Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

October 6, 2015

The Next Urban Renaissance

By David Reiss

"Stacked parking New York 2010" by Jérôme

The Manhattan Institute has released an electronic book, The Next Urban Renaissance: How Public-Policy Innovation and Evaluation Can Improve Life in America’s Cities. Ingrid Gould Ellen, the Faculty Director of NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, has a chapter on Housing America’s Cities: Promising Policy Ideas for Affordable Housing. She suggests three reforms:

First, cities could incentivize construction and development—and thereby increase the supply of housing—by more heavily taxing land than property. Such a “split-rate” tax would encourage development of underutilized land by reducing the added tax burden that standard property taxes impose on improving buildings.

Second, cities could reduce (or even eliminate) minimum parking requirements that significantly increase the cost of housing.

Finally, cities could shift some of the public funds currently spent on homeless shelters to time-limited rental subsidies for those at risk of homelessness. None of these ideas is new, but each deserves serious reconsideration as housing affordability problems mount around the country, especially in high-demand, coastal cities. (1-2)

I think the split-rate tax is worth exploring, although it may not be political feasible at this time. The property tax system in NYC is incredibly screwed up, so any proposal that involves scrapping it and replacing it with one that is more equitable is a step in the right direction.

The elimination of minimum parking requirements is a no-brainer. This is not only because they increase the cost of new housing (by increasing construction costs and by reducing square footage that would be available to other building uses). It is also because we should be trying to disincentivize people from owning cars in NYC, not incentivizing them with subsidizing parking.

The last proposal — time-limited rental subsidies — is also worth exploring although it sounds a little too good to be true. Early research indicates that program beneficiaries are unlikely to end up in shelters. If these findings are confirmed by more rigorous studies, then time-limited rental subsidies would be a brilliant policy innovation.

While none of these proposals are going to solve NYC’s affordable housing crisis, they will all have a positive impact at the margins. They are worth further study.

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