Monday, October 22, 2012

What's at core of the affordable housing problem?

I stumbled on this excellent piece "The Zen of Affordable Housing," by Dan Bertolet, a recovering electrical engineer, who blogs at In it, he tries to debunk some myths and expound on what he considers truths of cities, housing and the market. Example:

The urban density debate is over. An ever-growing mountain of density research unequivocally demonstrates the benefits associated with energy, greenhouse gas emissions, water, habitat, farmland, economics, human health and safety, etc. It’s not hyperbole to say that in America, our future prosperity will depend heavily on the densification of our urban areas. Accordingly, high-density housing should be recognized as a public benefit in itself. 

But his final point is one that, in my observation, is the core of the problem and gets overlooked by virtually all the interested parties in the affordability debate. It's all about income. If your income is too low, it's tough to afford a place to live: 

Income inequality is the core reason why housing affordability is such an intractable problem in the United States. In pretty much every other industrialized nation on earth, greater redistribution of wealth helps ease the problem of affordable housing. This includes social investments that significantly reduce other major household expenses, such as health care, education, childcare, and transportation, thereby freeing up more income to pay for housing. Here in the U.S, we will be beating our heads against the wall forever trying to provide enough affordable housing to make up for this underlying inequity.


Anonymous said...

Does Bartolet have anything to say about the fact that many industrialized nations are in a deep financial crisis now partly because of all their generous social benefits?

Anonymous said...

And yet we have much less generous social benefits and have issues as well. They, like we, have a revenue problem


Mary Newsom said...

This is from John Huson, who battled with the Captcha and did not win:

"Certainly a lack of income contributes to many of the poors' problems. Whether redistribution of wealth is a potential solution is another matter entirely."

Anonymous said...

The problem with the concept of high density housing in a democracy is people tend to live where they want to live. I have no problem with anyone that wants to live in a concrete jungle where their open spaces don't belong to them. What I do have a problem with is their insistence that I must embrace their lifestyle for me and my family. If high density living is so efficient, why are taxes and the cost of living highest in our largest cities?

I would like to add how ironic it is that so often the unintended consequences of government actions to make housing more affordable is the opposite result. The expansion of the Community Reinvestment Act in 1993 made mortgages easier to get and resulted in the housing bubble. After that bubble popped, the Obama Administration is now concerned about getting housing prices back to the pre bubble pop era rather than letting houses find their market value, which would be the prices where houses are affordable.

Jay P.

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