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More Housing Could Increase Affordability If You Build It in the Right Places

Focusing on zoning in hot-market urban centers misses economic realities—and major opportunities.
June 25, 2020, 7am PDT | LM_Ortiz
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For the past couple of years, there have been a growing number of voices saying that to address the housing affordability problem, what we need to do is build more housing— not necessarily more affordable housing, but more housing, period. Sound bites like “yes, you can build your way to affordable housing” are showing up more and more.

A key part of that case is that what’s needed to make that happen is changing zoning ground rules. The poster child for this argument is San Francisco, which, as everyone points out, has mind-bogglingly high housing prices, a desperate shortage of affordable housing, and a metastasizing homelessness problem.

There’s a decent argument that, under some conditions, building more housing for the market will moderate some prices to some degree, and that zoning has something to do with it. But ultimately it will take a lot more than building more expensive market housing in downtown San Francisco or Seattle to begin to tackle those cities’ housing crises. In fact, the realities of building in high-demand, already built up urban areas mean that zoning changes in those areas will have relatively little effect.

Most of the zoning conversation is missing if not the entire point, a big part of it. Spoiler alert: The real zoning issue is what happens in the suburbs. While that gets periodically acknowledged, too few people are talking about it and even fewer are focusing on making change in specifically those places.

The Tangled Relationship Between Supply and Demand

A lot of the people who argue that regulations are causing inadequate supply don’t appear to have looked at the numbers....

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Published on Friday, June 19, 2020 in Shelterforce Magazine
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