Reviews | The housing crisis in the United States is a choice

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The United States, you may know by now, is in the throes of a housing crisis: Americans across the country lack affordable housing.

This was true even before the coronavirus swept the world, when hundreds of thousands of Americans, if not millions, were homeless, nearly half of tenants were charge of costs, and near two-thirds said they couldn’t afford a house. And while some hoped Last year that the pandemic would turn cities across the country into beacons of affordability, that is a hope that in recent months has proved to be short-lived.

How has housing become so expensive in the United States and how do you fix it? Here is what people are saying.

As Nicole Friedman Explain in the Wall Street Journal, the housing crisis can be understood as a 20-year-old supply and demand problem:

  • Between 1968 and 2000, the United States built an average of about 1.5 million new homes each year. But over the past two decades, in part due to a downturn during the Great Recession, the country has added just 1.225 million new homes each year.

  • Today, there is a shortage of 6.8 million units in the country to meet new housing needs and replace units that are aging or destroyed by natural disasters.

The result : Between 2001 and 2019, median rents grew faster than median renter incomes in almost every state, according to at the Center on Budgetary and Policy Priorities. In only 7 percent of counties a minimum wage worker can afford a room rental.

So why haven’t we built more housing? The increase in labor and timber costs is one of the reasons, according to to a recent report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. But like the Jerusalem Demsas of Vox Explain, supply issues also stem largely from restrictive regulations – such as zoning for single-family homes, minimum lot sizes, and parking requirements – that artificially limit the number of homes that can be built. These regulations, which have historically served to entrench segregation, can in turn be used by loud citizens to block new development, a phenomenon known as nimbyism: not in my garden.

Nimbyism is a bipartisan arrangement, but some of its most acute misdeeds are felt in cities and liberal states. In California, for example, where anyone can oppose new construction under the guise of a 1970 environmental protection law, about a quarter of the cost of building affordable housing goes to building fees. government, permits and consulting firms. “It’s not uncommon for a project in California to be mired for many years in paperwork regarding zoning or objections from other landowners before the land is cleared,” says Thomas Fuller of The Times. As a result, San Francisco has the highest overall construction costs in the world: an “affordable housing” two-bedroom apartment costs around $ 750,000 to build alone.

The owners have a vested interest in this policy regime. “Despite all the animosity towards developers, landlords and bankers, the largest group of beneficiaries of regulations that restrict housing supply are not these for-profit corporations,” Jenny Schuetz of Brookings writing. “Homeowners who were lucky enough to buy their homes in previous periods have benefited from a wealth gains, most of which are tax exempt. It is no wonder that the owners exercise their political muscle continue to restrict the supply of new housing.

Federal politics have also contributed to housing inequality, like Patrick Sisson, Jeff Andrews and Alex Bazeley write for Curbed. Since the 1970s, the federal government has prevented any expansion of the social housing stock while slashing aid programs for renters, who affordable housing advocates say have made homelessness a part of American life. And by allowing mortgage interest to be deducted from taxable income, the government is effectively spending more money on tax breaks for homeowners than it is on all rent subsidies and social housing.

If the cause of the housing crisis is a housing shortage, isn’t the solution – or at least a necessary part of the solution – to build more? This is the working theory of yimbyism, a growing movement of political thinkers and activists urging lawmakers and homeowners to say ‘yes, in my backyard’.

“The Yimbys are calling for reductions in zoning restrictions to increase the supply of housing, believing that all new housing, at market rates and subsidized, helps control housing prices, ”Roderick M. Hills Jr., professor of law at New York University, Explain in the Washington Post in 2018.

The proof: Recent research suggests the Yimbys are right. A 2019 analysis of New York City, for example, found that for every 10 percent increase in housing stock within a 500-foot radius, rents decrease by 1 percent (selling prices also decrease). Another analysis of San Francisco from last June found that within 100 yards of new construction, rents drop 2% and the risk of tenants moving to a low-income neighborhood drops by 17%.

Yimby often refer to Tokyo as a real counterexample of American cities: known for its permissive development policies, Tokyo has increased its housing supply in recent years by around 2% per year, while the supply of housing in New York has only increased about 0.5% per year. Over the past two decades, house prices have skyrocketed in New York City but have remained stable in Tokyo slightly below $ 1,000 per month for a two-bedroom unit.

As popular as the goal of keeping housing costs under control may be, the Yimbys have made unlikely enemies of some of the progressives who share it. Ananya Roy, for example, professor of urban planning at the University of California at Los Angeles, critical Yimbyism as a movement that centers the concerns of upper-middle-class white professionals while ignoring the concerns of those who are really on the front lines of the housing crisis.

One of these concerns is that a resolute focus on increasing the supply of housing will only lead to more luxury buildings, real estate speculation and displacement without reducing average rents. A recent paper by Jenna Davis, a PhD student in urban planning at Columbia, found that overzoning – a key Yimby priority that enables taller, denser construction – is associated with an area becoming whiter, at least in the short term.

Tenants activists – as well as some self-identified Yimby – therefore argue that development should be combined with eviction penalties, rent controls and other regulations that protect tenants from displacement. And to really lower prices, the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project has claims, 60 percent of new developments should be reserved for units below market rate.

And in the end, many Yimbys and tenant activists agree that the housing crisis cannot be solved by the market alone. Why? “The private market alone never provides a sufficient number of affordable housing to the most modest tenants”, said Dan Threet, Research Analyst at the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “There is simply no incentive for the private market to do it. This requires government intervention and subsidies.

What exactly this intervention should look like is another subject of debate. Some progressives argue the government should simply build millions of new social housing units, such as Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota has proposed. “In the era of neoliberalism, far too much time and money has been spent trying to get private markets to meet political goals,” Ryan Cooper and Saoirse Gowan write at the Jacobin.

But while social housing has worked well in others countries, it has a troubled history of racial and class segregation in the United States, as The Times’ Binyamin Appelbaum notes. It would be better, he argues, to subsidize private development in areas most in need of affordable housing through land, tax credits and direct government spending. On the renter side, the federal government is also expected to expand its housing voucher program, which currently only benefits one in four eligible families.

President Biden, for his part, promised to take action in this sense with its infrastructure plan. And on Monday, the Senate released a budget resolution claiming $ 332 billion in housing-related spending. The details of that plan – and its chances of being passed in a tightly divided Senate – will become clearer in the coming weeks.

Do you have a point of view that we missed? Write to us at [email protected]. Please include your name, age and place of residence in your response, which may be included in the next newsletter.


“How Berkeley fought off the Nimbys” [The New York Times]

“The Fight to End Single Family Zoning and the Yimby / Nimby / Phimby War” [Time to Say Goodbye]

“Californians are coming. Their housing crisis too. [The New York Times]

“Is Yimbyism the Answer to America’s Housing Crisis? “ [The New Republic]

“How home ownership became the engine of American inequality” [The New York Times]


Here’s what a reader had to say about the last debate: The Delta variant and the reopening of the school

Susan from New Jersey: “Most of the articles on reopening schools with Covid and in particular the persistent threat Delta variant, do not address the difficulties of teaching and learning with masks. Most people want children to go back to school and complain about blended and / or distance learning. However, as a teacher it is tedious and inefficient to teach with masks and understand students with masks. Distance learning eliminates the need for masks and communication is greatly improved. In addition, many schools are not air conditioned and wearing masks when a classroom is at 90 degrees or more is catastrophic. Until the Covid vaccine becomes a tenure like so many other students have to go to school, the in-person model will not collect educational results from the pre-pandemic period. “



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