Thursday, September 15, 2016

"What If Urban Sprawl Is the Only Realistic Way to Create Affordable Cities?"

From Real Time Economics:

Building suburbs makes cities more affordable than building towers, according to research released Wednesday
Building sprawling suburbs is better at making cities affordable than building tall towers, according to research released Wednesday.

Environmentalists, urban planners and economists are pushing cities such as New York and San Francisco to build more housing to help combat rapidly rising rents and home prices that are crowding out the middle class. But trying to build upward in order to keep cities accessible to average families may be a losing battle, according to findings to be released Wednesday by BuildZoom, a website for contractors.

Even cities that were able to increase the pace of housing construction without sprawling, such as Portland and Seattle, were unable to keep pace with demand nearly as well as their counterparts that spread outward. Portland saw inflation-adjusted home values increase 78% from 1980 to 2010 and Seattle saw home prices jump 119%, according to BuildZoom. Meanwhile, Las Vegas saw real home values increase just 4.7% and Atlanta saw a mere 14% jump.

There are a variety of reasons why building up has proven less effective at keeping housing costs down. For one, tall buildings are more expensive to build than single-family homes, so the apartments and condos in them tend to be pricier.

If American cities were willing to level single-family homes and build apartment towers, they could likely keep up with demand without sprawl, but that is unlikely given the political power given to local community groups and the radical changes that would mean to virtually any American city outside of Manhattan.

“The big takeaway is that if expensive cities like New York and San Francisco want to do something about affordability they have to do so at a scale that is unprecedented in this country,” said Issi Romem, chief economist at BuildZoom. “Realistically the odds of that happening are slim to none.”

Indeed, housing production in the U.S. remains overwhelmingly concentrated in suburban, not urban areas. More than 88% of new homes in the 2000s were built in undeveloped or suburban areas, according to BuildZoom....MORE