New Housing and Displacement

Lsanburn

The Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley has issued a research brief, Housing Production, Filtering and Displacement: Untangling the Relationships. It opens,

Debate over the relative importance of subsidized and market-rate housing production in alleviating the current housing crisis continues to preoccupy policymakers, developers, and advocates. This research brief adds to the discussion by providing a nuanced analysis of the relationship between housing production, affordability, and displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area, finding that:

• At the regional level, both market-rate and subsidized housing reduce displacement pressures, but subsidized housing has over double the impact of market-rate units.

• Market-rate production is associated with higher housing cost burden for low-income households, but lower median rents in subsequent decades.

• At the local, block group level in San Francisco, neither market-rate nor subsidized housing production has the protective power they do at the regional scale, likely due to the extreme mismatch between demand and supply.

Although more detailed analysis is needed to clarify the complex relationship between development, affordability, and displacement at the local scale, this research implies the importance of not only increasing production of subsidized and market-rate housing in California’s coastal communities, but also investing in the preservation of housing affordability and stabilizing vulnerable communities. (1)

This brief takes on an important subject — the relationship between new housing and displacement — and concludes,

There is no denying the desperate need for housing in California’s coastal communities and similar housing markets around the U.S. Yet, while places like the Bay Area are suffering from ballooning housing prices that are affecting people at all income levels, the development of market-rate housing may not be the most effective tool to prevent the displacement of low-income residents from their neighborhoods, nor to increase affordability at the neighborhood scale.

Through our analysis, we found that both market-rate and subsidized housing development can reduce displacement pressures, but subsidized housing is twice as effective as market-rate development at the regional level. It is unclear, however, if subsidized housing production can have a protective effect on the neighborhood even for those not fortunate enough to live in the subsidized units themselves.

By looking at data from the region and drilling down to local case studies, we also see that the housing market dynamics and their impact on displacement operate differently at these different scales. Further research and more detailed data would be needed to better understand the mechanisms via which housing production affects neighborhood affordability and displacement pressures. We know that other neighborhood amenities such as parks, schools, and transit have a significant impact on housing demand and neighborhood change and it will take additional research to better untangle the various processes at the local level.

In overheated markets like San Francisco, addressing the displacement crisis will require aggressive preservation strategies in addition to the development of subsidized and market-rate housing, as building alone won’t protect specific vulnerable neighborhoods and households. This does not mean that we should not continue and even accelerate building. However, to help stabilize existing communities we need to look beyond housing development alone to strategies that protect tenants and help them stay in their homes. (10-11, footnote omitted)

The brief struggles with a paradox of housing — how come rents keep going up in neighborhoods with lots of new construction? The answer appears to be that the broad regional demand for housing in a market like the Bay Area or New York City overwhelms the local increase in housing supply. The new housing, then, just acts like a signal of gentrification in the neighborhoods in which it is located.

If I were to criticize this brief, I would say that it muddies the waters a bit as to what we need in hot markets like SF and NYC: first and foremost, far more housing units. In the absence of a major increase in supply, there will be intense market pressure to increase rents or convert units to condominiums. Local governments will have a really hard time overcoming that pressure and may just watch as area median income rises along with rents. New housing may not resolve the problem of large-scale displacement, but it will be hard to address displacement without it. Preservation policies should be pursued as well, but the only long-term solution is a lot more housing.

I would also say that the brief elides over the cost of building subsidized housing when it argues that subsidized housing has twice the impact of market-rate units on displacement. The question remains — at what cost? Subsidized housing is extremely expensive, often costing six figures per unit for new housing construction. The brief does not tackle the question of how many government dollars are needed to stop the displacement of one low-income household.

My bottom line: this brief begins to untangle the relationship between housing production and displacement, but there is more work to be done on this topic.

Reiss on NY RE Regulation

Law360 quoted me in What’s Up Next In NYC Real Estate Legislation (behind a paywall). It reads in part,

New York City lawmakers have introduced a slew of new bills in recent months that could impact commercial real estate owners and developers with changes like new protections for rent-regulated tenants and more public review for zoning changes. Here are explanations and some experts’ thoughts about the proposed laws.

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Fighting Alleged Double Standards for Regulated and Market-Rate Tenants

City Council members Mark Levine and Corey Johnson are drafting a bill to combat what they claim is a trend of property owners unfairly discriminating against their rent-regulated tenants, preventing them from taking advantage of amenities that market-rate tenants can enjoy.

The issue gained a lot of attention last year when news broke that Extell Development Co.’s project at 40 Riverside Drive might have two separate entrances: one for owners of its condominiums and one for those living in the affordable units.

The “poor door” arrangement, which has reportedly been used at several buildings around the city, sparked outrage from tenants, who argued that developers were abusing the 421-a subsidy program, which gives tax abatements in exchange for affordable housing.

Levine and Johnson’s new bill would alter the city’s rental bias code, which protects tenants from discrimination based on race, gender or age, to include rent-regulated as a protected status.

Under de Blasio’s plan for mandatory inclusionary zoning at all new development projects, the bill appears to be an effort to establish actual integrated communities, said Brooklyn Law School professor David Reiss.

“Mandatory inclusionary zoning is not just about affordable housing; to a large extent it’s about socioeconomic integration,” Reiss said. “I think this bill about double standards is really not about protecting affordable housing as much as it is about respecting socioeconomic diversity.”

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Requiring Two Years of Experience for a Crane Operation License

In April, Manhattan Councilman Benjamin Kallos introduced a bill that would require crane operators to have at least two years of experience working in New York City in order to obtain licenses.

Industry insiders note that the licensing process is effectively controlled by a local union, and many are concerned that this new bill would give the union even more power, essentially blocking the use of any crane contractors that are not affiliated with it.

“There’s a spat between developers and unions, and the bill is firmly taking the side of the unions,” Reiss said. But he added that the real question is what is actually in the public interest. “What is the level of safety that we need?”

The Bloomberg administration had a more developer-friendly approach, creating a plan to allow operators to get licenses if they had worked in a similarly dense city before. But the crane operators’ union sued over those rules, and the litigation remains pending.