Some perspective

- I live in one of those exact neighborhoods in suburban Cleveland. Single family housing for miles and miles and miles

- Cleveland has desperately old housing stock

- much of the discussion in the NYT series on this topic, from builders, is how building affordable housing is simply not profitable

- my undergrad specialty was in the micro economics of housing with Chip Case (RIP) of the Case- Schiller index, so I am not speaking out of my nether regions about this. I was studying the housing crisis before anyone even knew it existed


Our housing crisis has its roots in many things, but first and foremost it is our uniquely American lack of safety net. I too am basically in the black, minus retirement, because of housing.

I work in an industry (vet med) where my staff can't afford most of the treatments I prescribe for my patients.

Yet, everyone knows, that to accrue wealth, ya gotta buy a house.

No one I work with has any sense of security. Not with their car, not with their housing, hell, not with their groceries.

Enter people like that, who have slightly more money. They buy a house in the burbs...and think that is what is gonna bring them peace, Maslow's hierarchy of needs and all. In-built housing, to them, threatens that peace. There is no peace anywhere else in our lives as Americans. We get gunned down at the mall, at school at work. We go bankrupt because of medical bills. But, they can keep the wolves at bay, at home. And it works mostly.

The root of our housing problem is insecurities and the result is more insecurities.

But until single family homeowners see that same peace a house brings in other parts of their lives, they are gonna fight to keep the status quo...which makes the overall insecurity worse.

Housing can't be solved absent conversations about single payer health care, living wages and gun control.

And this whole argument doesn't even take into account racial issues and how few white people are comfortable with brown people. But again, that goes to insecurities.

There are just no easy answers.

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Jun 9, 2023Liked by Hamilton Nolan

Totally agree. I think it's easy and intuitive for many well-meaning progressive people to have reflexively anti-development/anti-anything-new views on housing that get all muddled up with gentrification concerns. Glad to see some progress as people change their minds, at least in California.

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It certainly wouldn't solve everything, but I'd like restrictions on equity fund purchases of residential real estate. (Some of them have gone after mobile home parks and drove up rental prices there. Jeez.) Maybe because I just hate equity funds. Bunch of greedheads.

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I would like to see an comparable article that says "Time for developers and apartment owners to rethink their public spirit".

In Austin (where I have lived for 50+ years), we are engaged in converting small low income neighborhoods with single family homes into large luxury apartments and dense townhomes for the tech gentry (of which I am one).

They don't build higher than 3 stories due to increased costs so the Council is going to sacrifice many more homes in the name of affordability than your starting picture implies.

It appears that the developer crowd have found a clever way to socialize the risk and privatize the profits by using "affordability" and "NIMBY" framing to destroy the power of the neighborhoods. The wealthier west side of Austin is minimally impacted due to land prices and political muscle.

To make matters worse, the buildings are constructed on imported labor (not that I have anything against that except that it tends be a way to pay workers less) and out-of-state capital so little of the money flows back in community.

The shift to apartments is also problematic because renters don't have the same politic rights.

Unfortunately, I don't see any solutions. I'm helping a local non-profit that is developing a workforce program for people who are unhoused. That's my public contribution. Then I'm probably going to move out of Austin for the first time in my life.

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"We still need to make more housing, everywhere, at all price points. We need to build, a lot. Even if you use regulation to bring down the price of a scarce asset, it is still scarce. We need housing to not be so scarce."

Can we really call an asset "scarce" when there are 16 million of them sitting vacant? Can we really "fix" the scarcity issue when there are already 10 million SECOND homes? The supply issue is not a real supply issue, it is a hoarding issue. Build all you want, they will just end up in the hands of people who already have one or more homes. We can't build our way out of a legislative issue.

This is not to say we should not build! This is to say that building alone will not make housing affordable.

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Re: people thinking they’ll save the environment by limiting housing, let’s talk about how much green space we could have if we… didn’t pave everything over to let people drive around their low-density-ass neighborhoods! Also: part of this might be supply x demand, but it strikes me that when 20% of houses are now being sold to investors, there’s a weird other wrench being the thrown into the market.

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(I'd like to preface my question saying it's genuine, just in case it seems like a "gotcha" type question, I'm just generally shallowly informed on the matter and think this venue might be a place to find/receive a well-informed answer)

I've heard numerous times in various places that the number of empty homes in the u.s., maybe due to second homeownership, but I've mostly heard it mentioned specifically about foreclosed homes, is plenty enough to house all the unhoused people. Is this true? Is it out of date to the current crisis? Is it true but only in a facile way and, if so, what makes it variously infeasible?

More or less unrelated bit of info from around my own neck of the woods, a contributing factor to the housing crisis in some of these parts is specifically the lack of affordable housing and even more specifically the lack of affordable family housing. In one city a few years ago a law/ordinance/whatever was passed requiring all new developments be built with a minimum number of affordable units. Developers proceeded to make all the affordable units SROs or single bedrooms, so we ended up with families with multiple children/generations all living in single crowded rooms. It seems to me (maybe selective attention bias) that developers tend to have a lot of political sway and a lot of hands holding money in the political processes in most big cities in the u.s., at least on the east coast. But definitely the zoning and nimbyism is a big problem as well.

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Trolleys and subways changed housing construction in the past suggesting transportation could change things again . Would you examine commuting in Japan and Europe , please ?

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Look at that tall building! Definitely a good thing.

Just imagine the views from the top. With a beach and park just next door, I'd definitely move there. I'd bring all my rich friends too and we'd each buy apartments. I'd probably live there full time, but my friends would likely use them for holidays only.

So this tower would definitely attract new migrants to the area and make for an attractive holiday home investment.

I wonder if there's any way it would make housing cheaper for the locals?

Well it'd certainly be cheaper to live on the sites now shaded by the tower. So there's one way. Maybe construction noise would be unbearable and some people would leave, pushing down rents? There's another way.

Could the locals afford to live in the tower? I doubt it. Right now they don't even have enough money to pay a developer to buy out some of those low-rises, demolish them, and redevelop up to the six-stories already allowed in the zoning regulations.

So I guess the main way this tower would make rents cheaper is by making it a worse place to live and driving people away.

Which makes me wonder.... if the poor people can't afford to bid away good locations and building resources from rich people, isn't the solution simply to take money from the rich people and give it to the poor people?

Whatever. If they want to stuff up their amenity by allowing development that has massive externalities, that's up to them. I have cash, so I'll be fine. I can move anywhere.

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> The right to use private property is not absolute. It must be leavened by consideration of the public good.

see "The Usufruct Concept" (May 08, 2021) by Martin Goldberg


> In the course of compiling a section of the new socialism book focused on “conservative realism,” I came across a term which was uncharacteristically unique: usufruct. My initial reaction upon seeing it could be summed up as skeptical; I actually figured it was nothing more than a typo, albeit without the friendly red lines of MS Word’s liberal dictatorship. Closer investigation revealed that it refers to a very special idea: the relative status of private property.

> Americans in particular are adamant about their rights to do with property what they wish, even as the wretched scourge of HOA’s and property taxes fester well and strong. To us, the notion of being told what to do with our property is outrageous.

> But a lack of appreciation for different models does not mean they magically cease to exist. Put simply, it refers to the contrast between Eigentum (private property) and Besitz (possession). In the former, one is free to do whatever he pleases with the terrain, including sales or destruction. Besitz on the other hand means the individual can use the land for his creative or business purposes, but not at its expense or defilement.

> This supervision and ownership is conceived of typically to be the State, or perhaps a community and people. It theoretically allows folks to develop and advance personal wealth (as opposed to socialist stagnancy), yet prevents them from selling out to foreigners or poisoning the soil with their habits or business practices. Failure (or disinterest) in using the land means it will revert back to the community and be parceled out to another aspiring cultivator, one who must of course be native to the region.

> Conservatives have long lamented the decline of identity and culture, yet they also insist on a property system where any foreigner with money can waltz in and purchase land, upsetting the traditional balance of that location. Leftists complain about environmental decline, while also advancing open borders and refusing to seriously explore the possibility of degrowth. Both are victims of their own beliefs, and doomed to failure because of those precepts.

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So counter-productive to blame homeowners for current housing problems. Also ageist, on the whole. Why foment a new kind of class conflict? You call for a generation to be generous and civic-minded but I see no generosity or tolerance in your argument. Resenting the past and jumping to the conclusion that homeowners are "selfish" and "immoral" is puritanical and over-simplifying. It shifts the issues from economical/social/political to personal and moral. You also elide in your argument the environmental costs of untrammeled growth; how will your grandchildren lead full lives in denatured and probably overcrowded developments? You're right that housing issues are very complex which is one reason why we must refer them to wider social issues: the systems we live under favor the wealthy at every turn. And yes, landowners do benefit from this -- it doesn't help to punish them for acquiring the property their society encouraged them to acquire decades ago. Zoning changes rarely address affordability and can lead to even more expensive housing. Density too brings with it problems -- rarely mentioned: congestion, destruction of greenspace, lack of access to amenities, inadequate infrastructure to support growth. Developers are making a fortune from the 'housing crisis' and have every reason to promote and prolong it. And yes, the system encourages them to do so. Let's work, hopefully without bitterness and harsh judgment, towards systemic change instead of punishing individuals or classes. Consider also that the housing crisis is being fueled in part by private equity companies buying up and speculating in housing stock. You make some good points in your piece, but you're grinding an ax and it shows.

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If a builder is allowed to build a 10 story apartment building in the middle of a street zoned residential, single-family, then that builder has enriched himself by stealing value from the surrounding property owners. Those property owners bought with the assurance from local government that the character of the surrounding area will not drastically change. There has to be some sort of compensation for this, doesn't there? There has always been eminent domain power, but that is usually only used for public commons projects.

There is plenty of room in the United States to build housing, that is easy to see by driving around in it. The problem is that the so many want to live in places that are already occupied, and the newcomers want to move in at less than the going rate.

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"They like their neighborhood how it is." doesn't really explain it, though.

What they like is their neighbourhood's PRICES the way they are -- in other words, if you paid $400,000 for a three-bedroom house, you won't support any policies that drop housing prices to $100,000, even though many more people could afford housing. I don't know how we ever get around this.

Yes, there have been times, like 2008, when US housing prices did plummet --thousands of people got very badly hurt and may never have recovered financially. I don't think "affordable" housing policies will be possible if they require existing homeowners to go broke.

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