News - Smart Growth and Housing Costs
Toward the end of the morning program at the Center's Smart Growth symposium in Boston in May, a member of the audience asked a question about smart growth in Massachusetts that provoked a vigorous debate among panelists about the particularities of the state and its high housing prices. Their comments below are an apt introduction to the topic of the Center's Fall symposium: Why is Housing So Expensive?
Myron Orfield (Minnesota State Senator and President of Amregis) "The so-called 'smart growth' movement in Massachusetts is a thousand local NIMBY actions. It's a region that grew 4-5% in population in the last 20 years and 35% in land area. When you have a fragmented area, particularly if it's a hot fragmented area, the local response to growth and congestion can be a thousand little places saying 'no' and pushing growth further and further out, making sprawl worse, and making the service delivery problem worse."
Stuart Meck (Principal Researcher, American Planning Association) "As part of the Growing Smart project we had to read the planning and zoning legislations of all 50 states. In my opinion, the most incoherent zoning statute is that of Massachusetts. It's just a dreadful piece of work and it adds to many of the problems you are describing: this is a region where every time economic growth occurs, the housing market fails to expand at the same rate. You get the problem of land price inflation without the urban growth boundaries."
Sam Staley (Director, The Reason Public Policy Institute) "I am very skeptical of using more politics to solve a problem politics has created. If you already have an environment at the local level that is very politicized and you move it to a regional level, there is a potential for creating an avenue for NIMBYs to get in at a different place. You have to be very careful how you go about reform."
Robert Lang (Director, Metropolitan Institute, Virginia Tech) "For a survey, I had to pick a region in the east that was most like the San Francisco housing market. I said, Boston. It is about the worst case scenario outside the west coast that I could think of."
Andrew Cotugno (Planning Director, Metro, Portland, OR) "Maybe the focus should be on how you impact housing production. There isn't production; that's what is driving the marketplace. In [Metro] we have just as much active involvement of the homebuilders as we do the conservation-NIMBY parts of the community. It is balanced. Lots of things require production not just limitation."
Jonathan Rose (President, Jonathan Rose & Companies) "It is very hard to do a $150,000-$200,000 house profitably in this area because of labor costs, material costs, land costs, etcetera. The reason everything is higher is because there is this economic vitality and this demand. The reality is a developer can do much better selling a $750,000 house than a $129,000 one. It's unfair to compare the kind of housing market that you have in Birmingham AL with Boston because the cost factors are so different."
For more on the cost of housing in the region, come to the fall symposium on November 6 and 7 in Cambridge. Look for a registration form in mid-August.