subsidizing the urban cores, with the sprawl merely being a side-effect.

        4. Urban living can not be sustained with our suburban farmers.
          The price of housing goes up the taller you have to build to keep from suburban sprawl.

          1. This is a good point – the ‘density is Good’ paradigm ignores that the density requires sprawling infrastructure around it in order to keep all those people alive.

            1. Pretty sure that most folks living in suburbia aren’t farmers at all.

              So even if you want to argue that sub-urban farmers are helping support the urban core, that’s a very small slice of sub-urban dwellers. Most agriculture work isn’t sub-urban, it’s rural.

    3. In my opinion, this ‘bitterness’ towards suburbs is just that, a bitterness that comes out of the fact that suburbs represent the destination that people ran to when urban centers become increasingly corrupt. You can see this everywhere in the news, and coming out of politicians’ mouths. They institute some kind of system to fleece their citizens and people leave the urban political district in response. Cue angry politician whining that the tax base is abandoning them. I believe that’s what 90% of this “hey maaan, we’re subsidizing the suburbs” comes from.

      P.J. O’Rourke was 100% correct on this. There wouldn’t BE an America if it weren’t for the automobile. It allowed people to easily flee corrupt political districts, which is why the most corrupt political districts always want to eliminate the car.

      1. “There wouldn’t BE an America if it weren’t for the automobile.” A little hyperbolic, but let it pass. This book, Romance of the Rails, which I highly recommend for its history of passenger rail from transcontinental to subways, has an interesting view of the automobile and how it changed America. Before Henry Ford’s moving assembly line, cars were built in city centers, in multi-story buildings with cars hoisted up and down as they were built. The workers cam in on foot usually; trolleys and subways would have eaten up 10% of their take home wage. Henry Ford pioneered the big moving assembly line, which required lots of flat space, which meant somewhere besides a city center … and meant workers needed cars to get from home to factory, and meant they created suburbs and bought cars, and he famously raised their pay to keep them working for him to recoup training costs.

        Don’t know how much is fully true, but it sounds plausible.

      2. P.J. O’Rourke was 100% correct on this. There wouldn’t BE an America if it weren’t for the automobile.

        So what does he say existed before WW2? France?

        Before WW2, there really was no conflict between ‘city’ and ‘automobile’. Max speed of most cars was roughly the same as city speed limits today. Which meant ‘practical speed’ of cars meant peds and bikes and everyone else could ‘share’ city roads.

        It is only when Robert Moses tore down a half million or so houses in NYC to accommodate ‘parkways’ – repeated after WW2 everywhere – and max speed of cars went up, that both sprawl and city/car conflict emerged. People could travel much further so live further away – but could also drive everything else off city streets with just an accelerator tap and a bit of crazy/distracted in the eyes.

    4. Anyone who truly wants to live out in suburbia should be paying for it themselves and stop expecting us to subsidize their lifestyle

      Does that mean I can stop paying for the Boston Metro that I never use? You know, being at the other end of the state. I’d also like back all of my money that went to the Big Dig.

    5. Anyone who truly wants to live out in suburbia should be paying for it themselves and stop expecting us to subsidize their lifestyle by continually expanding roads and giving generous grants to build out new infrastructure to support them

      Blow it out your ass. The tolls on the Chicago Skyway were supposed to pay for the roads “toll-free in ’73” that’s coming up on 50 yrs. ago now. Fuel taxes paid at the pump are supposed to cover road wear and tear. You fuckers can pay us for keeping casinos and strip clubs out of the neighborhoods along your precious golden shore and shut the hell up about the fucking roads you drive to get there.

      And when the city comes begging the state for school money (that supports policies insisted on because you morons still can’t add 2 and 2) you can take a flying leap.

    6. “…Anyone who truly wants to live out in suburbia should be paying for it themselves and stop expecting us to subsidize their lifestyle by continually expanding roads and giving generous grants to build out new infrastructure to support them.”

      You should STFU if you don’t know what you’re posting about, which is most often.

    7. Then stop allowing cities to incorporate outlying, non-urban areas.

  5. “I understand the supply side of housing,” testified Maria Elena Durazo (D–Los Angeles) during the debate. She continued,“But…what about affordable housing?”, illustrating how little she did understand the supply side of basic economics.

  6. “If Houston tells us anything, it’s that if you liberalize the market and allow people to move into your area and access affordable housing, you’re going to get a whole variety of housing types. You’ll get everything,” says Beyer.

    People want choice? Sez whom? Did the majority approve their choice? If not, that’s anarchy, not valid, try again.

  7. Developers don’t build enough new supply to meet rising demand because a thicket of regulations artificially drive up building costs.

    Jeezus H. There is a continual ‘assuming the conclusion’ with every freaking Reason writer when it comes to housing/land. Yes – regulations drive up building costs. But you really got to be a complete moron to believe that land costs are irrelevant – and a useful idiot to believe that both are the same damn thing driven by the same factors.

    And stop using California as an example of anything other ‘100% of them are 100% stupid 100% of the time’

    1. Let’s see …. you complain he says regulations drive up building costs, then admit regulations drive up building costs, then complain that the author doesn’t mention land costs.

      Did you mention taxes? Did you mention higher labor costs? Did you mention higher construction costs due to more crowded building locations? Did you mention higher transportation costs to get construction materials to the work site?

      Nope. So you are even more invalid. Fuck off, whiner.

    2. But you really got to be a complete moron to believe that land costs are irrelevant

      From the article:

      “But O’Toole says that growing out, instead of up, is the cheaper, faster, more realistic path to housing affordability, because both construction and land acquisition costs are more expensive in the urban core.”

      Guy who assumes the answer to every question is “LAND PRICES!!!” complains that article assumes it’s own conclusions by not coming to conclusion he assumes.

      And stop using California as an example of anything other ‘100% of them are 100% stupid 100% of the time’

      You are so arrogant you should be embarrassed. But we all know you’re not.

    3. see my comments earlier about teh regulation of the land that drives the cost before you can even build on the land

      1. I’ve raised this to him before. He doesn’t believe it. He’s got a specific conclusion he assumes, and if you don’t assume it, too, then you’re a moron.

      2. Regulation raises the cost of development. Not the cost of simply holding onto land

    4. But you really got to be a complete moron to believe that land costs are irrelevant – and a useful idiot to believe that both are the same damn thing driven by the same factors.

      LOL–since we know you live in the Denver area, surely you remember the highly restrictive regulations on the construction of multi-unit housing that were in place during the recession, resulting in the development of massive single-family home subdivisions across the Front Range. That didn’t have jack shit to do with the cost of land–real estate was still dirt cheap during those years. It had everything to do with the law in place. The local press even admitted it, although they framed it as “greedy” developers that didn’t want to risk the liability hit.

  8. Libertarian urban policy analyst Randall O’Toole

    How is a guy named Randy O’Toole not doing porn?

    1. His undercover secret agent nickname is Sterling.

    2. O’toole has a little tool? LOL

  9. California’s and New York’s tactics of chasing people out of the state by taxing the fuck out of them should be quantified. Say whatever else you want about Detroit, but those people know how to avoid a housing crisis.

  10. Kick out the 22-30 million illegal aliens.
    That would be a good start in freeing up some space.

    1. And who would take over the work they do?

      You xenophobes always see only the costs of immigrants, never the benefits. A zillion studies have shown immigrants are a net benefit, legal or illegal.

      1. A zillion studies have shown immigrants are a net benefit, legal or illegal.

        Are you basing that on the general trend of a reduction in the size of government and debt as the number of immigrants goes up or some more nebulous definition of what constitutes an immigrant and what constitutes a net benefit?

        1. Besides the fact US citizens did all though jobs before the illegals were hired at slave wages.

      2. Please list the studies…it might be based on selective segment of immigrants. A Guatamala mom with five kids and no daddy is no way going to be a net economic benefit for decades if ever. A German or Italian or Icelandic engineer coming by him or herself most likely will be. Immigration should be based on skills and ability to not be on any welfare program of any kind. This will raise the skill level of the country and IQ and lead to a better outcome down the road. Perhaps we could test folks who want to come in using say the SAT test…low scores and the wall gets much much higher

    2. No! As terrible as the economy is now, it would be even worse without those tens of millions of highly skilled doctors and engineers.

      1. So you are i agreement to test prospective immigrants? Great idea…we could use the SAT and take only say the top 5%per years..no family migration or anchor babies…this should reduce any need for public assistance or taxpayer charity for immigrants which we can’t afford

  11. What makes Houston unique? It’s the only large U.S. city with no zoning whatsoever and, just as importantly to O’Toole, no urban growth boundaries.

    Fact is Houston property/land prices ain’t much different from DFW (just looking at the big-10 MSA’s) and both are very affordable relative to income. But they are very very different when it comes to development/zoning. Houston is the 10-ton gorilla for its MSA – Dallas is more an MSA with the different cities doing different things.

    What they share – and never mentioned by Reason in this obsession about zoning – is Texas. Which has very high property taxes but without all the cronyist prop tax loopholes of some other places (NY, IL, NJ). What that means is that land prices are low. But because prop taxes are high – land owners are far more interested in ‘will this development pays its prop tax burden like me’ instead of ‘will this have 7 ft max tall trees that don’t block my sunshine — ooh can I prevent them from having little yappy dogs too’. Which means at least substantive focus in zoning arguments rather than the petty BS that can never end because its costless.

    1. Average real property taxes in TX are lower than my actual real property taxes in CA. On-the-books property tax rates are not what you pay on the bottom line of your property tax bill.

      I’ll mention this to you for the what must be the 1,000th time – you just don’t seem to get how property tax works, and you should stop preaching about it.

      1. No. It is YOU who doesn’t understand that it is the tax RATE that drives the land PRICE. The HIGHER the tax rate, the LOWER the land price. That is exactly the opposite as the effect of taxes on capital or labor.

        1. Your whole theory is based on the false premise that property taxes are higher in TX than they are in CA.

          The massive air-castles you build on false premises tend to be impressive, but that doesn’t make them relevant.

          1. Property tax RATE RATES RATES are higher in TX than in CA.

            GET IT THROUGH YOUR THICK FUCKING HEAD

            1. And if you want to know how fast more housing could be built in CA, just imagine the state/muni doubling your prop tax RATE.

              Your property values would plunge. There would be a ton of supply that comes to market – and all the pressure would immediately turn into ‘lemme turn this single-family into duplex or quadplex or multi-family’.

              1. And if you want to know how fast more housing could be built in CA, just imagine the state/muni doubling your prop tax RATE.

                What if they did that without lifting any existing land use restrictions?

                1. Then the conflict over those regulations would change. It’s possible that it would be lazy bureaucrats who don’t want to change regs cuz they’re on coffee break vs everyone else. But the conflicts between one group of oldtimers who want to preserve their scenery and can argue forever cuz it doesn’t cost them anything v those who want to change things would diminish a lot.

                  1. “What if they did that without lifting any existing land use restrictions?”

                    Then the conflict over those regulations would change.

                    Uh huh.

                    But the question I asked was, “What if they did that without lifting any existing land use restrictions?”

                    Since you don’t seem to consider land use restrictions relevant to the question of property values.

                    What is it that makes you think that raising the tax rates on property is going to lead people to make improvements raising the value of their property?

                    Because it sounds like what you are saying is that if my property taxes are doubled, my property values will go down and houses will be built in other areas.

                    But what if you can’t build in other areas because of land-use restrictions? What if you have a booming tech job market that can afford to pay people’s property taxes even if they’re ridiculously high combined with cities that forbid higher density development and suburbs that won’t approve any new development at all?

                    1. What is it that makes you think that raising the tax rates on property is going to lead people to make improvements raising the value of their property?

                      Because at the margin someone who can’t pay that increase if they don’t make the improvement can pay it (and profit too) if they do. And the margin is where economic change happens.

                      But what if you can’t build in other areas because of land-use restrictions? What if you have a booming tech job market that can afford to pay people’s property taxes even if they’re ridiculously high combined with cities that forbid higher density development and suburbs that won’t approve any new development at all?

                      In CA (which is what I assume you want to be specific about), those newer tech arrivals/etc may look at the statutory 1% on current prop value and be ok with it. But the cities/suburbs (esp on coast) are controlled by folks sitting on a 0.25% (and dropping) assessment and they can pass that on to their kids/grandkids/etc and they have an entire lifetime to create petty expensive restrictions on newcomer neighbors. It’s a game that costs them nothing. For CA, there is no solution for newer companies and younger employees other than – leave. Prop13 ain’t gonna change. There will never be uniformity in prop taxes there. And everything that is the result of that won’t change either. Nor however does the situation there mean anything outside there.

                    2. “Because at the margin someone who can’t pay that increase if they don’t make the improvement can pay it (and profit too) if they do.”

                      This assumes all property is rented and demand is inelastic as regards rents.
                      It proves, once again:
                      You.
                      Are.
                      Full:
                      Of.
                      Shit.

            2. Property tax RATE RATES RATES are higher in TX than in CA.

              What do you suppose matters more, what the RATES RATES RATES are, or what people actually pay?

              “Your tax rate is 1.2%. Aren’t you lucky? Of course, here’s another .9% in local fees and assessments, but those don’t count, so aren’t you lucky?”

              GET IT THROUGH YOUR THICK FUCKING HEAD

              Calm yourself. Pounding the table isn’t a good look on someone who claims to be the Ultimate Technocrat.

              Your fundamental premise is wrong. Everything downstream of that is irrelevant. You’re John Duns Scotus sipping a latte.

              1. What you pay in $ is, at least in most states, rolled into your monthly mortgage payment since the bank insists that bill be paid so they don’t lose their lien. So is baked into what you already paid for the house and were screened for when you bought it.

                The rate affects the land price going forward. If it’s 5% annual increase, then a 2% rate means the state gets 40% of that increase and you get 60%. The higher that % is, the more owners are going to try to hold the state accountable for delivering value. Which means making that location more attractive to the next buyer/generation – transport access, better schools, better infra for employers who offer good jobs, more amenities, whatever. The stuff outside your direct control that affects the value of where you live.

                None of that really applies to taxes on income, sales, etc.

                Obviously the $ is what matters to you as an individual. The % is what matters to governance/accountability

                1. You can see an indirect effect of the loss of accountability in a table at the bottom of this history of property taxes in US

                  In 1902, states relied on property taxes for 45% of revenue and localities for 78% of revenue. By 1999, states relied on prop taxes for 2% of revenue and localities for 45% of revenue. And with that decline also comes centralization. Granted the definitions changed a bit too – but it is income and sales and the other taxes/fees that allow govt to grow with declining accountability and increasing bureaucracy.

  12. “There is a huge pent up demand for density and for urban living..”
    My guess is that this demand is coming from suburban voters.

  13. Density or Sprawl? How To Solve the Urban Housing Crisis

    Pretty sure the answer isn’t MOAR GOVERNMENT.

  14. The most important thing is to never coerce anyone. You cannot ever force anyone to do anything, or you’re a slaver. It doesn’t matter that lack of regulation will result in favelas — never, ever force anyone to do anything, like not use lead paint or build according to earthquake codes. I am a Glibertine.

  15. Like all “problems”.the cause is govt interfering with the marketplace. Starting with the degenerate marxist FDR through the reprehensible POS Johnson followed by Nixon..central planner elites have caused this problem. Let’s start with welfare…I live in a city which used to house about 350K people..the city was a economic powerhouse but then the call for “free stuff” went out and massive amounts of folks came with no skills, poor behavior but the ability to vote more stuff…causing the city to spiral down with massive stranded “costs” that along with the lunacy of “urban renewal” caused folks to flee to the burbs. The city now has at best 200K people, no industry and an economic output to support maybe 50K and is a ward of the stated. Who the f wants to live there?

    LA and the Bay area are full up with folks who honestly can’t afford to live there unless they take from the taxpayers…empty the freeloaders out and massive amounts of land becomes available…end zoning and the market will solve the problem..along with much less taxes to support the free loaders…it all comes down to ending welfare and regulations…

  16. The solution to high housing prices in LA and San Francisco and other parts of coastal California is not to build lots more housing in the inner cities or on the fringes of those metro areas (because face it, it’s California, as we’ve seen neither is likely to happen). The emergent solution that’s already well underway is to build more housing and create more new businesses in other fast-growing metro areas around the country. In 1980, the city of Phoenix was only marginally larger than San Francisco. Now it has almost twice the population. There’s your solution — growth and development shifting elsewhere as it has been doing.

  17. The simple answer is that all things considered, people live where they choose to live. Even bums and winos can and do live in the city of their choice.

    My wife and I are “big city” people and like the western coastal weather. All our kids and grand kids live west of the Rockies. Small towns are “no place.” Been there, done that.

    I can afford to live the way I want to live in West Seattle. If I could afford my chosen standard of living in San Francisco, I would move to San Francisco.

  18. I agree with you, there is harm from what materials these designers use. I recently did a design renovation in my office. I am having a problem with gender selection. I settled on Bamboo flooring by ambientbp. Ambient floors meet the highest indoor air standards and are Floorscore® certified.

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