12 Comments

this is a very mis-guided and short-one sided article. Yes, we have a housing crisis, it's mainly because of a few giant corporations gaming the housing market. It's fine to build more houses and have more density in appropriate areas, say near public transit, but to change zoning in an area where people moved specifically because they desire space and privacy is wrong and unfair. It's one thing to allow individuals to build a granny unit, what most of these zoning changes do is allow developers to turn a single family home into 3-4 multi story townhouses that block out the light and change character of the entire neighborhood.

Worst of all is the total lie that this has anything to do with race. Redlining is wrong and horrible and illegal, but there's plenty of non-white people who want a home in the suburbs too, who have worked really hard to afford one, and they too will be damaged if their peace and quiet is turned into a traffic mess.

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Large corporations own just a couple percent of rental single family homes (and a much smaller share of single family homes overall). The claim that such minor players are the main cause of high housing prices is extremely far-fetched.

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If you look at recent purchases, bids, etc. you'll find it's a LOT higher than a couple of percent. A few wall street firms and companies like Zillow are attempting to corner the market, game the system, change how offers work, exactly what Matt writes about

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Jan 4, 2022·edited Jan 4, 2022

Zillow and their competitors bought just 1% of homes sold in Q2 last year: https://www.zillow.com/research/zillow-ibuyer-report-q2-2021-30011/

I'm afraid I can't find data that supports your assertion. What makes you so confident that high home prices are a corporate conspiracy, rather than a simple matter of home construction failing to keep up with demand?

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This article repeats all the pro-building delusions we've come to know and loathe.

1) Higher density is great except: overuse of sewage and water in existing infrastructure; more traffic (let's pretend more people will ride bikes), more run-off or rainwater worsening urban and suburban flooding, lastly killing trees in these areas.

2) We have already seen that putting people who can't afford it into houses usually ends in disaster for both the borrower and lender. It is also not a solution for wealth or income inequality. Buying or renting overpriced houses does not make poor or low/mod families better off.

3) These shibboleths about redlining and race are simply crude attempts to force policy outcomes by invoking these "anti-racist dogwhistles". More whites than blacks lived in red-lined areas in the 30s, 40s, and 50s (there are far more whites than blacks in the US, no surprise). Redlining ended 50 years ago. Now we've had lenders chasing after "formerly marginalized" populations for the past 40 years with HUD, and the Feds (in all political parties) nipping at their heels. Throwing mortgage money at problems is about as successful as throwing student loans at college kids -- it is a disaster with minimal improvements in quality or social changes. We are still highly segregated and stratified by class and income.

Perhaps put more thought into this.

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1970s zoning may have been good or it may have been bad, but the data make it hard to blame 1970s events for the current housing shortage. If you look at completed housing units on census.gov, you will see that building in the 2000s caused a glut, and there was a crash in housing prices in 2006-2010. Housing then, for a time, became affordable, foreclosed properties were going for low prices, but poor folks could not afford to buy because they did not have jobs and mortgages were being underwritten to strict guidelines. There then ensued a period from 2008 to 2018 when housing units created were distinctly below historical norms--and in several years, even below replacement needs.

My own research as an aspect of the book I am working on--a history of savings institutions in the United States--has led me to the conclusion that home ownership (which is not quite the same as housing creation but is an indicator of housing creation) depends on incomes. In times of rising incomes, home ownership rises. In times of stagnant incomes, home ownership stagnates or goes backward. The only exception is the 2002-2006 period, when home ownership rates went up despite stagnant real incomes for most parts of the population. The cause of the increase, instead of rising incomes, was historically loose lending criteria that induced many people to buy houses they could not afford. And that led to the crash in housing prices when they had to sell or were foreclosed on en masse.

That is not to say that more housing would not be a good thing. Of the right types and in the right places, I think it would be a very good thing. But beware the simplistic NIMBY versus YIMBY mantra that one hears from many on both the right and the left. I aver that nothing would cure America's housing problems like rising incomes for the middle three income quintiles.

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"One estimate shows that loosening regulations on housing supply in New York, San Francisco, and San Jose alone would boost America’s growth rate by an incredible 36%."

I'm very skeptical of that. In any case, New York City and San Francisco have situations so different than 99% of the US that it only muddies the waters to include them. They are extremely dense already. Of the charts compared to most of the rest of the country.

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Lending standards and the impact of dumb foreign money need to be accounted for. I have a chart from my book Debt Spiral that I would like to post but I do not know how. it shows private label securitization in the 2000s. Then I have a deck in Power Point that shows how the European banks largely funded the U.S. housing boom of the 2000s--due to European policies that resuledt in a glut of money in banks after the advent of the euro. And that also drove the housing booms in Ireland etc. because banks in France, Germany and Austria, in particular, funded the Irish, Spanish banks etc., enabling them to fund their local housing booms without paying too much attention to normal underwriting. I just do not have much experience with comments, so I do not know how to transmit the documents.

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Thank you for this. I fear that my second-homeowner-dependent region in far Western Massachusetts is way behind the Yes In My Backyard curve. My husband serves on our small town's zoning board of appeals, and the issues most recently brought to his attention include a non-resident's cheeky petition to build a pool house as a guest house. Permission granted, though it went against the intent of the law. Turned down, thanks to overwhelming community opposition, was a request to turn the historic inn across the street from my house into a massive Air BnB event venue. Generally, the town fathers see dollar signs, while my friends are being evicted from their rentals so landlords can jump on the short term rental bandwagon.

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Given how hard he's been beating the drum on this subject, why no mention of Matt Yglesias?

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Yes. Thank you.

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