Housing Supply and The Housing Crisis

By James Cridland from Brisbane, AU - Crowd, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74365875

Opportunity Now interviewed me about how limited housing construction impacts the housing crisis:

Dynamic metropolitan areas like the Bay Area, LA, and New York City suffer from longstanding mismatches between the supply of housing and demand for it. Local communities control the zoning, and local voters (typically existing homeowners) have little incentive to increase the supply of housing. After all, more supply will likely increase the tax burden as new residents increase the demand for services (more schools, more infrastructure, more public safety). Homeowners are already in the market and generally like the way things are, notwithstanding their political views about the high cost of living for others and the epidemic of desperate homelessness that plagues all of these areas. The result of all of these local land use decisions is that very few units of housing are built in these communities, given the size and growth of the population.

Many coastal cities are high-opportunity areas, offering jobs to immigrants, young adults, and strivers of all stripes. They drive up the demand for housing even hours from urban centers, living in overcrowded units in many cases.

When demand outpaces supply, prices rise. Government can try to limit the effect of this pressure through a variety of means: rent controls, housing subsidies, right-to-shelter legislation. All of these interventions can assist certain segments of the housing burdened — current renters, new renters, homeless people — but to a large extent, they just reallocate scarce housing from one burdened group to another. That is not necessarily bad public policy given the current political realities, but it does not address the fundamental problem these communities face: There is not enough housing for all of the people who live in them. A broad coalition of decision-makers needs to face this reality and develop long-term strategies to build a lot more housing where all of these people want to live — for access to economic opportunity, for proximity to family, for all of the reasons that people want to relocate and build a life for themselves and their loved ones.

Does Historic Preservation Limit Affordable Housing?

By Stefan Kühn - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9413214

I answer that it can in CQ Researcher’s Historic Preservation:  Can The Past Escape The Wrecking Ball?

Many people fail to realize that land use policies like historic preservation involve big trade-offs. The most important one is that if you want to protect existing structures from demolition and modification, you can’t replace them with bigger ones that could house more people. Consider:

  • Historic preservation equals height and density restrictions. New building technologies (think steel girders and elevators) allow buildings to be built higher as time goes by. If a city landmarks a large percentage of its inner core, it restricts the ability of that core to go higher. This can lead to sprawl, as a growing population is pushed farther and farther from the city center.
  • Historic preservation favors the wealthy. Limited supply drives up housing prices and apartment rents, benefiting owners. And low-income and younger households are likely to suffer, as they are least able to bear the cost of the increases compared to other households. Future residents — think Midwesterners, Southerners and immigrants seeking to relocate to a city like New York for job opportunities — will also suffer.
  • It isn’t easy for historic preservation to be green. It feels environmentally responsible to protect older, low-density buildings in city centers because you have no dusty demolition, no noisy construction. But it actually comes at a big environmental cost. Denser construction reduces reliance on cars and thereby lowers carbon emissions. People living in a dense city have a much smaller carbon footprint than those in a car-oriented suburb.

Just because preservation comes at a cost does not mean it is bad. Much of our past is worth protecting. Some places benefit from maintaining their identities — think of the European cities that draw the most tourists year in and year out. But it is bad to deploy historic preservation indiscriminately, without evaluating the costs it imposes on current residents and potential future ones.

Cities that want to encourage entrepreneurship and affordable housing should deploy historic preservation and other restrictive land use tools thoughtfully. Otherwise, those cities will be inhabited by comparatively rich folks who complain about the sterility of their current lives and who are nostalgic for “the good old days” when cities were diverse and hotbeds of creativity.

If they fail to understand the trade-offs inherent in historic preservation, they won’t even understand that a part of the problem is the very policy they support to “protect” their vision of their community.

The Hispanic Homeownership Gap




photo by Gabriel Santana

Freddie Mac’s latest Economic & Housing Research Insight asks Will the Hispanic Homeownership Gap Persist? It opens,

This is the American story.

A wave of immigrants arrives in the U.S. Perhaps they’re escaping religious or political persecution. Perhaps a drought or famine has driven them from their homes. Perhaps they simply want to try their luck in the land of opportunity.

They face new challenges in America. Often they arrive with few resources. And everything about them sets them apart—their religions, their languages, their cultures, their foods, their appearances. They are not always welcomed. They frequently face discrimination in housing, jobs, education, and more. But over time, they plant their roots in American soil. They become part of the tapestry that is America. And they thrive.

This is the story of the Germans and Italians and many other ethnic groups that poured into the U.S. a century ago.

Today’s immigrants come, for the most part, from Latin America and Asia instead of Europe. Hispanics comprise by far the largest share of the current wave. Over the last 50 years, more than 30 million Hispanics migrated to the U.S. And these Hispanics face many of the same challenges as earlier European immigrants.

Homeownership provides a key measure of transition from a newly-arrived immigrant to an established resident. Many immigrants arrive without the financial resources needed to purchase a home. In addition, the unfamiliarity and complexity of the U.S. housing and mortgage finance systems pose obstacles to homeownership. As a result, homeownership rates start low for new immigrants but rise over time.

The homeownership rate among Hispanics in the U.S.—a population that includes new immigrants, long-standing citizens, and everything in between— stands around 45 percent, more than 20 percentage points lower than the rate among non-Hispanic whites. Much of this homeownership gap can be traced to differences in age, income, education and other factors associated with homeownership.

Will the Hispanic homeownership gap close over time, as it did for the European immigrants of a century ago? Or will a significant gap stubbornly persist, as it has for African-Americans? (1-2)

It concludes,

Census projections of future age distributions suggest that the age differences of Whites and Hispanics will be reduced by six percent (0.7 years) by 2025 and 12 percent (1.2 years) by 2035. If these projections are realized, the White/Hispanic homeownership gap is likely to narrow by 20 percent (five percentage points) by 2035. The Census projections include both current residents and future immigrants, and averaging the characteristics of these two groups of Hispanics tends to mask the relatively-rapid growth in homeownership among the current residents.

It is important to remember that about 13 percent of the White/Hispanic homeownership gap cannot be traced to population characteristics such as age and income. The explanation for this residual gap is unclear, although some of it may be due to wealth gaps and discrimination. (12)

Researchers at the Urban Institute have documented the importance of the Hispanic homeownership rate to the housing market more generally. It is worthwhile for policymakers to focus on it as well.

Desvinculado y Desigual = Separate and Unequal

"Plessy marker" by Skywriter - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plessy_marker.jpg#/media/File:Plessy_marker.jpg

Justin Steil, Jorge De la Roca and Ingrid Gould Ellen, researchers affiliated to the NYU Furman Center, have published Desvinculado y Desigual [Separate and Unequal]: Is Segregation Harmful to Latinos? The authors find that their research on this topic “suggests that segregation may have as negative effects for Latinos as it does for African Americans and that persistent Latino-white segregation is of serious concern as the nation’s metropolitan areas continue to become more diverse.” (74)

More specifically, their research finds that

segregation continues to be associated with significant reductions in educational attainment and labor market success for African Americans, and that the associations between segregation and outcomes for Latinos are at least as large as those for African Americans. For native-born African American and Latino young adults between the ages of 20 and 30, increases in metropolitan-area segregation are associated with significant reductions in the likelihood of high school and college graduation, with lower earnings and employment rates, and with an increase in single motherhood.

These findings are somewhat unanticipated given the long history of intense black-white segregation and the systematic disinvestment in black neighborhoods through much of the last century, when compared to the historically more moderate levels of Latino-white segregation. These findings raise the question of which mechanisms may be at play to generate these differences.

One crucial mechanism seems to be the levels of neighborhood human capital to which whites, Latinos, and African Americans are exposed; they are consistent with the negative associations for both blacks and Latinos and with the differences in the magnitude of the association between them. The white-Latino gap in neighborhood exposure to human capital increases dramatically as levels of segregation increase.

The significance of neighborhood levels of human capital is consistent with existing research on the effects of segregation for African Americans and for immigrants. (73, citations omitted)

This is an understudied and important topic, so it is great that the authors have begun to explore it. They identify a number of research questions that others can take up. Let’s hope some do.