Who Does Creating Artificial Barriers to Growth Hurt?
For at least the last thirty years, I've been hearing "affordable housing" advocates yammer about the high cost of housing, and how working families can no longer afford "decent" housing, which they apparently consider to be the three or four bedroom, two bathroom detached home. They go on and on about what is necessary to create more of this type of housing and our "moral obligation" to create more of it. Against this, we have their actual actions, politically allying with forces that make housing more expensive by constricting the supply.
Newsflash: Making business difficult for suppliers of a good does not lower the price nor improve the availability of that good.
Who does artificial constriction of the housing supply hurt?
Certainly not developers. The price of the actual permits, last I checked was in the $20,000 per unit range. But the decreases and constrictions and delays in supply add something like $160,000 to the price tag of that same unit. The people who want housing are here. If the demand is there and the supply isn't, what does that do to price? Oh, those poor developers! They're being hurt to the tune of $140,000 additional profit for each unit they build. Please, Brer Fox, don't throw me into that briar patch! To stay within the genre, trying to harm developers in this sort of fashion is a tar baby for those trying to do it.
It sure as heck doesn't hurt the wealthy, either. They can afford housing. Matter of fact, the constriction of supply makes their real estate investments appreciate more rapidly. Increasing demand and regulatory brakes on the ability to furnish supply is pretty much the recipe for rising prices. Furthermore, this encourages speculation, driving bubbles like the ones that we just went through. It wasn't the wealthy that got hurt by that bubble. It was the folks who could just barely qualify and the people who stretched more than they should have or told fibs in order to qualify. Who was that? It certainly wasn't the wealthy. High end housing was the first to start sitting longer, because the wealthy weren't worried about getting priced out.
It certainly doesn't hurt current owners, who ride the price wave in the same manner as the wealthy investors, if not quite to the same level of profit. Anytime the ratio of demand to supply rises, so does price, and anyone who already owns benefits. These are folks well-established in life for the most part, along with high income individuals and those who inherited wealth. Sound like anyone who needs to be getting what is effectively a public subsidy?
So who does keeping the supply of housing low hurt the worst?
The young. People just getting started out. People who won't get started for another fifteen years, by which time current housing prices will seem like the Golden Age. Every time there's a new household but no new housing, the price goes up. We're going to keep gaining new households, and I don't see enough new housing on the horizon. You do the math.
Transplants coming from where housing is cheaper. Even if they own a $100,000 house free and clear, that's only a 20% down payment on $500,000. Lots of San Diegans seem to have an attitude about transplants - but most of them are themselves transplants. The question of "who is a transplant?" is very much a question of where you draw the line. Speaking as a second generation native, my take is let's just trash the whole transplant prejudice thing. People want to live here. Providing they're in the country legally, they have the same rights to do so that my family and I do. We can create the housing for them, or we can create shortages, which lead to higher prices and unaffordable housing for everyone.
The working poor. Yes, the very people the affordable housing folks claim they want to help. But keeping the supply low, delaying the arrival of more units onto the market while keeping others from happening at all, is a recipe for rising prices. A couple making $15 per hour each makes just over $5000 per month, which translates to about $2300 they can afford for housing and all their debts. Assuming they have no other payments, that's a purchase price of a little over $300,000. That might buy a severe fixer detached home or a condo in decent shape. What happens the next time they need to buy a car? Unless they're one of the rare folks who still manage to put money aside every month, they have to consolidate the car loan with their mortgage in order to afford it. Ditto any other sudden expenses. This is the opening movement to a symphony of financial disaster.
I know that the political alliances in this country have gotten completely nonsensical, but it's past time for affordable housing advocates to break away from the same party that houses the anti-development and anti-business activists. Yes, ACORN, I'm looking at you (among many others), with your "retain voter registrations of your favorite party, trash registrations of their opposition" drives (blatantly illegal, by the way, and this isn't the only such story by any means). Never mind what's the matter with Kansas, I want to know what's the matter with affordable housing activists. By any reasonable measure, they're making the problem worse with their political alliances, by supporting the agenda of their natural antithesis. If their game is to actually make housing more affordable, most of them are miserable failures at what they say they're working towards.
Of course, if the game is to make the problem worse, so that people have no choice but to deal with these organizations as supposedly the only hope of the working poor, thereby increasing their own power, these organizations are doing just fine. Trojan horses for empire building are one of the classic recipes for political success.
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