You Can't Just Subsidize Your Way to Affordability

Plans that focus on giving funds to renters and home buyers won't make housing affordable, and can inflate housing prices and rents.
January 6, 2017, 7am PST | Casey Brazeal | @northandclark
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Mike Goren

In commentary for City Observatory, Joe Cortright argues that to address rising housing costs, cities need to reconsider supply and demand. "Rent and home purchase subsidies may help out a few individuals, but only at the cost of making the affordability problem worse for everyone else," Cortright says.

But that hasn't stopped policy makers from trying. "In Vancouver, the British Columbia provincial government has announced that it will match the down-payment that first-time homebuyers make to purchase a new residence," Cortright points out. Meanwhile in Portland, "… local landlords group has proposed that the state instead enact a rental subsidy, roughly modeled on the federal Section 8 voucher program. The proposal is that the state would allocate something on the order of about $20 million per year to provide rent subsidies of around $100 per month to as many as 20,000 low and moderate income households."

These demand-side solutions will benefit some, but the supply problem is likely to persist. Progressive programs to aid low income renters will help those who are organized and informed enough to access them. But, others will be negatively effected by more money being pumped into the system. In cities like Vancouver and Portland, which are already popular, stoking demand may be counterproductive.

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Published on Monday, January 2, 2017 in City Observatory
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