Friday, July 06, 2007

Subsidized Housing

Although the last post might lead you to believe that I'm opposed to subsidized housing, nothing could be further from the truth. I do think, however, that the purposes behind it are hopelessly muddled.

When people write about it, they seem to think that the purpose is to give everyone who wants to a chance to live in the city. I spent most of the last post attacking that as a feasible goal.

So what is the purpose? Why are our tax dollars going to prevent people from moving to Burien?

The city is a more vibrant place if there are people of different income levels. The very attractions that brought us here in the first place (ethnic restaurants, active nightlife) are threatened if the young and the, well, "ethnic", are priced out of city life.

So, it's in the interests of the city to ensure that a certain critical mass of these communities live in the city, or it becomes a giant version of Medina. But spare me the spasms of outrage every time a family is forced to move out of the city because of a small reduction in available housing.

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Affordable Housing

No issue in this city lends itself more to unfocused whining than the shortage of "affordable" housing. It seems like everyone pontificating on this issue slumps into Mossback-like pining for 1962. We certainly could achieve 1962-like demand for housing by simply deporting the excess population and barring newcomers, but I hope no one is advocating that.

The most contemptible of these gripes are those who, when citing the fact that housing is unaffordable, cite the price of single-family homes. Here's a quick economics lesson: given that the supply of potential single-family homes within the Seattle city limits is finite, and the demand almost certainly exceeds that, the price will increase. Accept it. The Seattle Times is particularly bad about using this metric in an economically illiterate way.

Living in the city limits is desirable. There's a finite number of homes available. Call it n. If you're the n+1-th richest household that wants to live in the city, you're SOL. You don't have an inalienable right to what is an extremely limited resource. Transit connections are excellent in South King County and Tacoma -- move there.

Real Solutions:
(1) Increase Density. Increase the supply of housing available, and prices will come down -- or at least grow more slowly than they otherwise would. Duh.

"But I have to have a yard...!" Then get out of the city.

(2) Allow Ex-urban Growth. Much worse for the environment than (1), but you can' t have everything. Are you trying to reduce housing prices, or reduce sprawl? The two are fundamentally in conflict sometimes, so pick one.

I'll talk about subsidized housing in a later post.

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