Why Voters Haven’t Been Buying the Case for Building

By Rick Jacobus : shelterforce – excerpt

It’s not because they’re stupid.

Liam Dillon covers the politics of housing policy more closely and thoughtfully than almost any other journalist in the country and yet he was nearly dumbfounded by the results of a recent survey commissioned by his paper, the Los Angeles Times. The Times and researchers from the University of Southern California asked 1,200 California residents about the causes of the housing crisis. Only 13 percent of respondents blamed the crisis on “too little homebuilding.” Twice as many people included “lack of funding for affordable housing” or “lack of rent control” as top explanations for the problem…(more)

Given the enormous gulf between the view of Dillon’s experts and the majority of voters, one reaction that was conspicuously missing from the overall response was curiosity. Isn’t it possible that voters understand something that the experts are overlooking?…

Living with Supply Skepticism

Time and again, housing policy ‘experts’ in this country have helped rationalize and implement policies that enriched property owners and real estate investors at the expense of communities, particularly those of color. We bulldozed people’s homes. We wrote racism into the zoning code. We promoted harmful financing scams. Our collective failure to own up to these past harms is a surprisingly central force driving the current housing shortage. Many people simply aren’t inclined to trust the experts any more.

But it is easy to overlook the many times when the partnership between the public sector and the real estate industry worked the other way. At the beginning of the 20th century, most Americans lived without indoor plumbing, fires regularly leveled whole neighborhoods, and substandard and overcrowded housing was a major contributor to deadly epidemics. Private builders all but eliminated some of those concerns from our public life. Builders didn’t install fire-rated walls or sprinkler systems to save money. They did it because laws informed by the experts made them. Homebuilders didn’t invent the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage to help middle-income people afford homes. Experts inside the federal government did.

Urban voters aren’t likely to embrace a strategy of getting out of the way and letting the market do its magic. Many are inclined, instead, to stand in the way to keep the market from doing harm. But if we were more honest about the limitations of the market, it would be easier to convince people that local governments can hold private development accountable for delivering benefits to people who are being left out…(more)


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