Cato Hosts Affordable Housing Battle Royale

This past week, the Cato Institute and Next American City played host to an energetic discussion of the role of housing and development policy in controlling the supply of affordable housing in American cities.

Featuring authors Ryan Avent, Adam Gordon, Randal O'Toole, and Matthew Yglesias, who come at the issue from a divergent set of ideological backgrounds, the discussion focused on the debate over whether "government tools, such as zoning and subsidies, have limited people's access to desirable, affordable housing" or whether markets alone can be trusted to "create socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable communities."

Full Story: The Death and Life of Affordable Housing



Irvin Dawid's picture

Growing Up or Out to achieve housing affordability

Guess who advocates what?
O'Toole: Get rid of urban growth boundaries - build more single family homes - because surveys show that is what residents prefer, and housing affordability is achieved.
Others: Remove government restrictions on building up.

In response to a question from the audience, it became apparent what the substanitive, philosophical differences are between the two camps. As I heard it, O'toole is essentially anti-urban, anti-density, anti-density; pro-low density suburban, pro auto-orientation. It would be interesting to see what they do share in common.

Last question from audience was exceptional - from an admitted O'Toole fan, asking about removing/loosening height restrictions in downtown D.C. to address housing affordability and scarcity. O'T responds that the solution should be that Maryland and Loudon county allow land currently off-limit to development to accommodate new growth - and apparently that would lower housing costs downtown.

Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

Todd Litman's picture

Changing Housing Demands: Implications for Affordable Housing

True affordability minimizes both housing and transportation costs. People who claim that smart growth necessarily reduces housing affordability tend to ignore this issue: they discuss housing affordability but ignore transportation costs.

Current demographic and economic trends are increasing demand for compact, multi-modal housing locations. Demand for suburban housing will not disappear but many Baby Boomers will be putting their large-lot, single-family, urban fringe homes on the market during the next two decades resulting in an abundant supply of such housing. According to housing market projections, the greatest shortages will be for more compact, mixed, multi-modal neighborhoods, the sort of places that both younger adults and seniors prefer. Cities that continue sprawl supporting policies (generous minimum parking requirements, inflexible restrictions on density and mix) will experience shortages of such housing, driving up prices. The best solution is to implement policies that increase affordable-accessible housing supply to deliver true affordability.

For More Information:

Todd Litman (2009), "Where We Want To Be: Home Location Preferences And Their Implications For Smart Growth, Victoria Transport Policy Institute (; at

Todd Litman (2009), "Memo From Future Self: Hope For The Best But Prepare For the Worst," Planetizen ( ).

Todd Litman (2010), "Affordable-Accessible Housing In A Dynamic City: Why and How To Support Development of More Affordable Housing In Accessible Locations," Victoria Transport Policy Institute ( ).

Todd Litman (2011), "Debating Smart Growth," Planetizen ( ).

Todd Alexander Litman
Victoria Transport Policy Institute
"Efficiency - Equity - Clarity"

Irvin Dawid's picture

Next American City on Cato Housing Debate

On June 14, MATT BEVILACQUA of NEXT AMERICAN CITY wrote about the debate - in the event you don't have the 88 minutes to listen.....

Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

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